HC Deb 23 January 1974 vol 867 cc1728-47
Mr. Marks

I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 25, line 37, at end insert: '(e) any rent scrutiny board, rent assessment panel or rent tribunal'. The purpose of the Ombudsman, as I see it, is to protect the public and give them access to an independent inquiry in cases where there may have been maladministration in a Government Department or, in the case of this Bill, a local authority. The public have other means of complaint direct to the Departments or through their Members of Parliament, and they use that channel. They may also make a complaint to local councillors, and they also use that channel. They also have some sanction in the fact that they elect their Members of Parliament and councillors.

One of the great sources of grievance at present is not Government Departments or local authorities. It is true that they are part of the establishment which people have a natural tendency to grumble about, since they affect their everyday lives in great detail. Another source of suspicion and grumbling relates to the quasi-judicial bodies concerned with rents. I refer to rent scrutiny panels, rent assessment boards and rent tribunals. In a sense the rent scrutiny panel is an overlord of a council and its tenants. Under the Housing Finance Act local authorities decide on fair rents for their council houses. These can be discussed in committee, with the Press present, and in open council.

The tenants may not agree that rents are fair and may say that they are too high—in other words, they may object to those rents. But whether or not the tenants object, the rent scrutiny boards will examine and decide on fair rents. Those boards do not meet in public. They may give reasons for their decision to the local authority, but they do not give them to the tenants and the local authority can ask them to think again. This appears to be a surprisingly secret operation for a body against whose decision there is no appeal.

Who are these rent scrutiny panels? Frankly, I have not seen a list of their members and I do not know whether one is published. According to the Minister in Committee, they are people qualified to exercise a judgment on this sort of matter. He continued They are not all property developers or anything of that sort. They are apparently chosen from members of rent assessment panels, the group that looks into rent rises in the private sector. But certain members of rent assessment panels cannot become members of rent scrutiny boards, namely, councillors and tenants. There is a deep suspicion of the rent scrutiny boards among both local authorities and tenants.

In regard to the rent increases which we have seen so far, it would appear that the idea of fair rents as adopted by the rent scrutiny boards is on a higher level than that adopted by tenants and certainly higher than the level local authorities have in mind. I believe that the intervention of the Ombudsman would be helpful in easing suspicion in the minds of the public and in examining cases of possible maladministration. Can the Minister say whether the Parliamentary Commissioner will be able to investigate the appointments made by the Secretary of State?

When this matter was raised in Committee the Minister resisted a similar amendment, on the ground that the decisions of these bodies were judicial and not administrative. He said it has emerged from today's discusssion that there is concern about the matters. I still retain the view that the commissioner is not the right person to look into the administration of these tribunals, boards or committees. But I am puzzled as to why the board, as opposed to the rent assessment committees and rent tribunals, conduct their business in private. This is not the right Bill to correct the matter. There will be, I hope, a housing Bill before the House soon and, in that connection, it may be right that we should look at this point again. I will certainly have words with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction on this worrying point."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 6th December 1973 ; c. 337–9.] I hope that the Minister will enlighten us on the words that he had with his hon. Friend. The Housing Bill 1974 is now, presumably, drafted. We have been promised that we shall see it in print in a few days. Are rent scrutiny panels and the other bodies mentioned in that Bill?

I believe that the issue is bigger than that. More and more the private citizen and the councils that he elects, and for that matter, the trade union officers and the Consumer Association officers whom he elects, are coming under the domination of non-elected bodies meeting, often in private, and deciding on his rent, his pay and the prices that he pays. He does not regard them as his protectors. On the contrary. If the Ombudsman is to be regarded as the protector of the citizen's rights, he should have power to investigate these bodies.

I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to support the amendment.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

should like to reinforce briefly what was said by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) and to ask the Minister to look again at the position of rent scrutiny boards. Many tenants are not yet aware of the extent of the effect of the boards on their future rents, but local authorities are aware of it.

The Secretary of State has received representations from Amble Urban District Council concerning the lack of any appeal procedure against decisions by the rent scrutiny boards. Other local authorities are also anxious about the matter and are aware of the difficulties of getting any comeback against rent scrutiny boards in cases of bad rent judgments.

