HC Deb 18 June 1973 vol 858 cc91-119

(1) Community councils may accept by way of money or otherwise, and may raise by loan or otherwise, hold and use, finances for their purposes as set out in subsection (2) of Section 51 above.

(2) District councils shall make such contributions to community councils within their areas as will enable these community councils to provide the staff, services, accommodation, furniture and equipment which seem necessary to meet their reasonable requirements. Such contributions may be in terms of payment or, by agreement between the councils concerned, in other form.

(3) Without prejudice to the provisions in subsection (2) above, regional, islands and district councils, as seems to them reasonable, may make contributions towards the expenses of community councils within their areas and may make loans to those councils.—[Mr. Hugh D. Brown.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

With the clause we are to consider the following amendments:

No. 250, in Clause 51, page 27, line 19, at end insert: '(3) A community council shall be entitled to such annual requisition from rates within its area as the Secretary of State may by order under this section determine'.

No. 251, in page 27, line 19, at end insert: '(3) A community council shall employ whatever staff it deems necessary to carry out its functions'.

No. 252, in page 27, line 19, at end insert: '(3) A community council shall have the duty to administer those matters within its area which from time to time the Secretary of State may by order under this section determine'.

No. 230, in page 29, line 27, leave out Clause 55.

No. 256, in Clause 85, page 45, line 19, after 'authority', insert 'or community council'.

No. 257, in Clause 88, page 46, line 23, after 'authority', insert 'or community council'.

No. 258, in page 46, line 31, after 'authority', insert 'or community council'.

No. 259, in Clause 89, page 47, line 1, after 'authority', insert 'or community council'.

No. 260, in Clause 90, page 47, line 10, after 'authority', insert 'or community council'.

No. 261, in Clause 91, page 47, line 26, after 'authority', insert 'or community council'.

No. 262, in page 48, line 2, after 'authority', insert 'or community council'.

No. 263, in page 48, line 19, after 'councils', insert 'and community councils'.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Brown

I am aware that we had reasonably adequate discussions in Committee about the whole principle of community councils.

The clause is intended to replace Clause 55. That clause, which has a permissive approach, says: Regional, islands and district councils may make such contributions as they think fit… may make loans to those councils and may, at the request of such community councils, provide them with staff, services and so on.

The new clause says that district authorities "shall" make financial provisions for the functions that the commiunity councils can carry out, which are specified in Clause 51(2). It also adds a new principle, that regional authorities may make contributions to community councils.

The principles behind these two new ideas are self-evident. There has been a tremendous interest in community councils, and the Government have responded to some extent, recognising that there must be a counter to the argument about remoteness. I do not entirely agree that that argument is well founded, but if people feel that there is a danger of remoteness under the new set-up, community councils can make a substantial contribution towards enabling them to have some participation and the right to express themselves.

The extent of community councils' functions is well set out in Clause 51(2). I am sure that in his reply the Minister will quote something that I have said. He has done it already, but it is not fair, because it refers to the seeking of information. I am not trying to run away from the fact that I certainly favour voluntary co-operation even in financial matters.

It might help if we could firm up Clause 55. I do not think that there is much between us. By accepting New Clause 8 we would probably firm up Clause 55. It does not specify amounts. It seems to raise none of the horrors which the Minister presented to us in Committee. Such as making a statutory organisation.

I do not think that any of the things are involved about which the hon. Gentleman was so worried. It does not seem unreasonable that we should strengthen that idea by putting an obligation on the district authorities to supply funds.

I hope that those remarks take the argument a little further. By introducing the new clause I am not being dogmatic. I am making a genuine attempt to ensure the success of the community councils I hope that the new clause will be accepted.

Mr. Grimond

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 250 to 252, No. 230 and Nos. 256 to 263.

Mr. Mackintosh

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the page numbers? It is difficult to follow when amendments are not in consecutive order.

Mr. Grimond

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is listening carefully. The first group relate to page 1039 and then the next group related to pages 1043 and 1044. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is with us now.

Mr. Mackintosh

As long as the right hon. Gentleman knows where he is.

Mr. Grimond

Wait and see, as Asquith said. The amendments are designed to strengthen the hands of the community councils. Opinion has moved considerably since the Wheatley report. I do not blame Wheatley for that. While at the time of Wheatley there was a feeling that technological advance meant that we could always have larger authorities, there is now a considerable feeling that in many ways smaller communities have more reality and that people can identify more readily with them than some of the large authorities.

I do not believe that we can impose the same pattern of local government all over Scotland. If we accept the main provision of the Bill, I do not see that the Strathclyde area is the same type authority as most of the other authorities in the Bill. Therefore, we should not treat county councils in the same way in all the regions.

I shall direct my remarks to the situation in my constituency and those like it. In the islands the community councils have a much larger part to play than have the councils on the mainland. Clearly the islands are separate communities. They often feel that the county capital is in some degree remote from them. Many islands have affairs to deal with which may differ from other islands in the same group and which can best be carried on locally.

As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) said, Clause 55 makes it permissive for the regional and island area councils to provide the county councils with money, staff, accommodation and other matters. I do not believe that the councils will feel that they are being taken seriously nor do I believe that they will attract the right kind of people. That will not be the position, at least in the islands, unless they have a right to their own finance, staff and premises.

