§ Loan AMULREE had given Notice of the Motion, That Standing Order No. 105 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of the said Bill, and that the Bill be now read 2a. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that Standing Order No. 105 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of the Doncaster Extension Bill.
§ Moved, That Standing Order No. 105 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of the said Bill.—(Lord Amulree.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I beg now to move that this Bill be read a second time. The Bill is one promoted by she Corporation of the County Borough of Doncaster. The Borough of Doncaster is adjoined by the administrative County of the West Riding. The main object of the Bill is to extend the boundaries of the Borough so as to include land available for housing and industrial purposes. The extension is required on account of the great growth and development of the Borough, the population of which has overflowed from the Borough into the adjoining district. During the last twenty years the percentage of increase of population of Doncaster has 834 been greater than that of any other county borough in the West Riding. The proposals in this Bill are quite moderate and modest. The existing area of the Borough is 4,831 acres and it is proposed by the Bill to add 3,675 acres. The rateable value is £456,602 and the Bill will add £9,828. The population is 63,308 and if the Bill goes through it will add 3,038 to that population. According to the last census there was an increase in the population of the Borough of about 10,000 on the previous figure.
As I mentioned, the result of the growth of the Borough is that land available for housing and industrial purposes is being rapidly diminished. This matter has given the Corporation of Doncaster a considerable amount of anxiety, because they can see, looking to the past and looking to the future, that the Borough is bound to go on increasing at a similar ratio as in the past, and that if there is no extension of the boundaries the result will be that there will be no available land for housing the working-classes, the development of factories, and so on. The proposals in the Bill are quite simple. First of all the Bill proposes to take in a small part of the urban district of Bentley, and small parts of five other adjoining parishes. The boundary between the Borough and the urban district was formerly the mid-stream of the River Don. The river has been diverted at various places on this stretch and the boundary is now ill-defined. The proposal of the Bill is to provide a well-defined boundary and for this purpose the centre of a flood drain has been selected. This will mean a transfer of about 173 acres with a population of six persons. The land adjoins a rapidly developing part of the Borough, and can only be developed from the direction of the Borough, as it is not accessible by any highway except from the Borough.
The remaining parts of the scheme deals with small parts of five parishes within the rural district of Doncaster. Parts of the parishes of Barnby and Armthorpe are proposed to be included. All those parts belong to the Corporation with the exception of a small area of fifty acres of woodland. This hit of land adjoins a rapidly developing industrial part of Doncaster, and is needed for 835 industrial extension. The next part that I wish to deal with is the parish of Cantley. A small part of that parish is also being taken, purely in respect of the overflow of a residential part. The population of this part of Cantley is about 1,100. Most of the inhabitants of this part of Cantley earn their living in Doncaster, and the inhabitants have appointed a committee to confer with the Corporation with reference to the Bill. The other part of the parish of Cantley consists of a portion of the well-known race-course. The other portion is within the Borough. It is also proposed to use a portion for an aerodrome, and a further part of the area would be available for development purposes. The next parish is the parish of Loversall, which is largely undeveloped and would be available for housing.
The fifth parish is the parish of Warms-worth, which adjoins a completely built-up area of the Borough, and contains sites available and suitable for housing development. The Corporation supply this district with water and gas. The population numbers about a thousand, and there has been a meeting of the residents to consider the propriety of approving or disapproving of the Bill. Through certain misunderstandings as to the representation of the district upon the Council, and also through certain unfounded fears as to the assessments being affected, they came to a conclusion against the Bill, but since that meeting there have been further talks and the misunderstandings have been cleared, and now the matter is in the way of a full settlement in support of the Bill. The Corporation supply gas and water to all those parts, and with the exception of the last-mentioned part of the parish of Warmsworth they receive and treat the sewage from those various parts which are sewered. The Corporation thus exercises a large amount of public duties in respect of those districts. I may also say further that the Earl Fitzwilliam, a large landowner, and other large landowners are in favour of the Bill.
With regard to the people affected by the Bill, I see that it is stated in a memorandum by the County Councils Association that there is marked hostility to the Bill. That is rather a figure of speech, because certainly so far as it relates to Doncaster there is no marked 836 hostility. With regard to Warmsworth the total population affected is only 1,062, and in one of the parts to be taken in there is no population at all. With regard to another, the district of Bentley, the population to be taken in is only six, while with regard to Barnby it is only 131, and so on. As to the more populous parts of Cantley and Warmsworth I have mentioned what has occurred with regard to the latter, and with regard to Cantley there is a committee of residents in negotiation with the Corporation at the present time, with a view of supporting the Bill.
I have dealt with the provisions of the Bill somewhat in detail, because I was anxious to bring before your Lordships the fact that the proposal in the Bill is a modest and moderate one, and I must say that I fail to see why the county councils should take the step of opposing a modest and inoffensive Bill like this on Second Reading. The Law and Parliamentary Committee of the West Biding County Council reported to the County Council in January last that the proposed extension is of quite moderate dimensions, and cannot be regarded as open to the same objections as the ambitious and recent encroachments attempted from time to time by corporations. Therefore an important committee of the County Council did regard the proposed extension as one of quite moderate dimensions.
