HL Deb 15 July 1965 vol 268 cc263-93

4.1 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, replies, might I add one word to what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, said? I think he made this afternoon a great and almost impassioned appeal for true democracy in this country. I think he was right in everything he said. We should not go ahead with this proposal At the present time. I think he was dead right.

As he knows well, I have no great approval of Select Committees as such. I agree with the late Lord Cecil of Chelwood, that they are the modern equivalent of the Court of Star Chamber; that the members of the Select Committee are in fact the judges as well as the advocates, and that in most cases—and Lord Cecil of Chelwood was particularly concerned in the Jameson case, in which he acted as counsel, and in the Marconi case, in which he sat as a Member of the Select Committee—they were the worst possible tribunals for assessing direct personal responsibility for any action. I think he was dead right. So I am not mad keen on Select Committees as such, and I do not think that the noble and learned Viscount himself was, either. He thought that we should decide the matter ourselves before it went to a Select Committee. But I think he made a great appeal for true democracy in this country, especially so far as local authorities are concerned, and therefore I greatly hope that the House will not approve of the Motion that has been moved by the noble Lord, the Chairman of Committees.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to reply to what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, said. I found it a trifle difficult to follow the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, who appeared to produce all the arguments on one side and the conclusion on the other.

I trust that your Lordships are going to accept the Report of your Procedure Committee. One must go a little into the history of this matter. The Local Government Act itself, in relation to these parts of it, was the result of long consultation with the local authorities and their associations, and, broadly speaking, though they do not by any means always agree over everything, they accepted this Act. What did they accept it for? They accepted it as a means of reorganising local government, not merely as between one local authority and another, but, as I think it must be reorganised, over considerable tracts of the country as a whole.

The tracts with which we are particularly concerned to-day are what are called the special review areas. The special review areas are the large conurbations, and it is on how to review them, and what should be done about them, that the Orders requiring Affirmative procedure which we are considering to-day will arise. This is not a question of county reviews; it is a question of the larger reviews made by the Local Government Commission; and I repeat that this Act was introduced after the fullest consultation with the local authorities themselves.

What was sought in the Act was a fair balance between the general view that any central Government must take on local government distribution and functions over the country, and the particular, and almost always conflicting, views of local authorities. It is of course well known to everyone in this House, as a matter of common sense and of experience, that when you get a question of local government boundaries—and that, as the noble and learned Viscount was quite right in telling us, is one of the questions that is going to come up here—you hardly ever get agreement between local authorities. You may get it, but what you are far more likely to get is a conflict of interests, not merely between two local authorities, but between a whole bunch of them. And the Orders which in fact have been made under this Act, the type of Orders we are now considering, cover and refer nominally to a particular couple of local authorities, but when one looks at them one finds that they are related to other Orders and that the general effect is a bunch of Orders, or sometimes one Order covering a large area, many local authorities and many conflicting interests in the narrow sense of the word. That is the first thing.

The second matter of history is this. I take it that the noble and learned Viscount to-day, though speaking from the Front Benches, is not speaking on behalf of the Tory Party, for this particular exception was first asked for by Sir Keith Joseph, who was the Tory Minister of Housing and Local Government at the time. As we have heard from the noble Lord, the Chairman of Committees, the matter was dropped because of the Summer Recess and the General Election, and it was picked up again immediately afterwards by his successor in office. But it originated, I repeat, with a Conservative Minister of Housing and Local Government.

To take the history a little further, there is a third factor which I must stress to the House. We are told that we are depriving the subject of his right to petition, and a most emotional appeal was made to us in that sense by the noble and learned Viscount. It sounded as if we were coming to the liberty of the subject in a minute.


So you are!


But in the sense of the subject here, the people who are actually concerned in this are the local authorities and institutions, and it is their right to petition which we are considering. There is no question of depriving the individual subject of anything; it is merely a question of what rights—


My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that the only persons who can possibly qualify to petition against the Orders are local authorities?


My Lords, I am taking what the noble and learned Viscount himself said, that these were questions which would affect the local authorities concerned; and through quite an eloquent and detailed speech he never suggested that there would be any individual petitioner. Of course it is possible that there may be. But primarily we are concerned with that; and the solution that the noble and learned Viscount put at the end of his speech was that the matter should stand over for the purpose of allowing whom to be heard? Not any individuals, but the local authority associations.


My Lords, with great respect, I referred to—I only correct the noble Lord in order to get factual accuracy—the County Councils Associations and the Urban District Councils Association, and I said, "anybody else who may lose their rights".


My Lords, I may say that my noble and learned friend might have added the Association of Municipal Corporations to the list of objectors.


"And Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all."!


My Lords, may I entreat noble Lords not to forget the Rural District Councils Association?


Or the Parish Councils Association?


Quite so. To continue, let us face facts: that is where the noise comes from. Those are the persons who will be mostly concerned in this matter. We must, after all, remember what local authorities do and what they are; evidence has been given about the procedures in these cases and what happens. Those are the three points that I desire to make on the history of the matter. First, that the Act itself was inroduced after the fullest consultation. Second—I forget precisely what the second item was.


The second point was the question of initiative by Sir Keith Joseph.


I am much obliged. The third matter is even simpler. The noble and learned Viscount was himself a member of this Committee. He examined the witness in these proceedings. He attended throughout a considerable part, at any rate, of the hearing, and it never occurred to him—and I do not think it occurred to anybody else on the Committee—to suggest that the local authority associations ought to be heard. If I am asked whether or not I feel that they ought to have been heard, my reply is that that appears to me to be a matter for the Committee on Procedure and not a matter for me to go into, nor indeed is it a matter on which I should be at all ready to invite them to hear people who may be affected by changes in our domestic rules. That is what was happening in this case—a change in the rules of the House was being considered.