The Secretary of State said that he regards one of the major functions, if not the major function, of the community councils to make representations to the next tier. Obviously on many occasions such representations will be directed to the area councils or regional councils. Community councils may challenge their policies. Community councils will be encouraged to carry on a dialogue. It should not be made difficult for them to criticise the next tier. Does it make sense if, in trying to fulfil that job, they are to be dependent on the very bodies which they are criticising?

Throughout the whole of British history we have been trying to keep Parliament free from dependence on the good will of the Crown and yet we are now setting up bodies whose main function will be to criticise regional policy. At the same time they are to be dependent entirely, when dealing with staff and finance, on regional authorities. It is clear that they must have staff and finance. They must have secretaries and there must be some continuity. They must have people to write minutes, to write letters and to draw up agenda. Therefore, they must have finance.

Community councils should also have some powers. I do not think that we shall get people to serve on community councils unless they have some useful part to play in the community. I am sure that islands' functions are much better carried on at a local level than, for example, from Lerwick or Kirkwall, which are a long way away and across the sea. I shall not talk about Hoy, but similar considerations apply.

There are two strong arguments. First, the community councils should be able to play a useful part in the community. In that way people will be prepared to serve and more life and strength will be given to the councils to carry on a dialogue with their superiors. Therefore, they must have staff, money and powers. The Secretary of State is well aware that this is the view of everyone on the existing district councils in my constituency. The district councils of Shetland sent in a petition, as did many of the district councils of Orkney, all expressing the same view. The Federation of Highlands and Islands Councils of Social Service has written to me. It says that the Federation believes that Part IV on Community Councils would be greatly strengthened by giving these councils guaranteed finance —that is not permissive finance— and the right of consultation by local authorities. It is not absolutely clear that the authorities need to take any notice of what they think. The letter continues: All the delegates believed that, in a region such as the Highlands and Islands, Community Councils would have a very important part to play in the future of these areas, considering that, because of large distances, the regions and districts would hardly reach grass roots level. 6.30 p.m.

The Secretary of State, in long correspondence with me—I thank him for his trouble—has advanced various arguments against this view. One of these arguments is that such an authority would in most cases not have the resources to carry out the full range of district council responsibilities. But if such a council has the resources, I see no reason why it should not carry out the responsibilities of a local district authority. Even if the authorities in Orkney and Shetland are small, they are nevertheless viable and efficient.

The right hon. Gentleman's other main argument is that he does not want to create a third tier of local authorities. But he would not be doing so in Orkney and Shetland. As I pointed out earlier, it is absurd to pretend that Orkney and Shetland is the same sort of local authority as Strathclyde. We should be able to differentiate between them. I believe that the Western Isles are probably in the same situation as my constituency. Altogether, there is a most powerful argument for giving to these community councils extra power.

The second group of amendments deals with the rights of community councils to take part in various activities. For ex- ample, Clause 51(2) says that a community council may pursue certain activities, including the ascertaining and co-ordination of the views of its community and conveying those views to the district authority. I am not sure whether this is enough. It is one thing to be able to write to a local authority, but quite another to be able to ensure that it takes action. What is even more to the point is that the community council should be able to participate in certain local activities in its own area.

I give a concrete example in this context—the Island of Hoy. I must declare my interest. The owner of the northern part of Hoy is anxious to make over his property to the public but is not sure how to do it. My wife is engaged in setting up an organisation to assist in the process. It is wholly desirable that the community council should be associated with this matter and it should have the right to appoint people to the organisation. Indeed, it could be argued that it ought to be able to take over the property, but at least it should have power to appoint people to speak for it and to take part in running the property. I do not think that this Bill enables it to do so.

Under Clauses 88, 89, 90 and 91 the local authorities are given power to encourage recreational activities, make adequate provision for social, cultural and recreational activities and—in Clause 90—to provide, or encourage any other person or body to provide, facilities for recreation, conferences, trade fairs and exhibitions or improve, or encourage any other person or body, any existing facilities for those purposes. This is the sort of activity which in some parts of Scotland, particularly in my constituency, ought to be much encouraged. I want to see local people associated, for example, with the National Trust of Scotland and many other bodies in promoting such activities. As I understand it, the community council of Hoy could not even set up a kiosk for information, although it might possibly be able to appoint people to any body which is to look after Hoy—for example, in promoting exhibitions or the tourist trade—and I see no reason why it should not do so. There is need for local people to be encouraged to do this sort of thing. That would make sense. If the duty is thrown, however, upon the the island's area council and it has to appoint to local activities of this sort, such activities will in effect be removed from the local ambit.

I do not want to exaggerate the case but, for example, officials of Lerwick and Kirkwall can visit certain place only at certain times of the year. That applies to many of the islands. There is no reason to suppose that an area council for the islands will do the job any better than the community councils could do. I am strongly in favour of giving these extra powers, in my constituency at any rate, to community councils, and of firming up Clause 55 and ensuring that they have right to staff and finances making them independent of the district councils in providing these services.