I should like the Minister to put from his mind any idea that concern is necessarily part of any general attack on the Housing Finance Act. Many of us are critical of the Act, but the specific point concerning rent scrutiny boards and the lack of appeal against them has aroused a great deal of concern among local authorities which involve all parties. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that his hon. Friends take much the same view as I am putting forward. I hope he can offer some hope or, if not, that he will defer to the pressure from this side of the House to deal with the lack of any appeal procedure against rent scrutiny board decisions. In the absence of any alternative, the Local Government Commissioner seems to be our best hope.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)

I want briefly to reinforce what has been said and to make one comment on what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) said. He implied that the secrecy of the rent scrutiny boards was mandatory. I understand that that is not so. The secrecy in which the rent scrutiny boards operate is to a great extent self-chosen. They could meet in public if they wished. To be more accurate, this secrecy is not laid upon them by statute, but they are encouraged to meet in secret by the Department. If a particular rent scrutiny board decided in its discretion that it wanted to meet in public or to admit representatives of the tenants whose rents were being decided, I understand that there would be no statutory bar to that being done. It would be useful if the Minister could confirm this. While the Department might, and I think does, encourage the boards to meet in secret, it has no statutory right to enforce them to do so.

Many members of rent scrutiny boards are most unhappy about the manner in which they are bound or have chosen to meet. Most members of the boards are also members of rent assessment panels, as my hon. Friend said. It seems to them that they are meeting with less regard for natural justice in their rent scrutiny capacities than in their capacities as members of rent assessment panels, when parties can be present and individual flats and houses are visited and their facilities looked at in great detail. By contrast, the rent scrutiny boards look at an occasional flat and compare it with flats in the private sector. They cannot possibly get round to all the flats and houses whose rents they are determining.

There is great dissatisfaction even now among tenants about the likely result of the rent scrutiny boards. There is likely to be much more dissatisfaction when the results are formally brought out.

I hope that the Minister will take account of the great, though largely unexpressed, dissatisfaction on the part of members of rent scrutiny boards.

7.45 p.m.

Mr, Graham Page

The Rent Act 1968 and the Housing Finance Act 1972 together give the Secretary of State power to appoint rent assessment panels, which form a pool of talent, as it were, for the personnel of the three bodies referred to in the amendment. The panels consist of lawyers, valuers and laymen from whom are chosen the members of the three types of body mentioned in the amendment: rent assessment committees, to hear objections against rent officers' assessments of fair rents for private unfurnished accommodation ; rent tribunals, to determine reasonable rents for private furnished accommodation ; and rent scrutiny boards, to consider rent assessments made by local authorities for council housing. The rent scrutiny board is the one that has received most criticism in the debate.

All members of the panels are appointed either by the Secretary of State or, on his recommendation, by the Lord Chancellor. This differentiates them sharply from the bodies to which Part III of the Bill is intended to apply—namely, local authorities, joint boards of local authorities, police authorities and water authorities, all of which are wholly or largely composed of locally-elected councillors. I must stress the independence of the panels from the control of either central or local government.

The authorities to which Part III may be extended by subsection (2) are those established under Act of Parliament and having the power to levy a rate or issue a precept. Of course, rent assessment panels and the bodies constituted from them are outside the letter and the spirit of these provisions.

Rent assessment committees and rent tribunals do not operate in the public sector at all. They act as independent arbiters between private landlords and their tenants. Therefore, they would be outside the intention of Part III for submitting local government matters to local commissioners. An appeal against alleged misdirections by such bodies, and, indeed, against rent scrutiny boards, may be taken to the courts. The rent assessment committees and the rent tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies in function as well as in status.

Mr. George Cunningham

Very quasi.

Mr. Page

I do not think it is right for the hon. Gentleman to say that about the rent assessment committees and rent tribunals. The argument on the rent scrutiny boards is quite different.

Mr. Cunningham

indicated assent.

Mr. Page

But I will dispose of these two first. They are quasi-judicial bodies in function as well as in status. Parties may appear before them to state their cases, and they are subject to regulations by the Council on Tribunals.

The main point of objection to including these bodies within Part III is one of considerable substance. It is that they bear no relation to the bodies for which Part III is intended, and I do not think that it would be possible to accommodate them in that part of the Bill. To add them in the place suggested by the amendment would turn them into local authorities for the purpose of this part of the Bill, which again seems rather ridiculous, and they would be part of the representative bodies set up to co-operate with the commissioners.