It would be very difficult if, whenever a change of this sort was under consideration, one was going to invite representatives of other bodies to attend and be heard. The Minister, of course, has to be heard because it was the Minister who set the machinery in motion, who put in a written request, and who was asked by the Committee on Procedure, I think at the instance of the noble and learned Viscount, to send a representative there for the second hearing. I do not imagine that the noble and learned Viscount wanted the representative to attend and be silent, and for that reason Dame Evelyn was very properly heard on behalf of the Ministry.

Having said that, I would add that it is perfectly clear that nobody knew about this—not the local authorities or anybody else—until the summer of 1964. It is therefore a fact that, if the local authorities are being deprived of a right, it is a right of which they were completely unconscious when the original Act was passed, and passed as a vehicle for satisfactory inquiry into all these questions. That is to say, if the local authorities or other people had realised that there was this possibility, dependent on the form of your Lordships' Orders, it may very well be that the balance would have been weighted the other way and that the inquiry provided by the Act might have been thought sufficient because it would come to be supplemented by further proceedings in your Lordships' House. That was not under consideration. What was therefore arrived at—and, I repeat, after full consultation—was what was thought to be full and sufficient inquiry.

The noble and learned Viscount himself went into some detail in the matter, and I do not propose to repeat it since the Act itself is a little long to refer to, but perhaps I may quote the evidence of Dame Evelyn Sharp as to what happens in regard to the Orders which we are considering. She said: … the Local Government Commission which has been established under the Act must hear every local authority in the area they are reviewing on their ideas for reorganisation in the area They must then produce draft proposals and circulate those draft proposals to every local authority, and they will then hear the local authorities again on their draft proposals, this time in a large, sometimes a monster, conference. They get them altogether and get them all to say what they feel about the draft proposals for reorganisation which they the Commission, have made. They then reconsider their draft proposals, they very probably make some changes in the light of what has been said, and they then produce final proposals for the reorganisation which they send to the Minister and which are circulated again to every local authority, and every local authority is invited to make observations. If there are objections, the Minister must hold a public inquiry and he must then consider the report of his inspector and must decide what modifications he wants to make before he puts it to Parliament or, indeed, if he wants to make the Order at all. It is then subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. That is a succinct and pretty comprehensive account of what I suggest to your Lordships are reasonable precautions to ascertain and give effect to the doubtless conflicting views of local authorities. It is not only a sufficient one. I think that it errs, if it errs at all, on the side of being rather too elaborate. And, of course, this actually involves oral evidence, and a good deal of it. It takes not merely months but years before a decision is reached. If your Lordships look at the date of the Orders and the dates when the inquiries started, you will find that I am not exaggerating in the least. It is a question of some years before the whole process is completed, and the inquiry itself, particularly the "monster inquiry", as Dame Evelyn calls it, takes a very long time indeed.

We are told that notwithstanding that, there ought to be a right to petition. It was recognised by the noble and learned Viscount that, notwithstanding the hypothetical existence of some other petitioner, the practical petitioners would be local authorities which, as it were, had lost below and felt that they ought to come here. Then we were told, "Well, of course, if the Committee of the House which considers this matter is of opinion that it has already been fully inquired into, then no more will happen. There will have been only a short delay." But that is not the only thing that they have to consider. They must consider all the circumstances of the case, and I do not know what the conclusion will be. But I do know this: if they are to consider whether there has been a slip, whether the whole thing has been properly gone into, I see no alternative whatever to doing it all again; otherwise they are going to be most unfair to somebody. If that procedure was required on the first occasion to get a fair decision between conflicting interests—and I have not heard anybody say that it was not required—how can you come to a fairer decision by cutting the procedure?

The fact of the matter is that you are then going to present even the first Committee of the House which has to consider the matter with exactly the original set of questions, at the instance of some local authority which has not got all it wants the first time. That is not the end of it. Supposing that the Committee then come to the conclusion that the matter ought to be inquired into by a Special Committee, that Special Committee have to do it all over again. I repeat to your Lordships that a great deal of this evidence is oral. It is not a case where one just opens a file and sees it all before one's eyes. One hears people give evidence. One of the things which must be considered is the wishes of the inhabitants. It is in order to ensure that the wishes of the inhabitants are considered that notices are given under the provisions of the Act, and that ample opportunity for objections, modification, and so on, is provided for in the machinery of the Act. That will all have to be done, or we shall be unfair to someone; and there is no alternative to that.

I think that where the mistake has been made here, if I may say so, is the way this matter has been regarded. The noble and learned Viscount is, of course, a most distinguished lawyer, and I think he is looking at this as if it were a collection of legal conflicts. Not even he would say that in a case of this sort it was a single one. I do not think it is, and I do not think that that is what Parliament intended in the Local Government Act. What is intended was that the views of the Central Government—the Minister, in this case—should be used to reconcile conflicting interests all over the country; to see that everybody got a fair hearing; to see, too, so far as he could, that effect had been given to the matters which the Local Government Commission were required to look into; and, of course, to see that his inspector—if it came to that stage—had similarly considered all the relevant factors. Somebody has to do this. This cannot be solved as a legal conflict, and it was just because it could not be solved as a legal conflict that the old Private Bill procedure was put aside. It was considered, and the Conservative Minister of Housing of the day quite deliberately introduced a different, wider and, as I see it, more flexible procedure for not only getting at the truth, not only discovering what everybody was claiming, but, at the end of the day, assuming the responsibility of the better reorganisation of local government—because that was the object of the whole exercise.

