HL Deb 28 February 1939 vol 111 cc991-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I am glad, in the first place, to be able to relieve your Lordships of any anxiety that you may experience at the moment lest I should make a very long speech and there should be a further discussion that might last as long as the very interesting discussion on the last Bill. The measure which I have the honour to present to your Lordships for consideration has been prepared by the London County Council in constant consultation with the Standing Joint Committee of the Metropolitan Boroughs. This means that it is essentially a Bill which has behind it the full authority of all the local authorities in the Administrative County of London and which embodies what they hope the national Legislature will do for them.

This Bill, with its very resounding title, is mainly a Consolidation Bill. It aims at gathering together into one Statute the various enactments affecting the Administrative County of London and in this way tidying up the law as it affects the Metropolis. It also proposes a number of minor amendments to the existing law in order to bring London government into line with local government outside London. In both these respects London at the moment lags far behind the rest of the country. If it would not weary your Lordships to hear a little about the historical background of the Bill, I should like to summarise the situation as follows. In 1930 a Committee was appointed by the then Minister of Health, Mr. Arthur Greenwood, to consider the consolidation of the laws relating to local government and public health in the country as a whole, but London was expressly and, I believe, on very reasonable grounds excluded from the Committee's terms of reference. As a result of the labours of this Committee, three Bills were introduced into Parliament and passed into law. They reached the Statute Book as the Local Government Act, 1933, the Public Health Act, 1936, and the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. When the 1933 Act was before members of another place, the Minister of Health, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that the London County Council was considering a similar measure to cover the London area. In 1934 the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees in your Lordships' House, pointed out that local government law for London should be brought up to date, and an undertaking was given at that time. It is the object of this Bill to fulfil that undertaking.

To give your Lordships an example of the mess we are in at the moment I would like to mention two points. I would like in the first place to remind your Lordships that the various qualifications for election to local authorities in the Administrative County of London are contained in six different Acts of Parliament, and that the grounds for disqualification are scattered over nineteen different Statutes. This Bill, if it wins the approval of the House and succeeds in passing into law, would repeal fifteen Acts of Parliament completely, and ninety-three others in part. I very much hope that it will commend itself to your Lordships as being a useful measure for tidying up the existing law, and as a method of introducing some minor amendments which would put London government on the same footing as local government outside London. I have summarised as briefly as possible the objects of this Bill in the hope of sparing your Lordships a certain amount of tedium, but I hope I have covered the ground sufficiently to enable your Lordships to judge whether it is a measure which merits your approval.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Listowel.)


My Lords, the noble Earl in charge of this Bill has quite accurately described the situation. This Bill is more or less an agreed Bill. It has been considered by the local authorities in London, and they have all agreed with certain reservations that it would be a good thing for the Administrative County of London to follow in the footsteps of previous Bills having consolidation in view. There are, however, one or two small points to which I would now like to call attention. The first is this. The noble Earl referred to the matter of qualification and disqualification. In London, to be qualified for election to the local authority you have either to reside in a borough for twelve months or you have to be an owner of land or else to be a local government elector for the area of the authority. One thing is certain, and that is that under previous Acts a man who resides in the borough for a year, and then ceases to reside, if he is elected to a council does not lose his qualification, but it is not certain at all that a local government elector who pays rates for the whole of his property and then ceases to hold that property, or is removed from the roll of local government electors, can still be qualified. That is a matter which has been the subject of controversy for some time, and I hope that the Joint Committee, when it considers this Bill, will clarify the situation.

There is one other point, a domestic point which affects the City of Westminster, and, as my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh will point out, the Royal Borough of Kensington. If your Lordships turn to Clause 17 you will see that it provides that A Borough Council shall be a body corporate by the name: (a) in the case of the City of Westminster, of the mayor, aldermen and councillors of the City of Westminster. Then, later, it goes on: (c) in the case of any other borough, of the mayor, aldermen and councillors, with the addition of the name of the borough. If your Lordships will take the trouble to turn to the First Schedule, referred to in Clause 1, the names are all set out, but it merely gives the names of "Westminster" and "Kensington" in their order, and there is no mention of the words "City of" before Westminster and "Royal Borough of" before Kensington.

The City of Westminster is extremely proud of being a City, and there is a good deal more behind this matter than is apparent. The title of "City" attaches to towns of several classes. In the first place to certain towns, such as Exeter, which were described as civitates in Doomsday Book and have ever since retained the description. Secondly, to the seats of bishoprics, including such towns as Coventry and Westminster, which formerly contained bishoprics, and such towns as Gloucester, which were raised to the rank of cities when new bishoprics were founded. Then, thirdly, there is another description of large towns, such as Birmingham, which were granted by Royal Charter in modern times "all such ranks, liberties, privileges and immunities as are incident to a city." Westminster was constituted a bishropic in 1540, but unfortunately, owing to the energies of the then Bishop of London, who did not like a rival potentate in the district, it was abolished ten years afterwards, but, on the analogy of Coventry, Westminster continued to be known as a City.