The procedure with regard to the alteration of boundaries of county boroughs is twofold. Firstly, a county borough may proceed by Bill, and secondly, in certain events, by agreement with the county council, which may be submitted to the Minister of Health for approval. That arises under Section 46 of the Local Government Act, 1929. That section gives instructions to the county council of every county throughout England and Wales to review the circumstances of all the districts within their area after conferences with the representatives of the councils of the several districts with a view to effecting, if necessary, changes and alterations in the boundaries of the district, or the union of one parish with another, or creating a rural parish into an urban district, and various matters of that kind. It instructs the county councils to do that, and to effect 837 the review before April 1, 1932, or such later date as the Minister may in any case allow. In the present case, in regard to the West Riding County Council, I understand the Minister has allowed an extension of time till next October. Then, after the review of the various districts, in consultation with the decal authorities, the county council are required to consult the county borough councils in regard to the proposals they may put forward to the Minister.
I do not wish to go into these matters, because they are not very relevant to the present inquiry, but I am now coming to the important part of the section. It provides, among other things, that if the council of a county borough and a county council agree for an alteration of the boundaries between the county borough and the county in any district therein, they may send that agreement for approval to the Minister of Health If that is done, there is no further matter required by way of legislation. The agreement is carried through, and becomes effective. Under this section the procedure has been found to be most beneficial. A number of consultations have already taken place between county borough councils and county councils, and numerous agreement s have been reached whereby boundaries have been altered. One important agreement that I might mention is the case of Birmingham. In the case of Birmingham there was an agreement between the Warwickshire County Council and the Corporation of the City of Birmingham, which is a county borough. A large addition was made to the Borough, and that agreement was approved by the Minister, and took effect, and there was no occasion therefore to incur the expense of promoting a Bill in Parliament. I mention that to show the very beneficial and useful effect of the procedure under this section in a matter of this kind.
With the object of taking action under this section and coming to an agreement with the County Council, the Corporation of Doncaster wrote to the County Council asking them to appoint representatives who might meet representatives of the Corporation in conference to consider the propriety of proposals to alter the boundary of the 838 County Borough of Doncaster. They asked that an early date might be fixed for such a conference, and the hope was expressed that an agreed extension might be concluded with the County Council, in order to avoid any further proceedings, by Bill or otherwise. They also at the same time sent a plan showing the proposals to which I have referred. That was as far back as the month of May of last year. That invitation was not accepted, in fact, it was refused, but the Corporation, with infinite patience, in June, July, August, September and October endeavoured to get a conference with the County Council on this matter. On every occasion they were either put off or refused absolutely, so that the respectful request of the Corporation was of no avail.
The Corporation were thus driven to the conclusion that the County Council were not disposed in any way to facilitate a conference with a view to an agreement, being reached under Section 46. The Corporation therefore has to fall back on the other alternative—namely, promoting this Bill. The Bill was duly lodged in November. Now at last, about three weeks ago, on February 18, a conference did take place between the representatives of the County Council and of the Corporation. The Corporation were hope-ful that, although late in the day, the conference might be of benefit, having regard more particularly to the report of the Law and Parliamentary Committee of the County Council, which described the proposals of the Corporation as moderate. However, nothing resulted from this conference. The representative of the County Council took exception to the Bill, and suggested it should be withdrawn. The County Council were asked to state what their proposals were with regard to the area surrounding the County Borough, but they declined to give any information. The Corporation are thus entirely in the dark as to what the attitude of the County Council is. They do not know—it certainly has not been made clear to them during any of the negotiations between the officials of the County Council and of the Corporation, or at the conference which took place—what the attitude of the County Council is towards the Second Reading of this Bill. The reason for this silence I do not know.
839 It is a great misfortune that two local authorities, side by side in this way, cannot explain themselves to each other, and it was certainly the intention of the Act of 1929 that local authorities should meet from time to time to consider this important matter of county boundaries. If the County Council should say that the Corporation of Doncaster should have waited and submitted their proposals to the Minister, obviously that course would be quite ineffective because unless there is an agreement come to between the County Council and the County Borough Council the Minister has no rights in the matter whatever. Therefore, if it is suggested that the Borough Council ought to wait until the proposals of the County are before the Minister and then. they will make their representations with regard to the alteration of the boundaries of the County Borough, I say that that is quite idle inasmuch as the Minister has no power to interfere. If, on the other hand, the County Council should say that it is inconvenient that this Bill should be promoted now, seeing that it may affect other areas. I would say that this Bill, instead of being an inconvenience, ought to be of assistance. If the Second Reading is carried, the matter will go before a Committee. The Corporation may or may not be able to satisfy the Committee that the proposed extension is one that ought to be sanctioned. If the Committee should refuse to sanction the proposed extension, then the County Council proposals can be proceeded with without further difficulty. If, on the other hand, the Committee, or Parliament, should say that the County Borough is to be extended, then the County Council know precisely where they are, and what areas they have to deal with.
It may be said that the County Borough Council ought to have waited till next year, and, if the matter was urgent, have brought the Bill then; it may be said that they have come too soon. The changes and alterations which ought to be made by county councils under the Act of 1929 will have been completed by that time, and a settlement having been reached in 1932 which was to come into operation in April, 1933, it would be most undesirable to start a further Bill in Parliament to rip up that settlement and 840 endeavour to create new areas. Reference may be made to what this House did last year in the matter of the Stoke-on-Trent Bill. It will be remembered that was a Bill promoted by a County Borough Council with a view to extending the Borough and taking in certain adjoining areas including the old Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. I was present during the debate on that Bill and the impression left upon my mind certainly was that the Bill was rejected on three grounds. First, that the matter had been already disposed of in the previous Session by the Bill having been rejected and that the facts at that time were all fully known, the matter having been investigated by a Committee in another place. Secondly, that the population of the areas proposed to be taken in was strongly, almost unanimously, opposed to the Bill; and, thirdly—a ground more of sentiment than otherwise—that the Corporation of Stoke-on-Trent was a comparatively new one and was proposing to include within its area the old Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme which had existed for many centuries. I submit that is no guide and no assistance in the determination we have to make regarding this Bill.
