HL Deb 05 March 1953 vol 180 cc977-83

2.36 p.m.

LORD HAWKE rose to move, That it be an instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill may be referred not to pass Clauses 101, 190, 196 and 203 without special attention. The noble Lord said: My Lords, all over the country at the present moment there is a growing alarm at the ever rising toll of local rates. Part of this rising cost is due, of course, to the widening functions of government. We all know how any enterprising head of a department, whether of the Government, a local authority or any other body, will always seek to enlarge the size and enhance the prestige of his department, and he will invariably be able to produce arguments that in so doing he is acting in the interests of the taxpayer or the ratepayer, as the case may be. Functions tend to expand and also rates expand, and one wonders at times whether there is any connection between the two. Meanwhile, the tradesmen are doubly hit, because they stand aside and see local authorities taking the bread out of their mouths, and they look forward in due course to paying for the result of those activities in higher rates. They are doubly hit.

Now one way to stop the expansion of unnecessary functions is to see that unnecessary powers are not there, and I am asking your Lordships to suggest to the Committee examining this particular Bill that they should pay special attention to whether certain powers claimed under certain clauses are really necessary. Of the four clauses I mention, Clause 190 deals with the question of printing on behalf of other local authorities. I can only say that a printer once told me that there are more bankruptcies in his trade than in any other, from which one can draw two possible conclusions: first, that competitive printing tenders must be freely available in most parts of the country; and secondly, that any local authority going into the printing business may not be doing so in the real interests of its ratepayers.

Clause 196 deals with agency buying—buying in bulk and spreading it over other local authorities—and Clause 203 deals similarly with reference to services. Clause 101 is a rather different type of clause in which, I understand, an exception from the almost universal law is asked. Apparently the general law is that a local authority can make one connect up one's premises with a sewer only if one's drainage arrangements are unsatisfactory, whereas this Private Bill seeks to allow the local authority to order a person to connect up his premises with the sewer, notwithstanding that his existing arrangements may be quite satisfactory. There is one precedent for this particular power, and that is in the case of Eton. There may be some special sanitary problems connected with Eton, of which I can know nothing, but I see no particular reason why they should be extended to the whole county of Berkshire. I am not seeking to have an argument on the Floor of this House over these matters. I ask your Lordships to send them to the Committee upstairs to hear the arguments. I beg to move.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill may be referred not to pass Clauses 101, 190, 196 and 203 without special attention.—(Lord Hawke.)

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I have no desire to oppose this Motion of my noble friend. Let these clauses be examined by all means. But if his reference to the Select Committee, by implication, suggests that your Lordships' House in general see something objectionable about these clauses and think they ought possibly to be struck out, it will, I think, be very unfortunate. It is for that reason that, although I have no connection with Berkshire, when I was approached as a county councillor to say something upon this Bill I agreed to do so. My noble friend has talked about the great volume of administrative responsibility which has of recent years been put upon local authorities. That administrative responsibility has not been accompanied by much delegation of authority. Most of that remains in Whitehall, and what arises from it is that a vast mass of paper goes up and down practically daily from the provinces to Whitehall—maps, plans and reports of all kinds. As an indication, I would say that in my own county, when a development plan under the Town and Country Planning Act is being submitted, we estimate that some 1,200 documents have to be sent to Whitehall.

As my noble friend Lord Hawke has so well pointed out, coupled with all this activity, and in part arising from it, there has been a considerable increase in the county rate, with the result that the unfortunate county councillor is under a sort of crossfire as between the Ministry issuing regulations which still, on the whole, tend to increase the administrative and paper work, and, on the other hand, the great bodies of ratepayers demanding instant economy. So, almost in desperation, the county councils are now looking round to see in what way these two incompatibilities can be met and more economies made. My noble friend seemed to suggest that the printing was going to be a great expense to the county. One of the main objects of the Berkshire County Council, so I surmise, is to achieve further economy. If that is so and if the Committee can be so satisfied. I think the Berkshire County Council should be congratulated, and not reprimanded.

I do not wish to say anything about Clause 101 for it is a highly technical point. Let it be examined. But there is a question of principle arising on the printing argument advanced by my noble friend. There, I must say that I can see very little that is likely to be at all harmful. After all, for years past, county councils have had powers to print. The West Sussex County Council, under whose benevolent administration I hope that my noble friend thrives, nobody can describe as a very revolutionary body, or one that is hostile to private enterprise. For some years past the West Sussex County Council have been doing their own printing.


May I interrupt the noble Lord and ask, as a matter of information, whether the West Sussex County Council are selling printing in the open market? Because, if so, I should like to know about it.


