HC Deb 25 February 1992 vol 204 cc897-902

  1. '(1) Where an order under section 17 above makes provision respecting the constitution of an area for which a body of charter trustees acts, a body of charter trustees may resolve that the area for which such charter trustees act shall be constituted a parish and thereupon those district councillors who are such charter trustees shall become the councillors of the parish so constituted and such councillors shall hold office until the next ordinary election of parish councillors pursuant to the 1972 Act.
  2. (2) Upon the constitution of a parish as provided in this section the body corporate of charter trustees shall cease to exist and thereupon all of the powers, functions and traditions of the former body of charter trustees shall vest in and be discharged by the council of the new parish hereby constituted which shall be styled a town council or a city council (as the case may be).'.-/Mr. Anthony Coombs.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may consider the following amendments:

No. 3, in clause 17, page 17, line 19, leave out from 'make' to end of line 21 and insert 'provision for the area for which a body of charter trustees acts to be constituted as a parish under the terms of section (Charter trustees) below'. No. 4, in page 17, line 21, at end add 'after consulting such representatives of charter trustees as he thinks fit'.

Mr. Coombs

This gives me the opportunity to extol the virtues of charter trustees with which the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), is familiar as the charter trustees of, I think, New Sarum are in his constituency, and his colleagues the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, our hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) also has charter trustees in his constituency. The matter has been brought to my attention not only by the charter trustees in Kidderminster but by the Association of Charter Trustees and Urban Parish Councils.

Charter trustees were set up under the Local Government Act 1972 and the Charter Trustees Order of 20 February 1974 to allow existing communities to retain their ancient identity and heritage when they had generally been amalgamated into larger boroughs or district councils as a result of reorganisation. Therefore, it is no small wonder that it is ancient towns such as Salisbury, Banbury, Leamington Spa and Kidderminster which retain their charter trustees. There are about 23 such towns, 21 of which are members of the Association of Charter Trustees and Urban Parish Councils.

It must be emphasised that the charter trustees' functions are primarily ceremonial. They act as a focus of civic identity for the people of the district, as in Kidderminster, and they have no specific executive powers. However, as clause 13(5)(a) of the Bill states that in its considerations the local government commission should reflect the identities and interests of local communities", I should have thought that that was in line with the purpose of charter trustees in view of their local and historic traditions.

Charter trustees are important in my constituency. Although Wyre Forest district council may be the executive body for local government Acts and for the majority of services for which district councils are responsible, it does not inspire much loyalty among the local population. If one were to ask the vast majority of people in my constituency where Wyre Forest was, they would refer to Kidderminster, Stourport and Bewdley. Given the fact that Stourport and Bewdley have ancient town councils whereas Kidderminster has charter trustees, the people of Kidderminster are understandably jealous about retaining their charter trustees under any future local government reorganisation. Although charter trustees may sound anachronistic and may not be functional as executives, they are important as a focus of loyalty.

The charter trustees are concerned because, although subsections (3) and (4) of clause 14 give wide powers to the Secretary of State and to the local government commission when considering changes in local government, they mention parishes as the most local denominator of local government and do not mention charter trustees. Charter trustees are mentioned only in clause 17(5) where, almost as an afterthought, as the charter trustees believe, they are referred to when the Bill describes the powers that the Secretary of State can exercise on receiving recommendations from the local government commission.

My fear is that because the local government commission does not have a specific remit to consider charter trustees when it considers the structure of local government, their case may go by default. The Secretary of State may act accordingly when he puts the commission's recommendations into operation.

The new clause gives charter trustees the right to change themselves into parish councils with all the responsibilities and opportunities for direct election which that would involve. That would ensure that they would be considered by the local government commission and that their future would, therefore, be assured. I hope that the Minister can give me some reassurance about the importance that the local government commission will give charter trustees when it considers these important matters.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

I detain the House briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) and to refer to a matter that is obviously dear to the hearts of charter trustees and to my own heart. The matter is the subject of amendment No. 1 which we will not have a chance to debate, although I was the first hon. Member to table an amendment to the Bill on Report.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister shares my concern about archives. There can be nothing more important to charter trustees than the proper preservation of their archives and records. One point that has given many of us cause—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. The matter does not arise under the new clause. There is a later amendment, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We should not seek to pre-empt that debate now.

Mr. Cormack

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suggest that what I am saying is entirely relevant to the—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows better than to question my ruling. My ruling is correct. We do not discuss archives when debating new clause 16.

Mr. Key

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre for raising the subject and to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) to whom I will write. I will conclude the matter in that way, which will be more acceptable to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre—

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Wyre Forest.

Mr. Key

I beg the pardon of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs).

I remember well that when I had been in the House for only about a year my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) started on a path that led him to introduce the Charter Trustees Bill, which was enacted in 1985. I was a supporter on that occasion and I believe that my hon. Friend did us all a great service.

My charter trustees go back a long way. Charter trustees are an important part of the heritage of any of our ancient cities.

The mayor of New Sarum, currently Mrs. Gloria Tudhope, is a figure of great importance in the life of the community, as is the mayor of any city, such as Kidderminster or elsewhere. Because we were concerned that mayors and charter trustees might not continue into succeeding centuries, the Charter Trustees Act 1985 was passed. We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes for that.

9.15 pm

I hope that I can put the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest at rest. Under clause 17, where charter trustees were constituted under the Local Government Act 1972 for an area which is altered under this clause, the Secretary of State may make such provision with respect to those trustees as he thinks appropriate.

Amendment No. 4, which would require the Secretary of State to consult representatives of charter trustees before making such provisions, is not necessary. There will be plenty of opportunity for local representatives of charter trustees to make representations to the local government commission when it comes to review their area. We should expect the commission to take account of those views in drawing up its recommendations to the Secretary of State about what should happen in each area.

Amendment No. 3 would remove the Secretary of State's discretion under clause 17 to make provision, as he sees appropriate, for charter trustees and would permit him only to create a parish for these areas under the terms of new clause 16. His discretion under the Bill as drafted is wide enough to cover the creation of parishes for these areas, but we have no reason to believe at this stage that this will necessarily be the solution to suit local circumstances everywhere. There will be plenty of opportunity for local people to make their views known to the commission about this issue. I assure my hon. Friend that I do not wish to see charter trustees disappear from our heritage.

I do not want to start ruling options out at this stage. It is important to leave that discretion in. I fear that my hon. Friend's amendments would have the reverse effect. The principle is there. We want to ensure that charter trustees continue to exist, just as we want to maintain the other functions of local authorities, such as the preservation of archives.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

The Minister has said that he wishes to see charter trustees prosper. Given what we have on the record, I hope that the local government commission, although not obliged to do so under clause 14, will take into consideration representations made by people who are charter trustees or who speak on their behalf.

I am satisfied with what the Minister said. He made my case for me to a certain extent when he called my constituency Wyre rather than Wyre Forest. Although constituencies like Banbury, Leamington Spa and Dover do not have anonymity, Wyre Forest enjoys anonymity not only in the House but also, sadly, in Wyre Forest. I accept the assurance which the Minister has given. As a result, I hope that charter trustees can gain parish status under local government reorganisation and that they will prosper.

It is a pity that we could not discuss the matter of archives because they are integral to the function of charter trustees—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not question my ruling either.

Mr. Coombs

I hope that they will prosper as well.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman seek the leave of the House to withdraw the new clause?

Mr. Coombs


Question put and negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that new clause 19 is not being moved. We now come to new clause 20.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

I wish to move amendment No. 2, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If new clause 19 is not moved, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait until we reach that amendment, which refers to a later part of the Bill. We cannot discuss it now.

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