Only last week, I think, this House agreed to the Second Reading of another County Borough Extension Bill, a Bill promoted by the Borough of Warrington. Warrington adjoins the administrative Counties of Lancaster and Chester. The Lancashire County Council and the Cheshire County Council are members of the County Councils Association. The proposals put forward in the Warrington Bill are identical in many respects with those put forward in the Doncaster Bill. The Lancashire County Council and the Cheshire County Council refused to be parties to taking exception to the Second Reading of the Warrington Bill, because they were satisfied that there was a bona fide difference between the Borough and the County Councils and that that was a matter which should be determined by Parliament. It is the same in this case. The Corporation here has endeavoured to come to an arrangement with the County Council and has failed. The County Council refuses to negotiate. There is thus a bone fide difference between the County Council and the County Borough Council, and that is a 841 matter which should be referred to an independent body such as a Committee upstairs. During the whole of these negotiations the County Council has kept the Corporation at arm's length and it certainly does not lie in the mouth of the County Council to object to the Second Reading of this Bill.
It may be said that this is not a fortunate moment to promote or to incur the expense of promoting a Bill in Parliament. Certainly Corporations throughout the country have taken that as a guiding principle and as a consequence very Jew local authorities are to be found applying for Private Bill legislation this Session. But in respect to this Bill this is a matter of urgency. If, for example, the Bill is rejected the Corporation, if they like to come next year, will be met with the argument that that is an inopportune time and that all these matters were settled in 1932. Accordingly, if the Corporation are of opinion, having regard to all the facts, that the time is now Sipe when the Borough ought to be extended, then I submit that they ought to have an opportunity of placing their case before an independent Committee upstairs.
There is one further point to which I should like to refer. Up to the year 1926 a county borough could be extended by Provisional Order. But, on the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Local Government, the Minister of Health, the Minister who provided the Provisional Order, was deprived of this power. The Royal Commission recommended that this power should be taken from the Minister, and that recommendation was made at the urgent request of the county councils before that Royal Commission. Accordingly, it was provided that the alteration of a county borough should be clone by a Bill in Parliament. I would suggest, therefore, that it would appear strange if Parliament, having deprived the Government Department of power to deal with these matters on the ground that they should be dealt with by Parliament itself, were now to decline to hear this ease. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Amulree.)
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY, who had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading he would move, That the 842 Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, in rising to make the Motion which stands in my name I ask your Lordships' kind attention and generous indulgence in adopting a course which to many of your Lordships may possibly seem unnecessary and somewhat out of the usual order. But when you have heard the arguments which I shall offer as briefly as possible I hope you may somewhat modify your views. I do not propose to deal with any of the details of either the Doncaster Corporation Bill or the Rotherham Corporation Bill. That is not my aim. I do not propose to dwell upon their merits or demerits, which have nothing whatever to do with the case I have to put. I consider that the merits or demerits of those Bills would be far better argued before a Select Committee of your Lordships' House by counsel and the calling of witnesses in the usual manner than in a debate on the Floor of your Lordships' House. I rise to move the rejection of these two Bills purely and simply upon a matter of very high and very important principle, and I shall try to show in as short a time as possible why these Bills should not be allowed to proceed at the present time.
§ I am sure that noble Lords on the Front Bench will acquit me entirely of any discourtesy, but may I at the outset say that a few days ago I received the Government Whip to come here and vote on behalf of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Amulree? I am afraid than although I always endeavour to accommodate my movements and even my conscience to Whips which I receive from that Bench, I must on this occasion pursue the course which I have laid down for myself and vote against them if it comes to a Division. I trust, however, in the meanwhile that noble Lords on the Government Front Bench have changed their opinion. I do not know why His Majesty's Government should have thought fit to send out a Whip at all on behalf of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. After all it is only a question of one private set of people against another private set of people, and the ratepayers of the West Riding of Yorkshire have just as much right to Government consideration as the people of Doncaster and Rotherham. I am not a Yorkshireman. I am not in that proud 843 position, and I always bow low when I am speaking to Yorkshiremen. But, speaking as an extreme southerner, I feel that I must. stand up for the view taken by the West Riding of Yorkshire.
§ I do not want to say anything bitter. We never want to make discussions bitter, but I suspect, nay I almost detect departmental interference. I was honestly shocked at this statement. But we have got accustomed so much to departmental interference with the local authorities that the public in general is fast becoming alarmed because of this action en the part of those who are or ought to be our public servants. That is the only motive which I can see for this Whip being issued on behalf of the Government. The Ministry of Health very possibly thinks, for reasons best known to itself, that there is some merit in this Corporation's Bill which, I regret to say, the County Councils Association do not agree.
§ May I briefly deal with the question of principle. I promise that I shall not make another speech this afternoon. I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, intends to do, but if he takes the next Bill separately I shall merely content myself with formally moving its rejection, and I shall say all I have to say on this Bill. As to the question of principle, at the present moment the whole atmosphere of local government and local administration is changing. We have not yet seen the full effects of that famous Statute, the Local Government Act of 1929, nor have we even reached what is commonly known as the appointed day, the 1st April, 1932, by which time the county councils are supposed to have completed the review of their county districts. In the case of West Yorkshire, I believe I am right in saying—I think it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree—that owing to the complicated state of affairs in that County, its large population, its big towns and so forth, the Ministry has wisely thought fit to extend that date until the 1st of October.