Mr. Mackintosh

As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, the new clause and the amendments deal with the firming up of the financial and other powers of community councils. Not only in the islands but in other parts of Scotland, such as the Borders, there are small burghs and villages with a long tradition of running their own civic weeks, for example, or common ridings or miners' galas—indeed, activities of all kinds.

When we have asked the Government what is to happen when a large amorphous nondescript district takes over from four or five small burgh authorities very active in community life, we have been told that the community councils will be able to carry on with such activities, but it is not clear in the Bill that that is so. It is not clear that they will have such powers, although statements by the Government have occasionally indicated that it is in their minds that they should. By their representational function the community councils would he allowed to run things with a community interest, but if they are do to so they must be allowed to hold and to have funds and, in some cases at least, to have a limited amount of staff.

Community activities are becoming more and more important nowadays. With remoteness from the centre of power, the feeling of community is, I believe, becoming more intense. Community councils can help to keep the spirit of community activities alive. I wonder whether I would carry the Secretary of state with me in my alarm about Clause 51, dealing with community councils. It states specifically that schemes for the establishment of community councils shall be submitted to the Secretary of State before 16th May 1976. I was doubtful about the date, and put down an amendment, which was not selected.

Small burghs in my constituency run common ridings, miners' galas, fishermen's festivals and so on, but those burgh authorities will cease to exist in 1975. Will there be a year's hiatus when no one will have power to do this sort of thing? Many of these activities have been running for a very long time but could well lapse in the transitional period. I see no reason why there should be a gap of a whole year after the ending of the old system and the beginning of the new.

I am constantly being asked in my constituency, "How are we sure that our local activities will continue?" I have to reply that, according to the Bill, the scheme for the community council to take over from the burgh authority of Duns, for example—as with other small burghs in my constituency—its activities and life in a community sense will not necessarily be approved until 1976 and will not begin until the latter half of 1976 or even until summer 1977.

If small burghs cease to exist at the end of 1975, why cannot we get schemes for community councils going during the succeeding transitional year so that there is no break and no hiatus? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that this is a sensible new clause which would firm up the powers of the community councils where there is a lively community spirit. At least we should allow for schemes proposed prior to the demise of the existing burghs to be able to carry on when those burghs cease to exist so that there is no break on continuity and no hiatus.

Mr. David Steel

I hope that the Government will be willing to accept either the new clause or some of the amendments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) made an important point when he said that one rôle which we see for the community councils is that of making constructive criticism and comment to the statutory authorities on behalf of the communities in their area. As long as we leave it in tale Bill that any possible finance for the community councils is entirely dependent on the good will of these authorities, then there is an imbalance which is likely to create trouble in future.

It is significant that the bodies which have written to Members making representations calling for increased powers for the community councils are such stimulating bodies in the local community as the Council of Social Service, the Women's Rural Institutes—organisations which are occasionally able to grapple with community problems but do not have the statutory recognition which a community council could have under the Bill.

When I say "criticism and comment" I do not mean that this is to be an obstructive process. One useful purpose for a community council would be to draw to the attention of the statutory authorities cases of individual grievance within a community. For example, St. Anndrew's House has been pumping out circulars about the provision that local authorities are making for the disabled. Could not the community councils act as a watchdog, dealing with specific instances in their communities which they will know about because they are closer to the community level than the new authorities?

Could such councils not pressurise the statutory authorities on such matters as including in their housing stocks sufficient houses for the disabled or providing particular facilities for a disabled person known to be in that community? All of these functions are important and it is necessary to go beyond the discretion established in the Bill for the statutory authorities to give cash if they feel so inclined to the community councils.

The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) made a valid point about the sort of festivities which take place in the Border areas. It is a common practice for each individual Border common riding to have its own constitution and traditions, no two of which are exactly the same.

One fairly common feature is that the present town councils supply something from the rates towards these festivities. While it is true that the new district councils proposed in the Bill may continue to do this, it would be far more satisfactory if there were a clear rating authority based on the community and able to raise the relatively small sums of money required for this purpose.

There is also a need for community councils in areas other than those which have councils that are to be abolished. I am thinking of the large villages in remote parts of my constituency. They complain to me that even under the existing county council scheme their needs are neglected. They say that they want things such as a children's playground and that, short of the usual evening concerts and jumble sales and so on, they cannot raise the money for it. If they are to be encouraged to form community councils they should have as of right a certain amount of money and staff allocated to them. I hope that the Government will say that they have re-thought this subject since Committee stage and that we do not hear the arguments which were advanced then advanced again, as happened in the last debate.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I support the new clause. Hon. Members have been speaking mainly about the Border areas and the Islands where, perhaps, communities lend themselves more appropriately to the formation of community councils. However, the need is no less great in the cities. While there is an overall city community, there is a community within that community. For example, in Glasgow there are the people who belong to Clydeside and the people who belong to Maryhill. Last week there was what is known as "Maryhill Week" which dealt, among other things, with the history of the formation of Maryhill. The local authority formed ward committees, not of a political character but of a community character. They were manned by people irrespective of religion or politics.

In a circular issued by the Government in 1972 it was said that the district authority should take the initiative and suggest areas for draft schemes. They would then be published, and put up for criticism and comment by the local people. The deficiency here has to do with the financing. How is it proposed that the money should be raised? It is all very well saying, as the circular says, that they would be open to receive donations. The circular does not say from whom.

