§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD ASKWITH
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The principle of the Bill was decided by the Act of 1908, Since then 22 years have passed, the local authorities have been changed, the functions of many of them have been enlarged considerably, and the Act of 1908 contains some matters which it is desirable more clearly to define. Consequently this Bill is partly a codification and partly an extension Bill, so as to meet the requirements of the present day. It is a short Bill of seven clauses, of which two are taken up with the extension to Scotland, the repeal of the 1908 Act and the continued exclusion of Northern Ireland. Of the other clauses, three—Clauses 3, 4, and 5—are identical with clauses of the Act of 1908. It is, therefore, in Clauses 1 and 2 that the chief alterations are made by this Bill.
The Bill is very strongly supported by the Newspaper Society, which represents nearly one thousand morning, evening and weekly newspapers, and it has the endorsement of the Newspaper Proprietors' 423 Association, which represents the London daily and Sunday newspapers. Its principle was endorsed by a unanimous vote of the fourth Imperial Press Conference, which was held in London this year, at which the view was expressed that at meetings of public bodies administering public funds the Press should be allowed to be present. At that Conference a good deal was said about the repercussions felt throughout the whole of the Dominions and Colonies over any restriction of the privileges of the Press here.
I think the shortest way of dealing with this subject will be to take Clauses 1 and 2 and to point out the changes that are proposed. In Clause 1 it is proposed that the exclusion of the Press should be continued to be allowed where that is the decision of a two-thirds majority of members present. Under the existing Act a bare majority is sufficient, but in view of the importance of the Press it is considered that a substantial and definite majority ought really to be necessary when the matters involved are of such importance to the public funds. The second point is that such exclusion should occur at the time only when the business which is regarded as of a private character is being considered.
In Clause 2, paragraph (a) is exactly the same as in the Act of 1908. Paragraph (b) extends the admission of the Press to education committees and to joint education committees under the Education Act, 1921, and brings in that Act instead of the Education Act, 1902. It. also extends it a little further in other ways. Paragraphs (c) and (d) deal with public assistance committees or any other committees or the members of any other committees acting as public assistance committees under the Local Government Act, 1929. That Act transferred all the powers of the boards of guardians to the county councils or to borough councils. Under the 1908 Act boards of guardians must admit the Press, but there is no definite authority for the public assistance committees to have the Press admitted within their doors. These public assistance committees deal with an enormous amount of funds and they have most important matters of public interest to discuss. The power of exclusion would exist in cases where relief was being dealt with, and where it was important that a private 424 discussion should be allowed. I am informed that in those cases the Press never has reported the private circumstances of persons or the relief given, but it has dealt with questions of principle which arise in discussions affecting the public interest with regard to the administration of the Poor Law. Guardians committees are appointed by assistance committees and have almost similar power. They are also bodies which have to deal with such matters as visitation and inspection, and even management of Poor Law institutions, and their proceedings are of very grave importance to the country.
I may be allowed perhaps to quote a statement that was made by the Minister of Health in the last Government on the Second Reading of the Local Government Act, 1929. He said:—The public assistance committee is going to be an important body, because it will be seen that to it may be delegated any functions of the council, except the power of borrowing or levying a rate. There can be no doubt that this committee will rank among the most important appointed by the council.As the amount of money that is disbursed is very large, it is, I think, of importance that the public should know how it is spent, and how the rates are dealt with. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer quoted statistics issued by the Minister of Health when he was showing the expenditure on the Poor Law as regards the year 1926–7. He said that in that year—and it is more now—£50,000,000 were being spent, and practically the whole of it was borne by the local authorities; that is, by the ratepayers. The country is groaning under taxation at the present time. The rates have been increasing and increasing, and the importance of the public being able, through the Press, to keep an eye upon them is, I think, unquestionable and the principle ought to be given effect to.
Now, a great many county councils in England, Wales and Scotland—nearly 50 per cent. as far as has at present been calculated—do admit the Press. Some of the others do not admit the Press because there is not an express statutory authority, and they would be permitted to do so by the Bill. There are a few who do not desire to have the Press admitted. If the principle of the Act of 1908 is carried out, then extension to the public assist- 425 ante committees, which have really taken the place of boards of guardians, should be provided for. I am told that of these big committees in England, London, Cornwall, Cumberland, Devonshire, Durham, Essex, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Northumberland, East Suffolk, the Isle of Wight and Worcestershire, all admit the Press to the public assistance committees. In Wales, Anglesey and Denbighshire, and in Scotland, Angus, Argyle, Bute, Dumbarton, Fife, Perth and Stirling follow the same course.
