HL Deb 09 May 1933 vol 87 cc762-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It represents the last of the long series of distinguished services rendered to the State by the late Lord Chelmsford. The origin of the Bill is to be found in the work of a Committee appointed in 1929 by Mr. Greenwood, then Minister of Health, over which Lord Chelmsford presided. The task of the Committee was in the first instance to consider the consolidation of the law of local government in England and Wales, and to recommend what amendments would be desirable for facilitating this consolidation and for securing simplicity, uniformity and conciseness. After more than two years labour the Committee issued an Interim Report and a Draft Local Government Bill.

The Bill represents an important instalment of the work of consolidating and clarifying the Statute Law of this country. It forms part also of a process of consolidation which has been carried out by the Ministry of Health since the Department was first created; for example, the consolidation of the Poor Law, of housing legislation, of the Sale of Food and Drugs Acts and a number of other Acts. It is a prelude to the consolidation of the law as to public health, a task to which the same Committee will proceed to devote its attention. The prolixity and confusion of the existing law of local government is notorious and has been the subject of frequent comment from the judicial bench and in the public Press. Permit me to cite a single example only. In the case of Field versusthe Poplar Borough Council ([1929] 1 K.B. 750) the late Mr. Justice McCardie said: I have now completed the somewhat tedious recital of the confused and strangely complex series of provisions which affect the appointment, tenure and salary of a chief sanitary inspector. I venture to express the hope that the day is not far distant when our local government law will pass from the evils of an almost chaotic obscurity into the region of broad and orderly arrangement. It is believed that this Bill goes a long way to realise this hope.

No one would deny that it is itself a long and complex one, containing as it does over 300 clauses and 11 Schedules. The measure of success which has been attained in simplifying and clarifying the existing law may, to some extent, be judged by the fact that the Bill repeals in whole 47 Acts of Parliament and in part a further 177 Acts of Parliament, and that its 300 odd clauses and 11 Schedules take the place of over 900 Sections and 33 Schedules which are either wholly or partially repealed. As another illustration of the simplification which the Bill effects it may be mentioned that the whole law of local government audit is to be found in its Part X which contains 24 clauses. As will be seen from the marginal references, these clauses represent portions of no fewer than 15 Acts ranging between the years 1860 and 1932. Without desiring to resort to rhetoric it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that if anyone desired to have all the law on this subject ready to hand it would be necessary for him to have a library of books, so many are the Statutes and so many are the volumes in which these Statutes are contained.

It would be unfair to the House to attempt at the present stage to expound in detail the contents of the Bill, but in broad outline its object and effect can be stated in one or two sentences. In the first place it deals with local government in England and Wales; that is to say, the constitution, election and general powers and duties of the five familiar types of local authorities—county councils, borough councils, urban and rural district councils, and parish councils—on whose proper functioning the health and comfort of every citizen so largely depends. It does not attempt to deal with the special functions of these authorities, such as housing, education, and public assistance. Each of these is dealt with in its own particular code and to attempt to amalgamate all those codes into a single whole would undoubtedly be a mistake.

Secondly, the main though not the whole object of the Bill is consolidation: that is to say, to bring within the compass of a single Statute a mass of law now scattered up and down the Statute Book. Much of it is over fifty years old. A glance at the Repeals Schedule will show that the first enactment to be repealed dates from the reign of Henry VIII and that more than a score of the repealed Acts are earlier than the middle of the last century.

But the Bill is not a purely consolidating measure. The prolixity of the existing local government law and its lack of uniformity is mainly due to the fact that different codes were enacted at different dates and in very different language for the several classes of local authority. Thus the borough councils are governed by the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, reproduced largely from the similar Act of 1835. The county councils are governed partly by the Act of 1882, which was largely incorporated into the Local Government Act, 1888, and partly by fresh, and in form much more modern, provisions inserted in the latter Act. The urban district councils fall under the Public Health Act, 1875, which itself was a consolidating Act amalgamating legislation going back to 1848. The rural district and parish councils derive their constitution and powers from the Local Government Act, 1894, though the former are also to some extent governed by the Act of 1875. Thus, apart from a mass of subsidiary legislation, there are four main codes: the Public Health Act, 1875, the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, and the Local Government Acts of 1888 and 1894, all of which deal with the constitution and powers of different types of local authority and use language of the most diverse description for that purpose.

It will be clear that if the whole of the provisions contained in these codes had merely been placed in juxtaposition by a consolidating Statute, little or no advantage in the matter either of conciseness, simplicity or clarity would have accrued. The Bill would probably have run into more than a thousand clauses and most of the accidental variations between the language of the different codes would have had to be reproduced. The task of the Committee was so far as practicable to select from these multifarious provisions a single code which could be made applicable to all the five types of local authority. This task neces- sarily involves something more than pure consolidation, since if three or four slightly differing codes are to be replaced by a single one it follows that amendments of the law must be made.

The Bill not being a purely consolidating measure cannot be referred to the Joint Consolidation Committee under the familiar procedure which applies to Consolidation Bills. The Government recognise, however, that it would be unfair to expect the House to consider the clauses in detail unless the Bill has first been submitted to a close examination in Committee. They propose therefore to invite both Houses to concur in appointing a Joint Select Committee for this purpose. We hope that this Committee will be in a position to commence its task before the Whitsuntide Recess and that time will suffice to enable the Bill to reach the Statute Book before the end of the Session.

The Bill is in its origin and conception an entirely non-Party and non-controversial measure. It has been warmly welcomed by the great associations of local authorities and in the general and local government Press as a most, valuable measure of legal codification. Its primary object is not to produce a new and perfect code of local government law. That is a matter for subsequent measures, and the preparation of such measures will be enormously simplified and facilitated if the present Bill becomes law. In particular, with a few relatively unimportant exceptions, the Bill makes no attempt to include the valuable suggestions made by the Royal Commission on Local Government over which the Lord Chairman recently presided. Its aim is consolidation, simplification and clarification of the existing law. It is possible that the Bill may be criticised on the ground that, if amendment as well as consolidation is necessary, the more usual course of amending a separate Bill and subsequently consolidating ought to have been adopted. Those interested in the matter will find the point fully discussed in paragraphs 7 to 10 of the Interim Report of Lord Chelmsford's Committee.

Put quite shortly, the reason for adopting the exceptional procedure is the same as the reason for amending as well as consolidating the local government law—namely, that to reduce a number of diverse codes to a single code involves So large a number of amendments that the amending Bill would be almost as long as the present Bill and would necessarily be far less intelligible. A glance at the Appendix to the Report will be sufficient to demonstrate the number of amendments which would have had to be included in the amending Bill, and that Appendix does not pretend to be exhaustive, as it omits amendments which, though of a drafting nature, might be held to go beyond consolidation pure and simple. When this Bill becomes an Act, as I hope it may be soon, it will remain a memorable example of present day efforts to reform the Statute Book and to simplify the practice and procedure of the law. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


I understand the noble and learned Viscount to say that this Bill, besides being a codification Bill, introduces certain new clauses.




May I ask the noble and learned Viscount whether those clauses will enable local authorities to reduce expenditure?


The answer to the noble Lord is this: I share his hopes.

On Question, Bill read 2a.


My Lords, I beg to move, That it is expedient that the Local Government Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Ordered, That a Message be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith and to desire their concurrence.