No but I was going on to that point. I do not think anybody suggests that they, or the Berkshire County Council, should be selling printing generally.


It is the power they are seeking.


With respect. I was going on to say that I think this power to print is one which is possessed not only by county councils and county borough councils, but also by district councils; therefore, under the law as it stands there is apparently no objection to having half-a-dozen printing presses within a county. This seems to me to be an argument for saying: "Instead of having theoretically a number of different printing units, let us have, for economy's sake, a joint printing establishment." The only reason why that cannot be done, as it can in an all-purposes authority like a county borough, is rather technical and recondite. I cannot see that there is any more infringement of the domain of private enterprise than is permitted under the existing law. The same argument generally, it seems to me, applies to Clause 196. I understand that there is an objection to Clause 203, and that will be argued, in any case, in Committee. As I say, I have no objection whatever to these clauses being examined, more especially as I understand that the Berkshire County Council themselves are seeking to amend, in small particulars. Clause 190. But I think that the Bill should proceed to the Committee without any kind of stigma attaching to it, and on the whole, it should have the blessing of your Lordships' House.

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to intervene for a moment or two only in order that the impression should not get abroad that this is a sort of private row between noble Lords on the other side. I am sure that the Select Committee will be extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, for this Motion. We do not propose to divide the House against the Motion, but I hope that the carrying of it will not imply that there is anything at all exceptional, apart from one clause mentioned by the noble Lord who has just spoken, in the provisions of this Private Bill. Now is not the time or place to argue the clauses but, with the assistance, as I am sure the Select Committee will have, of learned counsel, and the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, no doubt the Select Committee will come to a right decision in regard to these clauses.

I want only to say this, in regard to the printing: that it would be a mistake to assume from this Bill that the council are going out into the market, competing with private enterprise. Nothing of the kind. All that is provided for in this Bill, as I understand it—and if there is any misunderstanding, it can be removed in the Committee stage—is that they will do the printing for themselves and for the subsidiary authorities like the rural district councils or the parish councils. The powers for printing have been powers—"functions," to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke—of all-purposes authorities for over thirty years. It is a mistake to regard the work which they do as printing in the ordinary sense of the term. The matter printed is reports, schedules and things of that kind which are obviously better dealt with internally by the council concerned. But now is not the time or place to argue this point. The clauses will be argued upstairs, with the benefit of advice. Like the noble Viscount, Lard Gage, I feel that it would be a mistake to let the clauses go upstairs with some sort of stigma attached to them because attention has been called to them by a Motion in your Lordships' House.

In conclusion, may I say that I hope that the carrying out of this Motion will not imply that the Select Committee will not give special consideration to all clauses, and that it is necessary to pass this Motion because otherwise the clauses concerned might escape their attention? I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, from some experience of councils, local councils, regional hospital boards and hospital management committees, that the type of printing referred to is not normal commercial printing at all, but printing of reports and similar documents which are best dealt with internally.


My Lords, I think that if any noble Lard, wherever he sits in this House, wishes any clause of a Private Bill to be carefully examined by the Committee to which it is referred, that wish ought to be acceded to as a matter of course. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Burden, because a Select Committee, has not much scope for examining unopposed clauses in a Private Bill unless attention is directed to them by the House. I also think that, whilst it should go through as a matter of course, one ought not to have any debate in this House which may seem to influence the Committee in any way.


My Lords, having sat as a member of Committees for a number of years in your Lordships' House, I may say that it is no new precedent for a Committee to receive a message from the House to give special attention to certain clauses, which naturally we have done. There is nothing unusual in that when a Bill is going through Second Reading. I hope therefore that this Motion will be agreed to.


My Lords, I understand that what we are doing here is to ask the Committee upstairs to pay special attention to particular clauses. Of course, the Committee will pay attention to every clause in a Bill coming before them. All we are asking them to do is to pay special attention to four clauses which, quite properly, the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has brought to our attention as being clauses that may be doing something rather extraordinary. I listened to my noble friend Lord Gage talking about the setting up of printing machines; he said that it was done as a matter of economy. Lots of things are done on grounds of economy which later are found to be most uneconomical. For instance, if you set up a printing machine it is likely that you will get more things printed and circulated to members of local authority bodies, who already probably get, as your Lordships do, quite enough to read. Once you have set up a printing press it is likely that more things, and not fewer, will be circulated, and in the end it will probably cost more. All we are doing is to ask the Committee—not giving them a direction, of course—to pay special attention to these matters. In my submission to your Lordships, it is a very proper thing for us to do, and I hope we shall carry this Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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