That being so I turn to paragraph (e), which remains exactly the same. Paragraph (f) brings in the assessment committee under Section 17 of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, or Section 18 of the Local Government Act, 1929. Paragraph (g) brings in public authorities which spend money, to whose meetings there seems to be no reason why the Press should not be admitted. Paragraphs (h) and (i) are an attempt to deal with what may occur in future, so as not to bring in a succession of Acts whenever any measure is passed under which a public body is entitled to spend money, or if new committees with power to spend money are established by county councils. The rest of the clause deals with the case of a committee of a local authority which consists of the whole number of members of the authority. In such a case a meeting of the committee shall be deemed to be a meeting of the authority. That really is to deal with the case where a county council resolves itself into a committee of the whole body and the matter under discussion is brought up for report to the county council. Naturally, if they are the same people, they will say that any new points that ought to be discussed in public ought to have been brought up first in committee. In certain cases full authority is actually delegated to committees during the period when the county councils are not meeting. If, as in some cases, a county council meets only four times a year the evil of expenditure will have taken place already and the interest, in the matter will be practically out of date. It will be too late to do anything in the matter.
I see that my noble friend Lord Strachie desires that this Bill should be read a second time this day three months. I do not know whether he is objecting to the principle of the Bill, but it has 426 been in operation for twenty-two years. It passed through both Houses of Parliament in 1908 without a Division upon Second Reading. It was supported in the House of Commons by members of all Parties. I think an Amendment was brought forward by my noble friend Lord Banbury and it was accepted during the passage of the Bill. When the Bill came to your Lordships' House it was introduced by the present Lord Chairman of Committees, who accepted an Amendment which I think was moved by the late Lord Camperdown, and the Bill passed through your Lordships' House. Your Lordships did not divide upon the Second Reading.
I would add this important point of principle in the matter. The day has gone by when it was possible to instruct the electors of this country, few in number, either in borough or in county at the hustings. The day has gone by when everything that occurred in Parliament was not allowed to be reported. You have now a vast increase in the electorate, all craving for information, or anxious at least, the majority of them, to exercise a sense of responsibility in giving their votes. They are also people who are burdened with taxation. Surely, the only real method of getting at the electorate is by the Press, judicially using its powers. That is the only way by which you can teach the people of this country how they are governed, and it is almost the only way in which they can have any adequate control over the expenditure that goes on. I do not think I need keep your Lordships longer in explaining this Bill. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be, now read 2a.—(Lord Askwith.)
§ LORD STRACHIE, who had given given Notice to move, That the Bill be read this day three months, said: My Lords, I rise on behalf of all the local authorities of England to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. Your Lordships have seen in The Times to-day a letter signed by the secretaries of the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, which includes all the great boroughs of the country, the Urban District Councils Association, and last but not least, the Rural District Councils Association. Therefore, I think, I may say that I am speaking on behalf of the whole of the 427 organised local government bodies in this country, who are most strongly opposed to this Bill. They do not oppose it because they object to the Press being present. They oppose it because they see no reason why the Act of 1908, passed in this House at the instance, I believe, of the Lord Chairman of Committees, which gave the right of admission to the Press, and no doubt very properly, should be extended. I very strongly support the idea of the Press having the right to be present at all meetings of local authorities, with the exception, of course, of those occasions when questions are discussed which it would be against the public interest to report.
§ There was a Bill introduced last Session into the House of Commons. It is rather curious that that Bill, which failed, I understand, to get a Second Reading because it had no support, applied only to the admission of the Press to meetings of the public assistance committee, on the ground that that committee took the place of the board of guardians to whose meetings the Press in the past had the right of admission, excepting where a resolution was agreed to by a board of guardians, or by any other local authority, by a bare majority, that it was undesirable that the Press should be present during the proceedings then taking place. As I say, that Bill applied to the public assistance committee, and gave an extension of the Act, of 1908 which did not apply to committees of local authorities.
§ The present Bill goes further. It applies not only to the public assistance committee but to every sub-committee, and, as far as I understand it, to all other committees of local authorities. If I misrepresent the noble Lord in any way I hope he will correct me, because I assure him that it was very difficult to hear in this quarter of the House what, no doubt, was a very interesting speech, and I may misrepresent something that he has said. It is very doubtful whether even the Bill of last Session was required, because the public assistance committee is not a body on its own like the board of guardians was; it is a body which those of your Lordships who are members of county councils will know very well has to report to the 428 county council and, therefore, its reports will become public and can be discussed.