During the debate in Committee on a similar amendment I undertook to consider the possibility of allowing rent scrutiny boards to meet in public. That was the main point on which I thought I could assist the hon. Gentleman in the potent argument he put forward about some form of public hearing by the boards. It is a contentious question, but it is being considered by the Advisory Committee on Fair Rents at the request of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, and any recommendations which the committee makes will be carefully considered by my hon. Friend.

I remind the House that my hon. Friend is responsible for the Bill that was presented to the House today on the subject of housing and planning. There will, therefore, be an opportunity to take into account the recommendations of the advisory committee. I was asked whether there was anything in the Bill about that now. The answer is that there is not because we are awaiting the advisory committee's report.

Mr. Cunningham

Is it permissible under the statutes for a rent scrutiny board to meet in public if it wishes?

Mr. Page

Yes. That could be done. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is a matter of practice that the boards have chosen to meet in private, I think mainly because of the question of the rents payable by individuals.

I must emphasise and acknowledge the difference in argument between the two bodies which I have discussed so far, the rent assessment committees and the rent tribunals, and the rent scrutiny boards.

Mr. Cunningham

May we take it that not only has a rent scrutiny board no statutory obligation to meet in secret but that it is not under any departmental pressure or persuasion to do so?

Mr. Page

I was trying to duck that question from the hon. Gentleman, because I cannot answer it off the cuff. I shall endeavour to find out whether any instructions on this subject have gone out from my Department to the boards or whether they have been given any guidance on how they should conduct their affairs. I should be sorry if we were to direct them on this subject from the centre, but I repeat that I cannot give an answer off the cuff.

Rent scrutiny boards are appointed from the panel. They are independent bodies. They are outside local government, and therefore it would be wrong to bring them within the jurisdiction of the local commissioners established by the Bill.

It is not true to say that there is no appeal from them. The Housing Finance Act requires a rent scrutiny board to allow a period of two months between the publishing of its report on a local authority's provisional assessment of fair rents and the final determination of those rents. Within that period the tenants are asked for their views by the authority, which should then co-ordinate its views and those of the tenants before resubmitting its assessment to the board. There is a form of appeal against the board's first decision which can be made by representations by tenants during that period of two months when the report lies before a final decision is made upon it.

In addition, if the authority—or the tenant—believes that the board has misdirected itself in reaching its decision, it is at liberty to ask the court to decide the matter.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

As the rent scrutiny boards meet in secret and do not disclose the reasons for their decisions, how is it possible for tenants or local authorities to submit an appeal to a higher court on the question of misdirection?

Mr. Page

There is the preliminary report which lies for two months. The tenants can consider the effect of that report and make representations upon it. Therefore, at that stage they can see whether there was a misdirection. I appreciate that this is a difficult matter to bring before the High Court. There has to be a definite breach of natural justice, as it were, before one can take the matter to the High Court.

I ask the House to await the report of the Advisory Committee on Fair Rents on this subject, with the knowledge that there is legislation in which an amendment could be made to the procedure of the rent scrutiny boards. I still feel that the right way to meet the complaints that have been made during the debate is to deal with the procedure of the boards rather than to bring them within the purview of the local commissioners.

All three boards have to decide measures in a quasi-judicial way. I therefore do not think that it is right to bring them within the jurisdiction of the commissioner who is dealing with the administration of local affairs by elected councillors. I think that this is the wrong Bill to do that, even if the complaints against the boards are justified.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

I am encouraged by the Minister's statement that the Advisory Committee on Fair Rents is to examine the desirability of the proceedings of rent scrutiny boards being held in public. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a line of demarcation between the rents of public authority houses and those occupied by private individuals? It is right and proper that rent scrutiny boards should have reservations about public hearings involving private tenants, but surely the situation with regard to council house rents is completely different.

Let me illustrate the point by telling the House what happened in Manchester. The city has 90,000 council houses. The housing and finance committees examined the whole question of the level of council house rents and came to the conclusion that it would be fair and proper to increase rents by 5p per week. The provisions of the Housing Finance Act oblige the authority to increase them by 50p per week. Naturally, the city council said, "Let us send our proposals to the rent scrutiny board."