§ Therefore I hope your Lordships will agree with me that the whole condition of local government is for the time being in suspense. It was not intended that any of these Bills should be promoted during the course of that re-arranging period, so that the county councils, who 844 are engaged in a very long and a very difficult task, might have an opportunity of concluding it. I am glad to see many members of county councils here this afternoon, and those of us who know what county councils have to do in the review of their county districts must realise the enormous difficulties that exist, whether because of a small parish which is going to disappear, or whether because of a large district which wants to swallow up a little more than it is perhaps right for it to have. All these difficulties and readjustments between rural and other areas have given the county councils and officials a considerable amount of anxiety and trouble.
§ May I ask your Lordships to carry your minds back to the origin of these things? When the Royal Commission on Local Government met in 1923, it did so under the able Chairmanship of my noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees, and we are indebted very much to our present Lord Chairman and to his colleagues for the excellent and clear Report which they gave, and upon which so much of Statute Law is founded to-day. In 1923 it was found that the. position between the county councils and the big county boroughs had become so difficult that it was decided to appoint a Commission, which was done. Their reference was to enquire as to the existing law and procedure relating to the extension of county boroughs and the creation of new county boroughs in England and Wales and the effect of such extensions. I will not trouble your Lordships by reading further from the terms of reference. I will merely say that in 1925 the Commission issued their First Report, which was based on those terms of reference, and as a result an Act of Parliament was passed which is known as the Local Government (County Boroughs and Adjustments) Act. The Commission having been appointed in 1923, they issued their First Report in 1925, and that Act, to which I have referred, the Act of 1926, was a result of their early labours. Then matters went on and they reported again in 1928. If I am wrong the noble Earl will no doubt correct me.845
THE EARL OF MALMESBUBY
I think in 1928 they reported again, and it was in 1929 that the Local Government Act was passed as a result of their labours.
THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
In that Second Report paragraph 164 says:With a view to securing efficient units of administration, it is desirable that the law and procedure under which a reorganisation of areas may be effected should be modified.…They go on—I do not want to trouble your Lordship with reading it all—Provision should be made for a general review of the existing county districts and parishes within a specified period after the passing of the necessary legislation.…That adumbrated the general review, and that general review of county districts found its place as the nucleus and the essence of Section 46 of the Local Government Act of 1929. That is the exact position. What happened? The Commission proposed to entrust the county councils with the supremely important task of re-organising the county districts. That was the first point. The second anoint was that the Commission contemplated the alteration of borough boundaries as a matter appropriate for inclusion in the county review. That can be done now. The third thing was that the Commission intended that the county boroughs should be specifically consulted by the county councils and should also have the opportunity of submitting their views on the counties' proposals to the Minister of Health. The Ministry of Health comes in when the scheme is prepared and goes before the Ministry for final approval.
In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has said, county boroughs have three means of procedure when they want to extend their boundaries. First of all they can proceed by means of a Private Bill, which is the ordinary way to which your Lordships have been accustomed for so long. Secondly, where there is an agreement between a county council and a county borough, they can proceed by way of a Provisional Order, which is given by the Ministry of Health. That saves the expense and trouble of promoting a Bill in Parliament. Finally, there is the means given under Section 46 of the Local Government Act whereby readjustment of boundaries shall be 846 made by agreement. That can form part of a general county scheme and come under the general county review. In any case, if they do not go to Parliament with their appeal, the Ministry is called in to adjudicate. I should like to say this in passing. So far as my own county is concerned we have had the most happy relations with the Ministry of Health. Our county review has been approved with practically no alterations by the Ministry of Health, and I think we may congratulate ourselves upon the outcome, so far as we locally are concerned. But we are only one of many county councils.
May I call your Lordships' attention to a question which was asked in another place on the 19th November? On that day the hon. Member for Dudley asked the Minister of Health what was the present policy of the Government with regard to all borough extensions. The Minister, Sir Hilton Young, replied:I cannot prohibit a council from applying to Parliament, but I hope that no council will promote a Bill or a Provisional Order at the present time unless there are very special reasons for doing so.I do not think there are any very special reasons in this particular case. On the contrary, it seems to me that as West Yorkshire is one of the County Councils which is having most difficulties in readjusting areas and has been given an extension of time, it would have been only fair that none of the many county boroughs in its area should promote Bills for extensions. The Minister of Health said:I hope that no council will promote a Bill or a Provisional Order at the present time.The doctrine of Cabinet responsibility is slightly on the wane just now, but upon such a commonplace subject as local government, involving no particular dispute in the larger area of politics, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for saying that I think a stabilised line of action might be laid down for those who have to administer it.
Why on earth should these two County Boroughs promote these Bills at the present time? They are taking advantage of a harassed and over-worked County Council when the time is really absolutely inopportune. It is not April 1 yet, and October 1 is the date up to which, in the opinion of the Ministry of Health, 847 the West Riding County Council should have to carry out its review. I am told that Doncaster is anxious about the districts lying close to it. I know less about Rotherham. In regard to that I would ask your Lordships to think of this point. Not only is it very unfair to the County Council of West Yorkshire to have this interference with districts lying near these County Boroughs, but the result may in the end seriously affect districts of the County lying further away. If the county review when it is completed seriously alters the map of districts near urban areas the whole of those areas will have to be readjusted if this Bill passes.
