HL Deb 31 March 1947 vol 146 cc935-46

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. As your Lordships will have observed, it is a somewhat formidable measure, and, as you will have also noticed, it contains no fewer than 382 clauses and fourteen schedules. It represents an important instalment of the work of consolidating and clarifying the Statute Law of Scotland. Some of your Lordships who have closer knowledge of local government, and in particular of local government in Scotland, than I, will, I think, agree with me that the confusion and difficulty of understanding the existing law of local government in Scotland is somewhat notorious. When I tell your Lordships that this Bill repeals, in whole, 23 Acts of Parliament and, in part, a further 149 Acts of Parliament whose existence has extended over a period of 120 years, it will be appreciated that lengthy preparation has been necessary before the Bill has reached this House.

The real father of this Bill is the right honourable gentleman who was Secretary of State for Scotland ten years ago, Mr. Walter Elliot, who I am sure we were all glad to see was returned to another place recently, as representative of the Scottish Universities. In 1937, when he was Secretary of State, he appointed a Committee consisting of representatives of the Scottish local authority associations, the three main political Parties, and the Departments concerned. The chairman was Sir John Jeffrey, a former Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. The terms of reference of the Committee —I beg your Lordships' pardon I believe that the phrase in Scotland is not "terms of reference" but "terms of the remit"; the terms of the remit, therefore, were: To consider the consolidation of the local government and public health law in Scotland with such amendments as might be necessary to facilitate consolidation and to secure simplicity, uniformity and conciseness. By July, 1939, the Committee had completed their Report and presented a draft Bill, but owing to the breaking out of the war a month or so later, these were not published until late in 1943. Copies of the published Bill and Report were sent to the local authority associations for their criticisms and for their constructive suggestions. The draft Bill was modified, in the light of criticisms and suggestions, and in October, 1946, a Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House. Time did not permit of it being passed last Session, but its publication served the useful purpose of giving those concerned an opportunity of making further observations. I am pleased to be able to inform your Lordships that, in its present form, this Bill may be regarded as being substantially agreed with the Scottish local authority associations. In view of the length of the Bill some of your Lordships may doubt whether it succeeds fully in securing simplicity and conciseness. I am hound to say, speaking personally, that I share those doubts, and, apparently I am not alone in that, because I note that the Government have found it necessary, in order that this model of simplicity and conciseness should be fully understood, to publish with the Bill an Explanatory Memorandum of 121 pages. In fairness to all concerned I should point out that, as I have already said, twenty-three Acts of Parliament are entirely repealed, and 149 Acts of Parliament are partly repealed by the measure. So, on balance, I think we can all agree that at least some progress Yeas been made towards the difficult ideals of absolute simplicity and conciseness.

In these circumstances, your Lordships would not wish me to attempt a detailed examination of each of the 382 clauses or of the fourteen schedules. And I can assure your Lordships that I shall be quite content not to do so. The general scope and effect of the Bill can be briefly stated. Its object 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 which is over fifty years old. It deals broadly with the machinery of local government, including the constitution and election of county, town and district councils, and the appointment of officers, and it provides a framework of general powers which will be available to local authorities in the exercise of functions which they already possess or which they might obtain in the future.

Yet the Bill is not purely a consolidating measure. I am advised that if it had been entirely confined to consolidation it would have been of much greater length even than it is now, and that it would have been much less intelligible. Considering that much of the legislation dealt with has been on the Statute Book for over fifty years, and some of it for twice as long, your Lordships will appreciate the need for making the amendments which are made necessary by the march of time, and by the fact that language differs from decade to decade. The alternative of a purely consolidating measure would have been an even larger and less intelligible Bill, couched in very different language in its various sections, and making confusion worse confounded. As the Bill is not a purely consolidating measure, it cannot be referred to the Joint Consolidation Committee under the familiar procedure which applies to Con- solidation Bills in Parliament. The Government therefore propose to invite both Houses of Parliament to concur in appointing a Joint Select Committee for the purpose of examining the Bill in detail, subject, of course, to your Lordships agreeing to the Second Reading this afternoon. In that event, I propose this evening to hand in a Motion, which will appear on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House to-morrow, that a Joint Committee be set up, and that the House in another place be invited to nominate members to serve on that Committee. The Government hope this Committee will be in a position to begin its task immediately after the Easter Recess, and that the time will suffice to enable the Bill to reach the Statute Book before the end of the present Session.