There may be some individuals who have pride in their community and would make bequests and so on. That has happened, but private patronage has largely disappeared. It is to the public authorities that we have to look for such financial support. The Government can encourage the communities in the cities as well as the communities elsewhere by giving us more information.

Mr. Younger

As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) said, we had a long discussion in Committee about the principle of community councils and we also covered in some detail the point raised by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) about the length of time specified in the Bill for the new schemes to come into operation. I do not blame anyone for not having picked up the references in the Committee proceedings. I shall be pleased to provide those references later.

There is nothing between the two sides of the House on the importance of community councils, the importance of the rôle we wish to assign to them and the desirability of attracting people to take part in their activities. What is at issue, apart from the point about finance and other duties that may be suggested for them, is what type of body we wish the community council to be. We have to decide this, as Wheatley had to decide it. We have to decide the ideal rôle for the community council—whether it is to be a third tier of local government, or, in the case of the island areas, a second tier. It might have been decided that the community councils should have statutory funds and duties, should carry out their duties in the same way as a local authority does, operating as a local authority with different types of function. We, the Wheatley Commission, and many others considering local government reform, decided against that form of organisation. We decided against it because we did not believe that the job that it is most important for the community council to do could be done if it were shackled with statutory finance, statutory duties and statutory obligations, as is a local authority.

We went into this in detail in Committee, where I described the effect of giving statutory finance to a community council by saying that it would bring the community council into the whole gamut of public expenditure control, official audit and national views being taken on whether public funds were being properly or improperly spent. We need to think hard about whether we want our community councils to be small and local to the communities or whether we want to bring them into the statutory business of being local authorities.

Mr. Grimond

They have some finance now. Does anyone ever interfere with them? Do we have debates in the House about whether Hoy District Council is using its finances properly? We must get used to providing finance for opposition. We pay the Leader of the Opposition, rightly, and we can no longer pretend that a body which gets finance from the Exchequer must necessarily conform to the policy of the Exchequer.

Mr. Younger

I apologise for not making myself clear. I am not referring to district councils.

Mr. Grimond

No, the present councils.

Mr. Younger

I am referring to the future community councils. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. District councils at present have such finance and are a tier of local government. I am suggesting that community councils in future should not be like that but should be different bodies which should not have to answer to the House—

Mr. Grimond

I know that is what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but in my constituency a community council in some respects could be treated as a successor to the district council. I am all in favour of giving community councils new powers of representation and argument and I am also in favour of their keeping some of the existing powers. It was in that regard that I was likening their position to that of the existing district councils.

Mr. Younger

I entirely take the right hon. Gentleman's point. He is suggesting that the community councils in his area should not be of the type which I am suggesting for the rest of Scotland but should be organised differently. That is a perfectly fair view to hold and we can discuss that later. At this stage we are discussing whether the community councils suggested in the Bill should have a statutory right to finance and whether statutory duties should be thrust upon them.

If we make community councils into full-scale third tier local authority we shall be creating an entirely different sort of council from that which Wheatley had in mind and which we have had in mind in all our considerations.

It must be remembered that if community councils are put into the local government framework and are affected by all these statutory provisions there will arise the usual questions about the interpretation of local government law. If a power is not specifically given to a local government body it is assumed that it has not got that power—the ultra vires rule. If the community council were put into this position it would be inhibited in small, irritating and maddening ways from doing what it wants to do by the fact that people would be able to haul it up on the ground that it was exceeding its powers, because what it wanted to do was not specifically stated.

It is of fundamental importance to the whole concept of community councils that we should leave them free to do what their local communities wish to do, and that they shall not be continually hauled up against the stops of whether they are allowed to do things by statute. For these reasons we have left the provisions for community councils flexible and broad and not tied to specific finance, specific authority or specific powers and duties.

The effect of the clause is to remove Clause 55 which provides that regional, islands and district councils may contribute towards the cost of community councils and to substitute for it a new clause which does three things. It empowers community councils to accept, raise and hold finances. It requires district councils to contribute as necessary to provide community councils within their areas with staff, services and accommodation. Also it enables regional, islands and district councils to make contributions and loans to community councils.

The amendments raise the issue which we debated in Committee of compulsory assistance to community councils, to be provided either by means of a statutory right to assistance towards staff costs and accommodation or by a power to requisition on rates. That is at variance with what I have described as the concept of community councils and I ask the House to look at the practical difficulties.

Suppose we encouraged a district council to lay down a specific proportion of the rates to be given to community councils. That would immediately raise all sorts of problems as to how much, whether it should be the same amount for all community councils, what would happen about community councils that did little and amassed a lot of money which they received as of right without question, and what would happen about a community council that had a tremendous task to perform—such as that mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. William Hannan)—and not enough money to pay for it. As for different rates for different councils, the complexities would be tremendous and I do not think we can embark upon that.

The clause does not go quite as far as that. It specifies generally some benefits which community councils could get. We have given careful consideration to the suggestions of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan and to the many representations that have been made to us by the Scottish Council of Social Service and others, but we remain firmly of the view that it would fundamentally alter the concept of community councils if they had statutory rights even of the kind mentioned in the clause.