Your Lordships will remember that a good many years ago now there was a previous attempt on the lines of county reviews—which was a much smaller exercise than this—to reorganise the boundaries and the existence of county districts. It is notorious that the attempt broke down because there was a great deal of horse-trading. Somebody said, "I will help you to keep "Little So-and-So" if you will help me to keep "Great Thingumejig." This was very well known, and it was one of the reasons why this Act was brought in, with very full provisions to ensure not only that the public should be heard, as well as the local authorities but also that, at the end of the day, the matter should be treated not as a mere collection of disputes between divergent local authorities, but as a real attempt to get a better reorganisation of local government—and nobody would deny that there is room for that. It is very unlikely that the exact form and shape of local government in every part of the country, which derives from long history and has survived many years, is necessarily the right one now. And surely the question of what should be substituted for it is one that cannot be settled merely as a matter of conflicts between different authorities: it must be settled by the Government of the day under the provisions of this Act: and that is the purpose of the Act.

My Lords, I apologise if I have been too long, but this is a complicated matter. I would add this. First of all, appeals to sentiment on this are really a little amiss. This is not a question of the rights of the subject, in any ordinary sense of the word. This is not a question of petitioning Parliament for the redress of grievances: it is a question of trying to settle the pattern of local government in different parts of the country, which is a rather different matter. The arrangements for doing it were put through Parliament only after the fullest consultation with local authorities. At the time no one, neither the Minister who was putting them forward nor the local authorities themselves, knew of the existence of this undoubted right, and now we are told that the local authorities must not be deprived of it. If that view is to be supported, I suggest that it ought to be supported on practical grounds; and those practical grounds, as they are brought forward, seem to me inevitably to conflict with the structure of the Act itself.

Finally, I would say this to your Lordships as a matter of common sense. I read out what Dame Evelyn Sharp said to the Procedure Committee. It was a description of what actually happens. We have seen the process in operation. It takes a great deal of time; it costs a lot of money, and it takes a great many people, who have other duties to perform, away from their other work. It therefore involves, in every sense of the word, a very considerable expense, much of which falls on the ratepayers. Are we really justified in adding to that somewhat mountainous and elaborate procedure, procedure designed to get fairness between different interests, yet one more step—or perhaps two more steps—each of which must involve, if we are to have fairness, doing the whole thing all over again?


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he could answer this question. He referred to the special review areas. Does the Motion now before the House also cover the case of Orders for the demotion of county boroughs? I believe that there has been a case—I think it was at Burton-on-Trent—where a Petition was presented against an Order demoting the county borough, one of the effects of which was that, because Parliamentary time ran out, the whole Order was lost. Am I right in thinking that this particular set of circumstances will be covered by this Motion as well?


My Lords, I think the noble Viscount is right. I tried to take what I am sure will be the majority of the Orders that are likely to come up, and I think I said so. But may I point out that though the status of, let us say, Luton may appear to Luton to be pre-eminently a Luton matter, it is by no means so; and the noble Viscount must be very well aware of that. It obviously concerns the county in which Luton is; it concerns the other local authorities in the county, and not least it concerns the ratepayers there and thereabouts. At the end of the day a great deal of this machinery, if we go on adding to it, is going to mean additional cost to what is already an expensive process, not merely in money but in the time of local government officers and others.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I must first declare an interest to your Lordships, inasmuch as I happen to be the President of the Urban District Councils' Association. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, will forgive me if I say that during the course of his speech I felt rather like uttering the word "Egremont!" But then I remembered that of course he is a very experienced Parliamentarian, and when you have not got a very good case to answer, you try to shroud the real question in a certain amount of fog, in the hope that it will escape proper attention.

I want to bring your Lordships back to the quite simple issue which is raised this afternoon and it can be put very simply. If this Standing Order is amended as suggested, your Lordships will be deliberately depriving local authorities of a right which they at present possess. That is the issue. Moreover, despite what the noble Lord has said, there is not, at the present moment, in the place of that right anything equivalent to it. At the present moment, if a local authority objects to a proposal for local government reorganisation, it may—and I say "may"—have a right to petition and have its case heard by a Select Committee. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government argue that all this is superfluous and that it is a waste of time, because if there are objections the Minister must hold a local public inquiry, and thereafter the right of petition is merely duplicating a lengthy process. The noble Lord advanced that argument again this afternoon, but I feel that I must say this to your Lordships. It is impossible to equate the right of petition to this House with a local inquiry, which is conducted very much as the Minister may say it is to be conducted, and is followed simply by an Affirmative Resolution of this House. One cannot equate those two things. There is a far greater right in being able to petition this House than in any local inquiry.

There is a further point with regard to this. The local inquiry is concerned only with objections to what the Local Government Commission proposes, and not with alternative proposals which local authorities may wish, and indeed may have a duty to their constituents to put forward. A Select Committee of your Lordships' House would hear all sides, who would possibly be represented by counsel, and would weigh up and decide between them. Therefore, the right to be fully heard will be taken away if this Order goes through. I would respectfully urge your Lordships to consider this further—as, indeed, my noble friend Lord Dilhorne has already asked—before coming to any decision.

I should like to say again that the local authority associations have not been consulted with regard to this matter. It is true that they were consulted about the 1958 Act, as indeed they nearly always are consulted about proposed legislation, but, in regard to these objections and inquiries, the 1958 Act has not worked out as they expected. This is going to affect the position still further, and I think that they have the right to be consulted. I should therefore like to reinforce what my noble friend Lord Dilhorne has said to the Lord Chairman of Committees: that he might perhaps consider reconvening the Procedure Committee to enable the local authority associations, with whose rights we are concerned, to make their case—as, indeed, the Ministry have been able to make theirs.