This Bill is entirely a non-Party measure. As I have already said, it was initiated by the Right Honourable Walter Elliot ten years ago, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. He was followed by Mr. Tom Johnston when he became Secretary of State, and it was continued by his successor the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery. The Bill is now in the charge of the present Secretary of State. I am advised that, except on minor committee points, it is non-controversial, and it has been warmly welcomed by the Scottish Association of Local Authorities, and in the general and local government Press in Scotland, as a most valuable measure of legal codification. It does not aim to produce a new and perfect code of Local Government Law. As I have already said, it is aimed at the consolidation, simplification, and clarification of the existing law. The Explanatory Memorandum, to which I have already referred, shows clearly which of the clauses substantially reproduce the existing law and those in which some amendment has been proposed. If this Bill becomes an Act, as I hope it will soon, it will be a notable example of present-day efforts to reform the Statute Book and to simplify the practice and procedure of the law. I beg to move that this Bill be read a Second Time.

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


My Lords, I would like, if I may, to congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat down on the way in which he has introduced this Bill. It is the first important Bill (in fact I think the first Bill of any kind) that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, has introduced into this House on behalf of Scotland. It augurs well for those of us from that country that someone has gone through this Bill not only with great care but also with considerable sympathy. As your Lordships know, sometimes we feel that those of us from north of the Border have not in the past received the consideration on these controversial subjects that we ought to have received, and it gives us more confidence that when in the future we have some more controversial Bills they will be dealt with for the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison.

We have listened this afternoon to the Third Reading of the Crown Proceedings Bill and, if I may say so, we have had the most eloquent example of noble and learned Lords patting each other on the back that I have ever listened to on any subject. Let me hurriedly say, as a humble member of the public, that I am perfectly certain the noble and learned Lords were quite right to pat each other on the back. That goes without saying. Every Party in this country—Labour Conservative, and Liberal—can also pat themselves on the back on the introduction of what I might almost call this awful document. I do not say that we are all responsible for the 332 pages, nor would I like to make an affidavit that a member of every Party has even read every one of these 332 pages, but we are all responsible for the Bill. As the noble Lord has said, it was a Conservative Government which started the Bill, with Mr. Walter Elliot in charge, ten years ago. The English local government legislation was consolidated in 1933—fourteen years ago, but I do not, on this occasion, lay any stress on that. I do not consider this is another case of injustice to Scotland, because it was the war that prevented this Bill from being made law, as it would have been either in Mr. Walter Elliot's time, or Mr. Tom Johnston's time, or when I was Secretary of State for Scotland.

As one who has had some experience of Scottish administration, I welcome this Bill, and I commend it to your Lordships' favourable consideration. For many years local authorities in Scotland have been pressing for the consolidation of the law relating to local government, and I am quite sure they regard this Bill as a highly desirable and necessary step in that direction. This Bill, in the form in which it was drafted, was the result of eighteen months' steady work by the very representative Committee over which Sir John Jeffrey presided. Fortunately, the Committee's labours on the part of their remit which related to the general machinery of local government were completed before the outbreak of war in 1939. While it was not possible to proceed further with the draft Bill when it was published in 1943, it has since been very fully considered and discussed by the Association of Local Authorities. The Bill, as it is now introduced, is essentially the Committee's Bill, although, as a result of these discussions which have been held by the local authorities, there are a number of changes from its original form.

The present difficulties in the law relating to the various types of local authority, even though they are probably of a minor character, are a constant source of difficulty and even of irritation. The introduction of more uniformity will be of material assistance to all concerned. For instance, it will be a help to have certain provisions relating to local elections set out in full in one place, instead of being spread out over a number of Acts as at present. I would like to say a word of thanks to the permanent officials at St. Andrew's House, whose labours on this Bill for the last ten years must have been very considerable, and who must breathe a sigh of relief when the measure finally becomes law. And if, after careful examination by a Joint Select Committee, this Bill, as I hope, is approved by Parliament and finds its way on to the Statute Book, I can assure your Lordships that it will help not a little to oil the wheels of local administration.