The key point is that, while it is appropriate for all local authority or similar bodies that have statutory duties to carry out to have a corresponding statutory right to finance for the performance of their duties, a community council does not have such statutory duties and consequently has no entitlement to such financial help. It is of the essence of our concept of the community council that its duties and responsibilities should be determined by the local community itself, not imposed from a central source. Accordingly, while it is right that community councils should be able to raise, hold and spend money for whatever purpose they think fit, it would not be right to give them the power to receive money or other help as of right, either from central government or from local authorities.

Amendment No. 251 requires a community council to employ as many staff as it considers necessary to carry out its functions. I suggest that that amendment is not strictly necessary. Community councils are entirely free agents. No restrictions are imposed upon what they may do, the staff they may employ or the methods by which they may raise funds. It will be for the community, represented by the council, to decide for itself what tasks it wishes the council to undertake, and the staffing requirements. so that the council will need to be tailored accordingly. I do not see how the amendment would add to the powers of community councils to do this. The word "shall", which implies a statutory duty, is inappropriate in the case of a body which does not have statutory functions and the activities of which are to be determined by itself and not laid down by someone else.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Grimond

The people who will determine whether North Ronaldsay employs staff is the whole community of Orkney. In the islands the local community is the whole community of the island, and it has no powers under the Bill unless the higher authority provides it with money to get staff.

Mr. Younger

Without accepting the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's description of "higher authority", that is more or less a correct description. The schemes that are envisaged for setting up community councils allow for the district council to draw up a scheme which will then be publicly advertised, discussed and objected to if necessary before being submitted for approval to the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman is worried about what will happen in his own area, and I presume that the all-purpose or most-purpose authority in Orkney and Shetland would draw up a scheme in just such a way as I have described, advertise it and discuss it, and submit it to the Secretary of State for his consideration. Those are the major steps to be gone through, and I am certain that the people of Hoy, for example, will be sufficiently well equipped to make their views known to those drawing up the areas and to make sure that if they do not get their way in the first instance, a powerful case is made of it.

I urge the House to think carefully, and I hope that this will be taken as a genuine point about which we ought to think carefully. I hope that we shall not let our enthusiasm to help the community councils get off the ground and to encourage these many excellent people who take a lively interest in the formation of community councils lead to a form of organisation which will make their job more difficult eventually.

If we were to impose statutory duties on these councils and to give them the statutory right to finance, we should bring them inevitably into the local government system, whether or not they or we wanted it or whether or not Wheatley wanted it. We should land them with unnecessary administrative problems and restrictions on what they would be able to do which they would not want in future and which we do not want now. In our enthusiasm to help, we should be careful.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

Surely central and local government give funds to all sorts of local bodies, including amenity and civic bodies and the Arts Council. Would it inevitably link the community councils with part of local government?

Mr. Younger

There is nothing to prevent a district council giving funds to a community council to take part in some task for which the district council is basically responsible. Some of the instances given by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) of tasks which he would have thought appropriate for a community council are matters which I should expect it was probable that the district councils might ask the community councils to do. If that is so, there is no reason why finance could not be given by the district council to the community council to perform those tasks—and it obviously would be. But we should not lay a statutory duty on the community councils. If we did, they would be brought right into public audit and public accountability for the money that they spent. What is more, they would be prevented from extending their rôle by the ultra vires rule.

Mr. Grimond

This is a strange situation. This Bill was in Committee for a very long time, yet apparently the Government still do not know the effect of Clauses 88, 89 and 91. If these clauses do not mean what they say, they should not be in the Bill. If they do not confer a right on local authorities which they would not have otherwise, the Government should assure us that they do not exclude other authorities from doing these things. If one local authority needs explicit authority to carry out these duties, so will any other authority. I should like some assurance that the Government have the powers specified in Clauses 88, 89 and 91.

Mr. Younger

That is a tall order to answer off the cuff. The right hon. Gentleman asks a great deal if he expects me to look through all these provisions and assure him that everything could be done by a community council. I should have thought that that was the position. But I shall look into it most carefully and see whether I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman seems to be resting his case on the assertion that it would be wrong to impose a duty on the community council which resulted in its being answerable to public audit and the like. As I read the clause, it does not seek to impose any duty on the community council. Under subsection (2) it seeks to impose a duty on the district council which is already answerable under the terms of the Bill. Under subsections (1) and (3) it seeks simply to make a permissive arrangement for the community council to accept funds. I cannot understand how the hon. Gentleman draws the conclusion that he does from these permisive subsections.

Mr. Younger

If I say a brief word about the detail in the clause, perhaps that will answer the hon. Gentleman's points. Subsection (1) merely sets out a power which community councils can already exercise and which does not need spelling out in detail. The nature of a community council is such that it can hold either money or property without the need for statutory warrant. I suggest that this subsection is not necessary.