Apart from this general consideration of principle, I would also urge this course by reason of what is happening now in connection with the proposals of the Commission for Reorganisation in the Black Country. A group of authorities in the West Midlands challenged the validity of a public inquiry held into the proposals of the Commission for the Black Country. Judgment was given in the Queen's Bench Division on May 31 this year. That judgment said that the inquiry was legally a valid one, but it made it clear that two alternative proposals had not been thoroughly examined. This really underlines the point that I am making: that the public inquiry procedure is not the same thing, and does not give the same rights, as a Petition before this House. The matter is really worse than that, because the local authorities concerned have appealed against this judgment. The appeal, I understand, is to be advanced, and is due to be heard later this month. So we now have the position that, whilst one part of the machinery, as operated, is being challenged in the courts, the long-stop right of coming to your Lordships' House is being taken away by this Motion while the matter is still sub judice. I cannot believe that your Lordships would agree that this is a right procedure.

If Her Majesty's Government are prepared to consider an alteration in the way in which these public inquiries are held, and if alternative proposals can be considered, a new situation might arise; but again I would repeat that the local authority associations should be consulted. I believe that it will be a gross injustice if this Motion is agreed to without further consideration of the local authority associations' right to be heard in a matter which is vital to them; and also, as I say, while the appeal to which I have just referred is still outstanding. I hope that the Lord Chairman of Committees may consider it wise, as he has been requested to do by my noble friend Lord Dilhorne, to withdraw this Motion in order that the matter may be further and thoroughly considered. If not, I join with my noble friend in hoping that your Lordships will reject the Motion.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to discuss any of the merits of this Report, but merely to reinforce the point that the local authority associations (and I am associated with the County Councils Association), having read everything that is in this Report, still feel that they have a case which should be heard by the Procedure Committee; and it is difficult to understand why the Committee should not accede to that request. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said that it was not for him to advise the Procedure Committee, and it may be that my noble friend Lord Merthyr is the person to whom I should make this appeal, but I cannot see that it would be a very great endurance test for this Committee to assemble again and to listen to these complaints. They may, after hearing the case put forward, come to exactly the same conclusion as we have before us to-day; but at least justice will appear to be done.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with the greatest attention to what has been said by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, and by other noble Lords, members of local authority associations, who have put forward their views. I hope I shall be acquitted of lack of sympathy with local authorities (for I was myself a member of local authorities for many years), but I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the points which have been taken are not appropriate to the particular question that we are discussing. I am quite unable to understand why it should be considered that Orders of the nature with which we are concerned to-day should be regarded as hybrid. That has never been the view of Parliament with regard to legislation dealing with the functions and boundaries of local authorities.

When the County of London was created in 1889, when the London boroughs were created in 1899, when the Poor Law authorities were abolished, when Neville Chamberlain carried through his extensive revision of the functions and areas of local authorities in 1927 or 1928, and when the recent legislation with regard to Greater London was put through, there was no suggestion whatsoever that any of that legislation was of a hybrid nature. It is no doubt perfectly true that any alteration in local government boundaries, duties or functions can have a repercussion upon individuals. It may, for instance, cause some ratepayers to pay more rates, others to pay less, and so on. But surely those are not matters which are appropriate to be dealt with by means of Petitions to be heard by a Select Committee. They are merely incidental matters which arise out of the fundamental problem of reorganising local government.

It seems to me that the real mistake lay in providing in our Standing Orders that anybody should be allowed to apply to be heard by a Select Committee of this House in opposition to one of these Orders. Therefore, with all respect to those who are putting forward the view that local authorities should be heard in this way, I venture to suggest that they are mistaken; that no damage is done to the interests of individuals in their ordinary capacity, and that what is at issue here is a matter between one local authority and another. And, to my mind, the evidence given to the Committee of Procedure, which I have read, is convincing that ample opportunity was given to thresh out these matters.

If Parliament is not satisfied about an Order, of course, it is open to us to have a debate upon it in this House, and any Member can ask Questions. But to have it referred to a Select Committee, and to have that kind of inquiry gone over again, is to waste a great deal of time, trouble and public money for a purpose which, I venture to suggest, cannot be properly effected by that means. All Members of your Lordships' House must realise how the proceedings upon a Bill which is considered to be either a Private Bill or a Hybrid Bill—that is to say, a Bill which in that respect is a Private Bill—are conducted before a Select Committee. They are conducted as if it were a species of litigation, in which only points that have been put into Petitions can be dealt with; and the Committee are severely handicapped in taking any wider view of what has been put before them than is contained in the Petitions or has been presented by way of advocacy and argument. With all respect, I suggest that that is not the right procedure to be adopted in matters of this kind.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, was a member of this Committee. He has criticised the Committee's decision, and he has also appealed to the House not to accept the decision of that Committee. I feel therefore that I should rise to explain, not as a Minister but as a member of the Committee, why that Committee came to their decision. We discussed this matter on two occasions. On the first occasion, having had a fair discussion, it was felt that it would be right to hear from the Minister. We invited the Minister to send a representative, or to come himself, to explain to the Committee what he wanted to do, and why he wanted us to do it. The Com- mittee met, and we had an opportunity of hearing from my noble friend Lord Mitchison and also from the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry.

We then had a discussion, and eventually a vote was taken. I think your Lordships should know that that vote showed that, out of fifteen members who attended that Committee, eleven voted; and of those, nine voted in favour of the Report and two against. It cannot be said that this Committee is in any way political. It represents Members from all sections of the House. We took the view as to what is right, not only in the interests of efficiency within the 1958 Act but also in the interests of your Lordships' House. I think I should also say, in view of the impassioned appeal made by the noble and learned Viscount—which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, called an impassioned speech for democracy—that the same jealousy of the rights of your Lordships' House and of individuals is felt not only by the noble Viscount but by all members of that Committee. Therefore, what we decided to do we did not decide lightly.