§ This Bill goes a great deal further than the Bill of last Session, and applies to committees of the public assistance committee. I think any of your Lordships who may, like myself, have been members of boards of guardians, knew very well that often it is very undesirable that the business of these public assistance committees should be discussed in public. Very often delicate questions come up when a man is applying for relief, not only delicate for the man himself but also for the guardians, who have to enquire into the question and give their own private information regarding the merits of the case. It is undesirable that the Press should be present on such occasions. What has happened in practice has been that it has been said: "We will take the case in committee." Under this Bill, however, every small guardians committee in every case would have to pass a resolution that the application shall be taken in camera, and they would have to pass that resolution in every case by a majority of two-thirds before the Press could be excluded. If there were many cases of that sort—and there would be—it would mean the waste of a considerable amount of time for such a resolution to have to be moved and carried by a two-thirds majority in every single case. It would not be possible to pass a general resolution covering all cases.
§ There is another great innovation, and to my mind a very serious one indeed, and that is the Press would have the right of admission to assessment committees. They have never had that right, and, I think, very properly so. I have been a member of an assessment committee for a great many years. Under the Act of 1929 these assessment committees are very large bodies indeed, and have to deal with very important matters. It would be a very difficult thing indeed if we had to discuss the whole of our decisions in public, and if all the evidence given by the man applying for a reduction of his assessment, or by the people opposing it, had to be given with the Press present. In order to avoid having that done in public you might say it would be simple, if a two-thirds majority objected, to exclude the Press. But there again, in the case of every separate 429 assessment, there would have to be a separate resolution excluding the Press, and this would have to be passed by a majority of two-thirds. That would mean a great waste of time. I have often sat from eleven in the morning till five in the evening to hear appeals and it would be very hard on the members of these committees, who have a great deal of other business to do, if they were constantly having their business interrupted in order to pass these resolutions.
§ Speaking as a member of an assessment committee, I am certain we should often have to turn out the Press, because very delicate questions are asked of the man who is applying for a reduction of assessment, and members or the committee are asked to give their individual opinions upon their neighbours as to whether their assessments ought to be increased or decreased. I think it is a very wrong practice. The Press may next ask to be admitted to the hearing of appeals by the Income Tax Commissioners, and the noble Lord might again say it would be desirable. But those of us who are income Tax Commissioners know that a man might be asked to reveal minute details regarding his business. It would be bad enough to have the Press present when these details were given on an assessment appeal, but it would be even worse in the case of the hearing of an appeal by Income Tax Commissioners. There are various other committees and sub-committees to which this Bill would apply.
§ I did not hear the noble Lord say there were any instances—and I challenge him to give them if there are any—where a county council has refused to have the Press present, or any local authority of any great city or borough Which has refused. I believe, on the contrary, these county councils and other large councils are very anxious to have the Press present while their ordinary business is being discussed; but there are occasions when, in the public interest, it would be quite wrong that the Press should be present and when information should not be given to the public outside. It may be said: "Oh, but the ratepayers ought to know of these things." I only noticed one argument in the circular that has been issued to us saying why local authorities should admit the Press. That is a cir 430 cular issued by the Newspaper Society, and the only document, as far as I know, that has been circulated to noble Lords; certainly it is the only one that I have had the honour of receiving. The only argument in it in favour of the Bill is this, that ratepayers have a right to know how their affairs are being managed, and how their money is being spent, and that Press publicity is an indispensable link between the public and the council, including committees having executive powers. I have not the slightest disagreement with the circular, but I should like to know if the noble Lord can give me a single instance where any county council in the present day has refused to allow the Press to be present in order that the ratepayers may know what is going on.
§ I speak in the presence of a great many chairmen of county councils, and I do not think any of them would say that I am wrong in stating that all county councils are very glad to have the Press admitted to their deliberations. I do not know if I speak in the presence of any mayors of great municipalities, but I may say that there has been no case brought to my knowledge in which such municipalities have refused to admit the Press to their meeting. Supposing that the Press were refused admittance to a county council or to a great urban authority, would not the ratepayers take very good care to see that those men who excluded the Press should be called to account, and would not the local newspapers assist candidates in opposing men who prevented the Press gaining admittance to meetings? I think that is the only argument in the circular in favour of altering the law, and I think it is a childish one, for I do not think at the present moment any greater facilities are required in the public interest than are already available. I am desirous that the Press should have every opportunity of knowing what is going on, but I say that they have a remedy if the powers now existing are misapplied. I do not think there is any reason whatever for this Bill, and, on behalf of the great local authorities in the country, who feel strongly about it, I ask your Lordships to reject it. I appeal to noble Lords to say that these great local authorities ought to have the right of self-determination.431
Leave out ("now") and at end of the Motion insert ("this day three months.")—(Lord Strachie.)