And if this Bill passes to-day there is a further point which it is really very important to mention. If this Bill passes having the support of the Government or at all events of the Ministry, what chance will the opponents of the Bill have in opposing it when it goes before the Select Committee? It will go before the Select Committee with the imprimé or cachet of Government or Departmental support. I have said that the present time is entirely inopportune. It would be very much better that these Bills should be postponed and brought up by the Corporations at a future date Postponement will do no harm whatever. There is another thing to be considered. We are living in very hard financial times. There is a great possibility that these Corporations may get their extensions by cheaper means than promoting Private Bills in Parliament at the expense of the ratepayers. I should have thought that these Corporations might well have waited before putting their ratepayers to the expense of paying for a Bill in Parliament.
What, I ask, is the need for haste? I know we shall be told that if these Bills are rejected neither Doncaster nor Rotherham will be able to promote a Bill in Parliament this Session and that they will have to wait till next year. That is true, but what is the harm if they' do have to wait till next year? After all, in the West Riding of Yorkshire there are a large number of boroughs. I think there are nine other boroughs and there are a large number of urban and rural districts. I dare say some of these other boroughs may be thirsting for extensions, but none of them have promoted Bills in 848 Parliament. The only two are Doncaster and Rotherham. The case of Stoke-on-Trent has been mentioned. I had the pleasure of voting against the Bill for the extension of Stoke-on-Trent. On the first occasion it was thrown out by an enormous majority. As far as my recollection goes that had nothing to do with any particular principle. It was rejected for other reasons. On the second occasion, if my memory serves me aright, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, moved the rejection of the Bill. I am sorry that he is not in his place to-day, but I think I am right in saying that he expressed the view that. the Stoke-on-Trent Bill was calculated to over-ride the provision made by Parliament in the Act of 1929.
The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, quoted the case of Warrington. I am very glad that he quoted the Warrington Corporation Bill because in reference to that I can give an answer at once. The County Councils Association did not oppose the Warrington Bill and that is a proof that it is possible for a Corporation to extend the borough boundaries in entire agreement with the county council concerned. Warrington was quite within its right to proceed with its Extension Bill at that time because it met with no opposition as far as I know from the Cheshire County Council. The County Councils Association were not asked to oppose it and we should have been guilty of a gross interference with other people's affairs if we had intervened when we were not asked to do so. If we had been invited to oppose it by the County Council them. selves that would have been all very well, but we cannot interfere in other people's affairs if they do not ask for our help.
I have nearly come to the end of my remarks, but there is one other thing I should like to say. I do not know whether it applies to all county boroughs but there is no doubt a growing feeling —largely encouraged, shall I say, by Ministries—that a county borough is a better thing than a county council. I read a book recently in which I was very much interested, although I disagreed with nearly everything in it. It was written by Mr. W. A. Robson, and was called "The Development of Local Government'. In it he practically said that 849 he would like to see every area an urban area. As far as I could make out county councils were everywhere to be dismembered and their mangled remains joined up right and left to form one of the reduced county councils, while all other areas were to be made urban areas. I do not know whether your Lordships would like to see that conic about. One thing which I observe about county boroughs is that they are very fond of taking in additional areas where they see that conditions are fair and that a promising field of financial gain is open to them. They are not, however, always so keen on taking over poor areas where the provision of lighting and sewerage and other things is much needed. I can think of instances of that kind. There is no eagerness on the part of county boroughs to spread out in the direction of poor areas which would be more likely to be a burden to them than a gain.
Of course there are areas which county councils must recognise must pass into borough areas. There are cases—cases where transport by omnibus and train make it easy to bring the working population from the scene of their daily work to areas outside—where incorporation within county borough boundaries might be well imagined. But in this case two important Boroughs have promoted Bills at the most difficult time and the Ministry must know it was a most difficult, time because they themselves had already given to the County Council of the West Riding an extension until October. I will not take up more time. I am much obliged to your Lordships for your kind indulgence this afternoon and if I have kept away from the details of the Bill I have done so on purpose. I hope your Lordships will refuse to give a Second Reading to the Bill this afternoon.
Leave out the word (" now ") and at end insert ("this day six months ").—(The Earl of Malmesbury.)
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
My Lords, I approach the Motion for rejection standing in my name from rather a different angle from that of my noble friend Lord Malmesbury. He speaks with authority on behalf of the County Councils Association and has put the case very fairly and forcibly. I simply intervene in this debate because I happen to be a member of Lord Malmesbury's County 850 Council and also because I think, in the present circumstances, if these Bills simply pass the Second Reading and go through Committee the West Riding County Council will be placed in a very difficult, if not an impossible, position. It is unusual, I think, in either House for a Private Bill to be rejected on Second Reading unless there are overwhelming reasons why it should be rejected, and though I have put down a Motion for rejection, yet, after having listened to my noble friend who moved the rejection, I confess candidly I do not see any matter of principle which should induce your Lordships to reject these Bills. The noble Earl did not mention a single provision of the Bills to which he took exception. I take it, therefore, that his suggestion for the rejection is not on the merits of the Bills themselves, but because, if the Bills were passed he considers—and in present circumstances I consider—that the West Riding of Yorkshire would not have what is called a square deal.
The position shortly is this. Most county councils have finished their revision of local boundaries, have made voluntary arrangements with their county boroughs and are looking forward with a clear conscience to April 1, the appointed day when all these arrangements should have finished. In the case of the West Riding things are very different from what they are in the case of the ordinary county council. The West Riding is highly populous, with eleven county boroughs and many urban and district councils. In fact their task is three or four times more onerous than that of any other county council and in consequence the Minister of Health has already given them six months extension from April 1 to complete their arrangements. I do not quite join with my noble friend in his implied censure of these boroughs for bringing in a Bill. If Parliament allows them to bring in a Bill I do not see why you should blame them for taking advantage of what the law allows; but I think the point we must really consider is how, if these Bills are sound, we can give them a Second Reading without hurting the West Riding County Council.