It has been suggested this afternoon that this matter should be referred back to the Procedure Committee, and that the Procedure Committee should then call for the evidence of various interested bodies. I suggest that it would be rather an extraordinary matter that the Procedure Committee, which is a Committee to look into the procedure of your Lordships' House, should call in outside persons to give evidence and to decide what this House should do and the manner in which it should conduct its business.


My Lords, may I ask one question? Perhaps I should know the answer. If I should, then I apologise for not knowing it. Why were the local authorities not consulted at all in this matter before a decision was taken?


As I was saying, I do not think that the Procedure Committee of this House, in considering the procedure of this House, should consult or call for evidence from outside bodies. I should have thought that this would be extremely unusual for any Committee of your Lordships' House—


The Permanent Secretary was there.


The Permanent Secretary was there, at special invitation, merely to represent the Ministry involved.


But that was an outside body.


I would suggest that that was quite a different matter.

May I deal now with the major point that concerns your Lordships' House—that what we are suggesting is the removal of the right to petition this House? All we are suggesting is that the right of petition under this Standing Order should be removed. Any member of the public, any local authority, any interested person, always has the right to petition either House of Parliament. If this Report goes through, it will not in any way affect the right to petition either House of Parliament.


My Lords, as I understand it, the point the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is making now makes matters a good deal worse than they were heretofore. It might be possible, if this Committee were to meet again, to envisage some filtering system through which any proposed petitioner would have to go—for instance, the Committee might decide that this was or was not a valid Petition which ought to go to the Select Committee. The noble Lord is now saying that, quite regardless of any procedure of this sort, any member of the public, any local authority, can petition the House; and apparently, would have the right to be heard. This would therefore make things worse.


My Lords, there is an inherent right—and I am sure that on this the noble and learned Viscount will agree with me—in every man, any authority, any body, if there is a wrong, to petition Parliament. I am surprised that the noble Viscount challenges it.


I did not challenge it.


I thought the noble Viscount did so. If the local authority involved feels that the Order that has been made by the Minister is wrong they still have redress in recourse to this House. We know the procedure. An Order is laid in your Lordships' House. Any Member of your Lordships' House or any Member of another place can then do two things. He can move that approval of the Order be refused; or he can, if he wishes, a few days before, move an Instruction in this House that the matter be sent to a Select Committee. If a noble Lord were able to satisfy this House that there had been a wrong, or a suspicion of a wrong, and a Motion for such an Instruction received your Lordships' support, the matter would be sent to a Select Committee. There it would be examined under the normal procedure, with counsel and evidence being called, and with the opportunity for cross-examination and the like. Thus it will still be open to a local authority, or to any person who feels that he has been aggrieved, to persuade a noble Lord to come to this House and move an Instruction. And if he satisfies your Lordships that there is a suspicion of a wrong, the matter can be sent to the Select Committee for investigation. This is perfectly clear.

All we are suggesting (and this is the reason the Committee took this view) is that, if we removed the 1958 Act from this Standing Order, it would mean that the Special Orders Committee would not automatically be required, as it now is, where there is a Petition, to listen to evidence and hear counsel. And it is not only evidence from one petitioner, because if the Committee is to consider the matter properly it will have to consider the whole field, which is bound to take a considerable time. We felt, and the Committee felt, in view of all the circumstances and of all the existing safeguards (which are in no way affected by the removal of this Standing Order) that there would be no loss of right to anybody involved under the 1958 Act.

I am bound to say, too, as one who has had some difficulty in trying to find members of your Lordships House to Select Committees, that if we were involved in very many and lengthy inquiries and Select Committees, it would be extremely difficult to man them. I think that the House should be aware of that fact. There would be considerable administrative difficulties to meet what might arise were your Lordships' House to decide that the Standing Order should remain. I suggest that is beside the point, but by the passing of this Motion your Lordships will not in any way deny anyone the right to petition Parliament, or, after they had made out a satisfactory case, for the House to decide to refer to a Select Committee, or to enjoy all the rights which now exist.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, may I, with the leave of the House, say a word or two in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who has referred to me particularly, and rightly so, as I was a member of the Committee? I think I made clear from the start that I did not think that a case had been made out for this. It was unfortunate that I was unavoidably prevented from attending part of the second meeting and did not hear the conclusion; that was my misfortune. May I deal with the points made by the noble Lord—


My Lords, may I ask one thing? The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, has asked for the leave of the House to speak again. I am not sure that the House would wish to give it. He has no right to speak twice and it is unusual to speak twice on a Motion. It is not for me to say; it is for the House. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has the right to speak twice because it is his Motion.


That is why I asked for the leave of the House.


Hear, hear!


That is precisely the reason why I asked for leave, and, as in another place where one frequently has to ask for leave to speak again, one assumes that leave is given unless an objection is raised. If the Leader of the House does object to my replying—I wish only to reply shortly to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, because I think it is relevant—then of course I will not do so. I did ask for the leave of the House, and I think that I am in conformity with the traditions of the House in doing so.

I wish to deal shortly with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. First, the propriety of calling in witnesses. The Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was a witness of one category and I see nothing wrong in calling in other witnesses to hear their views; there cannot be anything wrong in principle. If the Committee and the House were to decide to make this change, I should be far happier if the Committee had heard representatives of those bodies whose interests are affected by the change. It might be that after hearing them we should be in a much better position to reach a conclusion. It might be that, after they had been cross-examined, they might say, "We do not really want this". I do not know, but I dislike—despite the advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison—trying to determine a matter of this sort after hearing only the plaintiff, in the shape of Dame Evelyn, and without hearing the defendant's representatives.


The Devil's advocate!


I caught the noble Lord's observation. I hold no brief for either side.