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support what has been said—namely, that this Bill will be welcomed in Scotland, being, as it is, substantially agreed by all those immediately interested in local government. I feel sure that it will enormously simplify their tasks. Those persons are greatly indebted to the three or four Secretaries of State for Scotland who, one after the other, have pursued their labours or have encouraged their diligent staff in St. Andrew's House to do so. I should like to make just one comment. I do not know if it is a reflection of the amount of work which a local authority has to do zhat this subject can be encompassed only in so large a space, but I do think that we have to-day to watch the effect of the enormous volume of local government work which is accruing, and has accrued, under the 1929 Act. It is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone who is not, shall I say, almost half-time employed on local government to play an active part. II think that whilst we have an opportunity we should bear in mind that, if possible, those duties should be lightened, so as to enable any citizen, regardless of his occupation, not to feel restricted from taking part in local affairs. Undoubtedly a number of citizens who are willing to come forward to-day cannot do so owing to the nature of their other duties.

There are in this Bill just two points to which I should like to refer specifically. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, to consider, first of all, the question of the restriction of the rate for library expenses. That matter is dealt with in Clause 'gr. The reason I bring up this question is that I am informed that at the present time the cost of running public libraries cannot be maintained on the existing rate, and the position will, in fact, deteriorate in the course of a year unless there is an amendment of that rate in the immediate future. The restriction which is imposed in this Bill has been removed in England. It has, I understand, been removed in Glasgow, and I believe the .Secretary of State has in his possession a report, about ten years old, in which all local authorities were agreed that this restriction should be removed. I should like to ask the noble Lord to consider whether at a later stage of this Bill that restriction could not be removed.

There is one other point I should like to mention. Noble Lords will recollect that there was a Committee on Rating in Scotland some years ago which issued a report known as the Sorn Report. The Committee were not entirely unanimous bit a portion of that Committee were unanimous. In a non-controversial Bill of this nature it seems to me that it might have been possible to incorporate in it the non-controversial portion of that Rating Report. The reform of rating in Scotland is a matter of the greatest urgency. I would not suggest that the incorporation of the agreed part would be a whole solution, but it would he a measure, and perhaps an important measure, towards the solution of what is at the present time art extremely difficult and major problem. With these few words I welcome the Bill, which I know will be a great simplification and aid for the local authorities.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, in a few words, to associate myself with what my noble friends on this side have said in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, on the way in which he has introduced this Bill, and also on having introduced it. I am sorry to have heard him say—as I think he said—that Statute law in Scotland is in very great confusion. If that is so—which I regret—all I can say is that he has added much strength to a point my noble friend the Earl of Selkirk often makes to me: that that is due to the Statutes that are made here, because the common law of Scotland, so far as I, a poor Victim, can express myself, is, I think, extremely clear, and wins natural assent from its victims.

I cannot help regretting that a Bill of this size should be introduced as mainly a consolidation measure. I do not know if it would have been possible, but I should certainly have preferred to see all new matters embodied in a short Bill, than that we should proceed under consolidation. One never quite knows where one is with a Bill of this size, a Bill which is mainly consolidation but which does introduce new matter. I give your Lordships one short example. Clause 197 (2) says that the auditors shall receive a salary to be "agreed upon between the authority and the auditor and approved by the Secretary of State or, failing such agreement or approval, shall be fixed by the Secretary of State." I understand that the approval of the Secretary of State in this connexion is a new matter, and it appears to make hint a party to, as well as being umpire in, the bargain. These little things are unfortunate. I am not suggesting it is not right, but, in so big a Bill, a little thing like that does lead to extra worry and work. Even if the Consolidation Bill had been much longer, it is not the length of the Bill, once it is understood, that matters, so long is the law is quite clear to those who have to study it and have studied it. After all, these Bills are well indexed.

There are some matters which the Association of County Councils would have been glad to see included in the Bill. They were very anxious—if it had been in their power—to adopt the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act in certain sections which they are not able to do now and which would give them control of dance-halls in the country, and matters of that kind. They have also expressed the view that the opportunity provided by this Bill should have been taken—as it has not—to set up some procedure for enabling disputes as to the enlargement of burgh boundaries between the burgh and the county to be settled with less difficulty than is at present the case. They are also a little troubled about a change that is taking place in the accounts of county councils. They have told me that they do not like the change from the receipts and payments basis to the revenue and expenditure basis. I am not at this stage prepared to offer a personal opinion on these matters. I merely mention them to the noble Lord for his consideration.

