§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Order of the Day read for the Report of Amendments to be received.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, in rising to move that this Report be now received, I should like to ask the indulgence of the House to make a statement on one point which I think caused concern to several noble Lords who took part in the Committee stage. That was in regard to the procedure for collecting estimates from the local authorities for their expenditure for the years 1959–60 and 1960–61 on the services covered by the general grants. My noble friends Lord Gage and Lord Hylton raised this point. I think there was a feeling that the time allowed for the return of these estimates—wanted by the middle of August—is rather short, and the fear was expressed that there was a risk of error creeping in because of the haste with which the figures would have to be compiled. I have looked into this point very carefully, and I have consulted my right honourable friend to see if there is any way in which we can help to meet the difficulty. I hope that what I say will go some way towards reassuring noble Lords who feel concerned about this matter.
The final object of the procedure started by the sending in of estimates by the local authorities is the fixing of the global aggregate of general grants for the first two years. The estimates, of course, form an important part of the evidence that will be needed for this purpose, but they are by no means the only information that will be available to the Government in deciding in consultation with the local authority associations at what level to fix the general grant. The Government Departments concerned with these services have a great deal of information about trends in local expenditure and about the main factors affecting expenditure. For example, the Ministry of Education have probably more reliable information about the overall supply of teachers than is available to individual authorities, and over the years the Department have their means of forecasting the likely expenditure on its services which have been tested and proved reliable. It will therefore be possible to apply tests to the aggregate of the estimates produced by the authorities 646 to arrive at some global figures for fixing the aggregate general grant.
I mention that point because it is not only important in providing another test, but important in regard to the timetable. I am afraid that it would not be possible to defer the return of the estimates beyond the middle of August, because when they are received by the Government Departments it will be necessary to aggregate, analyse and test the totals in the way I have indicated. After that there will be discussions with the local authority associations about the figures before the Minister is in a position to present to Parliament the general grant order containing these proposals. All this will take time, and noble Lords will appreciate that we must aim at presenting the general grant orders to Parliament in December, if the local authorities themselves are to be told in good time for making up their budgets for the next financial year what their general grant entitlement will be.
In these circumstances, I want to make one thing clear—and I hope that this will meet the difficulty of the noble Lords. The final decision will not be taken for some months after the estimates have been sent in; and, as I say, I want to make it clear, on behalf of the Government, that if an authority were to find, even after it had submitted its return, that it had made a serious mistake in its calculation, it would certainly he open to it to explain the circumstances to the Department concerned, and any necessary correction would then be made to the material which was before the Minister and the local authority associations. As I said in Committee, I hope and I believe that the errors will not be of such magnitude as to affect the settlement of the total grant or, if any did occur, that they would not escape detection. I hope that what I have said will make it clear that although we must keep to the deadline of August 15, that does not mean that there will be no opportunity to correct any mistakes that might arise from hastily producing the figures. I hope that assurance will go some way to satisfy my noble friends. I beg to move that this Report be now received.
§ Moved, That the Report be now received.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for what he has said. It certainly goes 647 some way to meet the points I tried to make. I think that one or two points arise from what he said today and what he said on Committee stage, but perhaps it would be more appropriate if I made reference to those on Third Reading. Meanwhile, I am grateful for what he has said.
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble and learned Viscount for the help he has given. I think there were grave fears that this provision might be too rigid in the initial stage, and I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for helping us over this matter. It would appear that the months of August and September will be two very busy months in Whitehall.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I would only thank my noble friends. I do not know what verb I should use, whether I fear or rejoice, that my noble friend Lord Hylton is probably very accurate in his forecast.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Power to reduce general grant in case of default]:
THE LORD CHANCELLOR moved, in subsection (2), to add to paragraph (b):
the amount recoverable being apportioned among the rating authorities of the areas or parts of areas so comprised in proportion to the aggregates of the rateable values shown in the valuation lists respectively in force for those areas or parts of areas on the first day of the year for which the general grant is payable.".