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
My Lords, I think the taxpayers of the country should be very grateful to my noble friend Lord Askwith for having brought in this Bill. I believe it will tend to curb excessive expenditure by local authorities. If your Lordships will look at the "whip" in favour of the rejection of the Bill you will see that Reason 5 states that it is understood that the Association of Municipal Corporations were also consulted by the Minister and they expressed disapproval of the Bill. That ought to put your Lordships on your guard at once, because these local authorities exercise an almost uncanny influence on successive Governments in their squander-mania, until they get a chance of doing something on the cheap against people who cannot defend themselves, as they did in the Slum Clearance Bill. My noble friend Lord Strachie referred to a letter in The Times this morning. That letter was signed by people who are interested parties, because they are themselves the spending people. I listened very carefully to my noble friend's speech advoc2ting the rejection of this Bill, but I saw no point that he raised which could not easily be met in Committee if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I am sorry to differ from my noble friend who has just sat down, and to be obliged to support my noble friend Lord Strachie if he goes to a Division. As my noble friend Lord Askwith said, I took some part in the passing of the Bill of 1908. I listened attentively to the speech of my noble friend Lord Askwith, and I see no reason whatever for considering that the Bill of 1908 has not worked well and has not gone far enough. My noble friend who has just sat down says a;-great deal too much money is spent. With that I thoroughly agree. I have spent most of my life urging economy on my noble friends below me, on noble Lords opposite and on noble Lords below the gangway, with no result. But I must say that I do not think that admitting the Press to meetings of committees is at all likely 432 to result in economy. Since 1908, when the Press have been admitted there has been no sign of economy that I know of, and as far as I know there are very few newspapers at the present moment —perhaps with one exception, in which I am a shareholder—that advocate economy.
Just think for a moment what would happen if this Bill passed. In a committee it would require a member to get up and move a resolution that in the public interest the Press should be excluded. At the present moment, I regret to have to say, there is very little backbone in the country. Very few people have much moral courage and I feel quite certain that, supposing Mr. Jones felt that the Press ought not to be admitted, before he got up to move that resolution he would say to himself: "Well, this will be reported and I shall be pilloried in the Press because I have done this, and under the circumstances I think the best thing I can do is to keep quiet and say nothing." My experience in the House of Commons is that if we voted there by ballot instead of publicly, the votes recorded would be very different. I believe that if you pass this Bill the only result will be that you will prevent members of the county council from giving their votes according to conscience and will induce them to give votes according to what they think will be popular and approved of in the Press.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, the case for the Bill has been presented from the point of view of the Press. The argument of my noble friend who introduced the Bill was based on a Press requisition. My noble friend who moved the rejection of the Bill approached it from the point of view of the local authorities. I venture to submit to your Lordships that it is from the point of view of the local authorities and local administration that this Bill ought to be considered. I have known no case of the Press being excluded since 1881, which was before the days of these representative bodies, when in my country local government was conducted by Commissioners of Supply—of which in my case I automatically became one at the age of twenty-one—and a very good form of local government it was. But there was never any attempt to exclude the Press either from the meetings of the Commissioners or of their 433 committees. That was my experience of every kind of local authority, urban or county, until 1919, when I left the country for a time. In no case had the Press been excluded. I de not remember them at the committee for lunatic asylums in Fife and perhaps one or two others, but there was never any question of trying to exclude the Press.
I do not admit that the presence of the Press or the public tends to economy. I should have said the effect is the exact opposite, whether in the House of Commons or in the case of local authorities. I do not often find myself in the same Lobby as my noble friend who is opposing the Bill, but I propose to follow him on this occasion, and for this reason, that it is for the local authorities to decide for themselves whether the Press should be admitted or not. I think they should be allowed to decide for themselves in as tawny eases as possible. The fact is a local authority now-a-days has not the independence that it formerly had. It has not the power to stop waste, because the local authority has been dandled by Parliament in leading strings until it has lost its sense of independence. Why should not a local authority settle a matter of this kind for itself' Local authorities have been ruined by Parliamentary interference. The standard of their independence to-day is nothing like what it was, and although I am in favour of the Press having every reasonable access, there are conditions under which I can well conceive—some have been mentioned by my noble friend opposing the Bill—that the Press should Hot be admitted.