There was no public access to the proceedings before the board and, regrettably the board did not examine those proposals soon enough to prevent the 50p increase being imposed. Quite naturally and understandably, council house tenants in Manchester and the Greater Manchester area thought that they were entitled to know what happened in the proceedings involving the board on this subject. In a matter of individual tenants or houses it is not unreasonable for people to hesitate about making the proceedings open to the public, but when 90,000 council house rents are involved rent scrutiny boards should be required to allow access to the proceedings by the public and the Press. Why should there be this conspiracy of secrecy about the levels of council house rents?

Mr. Blenkinsop

I want to reinforce the points made by my hon. Friends. Although the Minister says that, technically, this matter comes without the general provisions for the commissioner, because rent scrutiny boards are not local authority bodies, our whole point is that they deal with matters which are local authority matters and have always been at the discretion and determination of local authorities. Therefore, from a common-sense point of view, they come within the broad compass of events which are dealt with by the commissioner. We need the commissioner even more in these circumstances than in other matters normally dealt with by local authorities, because of the issue of secrecy which has been mentioned.

It is not very satisfactory to be fobbed off with the offer that a body will look into the matter of the secrecy of hearings at some indeterminate date and that, perhaps, another Bill will take cognisance of its findings. Why should we not make sure that there is at least a glimmer of light here to which hon. Members with constituencies like those of myself and my hon. Friends who have spoken this evening can look?

It is not only the determinations of the board which are in question. We cannot even get determinations from some of the boards. There is utter confusion about rents in many of our constituencies. We can understand neither on what basis the boards work nor when a determination will be made.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

I shall not detain the House for long. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) has made the case in an excellent manner.

In matters of social security or unemployment benefit, an aggrieved individual has the right of first, second and third stages of personal appeal. The Minister made great play of the fact that the members of rent assessment panels and rent tribunals are appointed by the Secretary of State or by the Lord Chancellor, as though that gave them some divine right or some personified decency. The Minister then referred to the quasi-judicial status of rent assessment panels and rent tribunals. The fact remains, however, that there is a recourse to appeal against even judicial decisions. I fail to see, therefore, in what circumstances the Minister's argument applies.

The Minister opposes our amendment on the basis that the commissioner deals purely with local authorities, but I should have thought, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said, that the fixing of rents, particularly local authority rents, is one of the most important of functions. Surely that is the major thing which the commissioner should have the right to investigate. If an individual citizen has a right of appeal where he feels that a Government Department has done him down or where he has received bad treatment from the National Health Service, he has recourse to appeal to an ombudsman. But in this most important aspect of an individual's life he has no appeal.

The three bodies referred to in the amendment are extra-parliamentary bodies, and there is no recourse to a true appeal of any sort. Clearly, they are a complete anathema in a democracy. Unless we have the protection sought in the amendment and unless the Minister is prepared to concede on this matter, I must invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the Government in the Lobby.

Mr. Graham Page

With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to reply to the points which have been raised.

I think that there is a misconception as to the duties of the commissioner. The commissioner is not appointed as court of appeal to deal with the merits of an issue. He is not appointed to decide whether a tribunal of any sort has reached the right decision or the wrong decision. He is not a court of appeal, nor, indeed, is the Parliamentary Commissioner. The commissioner is there to see whether there has been any maladministration, which is something very different.

I am very sympathetic to the argument that there is apparently no form of appeal, no way of reviewing the decision of a tribunal of this nature. In many other cases we have provided machinery for reviewing decisions. This is a matter which is not part of the Bill or of this part of the Bill. I do not know where we should get to in the Bill if we started appointing courts of appeal for all tribunals of whatever kind they might be.

We are considering here the appointment of the person who is familiarly called the ombudsman to look into administration—not to look into judicial issues and to decide the merits of those issues. If a proper court of appeal or some form of appeal is provided from these tribunals, that may be the right solution. I have sympathy with that argument. But it is not something which I can introduce into the Bill, certainly not into this part of it.

Mr. George Cunningham

I should like to direct the Minister's attention to a comparison with what is often called the quasi-judicial function of a Minister when he is considering a planning case, a compulsory purchase order or something of that kind, which has been investigated in a quasi-judicial way by a public hearing and which is then submitted to the Minister for his decision. The Minister's activities there are not subject to appeal in the judicial sense, but the manner in which he discharges his function is subject to the ombudsman's investigations in respect of maladministration. Surely it is that comparison which one should seek to apply in this case. As there is no other way of finding out whether a rent scrutiny board has administered its activities properly, it would be right to provide an ombudsman-type operation to give exactly the same oversight of that action as that to which the Minister is subject in his planning decision.