Subsection (2) would require district councils to contribute either in cash or in kind towards the staff and accommodation needs of community councils in their areas. Apart from being subject to the same objection as the previous subsection, this is also open to the criticism that the district council must contribute so much as will enable the community council to provide the staff, services, accommodation, etc., which seem necessary to meet its reasonable requirements. The clause does not specify who is to be the judge of the necessary amount or of what are reasonable requirements, nor is provision made for arbitration in the case of disagreement. So, although it is quite desirable, it does not take us very much further.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman has really conceded my point. Subsection (2) does not impose any kind of mandatory obligation on the community council of such a kind which would render it liable to be regarded as the third tier of local government which has been the foundation of the hon. Gentleman's attack on the motion.

Mr. Younger

Taken by themselves, I do not think that the two subsections do this. But I am anxious that we should not do anything which would strictly make a change in the position. I am also anxious that we should not write more definition into what is to be required of community councils than is absolutely unavoidable. The more that we do that, the more the danger that at some time they will want to do something and someone will decide that they cannot do it. The whole concept of commuity councils is that they should be left as free of detailed specification of what they can do as possible. That is the passport to them to do the work which their commuities may ask them to do.

Mr. Mackintosh

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm the point made in Committee that it will be possible to establish and start the operation of these community councils as from the last day of the existence of the burghs from which they will take over?

Mr. Younger

Without going into all the detail that I went into in Committee, I cannot answer that point satisfactorily. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman wants to try to avoid a gap between the present authorities and the community councils. Perhaps I might refer him to our discussion of this matter in Committee. We went into it in great detail. The sheer time needed does not make it possible to do everything by this date. The new authorities will be elected in May 1974. It will take them at least a month or two to get their offices set up and their organisations in being. Then there will be the summer holidays. There are various stages involved. Even supposing that they had nothing else to do than draw up community councils, it would be very hard to fit everything in. My own initial reaction was the same as the hon. Gentleman's. However I shall write to him about it. Having looked at the matter I cannot see a way of doing it any quicker. If the hon. Gentleman can suggest a way, I shall be glad to hear it.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman cannot leave it there. He has admitted that there will be this gap. How will it be filled? It will be detrimental to the accepted annual celebrations of many communities.

Mr. Younger

The detail of how any function at present carried on by an existing local authority—the right hon. Gentleman may be referred to common ridings and so on—

Mr. Ross

They have them in Ayrshire too, do they?

Mr. Younger

Yes. The detail as to what is to happen in the interim is a matter which could be gone into in each case. But I cannot see a way of going through the procedure of drawing up community council schemes within a quicker time scale than that which has been laid down. If the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian can persuade me otherwise, I shall be extremely pleased. But I do not think that it is practicable. As for carrying on in the interim. I do not doubt that those in the localities will find ways and means. But I am prepared to listen hard to any points made to me.

Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Woodside)

We are disappointed by the Minister's handling of New Clause 8.

Perhaps I might first mention the very important matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) about common ridings, Lanimer Days, and so on. In Committee, when we discussed the timing of community councils and when they could be set up, we did not give sufficient consideration to this gap. We were all taken up with the time of setting up the community councils.

When the Minister spoke in Committee about the problems of setting up community councils, he drew attention to a number of great difficulties. While it may be difficult to get the community councils off the ground and, as matters stand, apparently impossible to ensure that these special ancient celebrations go on in our Scottish towns, nevertheless some effort should be made to ask the regional councils or district councils for an interim period. It may take more than one year. In many instances there may be more than a one-year gap. could not the Under-Secretary use his good offices, perhaps in the other place, to include a provision to empower the district councils to carry on these functions for at least one or two years in order to allow the gap to be bridged? We are upsetting local government so much that it would be wrong not to take every opportunity to try to encourage anything that could be done in this respect.

7.15 p.m.

The Minister made very heavy weather of the clause. I do not understand why he finds it so difficult. The only point of substance that he put forward against the wording of the clause was that there would perhaps be a necessity for arbitration to decide what staff would be necessary and what the reasonable requirements would be. I cannot understand how he sees in this any statutory duties.

As many hon. Members have said, if we are to have community councils they must have staff. The staff may be meagre. It may be only one person is necessary. One difficulty is that the Government have not been forthcoming on what they mean by "community councils". There are difficulties. However, they have not, for instance, said that the city of Glasgow would have one community council per ward or large single traditional area such as the old village of Glasgow, Govan, Maryhill or Bridgeton. They have never given any indication of what they mean by "community council". However, they have provided in other parts of the Bill that in certain areas the chairman of the community council will be able to use the regalia of the old royal burghs or burgh councils, the chains of office, and so on. The Government have been extremely coy about trying to explain what they mean by "community council". I accept that it is not easy to define a community council, because it will vary greatly from place to place. That is why the clause would take a certain amount of the flabbiness out of Clause 55 which it seeks to replace.

I ask the Minister to look at the clause again. He suggested that arbitration may be required—I do not think that is so—to decide what is necessary. Subsection (2) provides: District councils shall make such contributions to community councils within their areas as will enable these community councils to provide the staff, services, accommodation. furniture and equipment which seem necessary to meet their reasonable requirements. They must at least have that. We cannot expect a group of people to meet in the street and say, "Let us have a community council". Some provision must be made. Surely it would be better if that provision were made by the district council. In Committee it was suggested that there would be a number of surplus buildings in the new structure of local government which could profitably and properly be used by community councils. Everything is tied to reasonable requirements.