What one has now as a right is the right to petition in relation to a hybrid Order as if it were an existing Bill. It is no answer for the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to say that we could take this right away and the position would be precisely the same, because it will not be for the individual who is affected. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, talked about considering individuals in these areas. It may be that some of them can petition. I do not know. We are proposing to take away their rights. It is no answer to say, "They can still send a Petition to this House. It would not come under this Standing Order because the Order will no longer apply; and then some Member may wish to take it up". That would be substituting a possibility for action in Parliament and for a right which the subject has to send this matter and comply with Order 216. I say in all seriousness that I hope the Lord Chairman will agree that it would be wrong to conclude this matter without giving those representatives who are affected and will be deprived of their rights an opportunity of being heard.

Secondly, I should like to consider something which has not been yet considered, whether, to avoid the delay, the right of hearing counsel and calling evidence before the Special Orders Committee—I am not talking about the Select Committee—could be dispensed with Finally, I do not think that there is much substance in the threat by the noble Lord of a whole mass of Select Committees, for this reason. I assume that if the right remains, it would be only in the rarest case, where something had clearly gone wrong, that there would be any reference to a Select Committee. What we are here considering is what I might call the long stop piece of machinery which will never be brought into operation until something has gone wrong. It never has had to be brought into operation. We are being asked to abolish it by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, although it has never been used, because of a fear that it may be used. I do not believe that it will be brought into use unless something has gone radically wrong.

I understand from the advice that I have received that the only way we can get this matter referred to the Committee on Procedure is by resisting this Motion, if the noble Lord does not withdraw it. I feel that this matter ought to be further considered and if that is the only way to get this matter back to the Committee for further consideration, if it is not withdrawn, I think that we should nevertheless try to see that it is further considered by the Committee.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. I think that I should follow the excellent precedent, if it is an excellent precedent, of my noble friend Lord Grimston of Westbury and declare that I have a special interest, inasmuch as I am President of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which is a body representing municipal authorities. The Association of Municipal Corporations was not consulted or invited to express its views or make known its opinion on this matter. I join with my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne in expressing regret that this course was not taken.

I was a little puzzled by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. He began by saying that when the 1958 Act was passed there were extensive consultations, and that in those consultations the procedure eventually introduced into the Bill was agreed between the parties. It is perfectly true that there were extensive consultations, but as I understand the position, at that time the then Minister of Housing and Local Government did not appreciate that these Orders would go to the Special Orders Committee. If that was so, apparently both sides were negotiating—if the local authorities were also ignorant of this—in ignorance of what the actual state of the law was to be. That being so, it seems a little difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, when he said that in some way the local authorities gave up their rights to ask for the Special Order procedure at a later stage.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, for giving way to me, but as he has quoted what he thinks I said, perhaps he had better allow me to correct him slightly. My point was that the object of those consultations was to enable Parliament and the Minister to arrive at a proper balance between the claims of the local authorities to be heard and the duty of the Minister to get a proper reorganisation of local government.


I would certainly accept that from the noble Lord. No doubt that was the purpose of these consultations. But did not the consultations take place in ignorance of the right to go to the Special Orders Committee? If so, it seems to me difficult to argue now that in some way the local authorities have given up their right to go to the Special Orders Committee now. That was the only point I was making about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison.

The effect of this Report, if your Lordships were to agree to it, would be that these Orders made under the 1958 Act would be removed from the effective control by Parliament. The Report would leave the investigation of these Orders entirely in the hands of the Minister and departmental officials. It would virtually exclude any effective control by Parliament. I submit to your Lordships that in such an important matter as reorganisation of local government the principal decisions ought to remain under the ultimate and effective control of Parliament. Parliament ought not to be excluded, as it would be excluded, if this recommendation were accepted. Effective control can be exerted only by the Special Orders Procedure, from which this Report seeks to exclude these Orders under the Act of 1958.

The local authorities, after all, are popularly elected bodies, and matters affecting their future and their status so intimately as these Orders are likely to do ought not to be withdrawn entirely from the effective control of Parliament and left in the hands of a departmental Minister and departmental officials.


My Lords, is not Parliament involved?


I said that these Orders would be removed from the effective control of Parliament. I do not regard the Affirmative Resolution procedure, under which Parliament has either to accept or reject and cannot amend, as effective control.

My noble and learned friend said that it was unlikely that many Orders would be made under this procedure. He went on to say that it will only be in cases where something had gone wrong that a Special Order will be made. It is true that there is elaborate departmental procedure, consisting of local consultation, local inquiry, further consultation, the report of the inspector, and so forth. If that procedure had been gone through, I cannot believe that the Special Orders Committee would not be able to say that the matter had been fully investigated by the Department. It would be only in those cases where they were not satisfied that there had been a proper investigation that they would order the matter to go to a Select Committee. I think that really is the answer to the greater part of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd.

We must not assume that there are going to be many cases where the Special Orders Committee would consider that something has gone wrong. Only in those cases would an Order be referred to a Select Committee. And in those cases where something has gone wrong the Order ought to be referred to a Select Committee. If the procedure of investigation within the Department has gone wrong, then the Order ought to go to a Select Committee. I hope that your Lordships will decide not to accept this Report.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I shall try to conform to the generally expressed sentiment in last Tuesday's debate on shorter speeches, and let us hope that others will try, just as I do, to conform. I was greatly impressed by the statement made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, in his opening speech. I felt that he was speaking with deep sincerity and that there was a possibility of this House taking away one of the remaining liberties of the individual. I found, in the subsequent debate, that the individual apparently has been completely forgotten, and what we are discussing is the retention of the right of a public body, a corporate body, to petition this House.

