HL Deb 19 December 1960 vol 227 cc690-1

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government who is responsible for ensuring that local authorities conduct their affairs in accordance with the law, and what convenient and simple procedures are available to the public for dealing with alleged unlawful conduct by them.]


My Lords, local authorities are themselves responsible for ensuring that their affairs are conducted in accordance with the law. The law itself provides that in certain matters their actions or proposals require approval or confirmation by a Minister of the Crown; or that there is an appeal from their decision; or that they are subject to some other form of control, such as audit. Apart from all this, the remedy of any member of the public who believes that a local authority has acted illegally and has, by so doing, damaged his interests, lies in the courts. Your Lordships will not expect me to attempt an account of the remedies available in the courts against a local authority which is believed to have acted illegally. That must depend on the particular circumstances. The right course for anyone who wishes to know this is to consult his own legal adviser.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend very much for his Answer, may I ask whether he is aware of the fact that in a certain case, when the matter was taken to the court, the court refused to exercise jurisdiction over the matter because they maintained that they were responsible to the public rather than to the individual?


My Lords, I am not quite sure of the purport of that question. I do not know whether the noble Lord is referring to a case which he has very much at heart, the case of Mr. Ancrum Evans. All we can say there is that he brought two cases to the courts which he lost, and I think he brought another case in which an official was fined five shillings and 8 guineas costs were awarded. But I cannot possibly go into the question of what was decided in those court cases, when this individual to whom I think he is referring did in fact sue a local authority.


My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that it is preferable not to frame Questions which appear to cast aspersions on all local authorities when the issue concerns only one local authority?


My Lords, would not the noble Earl also agree that another simple procedure, and a very convenient one, which he did not mention, would be for the public to vote at the next local elections and get another lot of councillors?


My Lords, I am very grateful for that comment. Of course, that is the proper remedy. If the local electors do not like the way their local authority is behaving, they have the remedy in their own hands.


My Lords, arising out of that last supplementary, might I ask the Minister if he and his colleagues are considering, or would consider, machinery such as the appointment in this country of an official known, I believe, as the Ombudsman?


I do not think I am qualified to answer that question. I should like notice of it.