There are two ways in which we can deal with these Bills. We can reject them altogether and then allow the West Riding County Council to pursue its 851 negotiations without any further trouble from these Bills, but I do not favour that course as there are other ways of meeting a difficult situation. Surely the best course would be to give the two Bills a Second Reading to-day, but before doing so to extract from the representative of the Ministry of Health in your Lordships' House a promise that, should the West Riding County Council find it impossible to carry on negotiations with these Boroughs and redistribute territories at the same time, the Ministry of Health will give the County Council a further six months in which to carry on the work of revising the areas inside the county. That is to say, the West Riding County Council should be promised that if they want it—they may not want it—they may be given till the 1st April next year to revise internal boundaries, and we should then give the Bill a Second Reading. I venture to put that forward as a suggestion meeting the legitimate objections of my noble friend to the impossible situation in which the West Riding will be placed unless something of the sort is done. If that proposal could be favourably received by the noble Lord who speaks for the Ministry of Health I would withdraw all my objections to the Bill.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I think the opposition raised to these two Bills is similar in character as Lord Malmesbury has said, and therefore the discussion of this particular Motion will, I imagine, cover the other. My noble friend, in the very clear and able speech in which he defended his proposal, did not lay any stress on the merits or demerits of the Bills. He said he was not going to discuss them and I think he said if I recollect aright, that in due course they would come before a Committee of your Lordships' House and the details would be thrashed out there. That is to say, all he asks your Lordships to do to-day is really to postpone these Bills and wait until what in his opinion would be a more convenient season when their details may be thrashed out. His argument was connected with the interpretation of Section 46 of the Local Government Act, 1929. That section imposes on the Council of every county the duty of reviewing all its district boundaries and making proposals for such alterations as may seem necessary.
852 The whole thing has been explained to your Lordships. The county boroughs and all other local government authorities within the area have to be consulted and eventually the scheme submitted to the Ministry of Health. It is urged that pending this review, and until this review of the district boundaries is settled, the proposed extension of these two boroughs should not be considered by Parliament. I in common with the noble Lord who has just sat down, Lord Mount Temple, find it a little difficult to agree with my noble friend that when Parliament passed Section 46 of the Act of 1929 they desired to hold up disputed county borough extensions until the counties had entirely completed their review of district boundaries, for both in 1930 and 1931 Bills for the extension of county boroughs were agreed to both in this House and in another place. I think altogether five Bills were brought forward, of which two were rejected it is true. One was for Stoke-on-Trent and the other for Oldham. The Stoke-on-Trent Bill was rejected in this House on the Second Reading, and the Oldham Bill was referred to a Committee and rejected there.
I personally supported the majority vote when the Stoke-on-Trent Bill was rejected. We all have to consider our point of view very carefully, because I think it has always been the practice of the House to leave these matters to the decision of the House as a whole, and when my noble friend referred to the Government Whip I thought that the Government desired to call our attention to the great importance of this matter, so that there should be the greatest number of Lords present, rather than that we should vote in any particular way. That at any rate is how I interpreted that summons. I voted against the Stoke-on-Trent Bill for a totally different reason from that which is urged upon us by Lord Malmesbury. I felt that there was no object in incurring the expense of a Committee, because the wishes of the inhabitants, as has been pointed out by Lord Amulree, with regard to the future fate of the area in question, had already been definitely ascertained and expressed. They wanted to constitute themselves into a new municipal borough and did not wish to join Stoke-on-Trent.
The Royal Commission over which I had the honour to preside laid it down that 853 the desirability of extensions was a matter entirely for Parliament to decide, but that in coming to a decision the most important consideration—not the over-riding consideration—should be in their opinion the expressed wishes of the inhabitants, and it seemed to me on that occasion that the wishes of the inhabitants had been absolutely and definitely obtained, and that therefore it would be a waste of money to refer the matter to a Committee. Here we have a different situation. I do not think there is any suggestion that the wishes of the inhabitants have been ascertained, one way or another, and I think there is good reason for these Bills to be submitted to a Committee of your Lordships' House, where the whole question can be discussed and considered and decided upon and reported to this House. I do not mean in any way to prejudge the merits of the case, or to say whether it is desirable or not that this extension should take place. There may be community of interests between the areas, and the wishes of the inhabitants may or may not be in favour. There may be various considerations which will induce your Lordships to grant these extensions, but these matters are all matters which are for a Committee to decide upon. There for I venture to suggest that it would be on the whole desirable that your Lordships should act in these cases as you did in regard last year to other Bills, and allow them to go forward to a Select Committee.
I have seen the Petitions, and I notice that all the points raised by my noble friend are mentioned in them. Therefore they will not be out of the con federation of the Committee. I think that is a point which might induce your Lordships to consider the desirability of referring the Bills to a Committee. Of coarse whatever the Committee may decide, the matter does not finally rest with them, because you will have an opportunity on the Third Reading of reconsidering the whole matter, and if you think proper you can reject the Bills just as well then as now. But I would like to draw your attention to the most useful suggestion of Lord Mount Temple. He said, if I am quoting him correctly, that in his opinion the objection to allowing these Bills to go forward was that the West Hiding of Yorkshire would, in carrying out the Act of 1929, be placed in a 854 position of considerable difficulty. He said there were two ways of getting out of that difficulty. There was the one proposed by Lord Malmesbury, of rejecting the Bills now or postponing them until next year. The other was to give the County Council more time, if it wanted it, in which to finish the consideration of the redistribution of its boundaries and put its proposals before the Ministry. I venture, with very great respect, to suggest that the second alternative as proposed by Lord Mount Temple will be ample to meet the case, and would not then stand in the way of the Bills going forward in the ordinary way.