The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, this Amendment which it falls to me to move deals with Clause 3 (2), which is concerned with the case of default by a joint board administering a general grant service in the whole or part of a county. The county council's general grant may, in the case of such a default, be reduced. Where only part of a county is concerned, the Bill provides, in subsection (2) (b) of Clause 32, for recovery of the penalty by the county council from the rating authorities in the part of the county concerned. This small Amendment lays down a method of apportioning the penalty between the rating areas. It provides that the basis of apportionment is to be the rateable value of each rating area, or the part of each rating area concerned. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 27, at end insert the said words.— (The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 6:
§ Limitation of Rate-deficiency Grant to normal expenditure
§ (7) For the purposes of this section expenditure for police purposes shall be left out of account, and the Minister may leave out of account any other expenditure of a local authority in so far as it appears to him that by reason of any special circumstances it ought to be excluded.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN moved, in subsection (7), to leave out "by reason of any special circumstances". The noble Viscount said: My Lords, your Lordships will remember that I raised this same point on the Committee stage of this Bill, and very briefly I will remind your Lordships what the point was. If a local authority exceeds its normal expenditure in a way calculated under Clause 6 it may have that part which exceeds the average disallowed for the purpose of deficiency grant. At the same time, under subsection (7) of Clause 6 the Minister has power to come to the rescue in what is described as "special circumstances". My anxiety was that there might well be cases where a local authority which was following a perfectly sound programme of expenditure—financially sound and not extravagant or negligent—might have a good case to put to the Minister, but that it might not be a "special" case and that the wording in subsection (7) would not be wide enough to allow the Minister to take the action he might possibly wish to take.
§ The object of this Amendment is to have it made clear that the Minister would be free to act whenever he thought fit in such cases, as and when they arose. It is a very wide Amendment, but I would rather have the Minister given ample latitude in a good cause than restrict him by the legal wording of the Bill from doing something he thought right. However, my noble and learned friend undertook on the Committee stage to have the wording of subsection (7) looked at again, and it may well be that to-day we shall hear the result of these inquiries. If it turns out that my fears are groundless, and that subsection (7) 649 as it stands gives the Minister the power, if he so wishes, to do what I have described, all well and good. No doubt my noble and learned friend will be able to give us some guidance on this point. I beg to move.
Page 9, line 17, leave out ("by reason of any special circumstances").—(Viscount
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend Lord Bridgeman has put down this Amendment again, because it gives me the opportunity of giving the results of my consideration; and if I state them at a little length I hope the House will forgive me; I think it will be useful to local authorities who are considering this point. Your Lordships will remember that my noble friend on the Committee stage, in saying that the words were too narrow, said this of the phrase we are now discussing [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 210 (No. 80), col. 60]:It seems to me to be far too narrow to be certain of including the circumstances which are likely to arise in the normal working of a county's affairs, on the assumption that their financial policy is a sound one and that there is no extravagance. I should have thought myself, in the absence of any other explanation, that the 'special circumstances' could be held to refer much more to something which could not have been foreseen.I hope that my noble friend's fears were groundless in that regard. I should just like to say this with regard to my right honourable friend the Minister: his desire is that he should be able, by the discretion given to him under this subsection, to deal equitably with cases where the possibility of limitation under the clause arises. He certainly does not want the clause to operate in any arbitrary or mechanical way, and that is why the power to deal with special circumstances is taken.
May I proceed from the particular to the general, because I think it would be helpful if I gave one or two examples. One can imagine circumstances in which there is a drive for slum clearance. Clearly, this may impose particularly heavy burdens on authorities which have many slums—heavier burdens, that is, than on other authorities of the same kind with fewer slums. This is the sort of case with which the Minister would want to be able to deal under the subsection. Or, to take another example, 650 an authority might be faced with particularly heavy expenditure in regard to sewerage because the configuration of its area made sewering particularly expensive. This, too, the Minister would be able to deal with.
I have considered the point very carefully, and I have had the advantage of the departmental advice which the Minister also had, and we have all come to the conclusion that the Bill as drafted is wide enough to enable the Minister to ignore expenditure in such cases as those I have quoted. It will be observed that the words are "any"—I repeat "any"—"special circumstances" which the Minister may take into account. We all believe, and all our legal advice and my own view is to the effect, that a circumstance may be special either if it is associated with a particular authority or a number of authorities, as opposed to the generality (I think that was the point that I mentioned on the last occasion), or, secondly, if it is associated with a particular item of expenditure but not with the generality of items of local authority expenditure. Those are the examples that I quoted to-day. There is no reason to suppose that the words "special circumstances" could be construed so narrowly as to connote only what may have been unforeseen.
It seems to my right honourable friend, therefore, that this provision will enable him to deal satisfactorily with any case where it would be inequitable to allow a limitation of expenditure to operate. On the other hand, if the Amendment were adopted, the Bill would contain no indication at all of the circumstances in which expenditure was to be disregarded, and that, I think, would give rise to an invidious position, making the administration of the clause impossibly difficult.