The subsection continues: Such contributions may be in terms of payment or, by agreement between the councils concerned, in other form. Clause 55 merely provides: Regional, islands and district councils may make such contributions as they think fit towards the expenses of community councils". We are asking for a little more substance for the community councils. We are suggesting that they should be supplied with the bare necessities of life.

Everyone who has looked at the Bill with any attention has accepted that community councils are absolutely essential I suggest that unless we get community councils established the remoteness of local government will be even greater than it is now.

I ask the Minister to look at the matter again and to consider whether something on the lines of the clause might be put into the Bill when it goes to another place. We believe that the clause gives more substance to community councils without any statutory imposition. I do not see that it puts any statutory imposition on community councils. I doubt whether I should agree with statutory impositions being put on them. The clause could help to get community councils established without statutory impositions being put on them. I ask the Minister to accept the clause or to consider whether something to this effect might be put in the Bill in another place.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I felt apologetic in moving the clause. I had the impression that I had not said anything that was new. I made an attempt at digging up a couple of points, and I suggest, with natural modesty, that there is substance in the two points that I made. However, I have heard nothing new from the Government.

The Minister was regularly asked what he meant by "statutory authority", but he has not advanced one inch in explaining why a community council becomes some kind of statutory body when the obligation is placed on some other authority to give it money.

This point was brought out in Committee. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will have read the debates in Committee, though I confess, listening to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I have my doubts about him. He confused the issue by bringing in existing district councils. The amendments moved by Members of the Liberal Party refer only to the Islands or the Borders. The reference to district councils is confusing in this debate where we are dealing with a general principle applying to community councils in all authorities.

I do not see why I should come to the Government's rescue again. The Minister's performance was lamentable in the light of the specific questions put to him. I do not want to encourage my right hon Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) to get in on this one—he does not need any encouragement—but if the centenary of Darvel had been in June 1974, not June 1973, from where would the money have come? The answer is obvious. The old and the new authorities will be running side by side for a year and the money, if there is a desire for this commitment, would come from one or other or both.

It is the Minister's duty to satisfy us on this matter. In view of his inability to satisfy us we must try to puff up the future provisions of the Bill, vague as some may be. I have attempted to elicit information from the Government. For the benefit of some hon. Members, I should point out that Glasgow, that much maligned authority, has already given a firm commitment that it will encourage and finance community councils. If it can be done in Glasgow, what is to stop the Orkney County Council or the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles County Council making that commitment now? False hopes can be raised. I am not trying to raise false hopes. There must be some desire by the local community or the proposal will not work.

I hope that the debate has been useful if only to put pressure on the Government. I ask the Minister—he does not have to do it now—to issue a circular recognising that there are tremendous differences in the needs of communities in Glasgow or Ayrshire compared with Orkney and Shetland. I am with the Liberals in spirit. They can find some way of voting on another amendment.

I believe that we are all generally agreed on the need for community councils, but, when we get down to the practicalities, no amount of money paid to any moribund organisation will make it successful.

This is the dilemma that we are all facing, and that includes the Government. It appears to me that the Government have not recognised the fact that their words could give encouragement to get this idea off the ground. The Govern- ment do not want to instruct local authorities to do something. We have tried to find a middle way, perhaps not successfully in terms of the new clause, but I hope that what I am saying will be taken on board by the Minister. [Interruption.] I hope that my hon. Friends will not get carried away by my eloquence. It is not fair to press the matter to a Division.

There are genuine difficulties, and perhaps I may refer my hon. Friends to Clause 51(2) which says and to take such action in the interests of that community as appears to it"— that is to the community council, and not to any other authority— to be expedient and practical. The Minister and the Government have endorsed that view. I hope that that is the spirit in which we shall see community councils thrive, and woe-betide any district authority which attempts to deny community councils the resources and necessary finance to do an effective job. I cannot speak for the next Labour Government, but that is a commitment that could easily be given to ensure that community councils are not starved of resources if the demand is there. That is the spirit in which we approach the matter but, having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Mr. Ross

In view of the Minister's reply, I do not think it would be wise to allow my hon. Friend to withdraw the clause. The Government have said that they do not want to bring community councils into the ambit of local government, yet when we talk about local government and refer to the remoteness of the new district and regional authorities the Government tell us that there will be no difficulties because the community councils will be in operation.

Whether or not the Government like it, it is by the community councils that they are seeking to underpin local democracy and local participation. These community councils are in local government, and if we do not make a success of them things will be pretty serious in the years ahead.

I am surprised that my Liberal friends, and particularly the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) did not ask what would happen to the councils of social service after the community councils were established. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, apart from the money received locally by these councils, a considerable sum of money is provided by the Government, and no strings are attached to it. I remember certain publications issued by the councils social service being pretty hard on the Government and criticising them for what they had done. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) gets my point, and I welcome him to our debate.

What are the Government afraid of? The Under-Secretary of State said that the Government do not want to specify lest they limit these authorities, and that

if they take it unto themselves to demand money it will be forthcoming. I have read the new clause three or four times, and I listened carefully to the Minister's speech. I see no attempt to specify limits. I appreciate my hon. Friend's view. There would have been a different reaction if he had been speaking from the benches opposite. There is no confidence that these councils will get off the ground following the Minister's speech, and I therefore suggest that we press the matter to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 163.

