§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ Lord ARCHIBALD
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. At this late hour, I should 384 have been quite happy to move the Second Reading formally, but I think that that would be discourteous to the House. Although the House has been for some time rather like a Scottish Grand Committee, there are several noble Lords and noble Ladies present who come from South of the Border, and I think that they are entitled to a few words of explanation as to the purpose of this little Bill—I say "little"; but perhaps I should say "very little" Bill.
The position is that there are five cities in Scotland with town councils that have ex officio—that is, non-elected—members. In Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth they have one ex officio member, the Dean of Guild. In Edinburgh and Glasgow there are two ex officio members, the Dean of Guild and the Deacon Convenor of Trades. This system of having these non-elected members is a legacy from the far-off past. Prior to the Municipal Corporations Act, 1833, these towns were governed, first by the Guilds, and later by the Incorporated Trades. The nearest example I can give is that they were governed by the equivalent of the Delivery Societies with which Southerners are more familar. The Municipal Corporations Act 1833, introduced democratic control into municipal government in Scotland, but it left over, or continued, an undemocratic element in the five cases to which I have referred. As long ago as 1835 a Royal Commission on the existing state of tile municipal corporations in Scotland recommendedthat the scats ex officio should be taken away, and that these councillors should be replaced by election".That was 130 years ago, which is rather a long time to wait for the implementations of the recommendation of a Royal Commission—I believe that the average is seventeen years. But even after 130 years the Bill which I am submitting to your Lordships does not carry out the recommendation of the Royal Commission; it carries out only a small part of it.
When this Bill was introduced originally in another place its effect was to repeal Section 330 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947, and that would have meant the abolition of these ex officio appointments. The Bill was amended in the Scottish Grand Committee to provide that the ex officio members 385 should continue to hold their places. They will be entitled to speak and vote in the council committee; they will be entitled to speak in full council meetings, but not to vote in full council meetings; in other words, the ex officio members lose only the right to vote in the Council as a whole. I believe that the Bill in its present form, a somewhat emasculated form, is acceptable to virtually all parties affected by it. It is certainly not a revolutionary Bill, and is an obvious compromise. It slightly advances the democratic principle in Scottish local government, and I commend it to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Archibald.)
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, on behalf of the large number of noble Lords on this side of the House—although I assure the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, who has waited so patiently to move this Bill that others are very interested in this Bill, although they may not have been able to stay—I can, I am afraid, add only slightly grudging words of welcome to the noble Lord's Bill, but I can tell him at once that none of us is going to do anything to obstruct it. As the noble Lord has said, it is a compromise, and a compromise I think it must remain. My own view, at any rate, is that the ex-officio members to whom he has referred do a useful job in the local authorities in which they sit. I should have been very unhappy indeed had the Bill come forward in the form in which it was originally, but, as the noble Lord has said, it is not now nearly so severe a measure. Therefore, I can give it but an unenthusiastic welcome. However, I can tell him that there will be no obstruction from this side of the House.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I, a Sassenach, 386 step in to express the Government's welcome for the Bill, which I strongly recommend to the House.
§ LORD ARCHIBALD
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount opposite for even the grudging welcome he gave to the Bill, and I thank my noble friend for the support of the Government.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.