If I may sum up, an authority which has undertaken expenditure prudently and responsibly has no reason to fear that it will suffer from this clause; for it has to be remembered that no case for the exercise of a Minister's discretion under this subsection can arise unless an authority's expenditure and the acceleration in its rate of spending have both exceeded that of other similar authorities. It does not seem unreasonable that in such circumstances an authority 651 should be asked to show that there is something peculiar to its own circumstances, or to those of a number of other authorities similarly placed; or, as I have said to-day, that there is some special feature of particular items of its own expenditure, which accounts for these circumstances. What is equally clear is that it will not have to show—and therefore will not have to carry the burden—that the expenditure is unforeseen. I hope that my explanation may help not only my noble friend but the authorities who may have to consider this problem.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend for the care that he and his right honourable friend have taken in considering this point, which was far from clear when the Bill was last before the House. I think it will be most useful to many people outside this House to have conveyed to them the words that he has spoken, because they go a long way to making clear the situation which, to me at any rate, was far from clear as the Bill stood on the Committee stage. In regard to this Bill, many of us are in the difficulty that we are having to deal with cases which will come to be dealt with by regulations under this Bill, but which have not yet arisen. That being so, it is not possible to say with absolute certainty that the reply which my noble and learned friend has given will, in fact, meet every good case of this sort that is likely to arise. I would certainly say that I think my noble and learned friend's reply will probably meet any reasonable case that is likely to be put forward by a local authority to the Minister under this clause. I thank my noble and learned friend and his right honourable friend, and beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, this is a purely drafting Amendment. I do not think I need detain your Lordships by going further into it. I beg to move.
Page 9, line 21, leave out from ("section") to ("for") in line 22 and insert ("in like manner as").—(The Lord Chancellor)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.652
§ Clause 23 [Power of Minister to give effect to proposals]:
§ 4.37 p.m.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR moved in subsection (2) to leave out "unless" and insert—
Provided that, except where the objection is one made by a local authority to a proposal that the area of the authority should cease to be a separate area of local government, or should become a county district, the Minister may dispense with an inquiry if".
§ The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, this Amendment is concerned with Clause 23 (2), which provides that where a Local Government Commission's proposals for any area have been objected to by one of the local councils, or by a police authority, the Minister must hold a local inquiry, unless he is satisfied that he is "sufficiently informed" as to the matters to which the objections relate. Throughout, the Government have made it quite clear that this discretion to do without an inquiry is intended solely to cover the odd case where the only objection is on some minor and quite clear issue which has already been gone into fully and dealt with in the Commission's published report, and on which a formal inquiry would be a waste of everyone's time. An objection on a matter of substance or principle is bound to involve an inquiry, on grounds both of common sense and of natural justice, to say nothing of the practical fact that a Minister, accountable to Parliament as he is for every order that he makes under the Bill, would find himself in an indefensible position in Parliament if he did not order an inquiry.
§ The debates in both Houses have shown that the need for some such discretion is generally accepted but also that there is a desire to limit it. The Government understand and respect this anxiety, and have been cautious of amendment only because of their reluctance to see the clause altered in such a way as might imply that, outside a narrowly specified field, the Minister's discretion could and should be used freely. In an Amendment moved on the Committee stage my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford pointed the way to solving the worst part of this difficulty—by taking away the Minister's discretion in cases where the objection was to abolition or amalgamation, thus disposing of the main anxieties which have been expressed. The House 653 will remember that I accepted the Amendment in principle and the present Amendment is the result. It goes rather further than my noble friend's Amendment—it guarantees an opportunity of inquiry to any local authority, be it of a county, a county borough, a non-county borough, or an urban or rural district, which is threatened with loss of its separate identity or its status.
§ I think that this Amendment will be welcomed generally by those who have queried the present wording of the clause, in that it meets in full the substance of their anxieties. I am told that it has been well received by the local authority associations. But even at the danger of being plus royaliste que le roi in this matter, want to return to my other point and to emphasise again that the Amendment is not intended to imply that, outside the cases where the elimination of an existing local authority is involved, the power to do without an inquiry into objections should or will be used freely. That is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government nor is it in the mind of my right honourable friend. On the contrary, it is still for use only in exceptional cases: that is, where the issue raised by the objection is small and so clear that the Minister can feel quite satisfied that an inquiry would add nothing to the available information. Having made that point clear again I should say how glad I am to be able to meet my noble and learned friend, Lord Conesford, and I believe the general wish, as this Amendment does. I beg to move.
Page 19, line 44, leave out ("unless") and insert—
("Provided that, except where the objection is one made by a local authority to a proposal that the area of the authority should cease to be a separate area of local government, or should become a county district, the Minister may dispense with an inquiry if").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD CONESFORD
The Amendment of my noble and learned friend admirably meets the point which I made at the Committee stage and meets it in more felicitous language than that which I then put forward. I thank my noble and learned friend for it.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 46 [Schemes for exercise of health and welfare functions by councils of county districts]:
My Lords, I moved this Amendment on the Commit- 654 tee stage and I believe it had some support from your Lordships as its object was to save money and more especially specialist manpower. I withdrew it on an undertaking from the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord President of the Council. I now move it formally and I hope that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack can add a little to what was said by Her Majesty's Government on the last occasion. I beg to move.