Mr. Graham Page

A Minister is part of the central Government administration, which is within the jurisdiction of the ombudsman. In this case a local commissioner is appointed to look into the administration of local government. T do not consider these tribunals as part of that administration. They are separate bodies.

Mr. Silverman

The Minister has referred to the distinction between local government and the central Government on this issue. But local government also exercises other quasi-judicial functions, for instance the quasi-judicial function of a planning authority. Does this mean that if quasi-judicial functions are applied the ombudsman will not be able to investigate the function of a planning authority?

Mr. Graham Page

The ombudsman can investigate the functions and the administration of the functions, but he is not there to decide as an appeal court whether the planning authority has made the right decision. If the planning authority has not administered the application properly, that is maladministration into which the local commissioner can investigate.

This has been a worthwhile debate in that it has brought out the discontent and the complaints about the present procedure. It is not a subject which we have ignored and disregarded. It has been put to the advisory committee and I suggest that it would be advisable for the House to wait for the information which will come forward. That is not fobbing off the matter in any way because there is the right vehicle—namely, other legislation—in which to put such amendments as the House may see fit. At this stage it would be wrong for me to include such appeals within the jurisdiction of the ombudsman.

Mr. Marks

With the leave of the House——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. I must make it clear that the hon. Gentleman has an absolute right of reply. He does not need leave to reply. Whoever moves an amendment has the right of reply. Other hon. Members who may have their names on the amendment have not that right. The Government, who are in charge of the Bill, generally speak after the mover and they also have the right of reply because it is a Government Bill. Similarly, if it is a Government amendment, the mover has the right of reply but no other Member on either side of the House would have that right. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) has an absolute right of reply and need not ask for leave.

Mr. Marks

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that enlightenment. Having heard Ministers speaking twice in a debate and asking for the leave of the House, I thought that I should try to emulate them.

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. I know that he is a reasonable man and that he has some sympathy with the point which is being made. However, he has not convinced me that the ombudsman should not be able to ask a lot more about the rent scrutiny boards. What happens if the ombudsman has to inquire into fair rents as set by a local authority? Does he inquire into how the fair rents were set in the first place and into what the tenants did and their objections? Does he only ask whether there was any maladministration and then suddenly stop? Cannot the ombudsman ask what happened in the room where the rents were really fixed no matter what the council or the tenants say? It seems that he should have that power just as the Parliamentary Commissioner investigating something to do with the Department of Health and Social Security in which a tribunal has been involved should be able to consider whether the tribunal was working properly, whether the person who came before it had his proper rights and that he was made aware of them in front of the board or tribunal. I am convinced that that is fair, no matter what is said