In the Court of Burgesses of the City and Liberty of Westminster it possessed a continuous civic organisation from 1585 to 1900. I might say in parenthesis that the Court of Burgesses was founded by Cecil, that great Minister of Queen Elizabeth, and Lord Salisbury is still High Steward of Westminster. In all the public documents, popular speech and writings, Westminster is described as a City. Our further claim is this, that the title "City" in relation to the area comprising Westminster was granted in the London Government Bill of 1899 and by Royal Charter of Queen Victoria in 1900. The question of title, therefore, is a matter of Royal Prerogative, for which in both the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, and the Local Government Act, 1933, there is a specific reservation. Why we are anxious about this is that there is a possibility that in future it may be alleged that the titles of the City and of the Royal Borough depend upon Clause 17 of the London Government Bill, and not upon the Royal Charter and Letters Patent.

I might mention in this connection a curious incident that arose owing to the ecclesiastical authority in Westminster having ceased to be a bishop. It is a story of robbing Peter to pay Paul. The then Bishop of Westminster was very anxious to placate the Bishop of London of those days and he surrendered to him a good many of the lands that belonged to the collegiate church of St. Peter, and that land was sold and used to erect the Cathedral of St. Paul. For these reasons I hope that the Joint Select Committee which is going to deal with this matter will carefully consider these points. In conclusion, I think we must all be very grateful for the work that the London County Council has done in bringing forward this Bill. It will be a great advantage to London to have a definite code now instead of having to look up numerous Acts of Parliament. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading and allow it to go to a Joint Select Committee.


My Lords, I desire to add only a few words to what the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, has said. I admit that the point which I am bringing forward is one more of constitutional interest than of practical importance, but nevertheless it is one to which we in Kensington attach a considerable degree of importance. The position is that the Borough of Kensington holds its title of Royal Borough by virtue of Letters Patent. We are advised that after the passing of this Bill, if it passes in the form in which it now is, we shall hold that title by virtue of this Act of Parliament. I hope it is not improper to put it in that way, but we would sooner hold by Letters Patent than by Act of Parliament. An Act of Parliament of course overrides the Royal Prerogative, and what we desire to see is a saving in this Bill for the Royal Prerogative in exactly the same way as has been done in other cases. The noble Earl who introduced the Bill said it was a Consolidation Bill, and I think he said that it was complementary to the Local Government Act, 1933, and of course so it is. But in the Local Government Act, 1933, Section 155, there appears this provision: The enabling provisions of this Part of this Act shall be deemed to be in addition to, and not in derogation of, the powers exercisable by His Majesty by virtue of his Royal Prerogative. That derives in turn from the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, and it is not clear at first sight why that provision should be omitted from this Bill. It seems to me that it is a departure from precedent, and I am very glad that the Bill is going to a joint Select Committee, where I have no doubt this matter will receive the attention which I think it deserves.


My Lords, I need detain your Lordships for only one moment to say that my right honourable friend the Minister of Health welcomes this Bill and that he hopes it will receive a Second Reading. It is, as the noble Earl opposite explained, largely the product of the London County Council, which has been working with the other London authorities and has also been working in close collaboration with the Minister of Health and the Home Secretary. There are one or two matters of detail which will require careful scrutiny in the Committee stage, but broadly speaking the Government welcome this Bill, and hope that your Lordships will see fit to give it a Second Reading.


My Lords, I am much obliged in the first place to the two noble Lords who raised two points of some importance in the course of their remarks. The first of these is one that will obviously be dealt with, if your Lordships see fit to give the Bill a Second Reading, when it comes before the Joint Select Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. The second, relating I think to the status of the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington, is one of considerable importance and one that may perhaps have been met already. I am perfectly certain that it is not the intention of the sponsors of this Bill to deprive either Westminster or Kensington of their present status and of their interesting historical background, and if unintentionally the Bill is so drafted as to affect in that way the status of those two Boroughs, I am sure that the sponsors will be ready to agree to any alterations that may be necessary in order to restore the Bill to the form which it would have had if it had carried out their intentions.

I am also exceedingly grateful to the noble Duke who spoke for the Government for the assurance he gave. It is very gratifying to know that the Bill will have the facilities that the Government are prepared to give, without which it would certainly fail to pass into law, and we are most grateful for the help that we shall look forward to both in this House and in another place when it reaches there. I am much indebted to the noble Lords who have spoken for their criticism, and if your Lordships agree to give the Bill a Second Reading I shall ask the House to send it to a Joint Select Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. That is the customary procedure in the case of Bills of this kind in order that all interests affected, such as those mentioned by the two noble Lords, may be adequately represented.

On Question, Bill read 2a.


My Lords, I beg to move, That it is desirable that the said 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 communicate this Resolution, and to desire their concurrence.