I am puzzled at what has been said. As I say, I was greatly impressed by the statement of the noble and learned Viscount, but when my noble friend Lord Mitchison replied, it seemed to me that he demolished the arguments that had been put. I may be wrong about that, but that is as it appeared to me. I hope that I am not misinterpreting my noble friend, but I understood him to say that this Order had been on the tapis, to say the least, of the Conservative Government. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, was a member of that Government.


Well, that does not make it any better.


My Lords, I am trying to discover where the noble and learned Viscount now stands and what was the reason for his conversion. Did the Conservative Government propose to treat this matter in a substantially different way from the present recommendation of the Committee on Procedure. I do not know. It might be an advantage if that could be cleared up.

Surely it is plain, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd said, that any individual has the right to petition Parliament. If something wrong had been done, when the matter was dealt with by the Committee on Procedure I am sure that this House would have been vigilant enough to find it out. The various local and public bodies referred to are obviously not without spokesmen in this House. Some of them have declared their interest this afternoon. Can it be thought that when an Affirmative Resolution comes before this House there would he no one here to argue the matter fully and competently on the information he would undoubtedly be provided with first-hand from the bodies concerned, and to put right any serious wrong that was thought to be done? That seems to me to be the common-sense position.

I suggest that we should not chase away on some hypothetical question of popular and individual liberty. If it is denied that the individual or the corporate body has the right to petition Parliament, that is another matter that ought to be explained; but the Affirmative Resolution required by each House of Parliament seems to me to be a very adequate protection of the rights of the individual.


My Lords, is it not the case that on an Affimative Resolution, Parliament can only accept or reject the Order and cannot amend it?

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for more than one moment, but I think that there is one point which has not been made by any previous speaker. I have been involved in some of the inquiries which have taken place under the 1958 Act, and there is certainly more than one version of the procedure which takes place under that Act. There is the "monster" inquiry, to which Dame Edith refers in her evidence to the Select Committee. There is a full argument before the Boundary Commission, which makes a final report and submits it to the Minister. If there is objection, then there is a local inquiry.

It is at this stage that sometimes things may go wrong. The Boundary Commission will have made certain recommendations. Some local authorities will be satisfied with the recommendations and some will be dissatisfied. The ones that are dissatisfied will object. The ones that are satisfied will do nothing. At the inquiry that is held before the Minister's Inspector those who are satisfied will call no evidence. They cross-examine the other side. But the only people who produce evidence are the local authorities who are dissatisfied. They may be torn to pieces by the person appearing on behalf of the satisfied authorities, but they have no opportunity to attack those who are satisfied with the recommendations of the Boundary Commission.

I do not say by any means that in all cases, or indeed ever, has it occurred that the Ministry's inspector has failed to spot anything that he ought to have spotted. I have great respect for the inspectors, and they do a superb job. Nevertheless, there is a flaw in the procedure, and I believe that there may be occasions when it would be right for the dissatisfied local authority at any rate to have the opportunity to present to this House—I believe it can be done only in this House and not in another place—a Petition for the House to examine. I do not suggest that it should necessarily go to a Select Committee. I think that a method might be devised by which the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and some of his colleagues could look to see if the matter is prima facie a matter to be discussed by a Select Committee. If they decide that it is not such a matter, it will go no further. But if in their opinion it is something that should be looked at by a Select Committee, then I cannot see how anyone is doing anything but taking away an important right if we deprive the authority or anybody else from the opportunity of bringing the matter before a Select Committee. I think that this matter ought to be looked at again in the light of some of the things that have been said this afternoon.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will agree that this matter ought not to be regarded at all as a question of Party politics. We are considering a Report of our own Procedure Committee, which did not divide on Party lines, and when considering our own Rules I suggest that it is for every individual Member of your Lordships' House to decide for himself. I only venture to say a word or two, because I am thinking of possible Select Committees of the future.

I have been paid too much by local authorities in my time not to have sympathy with inquiries of this kind. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, that the thing is pretty interminable. In the first place, they all, quite rightly, say exactly what they think before the proposals are made. Then, when the draft proposals are made, they say it all over again, and they argue it at great length before the Commission. Then, when the proposals are made, anybody who objects to them has the right to object to the Minister, and the Minister is bound to order an inquiry. There they say it all over again for the third time—and it always seems to get longer each time—and so often it is just a question of local Party politics.

I remember well a case in Leicestershire where the City Council asked for a little to be added from the County only because it was a Labour Council, the outlying districts were Conservative, and it was afraid of losing its majority. But when the proposals were published the Conservatives were in power, and they objected to the Minister and asked for an enormous area of extension to the city. There had to be a public inquiry, and three days before the public inquiry there were some local elections in wards. Power was now held by five Liberals, three of whom had never been on the council before.

Obviously when Parliament passed the Act they thought that if they gave people three opportunities of saying everything they wanted to say it would then be right for the Minister to make a decision, which in this field is a political decision. I quite appreciate that if you give people the right to say things three times over, it may be that something is missed the third time, and if you had a fourth opportunity that might be put right. But then, if there was the right to have it a fourth time, it might be that on the fourth time something would be missed, and you might say that there ought to be a fifth time. Parliament thought that three occasions were sufficient.

It was with sympathetic thoughts of future Select Committees of your Lordships' House (and these inquiries sometimes go on for days) that I thought it right to draw your Lordships' attention to this fact. Parliament never thought that after three inquiries a Committee of the Upper House only should be entitled to conduct a further inquiry, and that that was a mistake. What the majority of the Procedure Committee are suggesting is that this mistake should now be corrected.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words. First of all, I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said about this being a non-Party matter. Of course it is not a Party matter; it has nothing to do with Party. Should we disagree among ourselves, certainly no Whips will be on on this side, and I hope they will not be on on the other side. But I very much hope that there will not be a Division or disagreement on this matter, for this reason. Although it is perfectly true that in normal circumstances we always accept without very much discussion what the Procedure Committee say, on occasions there is disagreement, and I do not think the House necessarily has to take without debate or disagreement something which the Procedure Committee tell the House. After all, they are only representatives of the whole House, and it is the job of every Member of the House to make up his own mind as to the rights or wrongs of what the Committee have decided.