Division No. 37.] AYES [8.14 p.m.
Allaun, Frank (Saltord, E.) Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Oakes, Gordon
Armstrong, Ernest Hardy, Peter Ogden, Eric
Austick, David Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) O'Halloran, Michael
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Heffer, Eric S. O'Malley, Brian
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Hooson, Emlyn Orbach, Maurice
Beaney, Alan Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Beith, A. J. Hunter, Adam Palmer, Arthur
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bishop, E. S. Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Perry, Ernest G.
Blenkinsop, Arthur John, Brynmor Radice, Giles
Booth, Albert Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.) Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Buchan, Norman Kaufman, Gerald Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Ecclea) Kelley, Richard Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Catle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Lamborn, Harry Silverman, Julius
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Lamond, James Skinner, Dennis
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Lawson, George Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Concannon, J. D. Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Spriggs, Leslie
Cronin, John Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Stallard, A. W.
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Steel, David
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S. W.) Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Dalyell, Tam Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) McBride, Neil Stott, Roger
Deakins, Eric MacDonald, Mrs. Margo Taverne, Dick
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Mackenzie, Gregor Tinn, James
Delargy, Hugh Mackie, John Tope, Graham
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Mackintosh, John P. Varley, Eric G.
Dunn, James A. McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Wainwright, Edwin
Evans, Fred Marks, Kenneth Wallace, George
Faulds, Andrew Marsden, F. Watkins, David
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Marshall, Dr. Edmund Weitzman, David
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Mayhew, Christopher Wellbeloved, James
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Meacher, Michael Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Whitlock, William
Ford, Ben Miller, Dr. M. S. Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Galpern, Sir Myer Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Gilbert, Dr. John Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Woof, Robert
Golding, John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hamilton, james (Bothwell) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Mr. J. D. Dormand and
Hamilton, William (File, W.) Murray, Ronald King Mr. Joseph Harper.
Adley, Robert Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Goodhart, Philip
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Clegg, Walter Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Cockeram, Eric Gray, Hamish
Astor, John Cooke, Robert Green, Alan
Atkins, Humphrey Cooper, A. E. Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)
Awdry, Daniel Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick Grylls, Michael
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Cormack, Patrick Gurden, Harold
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj -Gen. Jack Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)
Benyon, W. Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Berry, Hn. Anthony Dixon, Piers Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Biffen, John Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Haselhurst, Alan
Biggs-Davison, John Emery, Peter Hawkins, Paul
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Eyre, Reginald Hayhoe, Barney
Bossom, Sir Clive Fidler, Michael Hicks, Robert
Bowden, Andrew Fisher, Sir Nigel (Surbiton) Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)
Bray, Ronald Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Hill, S. James A. (Southampton, Test)
Brinton, Sir Tatton Fookes, Miss Janet Holland, Philip
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Foster, Sir John Holt, Miss Mary
Butier, Adam (Bosworth) Fowler, Norman Hordern, Peter
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Fry, peter Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia
Chapman, Sydney Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Howell, David (Guildford)
Chichester-Clark, R. Giyn, Dr. Alan Howell, Raiph (Norfolk, N.)

about quasi-judicial duties, and that the ombudsman, if he is to perform his duties efficiently, should have that right.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 125, Noes 144.

Hunt, John Monks, Mrs. Connie Speed, Keith
Hutchison, Michael Clark Monro, Hector Stainton, Keith
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Montgomery, Fergus Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Jenkin, Rt. Hn. Patrick (Woodford) Morrison, Charles Stodart, Rt. Hon. Anthony
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Neave, Airey Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Jopling, Michael Normanton, Tom Sutcliffe, John
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Onslow, Cranley Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Kimball, Marcus Tebbit, Norman
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Temple, John M.
Kinsey, J. R. Parkinson, Cecil Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Kirk, Peter Percival, Ian Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Lamont, Norman Pink, R. Bonner Trew, Peter
Lane, David Pounder, Rafton Waddington, David
Langtord-Holt, Sir John Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Le Marchant, Spencer Price, David (Eastlelgh) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Loveridge, John Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Ward, Dame Irene
Luce, R. N. Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Weatherill, Bernard
McAdden, Sir Stephen Redmond, Robert Wells, John (Maidstone)
MacArthur, Ian Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) White, Roger (Gravesend)
McMaster, Stanley Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wlggin, Jerry
McNair-Wilson, Michael Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Wilkinson, John
Maginnis, John E. Rost, Peter Winterton, Nicholas
Mawby, Ray Sainsbury, Timothy Younger, Hn. George
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Scott, Nicholas
Meyer, Sir Anthony Scott-Hopkins, James TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Miscampbell, Norman Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Mr. Marcus Fox and
Moate, Roger Smith, Dudley (W'wiek & L'mlngton) Mr. David Walder.
Molyneaux, James Soref, Harold

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 16, in page 25, line 37, at end insert: (e) any New Town Development Corporation and the Commission for the New Towns."—[Mr. Oakes.]

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

any of my constituents have the good fortune to live in Corby, which is a new town. It is an industrial town—a steel town—in which 89 per cent. of the manual workers work for the British Steel Corporation.

As a new town Corby is undoubtedly a success. Fortunately—this is an important part of my argument—today there is little friction, difficulty or dispute between the urban district council and the new town development corporation. I am worried that, if we reach a situation in which the commissioner can intervene in the work of the urban district council but not in that of the new town development corporation, in a dispute all the documents from the urban district council might be available to the commissioner but none of those from the corporation would be available to the commissioner.