It seems to me, on the whole, that it-is more helpful to County Councils to know exactly what their counties are before they settle the boundaries. Therefore, if a borough proposes to extend its area let the proposal go forward and be thrashed out. If the extension is agreed to then the geography of a county will be altered and the district boundaries can be altered to suit. If the Bill is thrown out then the county knows the areas are not to be extended.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Presuming that Lord Mount Temple's proposal is carried and the Committee passes the Bill, and it comes down for a Third Reading, what will happen then? The thing will have been passed and there will be no opportunity then to alter it, and more money will have been wasted.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
If Lord Banbury moves the rejection there will be plenty of opportunity of throwing the Bills out on Third Reading.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
That may happen in many cases. Lord Malmesbury never suggested that these Bills should be wasted, but only postponed, and at some time they must go to a committee. Therefore it does not matter whether they go to a Committee now or later on. We are not considering the merits of the Bills but merely the desirability of introducing them this year or next year and of giving time with regard to the distribution of county areas.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I do not know that the noble Lord will succeed in that. I am not at all sure if what he wishes would not have the reverse effect. Anyhow I venture, if I may say so, to suggest that Lord Mount Temple's proposal would be usefully followed, and if Lord Gage, who I think is going to reply for the Government, in this connection is able to say that the county shall have ample opportunity without being trammelled by the difficulties of extension to consider its boundaries in a thoroughly satisfactory manner, and given more time if possible, then I venture to think your Lordships would be well advised to follow the usual course and to allow these Bills to go forward. It is my duty, as your Lordships have honoured me by inviting me to undertake the duties of Chairman of Committees, to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it is very unusual to reject Bills on Second Reading. It is done, and frequently done, but it ought not to be done, in my very humble opinion, except with the very best possible reasons and if there is no other alternative to get out of the difficulty. Much trouble and time are spent in preparing these Bills, and it does seem to me that, except in the very rarest cases possible, the promoters should have the opportunity of going before a Committee of your Lordships' House and having their case decided there. Therefore, your Lordships should allow them to go forward to a Committee whenever you possibly can and only reject their Bills on the rarest occasions.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I should like to draw the attention of my noble friend to the fact that we are now living in very unusual times. As I desire to assist the Government to carry out one of the pledges which they gave last October I propose to support my noble friend Lord Malmesbury if he goes to a Division. One of those pledges was that the Government would economise and reduce expenditure. What are we going to do now? We are going to pass the Second Reading of this Bill, and it will then go to a Select Committee. I hold in my hand a paper which I suppose is correct—"Reasons Against the Bill," issued by the County Council, and they say this:By taking the course now complained of the two Corporations have incurred the 856 marked hostility of the great majority of the inhabitants of the area included in their Bills and of all the local authorities save one.Then they go on to say that the promotion of the Rotherham and Doncaster Bills is open to strong objection on the ground of waste of public money at a time when the exercise of national and local economy is called for.
We know perfectly well what will happen if this Bill is read a second time. There will be a large number of different authorities who will object to the Bill. They will appear by counsel before the Select Committee, and their fees will run into a very large sum of money—just exactly the thing which we want to stop now. If we reject the Second Reading there is nothing to prevent the Doncaster Corporation next year coming to an arrangement with the County Council and bringing in an agreed Bill, which will not result in expenditure before the Select Committee upstairs. I cannot see that it can hurt the Doncaster Corporation to wait for another year and endeavour to come to an agreement with the County Council. I therefore hope that my noble friend Lord Malmesbury will go to a Division. Like him, I should be very sorry to do anything against the Government; but this is not a Government Bill, it is a Private Bill, though, of course, the Government can support it if they wish. But a defeat on this would not affect the Government. If they do support it they will be doing exactly contrary to what they were returned to do—namely, to economise; and I am not at all sure that they have shown up to the present time that great desire to economise which I should like to see. I think therefore that if we reject the Bill on that ground it will be giving them a good opportunity to show that they intend to carry out their pledges.
I am sorry to differ from my noble friend Lord Mount Temple. I do not quite see what is going to happen if his solution is carried out, except that the lawyers will make a lot of money at the expense of the ratepayers. The Bill will go to a Select Committee and there it will be fought by the eight local authorities who are against it and by the great majority of the inhabitants, and large sums of money will be spent.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I beg pardon. The cumber of local authorities is not given. This statement says "all the local authorities save one." In any case, that does not touch my argument that, if my noble friend's suggestion is carried out, money will be spent, and the Bill, as far as this House is concerned, will have become law; because it is a very rare occurrence—I never remember one—that a Private Bill which has been before a Committee of either House and is passed by that Committee is rejected on Third Reading. It is always said that it would be an insult to the Committee, and unless some very unforeseen circumstances arise you cannot reject it on Third Reading.
My Lords, I might perhaps add a word on behalf of the Ministry of Health. The Government are not directly concerned, but the ordinary routine of departmental administration will be affected. I should like at the outset to reassure noble Lords in respect to the question of the Government Whip. It is not intended that the Government Whips should be put on. The Whip was simply issued with the idea of calling attention to this important question.
