HL Deb 25 March 1926 vol 63 cc814-8

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Onslow.)


My Lords, in the interests of saving your Lordships' time may I take this opportunity of saying that I notice an Amendment has been put down by my noble friend the Earl of Onslow, moving on behalf of the Government? I desire to thank him for the consideration he has given to the matter. It absolutely meets the point on which I expressed some anxiety in the Second Reading debate.

There are, however, one or two other small points which were raised in the Second Reading debate and certainly there is one which I think will still require a little consideration. I will not repeat what was said on the former occasion, but I do desire to appeal to my noble friend that the Report stage should not be taken before the adjournment for Easter.


My Lords, I do not think that in any circumstances it would be possible to take the Report stage before Easter and I think that would give my noble friend ample time to consider any Amendments he may wish to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Limitation of power to constitute county boroughs.

1.—(1) No borough having a population of less than seventy-five thousand according to the published returns of the last census for the time being shall be constituted a county borough.

(2) It shall not be lawful for the Minister of Health by Provisional Order to constitute a borough into a county borough, and accordingly paragraph (d)of subsection (1)of Section fifty-four of the Local Government Act, 1888, and in subsection (3) of the same section the words "or for constituting a borough into a county borough" shall be repealed.

THE EARL OF ONSLOW moved to leave out subsection (1). The noble Earl said: This Amendment is intended to deal with the point to which my noble friend called attention on the Second Reading. The point is that under the Bill as it stands Parliament is binding itself, which of course is unconstitutional. Parliament can always alter its mind about anything. A subsequent Amendment which I shall move says: "It shall not be lawful for the council of any borough to promote a Bill for the purpose of constituting the borough into a county borough unless the population of the borough, according to the published returns of the last census, for the time being is seventy-five thousand or upwards." That puts the prohibition not upon Parliament but upon the council of the borough. Therefore I think my noble friend will see that I have met his point on the constitutional question.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, lines 6 to 9, leave out subsection (1).—(The Earl of Onslow.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

THE EARL OF ONSLOW moved, after subsection (2), to insert the following new subsection: () It shall not be lawful for the council of any borough to promote a Bill for the purpose of constituting the borough into a county borough unless the population of the borough, according to the published returns of the last census, for the time being is seventy-five thousand or upwards.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert the said new subsection.—(The Earl of Onslow.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3:

Modifications of the Borough Funds Acts.

3.—(1) Where the council of a borough promote a private Hill the sole purposes of which are to constitute the borough a county borough, or to extend the area of the borough being a county borough, and purposes incidental thereto, section one of the Borough Funds Act, 1903, and the First Schedule to that Act (relating to the holding of meetings of electors and the taking of polls) shall not apply in relation to that Bill.

(2) The Borough Funds Acts, 1872 and 1903, as amended by the foregoing subsection, shall extend to a Bill having as its object the extension of the area of a county borough notwithstanding that that object may be attainable by Provisional Order.


On this clause I should like to ask the noble Earl in charge of the Bill what are the reasons for taking away publicity which formerly was provided with regard to proposals for enlarging county boroughs. It is proposed to abolish the First Schedule to the 1903 Act, relating to the holding of, a meeting of ratepayers, and though that may be to a certain extent rather a formal matter it does increase public attention. Surely it is rather an unwholesome principle, when bringing in a Bill which does in fact give more publicity than was formerly the case, to diminish the publicity which was given by providing that a meeting must be held.


I do not think it does that. The Report of the Commission gives the considerations on which we made that recommendation. The holding of a public meeting is almost impossible. Of course it is not altogether impossible, but you cannot get the ratepayers of a town of 75,000 people or even 50,000 into a public hall, and it has led to considerable difficulty and expense in the past. I think the same may be said about the poll. You must make these things as easy as possible, and all the other requirements for giving publicity remain. It is only those two questions of the poll and of the public meeting that have been eliminated, and only in regard to the matter with which this Bill is concerned, that is to say, the constitution of county boroughs.

This was very carefully considered and a great deal of evidence was taken on the subject. It was found, I think, that we all agreed that there is really a hindrance to a borough council in promoting their Bill to have to go through this form—and it really is merely a matter of form. The publicity still exists. I do not think that my noble friend the Lord Chairman, who was one of our witnesses at the time, although he holds equally strong views to those of my noble friend opposite, would gainsay the fact that the provisions of the Bill do not do away with that wholesome publicity which, I entirely agree, is most necessary in circumstances of this kind. We are merely withdrawing the rather difficult and restrictive forms which stand in the way of the promotion of Bills of this kind, and I do not think that any disservice to the public would be done by adopting the scheme which we propose.


I do not propose any Amendment to this clause, but I greatly regret to see a Conservative Government destroying one of the most ancient institutions of the realm in the shape of the village or borough folk-mote.


Perhaps your Lordships will allow me, since my noble friend has appealed to me, to confess at once that when I was called upon to give evidence I expressed my view somewhat strongly with regard to the Borough Funds Act; but, on these two particular points, I am bound to say that I do not feel that there is a very strong case. First of all, as my noble friend says, it is not practicable to hold a public meeting of 50,000 people. That consideration forced me to desist in my opposition on that point. As regards the poll, I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say that, when it is a question of the extension of a borough, the people who object are not the people in the borough who would be summoned to the poll, but the people outside who do not want to come into the borough, and in that case the poll does not help.


I should like to point out, having had some experience of this matter in the old days in connection with Private Bill legislation, that the result of this is to take away the control of the ratepayers over what may be a very important and large matter of public expenditure. The purpose of the law, under the Borough Funds Act, is to give them the right to negative what otherwise would be a large public expenditure, the incidence of which, of course, would fall upon them. I do not rise to oppose this clause, but I think it is a very strong measure, by means of this Bill, to alter the Borough Funds Act, the whole object of which was to maintain the control of (he ratepayers in matters of this kind.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.


May I ask my noble friends opposite on what day they would care to take the Report stage?


On any day that is convenient to the noble Earl.


Shall we say April 20?