There is another consideration. In these days when expenses are paid for members of these local authorities, there are a certain number of members of a total authority who make a living out of it. Their desire is to have as prolonged discussions and debates as possible. You may have a certain number of people on a local authority who may make the proceedings interminably long and who will not only make the proceedings at any particular meeting interminably long, but will have an interminable number of meetings. Whether as Provost—in which office I served many years—or as Chairman of a county council. I should like to be able to put to the county 434 council or the local authority whether they desire to have the Press admitted or not.
THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
My Lords, may I be permitted, as chairman of a county council, to detain your Lordships for a few moments while I support the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, in his Motion for the rejection of this Bill? I yield to no one in my admiration for the Press, for the fine work which the Press has done in the past and more particularly of late in pointing out the very serious burden under which this country is suffering owing to successive Governments, but especially to the legislative activities or in activities of His Majesty's present Government. But I should like to point out very clearly that I do not believe for a moment that there is any real desire for this Bill. We have heard of no grievances and of no real desire that the Press should have extended to them any greater privileges than they possess at the present time. It reminds me of the flapper vote. We were told that the flappers wanted votes. I do not believe that they wanted them in the least. They were given votes whether they wanted them or not. It seems to me there is very much the same ease for this Bill.
I do not believe people want. this Bill. I believe that, so far from the altered conditions of the Local Government Act, 1929, entitling the Press to more admissions, it rather restricts the Press because the local authorities have been reduced in number. For instance, at the present time all proceedings of committees are reported in the county council. When the county council meets at quarterly meetings, the reports are made to the county council and the Press are admitted in full force—they sit below me at every quarterly meeting—and they can report as they like. I do suggest, having had a very long experience of committee work in local government, that it would be a very serious thing if we were to admit the Press to the private discussions of local authorities. There are many things which we do not want to discuss in public.
I think that it was the noble Viscount, Lord Bertie of Thame, who said that in these days, when the rates are going up to such high figures, we should, by admitting the Press, help to keep the 435 rates down. I do not believe it for one instant. On the contrary, I think that the admission of the Press would make it very much more difficult for economical people on certain local authorities to express their opinions, and it would interfere with the freedom of discussion. The value of the Press is to sift and examine arguments when they have arrived at a mature stage, and not when people are discussing them privately among themselves. What does the Press ask? It asks for a resolution, requiring a two-thirds majority, to exclude it. At this moment I believe I am right in saving that it is only on special occasions that such exclusion takes place, as, for instance, when a local authority is going to decide whether or not it will adopt a permissive Act of Parliament. I cannot help asking why the Press should he thus favoured with a special resolution.
Another point that I should like to make—I do not think that it has been mentioned—is that of the disturbance which might be caused. Suppose the committee decided to exclude the Press representatives from the discussion of the first three items of the agenda, to admit them on the fourth and to exclude them again on the fifth. Think of all the scuffling, noise and inconvenience caused by the reporters coming in and going out. Local authorities already find their work sufficiently heavy without making it still more difficult. I am very grateful to the Press, and I hope that the Press will go on, in season and out of season, urging Parliament—which is responsible for most of our extravagance—and the local authorities to practise economy. It is only by the continuance of the campaign against extravagance that we can get people to realise what is before them. I have a further point to make which has been already touched upon. If we admit representatives of the Press to all our meetings, we are not going to do our best for the work of the local authorities. We shall be giving means of self advertisement to those who are probably the, least useful members of the council or committee. I find that the most garrulous are not generally those who desire to get on with the work. If people work all day at local government affairs, they do not want to waste more words than they can help. The garrulous people, generally speaking, are those who turn up at odd 436 meetings, know nothing about the subject and seek to advertise themselves.
The last point that I would like to mention particularly concerns the local Press. Is the local Press going to find the means to employ only the highest class of reporter? Your Lordships spend your Sundays in reading your local papers, and you have probably found many speeches made by you or your friends inaccurately reported either in whole or in part. It is even more serious when remarks are taken out of their context and tacked on to something else, giving an entirely erroneous impression. Then comes the worst sin of all on the part of the Press—namely, what is called "boiling down." I quite admit that it requires a very skilful reporter to "boil down" speech. What happens when they proceed to paraphrase a speech so that you hardly recognise one remark in it as having been made by the speaker himself? I apologise for taking up the time of the House, but I sincerely hope that your Lordships will agree with the Amendment that has been moved by my noble friend Lord Strachie, and will reject this Bill.