I do not want to say anything about the merits or demerits of what has been said this afternoon. We have listened to some most eloquent speeches, but the one thing left in my mind is that there is in this House considerable disquiet and unease about what is suggested, whether rightly or wrongly, by the Procedure Committee. One of my noble friends made an eloquent speech on a case about which he says he is worried as to what is proposed; and a number of my noble friends behind me, and the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, have also spoken in this regard. Indeed, there have been some new points raised. I think my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross raised quite a new aspect of the matter.

What I should like to suggest (and I do not know to whom I ought to appeal, whether it should be to the Lord Chairman of Committees, who is busy talking to the noble Earl the Leader of the House, to whom I was going to appeal, as well) is that there is not much against taking this matter back and asking the Procedure Committee to have another look at it. After all, this has been going on for some time, and nobody will suffer much injustice by a delay of two or three weeks. The Procedure Committee, in the light of what has been said in this debate, will at any rate be in a position to look at the speeches which have been made and decide whether there is any substance in them.

In addition, I feel (and here I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd) that it is for consideration whether the Procedure Committee should consider hearing the local authority associations, which have written to various noble Lords and expressed their anxiety. Although the Procedure Committee is a Committee of the House, that procedure does affect the rights of local authorities, and I do not see anything wrong in hearing the local authorities and their side of the case, in the same way that the Procedure Committee have heard the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, and Dame Evelyn Sharp. I do not think there is anything to lose in this case. It may well be that the Procedure Committee, when they have discussed it again, will come to exactly the same conclusion. In that case, I think the House should drop the matter and accept what the Committee say without further ado.

I suggest to the noble Lord, the Lord Chairman, or to the noble Earl the Leader of the House, that after this debate—and we have been debating this subject for two and a half hours—with all the anxiety and disquiet which has been expressed, it would be a good thing for the Procedure Committee to look at it again. None of us has anything to lose, and we have a lot to gain in not having a Division on a matter of this kind.


My Lords, I would first observe, if I may, that the noble

Lord, Lord Boothby, must vote for this Resolution, because it would diminish the number of Select Committees of the House, and that is what he wants to do.


Of course.


With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, said, I should like to remind the House that the right to promote a Private Bill to alter local government boundaries was taken away by Her Majesty's Government at the end of 1958. I, for my part, am sure that had the situation which has been disclosed by this debate to-day then been appreciated and known about, steps would have then been taken in 1958, and I should have been standing here in 1958 moving this Motion. The fact is, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said, that this was a mistake—


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? At that time the local authority associations were being consulted. This time they have not been.


It was a mistake in 1958, and I am quite certain that, if the mistake had been realised, what we are seeking to do to-day would have been then done. I do not want to weary the House with any more arguments, but am bound to confess that I think it would be my duty not to withdraw this Motion.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 50; Not-Contents 82.

Addison, V. Iddesleigh, E. St. Davids, V.
Ailwyn, L. Kennet, L. Samuel, V.
Airedale, L. Leatherland, L. Segal, L.
Amulree, L. Lindgren, L. Shannon, E.
Archibald, L. Listowel, E. Shepherd, L.
Blyton, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Sinha, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Snow, L.
Champion, L. McNair, L. Sorensen, L. [Teller.]
Citrine, L. Meston, L. Stonham, L.
Colwyn, L. Mitchison, L. Strang, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Peddie, L. Summerskill, B.
Faringdon, L. Phillips, B. Swanborough, B.
Gaitskell, B. Plummer, B. Swaythling, L.
Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Rea, L. Taylor, L.
Henley, L. Rhodes, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Hobson, L. [Teller.] Royle, L. Williams, L.
Hughes, L. Sainsbury, L.
Allerton, L. Elliot of Harwood, B. Mansfield, E.
Alport, L. Enniskillen, E. Margadale, L.
Ampthill, L. Erroll of Hale, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Arbuthnott, V. Falkland, V. Merrivale, L.
Atholl, D. Falmouth, V. Mersey, V.
Auckland, L. Ferrers, E. Milverton, L.
Balerno, L. Fleck, L. Monsell, V.
Bessborough, E. Foley, L. Mowbray of Stourton, L.
Blackford, L. Gage, V. Perth, E.
Boothby, L. Glendevon, L. Reith, L.
Bossom, L. Goschen, V. St. Helens, L.
Boston, L. Grenfell, L. St. Oswald, L.
Burton, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. [Teller.] Sandys, L.
Carrington, L. Selkirk, E.
Clwyd, L. Haddington, E. Somers, L.
Colville of Culross, V. [Teller.] Hastings, L. Strange of Knokin, B.
Conesford, L. Hawke, L. Strathcarron, L.
Cowley, E. Horsbrugh, B. Strathclyde, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Hurd, L. Stuart of Findhorn, V.
De La Warr, E. Ilford, L. Suffield, L.
Denham, L. Inchyra, L. Tenby, V.
Devonshire, D. Jellicoe, E. Thurlow, L.
Dilhorne, V. Killearn, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Long, V. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Dulverton, L. Lothian, M. Waleran, L.
Dundonald, E. MacAndrew, L. Wolverton, L.
Ebbisham, L. McCorquodale of Newton, L. Woolton, E.
Effingham, E. Mancroft, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.