In conclusion, I should like to pass on to him what a noble friend of mine, and an admirer of his, has suggested to me—namely, that a slight change should be made upon page 266: that the first two categories or compartments of Form F should be deleted from their present position and placed below the name of "Smith," in order to commemorate the fact that my noble friend himself has introduced the Bill, and to commemorate the fact that, from being a good Englishman, he has also become a good Scotsman.


He always was a Scot.

Lord SALTOUN: Well he sat for an English constituency. Anyway, I think we should commemorate the fact that he has introduced this Bill by putting his name at the head of that part.

Lord SHEPHERD: My Lords, I should just like to give a brief word of welcome to a Bill in which I have had some interest in the years that have gone by. Many years ago it was my lot to be interested in elections north of the Border, and in particular in local govern- ment elections. I had a very keen interest in the work of groups on local authorities. It is therefore pleasing to me that our Scottish friends should come so near to agreement in producing a Bill to consolidate the law. Perhaps in one direction those responsible have gone a shade too far, because I find that in the Second Schedule of the Bill there are matters dealing with elections. I am a member of a departmental committee who have almost finished their labours, and the work of that departmental committee has been to consolidate the whole electoral law of the country. Therefore, if this Bill goes through this Session, we may be called upon next Session to deal with electoral matters which will lead to the amendment of this new Bill now introduced. Notwithstanding that, I hope that the Bill itself will finally reach the Statute Book.


My Lords, I am afraid my first word must be somewhat heatedly to repudiate the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, that I am a good Englishman. I certainly represented an English constituency for twenty years in another place, but that only shows what good-natured people they were to allow me to do so! As I think I mentioned in this House on a previous occasion, I made a very unfortunate mistake in my youth in leaving Scotland, and trouble has followed me ever since. But it is too late now to undo that, and I am doing my best to make amends, after all these years, by applying myself to trying to understand the Scottish law, particularly that of local government.


I apologize unreservedly.


I am grateful to noble Lords for the way in which they have received what the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, has described as "this awful document." The discussion has proved conclusively that this is not a Party Bill, and it may be all the better for the fact that it is not. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, that we owe a great debt to the officials. It is very easy for us in this House to laugh at the enormous size of the Bill and the Explanatory Memorandum, but they represent a vast amount of work that must have taken a great deal of time. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, asked me a question about libraries. The answer is that the whole question of libraries is being considered at this moment by the Advisory Council on Education, and any amendment of the law will have to await that Council's report.

Another question which the noble Earl asked me was in regard to rating. The main proposals of the Committee were controversial and could not be included in this Bill. The Secretary of State for Scotland has already indicated that he does not propose to legislate on the lines of the Committee's Report referred to by the noble Earl. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, wanted to know why it was not possible to have consolidation alone, without amendments. I thought I explained that I have been advised that if consolidation alone had been undertaken the Bill would have been much longer, not nearly so useful and much less intelligible, than it is at the present time—due largely to the fact that some of the legislation dealt with goes back 120 years, and language differs from age to age. At the same time, if there had been a Bill setting out the amendments only, I am advised that it would have been very long and almost incomprehensible.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. What I was trying to say was that I was sorry that we could not have a short Bill to make the changes in the law proposed here, and then to proceed to a consolidation Bill afterwards.


According to my advice, it is necessary to go the other way round—to have this long Bill first, and then the way is clear for further action. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, raised a question about auditors' fees. These are subject to approval under the present law. The noble Lord also raised the question of the power of county councils to adopt the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act. I am informed that this would not be appropriate to this Bill, because it does not deal with the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act at all. Some of the other points that have been raised, including the point raised by my noble friend Lord Shepherd, are Committee points which will no doubt be raised in due course. As has been said, this is the first opportunity I have had of moving the Second Reading of a Bill. I have nothing of which to complain in the way in which it has been received: on the contrary, I am grateful to your Lordships for the way in which you have received this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a.