The noble Lords who have supported the rejection of this Bill have argued on two principal grounds: first, that in general these Extension Bills, which may lay heavy burdens on ratepayers, are undesirable at the present time; and, secondly, that the spirit of Section 46 of the Local Government Act, 1929, is being contravened. In regard to the first question the Minister, I think, would entirely agree that expensive Bills should not be promoted at the present time, except on very good and defensible grounds. Lord Malmesbury, I think, quoted an answer which he gave to a Question in Parliament last November, and it was a very clear and definite expression of opinion and one which, one might suppose, was well known to the Corporations of Doncaster and Rotherham, who might also be well aware that it would be a view which would probably be shared by a Committee of your Lord- 858 ships' House. Your Lordships, of course, are entirely free to take any course on this matter, but the Minister's view would be that, if important and responsible corporations, such as Doncaster and Rotherham, like to run the risk of promoting their Bills in the face of those warnings, it is only fair to them that their reasons for doing so should be thoroughly investigated.
The noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, dealt with the matter somewhat simply, I think, by saying that there were no special reasons. With all deference to him there may be other views on this subject and the Ministry feel that those special reasons ought to be investigated thoroughly. Of course, if the Bill is rejected by the Committee there is no doubt that their position would be somewhat prejudiced in regard to similar attempts in the immediate future. There is one point I want to make in that connection. I think the noble Earl said that if the Bill went to a Committee it would go there with the imprimatur of the Ministry. That, I think, is really not entirely correct because the Ministry are simply arguing this matter on a question of principle and are not in the least concerned with the merits of the Bill, which would be discussed by the Committee.
In regard to Section 46 it has been argued that the intention was to enable county councils to carry out their reviews peacefully and to consult with county boroughs and, if possible, agree with them in respect of mutual boundaries. It has also been said that it was not intended that Parliament should interfere before their final decisions were arrived at. The Ministry certainly hope, and always have hoped, that in as many cases as possible county councils would come to agreement with county boroughs, and that they would present reviews which would be acceptable to all parties. That has been done in several cases at a great saving of expense and time. If agreement is arrived at there is an obvious saving of money. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Banbury has any reason to suppose that any agreement will be arrived at here, otherwise the policy he suggests would merely be postponing the evil day. The question would be bound to arise sooner or later and there really would not be very much saving.
There would not be a saving if there is no reason to suppose that an agreement will be reached. In cases of disagreement between county councils and county borough councils, where it has been laid down both in the Act of 1926 and the Act of 1929 that Parliament must be the sole arbiter, the Ministry cannot accept the argument that there is any limitation in any Act of Parliament as regards the time when Parliamentary intervention should come. Indeed, the experience of the Ministry is that if Parliamentary intervention is unavoidable, as it must be in contested cases, it may well be more convenient for that intervention to come before the completion of the county review rather than afterwards. To give your Lordships one or two examples, the Warwickshire County Council completed their review in 1930. Subsequently, the Borough of Coventry applied for an extension which was granted by Parliament and the Warwickshire county review had to be amended in consequence. At the present moment the reviews of the Lancashire County Council and the Staffordshire County Council are being deliberately held up pending the decisions of Parliament on the Bury Bill and the Wolver-hampton Bill respectively, which are at present being considered.
Another point which arises out of these Bills has been mentioned already. The Bury Bill, the Nottingham Bill, and the Warrington Bill, which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, are all Extension Bills which are being promoted before the completion of the county review. Yet in none of those cases has it been alleged that any principle has been violated. I think the noble Earl quoted the case of Warrington as indicating that the argument need not apply. Actually it seems to me that if the Lancashire County Council and the Cheshire County Council did not see fit to raise this question in regard to the Warrington Bill, although they are affected by it, it is rather a point for the other side.
The Ministry are always anxious to meet the views of so important a body as the County Councils Association, but I think the Ministry must point out on the ground of Section 46 that the case 860 has not been put forward with any great consistency having regard to these other Bills. What the Ministry believe is that if your Lordships decide to reject these Bills on Second Reading on the ground of Section 46, you will be to some extent admitting a new principle and one which may lead to considerable administrative difficulty in view of the experiences the Ministry have had and which I have mentioned. The Ministry feel also that if county boroughs are to be required to wait until county reviews are completed it might be interpreted as a disturbance of the settlement which was embodied in the Act of 1926. It might be interpreted as a disturbance of that settlement if county boroughs are not allowed to have their Bills considered by Committees.
The question of the postponement of these county reviews has been raised and I am much obliged to my noble friend Lord Mount Temple for giving me notice of that matter. Your Lordships have been reminded that it is possible for the Minister to grant a postponement of the date of the completion of these county reviews and that in fact such a postponement has been applied for and granted in. respect of the West Riding review. As a general principle the Minister desires to be absolutely reasonable in these matters, and should the time taken by the Committee stage of a Private Bill affect the county review and prevent a county council submitting their review by the authorised date the Minister would be perfectly prepared to grant an extension of time. I can give that specific assurance to my noble friend Lord Mount Temple. It is a smaller point, but if it is to be laid down that the completion of the county review must in all cases precede the promotion of Bills, the Minister—I am talking generally—would feel less freedom to grant these extensions of time.
I need not dwell on the possible inconvenience which might arise if the merits of these and similar Bills were discussed on the floor of your Lordships' House, because it is really not a matter which affects the Department. In conclusion, if your Lordships desire to make changes in the normal procedure, I think in the interest of efficient administration it is not unreasonable to ask that these changes should be debated in your Lordships' House in their relation to all Bills 861 and not merely in relation to one or two Bills. In regard to the Bills now before your Lordships the Ministry hope that you will not set up a new precedent, but will follow the normal course which has proved perfectly satisfactory in the majority of cases and has been accepted
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly and committed: The Committee to be proposed by the Committee of Selection.