§ LORD BAYFORD
My Lords, may I add one word to the remarks of my noble friend behind me? I speak as one who has been for thirty years a member of a county council and was for nearly twenty years a member of the House of Commons. What struck me most particularly was that work that you get, through in about three hours in a county council will take from three to six weeks to get through the House of Commons. The reason is that, before the work comes before the county council, it has been thoroughly thrashed out by committees. Those committees sit in private and have a tremendous amount of detailed work to do. If you look at the list of committees enumerated in the second clause of this Bill, every one of them—education committee, public assistance committee, guardians committee, assessment committee and so on—is dealing with an enormous amount of very detailed work. The only way in which this work can be got through is for members to restrain their loquacity. My experience is that the loquacity of members of any public body varies directly with the amount of publicity that it receives. Accordingly, 437 in the interest of getting through the necessary work of local authorities, I support my noble friend in the Amendment that he has moved.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, there is one point that has not been mentioned, which I think I ought perhaps to put to my noble friend behind me, in regard to the position of watch committees. Your Lordships know that watch committees are appointed by a borough council under the Municipal Corporations Act and are the police authority for the borough. Probably you also know that all questions of disciplinary action in regard to the police are heard and decided upon by these watch committees. I think it would obviously be very undesirable indeed that the Press should be admitted as of right to these meetings. I do not want to take up the time of the House in regard to this matter, but obviously a policeman might appear before a watch committee on some minor question of misdemeanour and, if the whole thing were reported in the Press, even if he were adjudged not guilty, it would be very undesirable from the point of view of the police.
Further than that, having regard to the fact that the watch committees are themselves acting in this matter in a quasi-judicial capacity—being, by the by, elected judges—I think it would be very undesirable that their work while acting in that capacity should be the subject of report and criticism in the Press. I make these few observations because, having been responsible for some years for the control and administration of the police, I hope that, whatever be the result of this debate, my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill will be at least prepared to say now whether he would be willing to accept an Amendment eliminating the meetings of a watch committee when dealing in their disciplinary capacity with police officers.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE)
Lords, both noble Lords opposite, one in moving the Second Reading and the other in opposing it, referred to the fact that I 'was in charge of the Bill which passed through your Lordships' House in 1908. That was one of my budding experiences, and I think it is the one stormy experience that I ever had in your Lordships' House, for, though it is quite 438 true, as the noble Lord, Lord Askwith, said, that the Bill passed through without a Division, it was strongly criticised by the predecessor of the noble Lord opposite. I think the late Lord Belper was at the time actually Chairman of the County Councils Association, if he was not ex-Chairman. The late Lord Camperdown moved the rejection, and only withdrew his opposition because the objections of the County Councils Association had been met and they were therefore willing that the Bill should pass in its present form. It is, of course, a very much restricted form, compared with the form it would take if this Bill received the Royal Assent. The noble Lord opposite mentioned that this Bill is at once codification and extension. Nobody would object to the codification, but I must point out that the original Act extends to less than two pages and this Bill to three and a half pages, so that primâ facie there is a good deal of extension.
I feel that the Act of 1908 did supply a then public want, and did represent a compromise between those two sides. I should be very unwilling to see that compromise torn up, unless there were distinct proof that it had failed, and I do not think that that allegation is made. On the other hand, take for instance the kind of extension that is made—a two-thirds majority instead of a bare majority. Why a two-thirds majority? Nobody would deny that your Lordships have a perfect right to clear the galleries by a majority. That is an ample safeguard. I do not remember in my experience that the question has ever been put, but the question is in your Lordships' hands.
THE EARL OF DONOUCHMORE
Certainly, during the War it was done, and it could be done to-day by a majority. Surely what is safe to leave in the hands of a majority of this House, can safely be left in the hands of a majority of a local authority. Therefore I should be very reluctant, unless there were very strong evidence to show that the Act of 1908 had failed, or that an innovation was really necessary in supplying a public want, to vote in support of this 439 Bill. I hope that the law will be allowed to stay as it is until it is proved that it wants amending.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to: Bill to be read a second time this day three months