Page 32, line 40, and page 33, line 2, transfer paragraphs (b) and (d) to follow paragraphs (f) and (g) at end of line 17, page 33.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I have given full consideration, with my right honourable friends, to this Amendment the effect of which would be that functions relating to welfare arrangements for disabled persons (under Sections 29 and 30 of the National Assistance Act, 1948), and functions relating to the care of the mentally ill and mentally defective (under the Lunacy and Mental Treatment Acts, 1890–1930 and the Mental Deficiency Acts, 1913–1938), would not be included in delegation schemes unless the Minister of Health had consented to their being so included, because of the existence of exceptional circumstances.
As my noble friend, Lord Gage, has said, when a similar Amendment was proposed in Committee it received a sub-stantial amount of support and my noble and learned friend the Lord President of the Council undertook to consider the matter again. That has been done. In the first place, I wish to make clear that Her Majesty's Government fully appreciate that, in supporting the Amendment, noble Lords were concerned, first, with securing the maximum efficiency in the administration of the services in question, and secondly, with the avoidance of duplication and extravagance. This aspect of the matter has been carefully considered and my right honourable friends have satisfied themselves that the process of delegation need not entail any of the consequences which have been feared.
I would point out that the administrative requirements of delegation will be these—and I consider this is very important: in order to achieve the Minister's approval delegation schemes and schemes for the administration of the service will have to make provision, first, for control 655 of general policy and of finance by the county council, and for co-operation between the county council and the district council. My noble and learned friend explained that in detail, and the House will remember that he quoted the advice in this sense given by both the Guillebaud and the Piercy Committees. It is abundantly clear that the weight of informed opinion on this subject, and the experience of the Ministry of Health in the administration of the services during the past ten years, point to the vital necessity for the closest possible integration of the domiciliary health and welfare services.
Very similar considerations dictate the retention of the domiciliary mental health services under the same administrative control as the other domiciliary health services, and the general tenor of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Mental Laws is wholly in favour of their close integration. It is indeed contrary to modern ideas to single out the mentally handicapped as a special class to be regarded as essentially different from those suffering from physical illness or disability. I need not go into that matter because your Lordships will have very much in mind the most striking speech made by my noble friend, Lord Feversham, followed by another striking speech by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, in the debate which we had a month ago on mental welfare.
The local authority services reflect this new outlook by providing in many cases for the same home visitors to visit both the physically and the mentally handicapped. In the light of these considerations Her Majesty's Government could not advise the House to accept an Amendment which would strike at the root of a principle which, in their view, is vital to the whole conception of delegation, and indeed to the efficient administration of the health and welfare services for which local authorities are responsible. My noble and learned friend, the Lord President of the Council, explained the reasons for these exceptional treatments of the residential services and I do not want to repeat what he said, but I believe I have gone further to help my noble friend, Lord Gage, in that I have shown that there is not only the policy point as to the services but 656 also the very strong and high administrative standards on which the Minister will insist. I think that that should mean what we recognise a very genuine and strongly-held feeling towards economy. In view of my statement, I hope that my noble friend will feel it possible not to persist in pressing his Amendment to-day.
If I understand my noble and learned friend correctly, the Government are proposing to deal with this case administratively; and I understand that the Minister, in approving or withholding consent, is going to ensure that in suitable cases the services of the specialists are going to be properly divided between the county and borough or district. If that understanding is correct, I shall be perfectly prepared to withdraw this Amendment, as well as to express my gratitude to my noble and learned friend for going, into this matter so carefully and meeting us in this way.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think we are entirely ad idem on that point. I should just like to make quite clear what I said and what is the basis. Delegation schemes and schemes for the administration of the services, in order to obtain my right honourable friend's approval, will have to make provision, first for the control of the general policy and finance by the county council, and, secondly, for the co-operation between the county council and the district council in regard to such matters as the joint use, where necessary, of staff or specialised services and workshops. I think that that meets fully my noble friend's point. I just want to be quite sure that I have made the position clear.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD ADDINGTON
I do not know whether it is convenient for me to speak on the next Amendment after the adjournment, or whether I should move it formally now.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think it would be convenient, if I may make the suggestion, for my noble friend to develop his argument after the Royal Commission if that suits him.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.