The citizens of Corby need the protection of the commissioner against the new town development corporation just as much as they do against the urban district council. I have served on a local authority. I greatly welcome the whole of this clause. I have every reason to believe that the new town development corporation is a good one, but that is not the point. Neither the people of Corby nor I believe that the corporation should be protected from the commissioner in this way. The corporation should be treated in the same way as the urban district council. Accordingly, I support the amendment.

Mr. Rossi

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) paid tribute to the relationship between those living in Corby and the new town development corporation. That is a relationship which exists in every new town development, and it is a very fortunate feature.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why the commissioner should not have jurisdiction over the corporation in the same way as he has over local authorities. The reason is this. Local authorities are answerable only to the electorate. It has been felt, and there has been public pressure to this effect, that it would be well to appoint a kind of ombudsman to look into questions of administration in local authority matters and not just leave it to election time for the electorate as a whole to express their approval or dissatisfaction with the way their authority regulates their affairs.

A new town development corporation is not appointed in the same way and is not answerable to the electorate. It is answerable to the Secretary of State who is, in effect, the commissioner—if that is the right word—for the new town corporation. The Secretary of State is able to investigate any complaint against a development corporation which is referred to him and he would be expected to do so if it appeared to be of a serious nature. Failure on the Secretary of State's part to investigate would make him, in turn, answerable to the Parliamentary Commissioner.

Therefore, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman need have any qualms about the matter. There is already a procedure for investigating the activities of new town development corporations should the occasion ever arise, as we hope that it never will. It is a different procedure stemming from the fact that it is a different kind of body created in a different kind of way. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that explanation.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

In supporting the amendment it is fair to say that new town corporations can be, and I suggest sometimes are, bureaucratic in their outlook. At times they tend to give brusque treatment to citizens—certainly if my experience is anything to go by. In discussing the attitude of the new town corporations with local councillors I get the impression that half their complaints are the direct result of the brusque treatment that the new town corporations tend to hand out. On that score alone I should certainly support the amendment. It should also be clear that a number of urban districts, and eventually district councils, do and will undertake much the same functions as the new town corporations.

It seems complete nonsense that, in more or less parallel functions, the commissioner has the right to investigate whether it be an urban district council or one of the new district councils as they will become after 1st April. If the commissioner has the right to investigate parallel activities I fail to see why the Government should offer objection to the amendment. It is true, as the Parlimaentary Secretary said, that the Secretary of State has the right to investigate, but we are not so much interested in the Secretary of State investigating as in the commissioner. For that reason we support the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Rossi

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 26, line 2, leave out 'to a rating authority'.

Clause 24 specifies the bodies which are subject to investigation by the local commission. The main category we have discussed is local authorities. Provision is also made for the list to be extended by Order in Council to other authorities having the power to levy a rate or to issue a precept to a rating authority

The amendment seeks to leave out the words "to a rating authority". The reason is that there are some types of body which might suitably be brought within that jurisdiction and who might have the power to precept only on county councils which are not themselves rating authorities. An example is conservancy authorities. It is to extend the scope in that way that we seek the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Rossi

I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 31, line 4, at end insert: '(2A) Apart from identifying the authority or authorities concerned, the report shall not—

  1. (a) mention the name of any person, or
  2. (b) contain any particulars which, in the opinion of the Local Commissioner, are likely to identify any person and can be omitted without impairing the effectiveness of the report, unless, after taking into account the public interest as well as the interests of the complainant and of persons other than the complainant, the Local Commissioner considers it necessary to mention the name of that person or to include in the report any such particulars.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It would be convenient to discuss at the same time Government Amendment No. 19.

Mr. Rossi

These two amendments simply alter the emphasis in relation to the identification of individuals in the reports of local investigations and are designed to meet the views expressed by the local authority associations in the working party. At present Clause 29 leaves it to each local commissioner to decide to what extent his reports shall mention the names of individuals. The effect of the amendment would be to ensure that the report would not normally contain names apart from the name of the authority concerned. The names would appear only if, in the public interest and in the interest of the complainant and those concerned, publication was required.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 19, in page 31, line 23, leave out subsection (6) and insert: '(6) The Local Commissioner may, if he thinks fit after taking into account the public interest as well as the interests of the complainant and of persons other than the complainant, direct that a report specified in the direction shall not be subject to the provisions of subsections (3) and (4) above about its publication.'.—[Mr. Graham Page.]

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