Division No. 159.] AYES [7.29 p.m.
Abse, Leo Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Oakes, Gordon
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hardy, Peter O'Halloran, Michael
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Harper, Joseph O'Malley, Brian
Armstrong, Ernest Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Orbach, Maurice
Ashton, Joe Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Orme, Stanley
Atkinson, Norman Horam, John Oswald, Thomas
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Paget, R. T.
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Palmer, Arthur
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Pardoe, John
Bidwell, Sydney Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pavitt, Laurie
Booth, Albert Hunter, Adam Perry, Ernest G.
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Price, William (Rugby)
Bradley, Tom Jeger, Mrs. Lena Radice, Giles
Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) John, Brynmor Rhodes, Geoffrey
Buchan, Norman Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Robert, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Carmichael, Neil Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham,S.) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Kaufman, Gerald Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Kelley, Richard Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Concannon, J. D. Kerr, Russell Sillars, James
Crawshaw, Richard Kinnock, Neil Silverman, Julius
Dalyell, Tam Lamble, David Skinner, Dennis
Davidson, Arthur Lamborn, Harry Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Lamond, James Spearing, Nigel
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Latham, Arthur Stallard, A. W.
Deakins, Eric Lawson, George Steel, David
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Leadbitter, Ted Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Dempsey, James Leonard, Dick Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Doig, Peter Lestor, Miss Joan Stott, Roger (Westhoughton)
Dormand, J. D. Lipton, Marcus Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Lomas, Kenneth Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Loughlin, Charles Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Duffy, A. E. P. McBride, Neil Tinn, James
Eadie, Alex McCartney, Hugh Tope, Graham
Ellis, Tom McElhone, Frank Torney, Tom
Evans, Fred Machin, George Varley, Eric G.
Ewing, Harry Mackenzie, Gregor Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Mackintosh, John P Wallace, George
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Maclennan, Robert Watkins, David
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McNamara, J. Kevin White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Foot, Michael Marquand, David Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Ford, Ben Meacher, Michael Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Freeson, Reginald Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Woof, Robert
Gilbert, Dr. John Millan, Bruce
Golding, John Miller, Dr. M. S.
Gourlay, Harry Milne, Edward TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grant, George (Morpeth) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Mr. Donald Coleman and Mr. James Hamilton.
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Murray, Ronald King
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Green, Alan Nott, John
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Grylls, Michael Onslow, Cranley
Atkins, Humphrey Gummer, J. Selwyn Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Gurden, Harold Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Bell, Ronald Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
Benyon, W. Haselhurst, Alan Parkinson, Cecil
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hawkins, Paul Percival, Ian
Biffen, John Hicks, Robert Pink, R. Bonner
Biggs-Davison, John Hordern, Peter Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Hornby, Richard Proudfoot, Wilfred
Body, Richard Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Raison, Timothy
Bossom, Sir Clive Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Redmond, Robert
Bowden, Andrew Hutchison, Michael Clark Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Brewis, John Iremonger, T. L. Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Brinton, Sir Tatton James, David Rost, Peter
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Russell, Sir Ronald
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Jessel, Toby St. John-Stevas, Norman
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Jopling, Michael Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Buck, Antony Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Shelton, William (Clapham)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Kershaw, Anthony Shersby, Michael
Campbell, Rt. Hn. G.(Moray & Nairn) Kimball, Marcus Simeons, Charles
Carlisle, Mark King, Tom (Bridgwater) Soref, Harold
Channon, Paul Kirk, Peter Speed, Keith
Chapman, Sydney Knight, Mrs. Jill Spence, John
Chichester-Clark, R. Knox, David Sproat, Iain
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Lane, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Clegg, Walte La Marchant, Spencer Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Cockeram, Eric Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Stokes, John
Cooke, Robert Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Coombs, Derek MacArthur, Ian Sutcliffe, John
Cordle, John McCrindle, R. A. Tapsell, Peter
Cormack, Patrick McLaren, Martin Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Crouch, David Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (Farnham) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
d'Avlgdor- Goldsmid, Sir Henry McNair-Wilson, Michael Tebbit, Norman
Dean, Paul Maddan, Martin Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Deedes, Rt. Hn w. F. Madel, David Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Dixon, Piers Mather, Carol Tilney, John
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec Maude, Angus Tugendhat, Christopher
Dykes, Hugh Mawby, Ray Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J Waddington, David
Emery, Peter Meyer, Sir Anthony Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Eyre, Reginald Miscampbell, Norman Ward, Dame Irene
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) White, Roger (Gravesend)
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Moate, Roger Wiggin, Jerry
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Money, Ernle Wilkinson, John
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Monro, Hector Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Fookes, Miss Janet Montgomery, Fergus Worsley, Marcus
Fortescue, Tim Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Fowler, Norman Morgan-Giles. Rear-Adm. Younger, Hn. George
Fox, Marcus Mudd, David TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Nabarro, Sir Gerald Mr. Oscar Murton and
Gardner, Edward Neave, Airey Mr. Hamish Gray.
Gower, Raymond Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael

Question accordingly negatived.

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