§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Report of Amendments received (according to Order).
§ Clause 4:
§ Reduction of grants in case of default
4.—(1) If in the case of any local authority or joint board the appropriate Minister—
(a) is satisfied that the authority or board have failed to achieve ormaintain a reasonable standard in the discharge of any of their functions, regard being had to the standards maintained by other authorities and boards; and
he may, after affording to the local or constituent authority in question an opportunity of making representations, make and cause to be laid before Parliament a report stating the amount of and the reasons for the proposed reduction and setting out any representations made by the authority with respect to the proposed reduction; and if the report is approved by a resolution of the Commons House of Parliament the Minister may reduce the elements of the grant accordingly.
§ LORD AIREDALE moved, in subsection (1)(a), after "boards" to insert "and by the Civil Service". The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment enables me to draw your Lordships' attention to a practice which I believe to be quite widespread with local authorities. I could give the Minister specific instances of it if he would like. It is a practice which I feel perhaps is not desirable, whereby junior officials of a local authority appear to be permitted to sign the name of their superior on letters and documents which are issued from the council.
§ The effect of this practice can be that you write to the clerk to your local authority about some problem, and get back a letter apparently bearing the signature of the clerk to the council. You may be familiar with the signature of the clerk to the council, and may know that this letter does not bear his genuine signature. In the event no harm is done. But you may not be familiar with the signature of the clerk to the council and you receive a letter purporting to be signed by him, a letter which perhaps does not altogether satisfy you, but you say to yourself, "Well, this appears to 678 have been dealt with personally by the clerk to the council, and in those circumstances I cannot very well take the matter any further." But had you known that the matter was dealt with perhaps by a gentleman who arrived in the department only the previous week, who was no doubt doing his best but had not yet mastered all the problems his department had to deal with, and that he had sent the letter with the name of the clerk to council, you would perhaps raise the matter again and say, "I wish this matter to receive the personal attention of the clerk to the council".
§ This practice does not, so far as I know, obtain in the Civil Service. If a civil servant writes to you he signs his own name, you know with whom you are corresponding and at what level the matter is being dealt with. I feel it would be extremely desirable that local authorities should adopt the practice followed by the Civil Service. It seems to me that if a junior official of a local authority has not the authority to sign his own name upon a document, then certainly he has no authority to sign the name of the clerk to the local authority. This Amendment would enable Her Majesty's Government to ensure that local authorities should conform with the much more satisfactory practice which the Civil Service adopt. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 38, after ("boards") insert ("and by the Civil Service").—(Lord Airedale.)
§ LORD SOMERS
I should like to support this Amendment as strongly as it is possible for me to do so. Some years ago I put down an Unstarred Question in your Lordships' House apropos a case in which a friend of mine had failed to get satisfaction from his local authority and, although it had not been discovered at the time I asked the Question, it was later discovered that his application for consideration had never reached the council at all but had simply had a rubber stamped signature put to the letter refusing consideration, presumably by a junior clerk. It was eventually discovered, by access to the minutes, that the council had never considered it. I think that this is a most undesirable practice and I heartily support the Amendment.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET)
My Lords, it is, of course, quite usual for local government officers to send letters over the purported signature of the town clerk, the borough treasurer, the divisional education officer, or some other chief officer. It may be that the constitutional theory that the chief officer sends all the letters issued by his department is being observed, or it may be a carry-over from the practice in the legal profession—because most town clerks are solicitors—of "signing" the name of the firm under letters, or indeed both. Letters from Government Departments are sent on behalf of the responsible Minister, and formal letters begin by stating that they are sent by direction of the Minister, and there follows the signature of the official who is sending the letter.
Whatever I or my right honourable friend may think about local authority practice, I think that this is a matter which authorities ought to be left free to decide for themselves. When this clause was discussed in Committee this Chamber resounded with protests at what were thought to be various invasions of local authority independence. I hope the House will understand if I say no more than that I am confident that notice will be taken in the local authority world of the views expressed here to-day. Perhaps the noble Lord will agree that our discussion of this matter to-day has served his purpose, and will agree to withdraw his Amendment. I feel that the imposition of outright requirements defining how letters should be signed and recalling the practice in this matter would be a matter of "leading strings" and that any threat to withhold grant on account of a difference of view over the signing of letters would be going too far.
§ Loan SOMERS
My Lords, before my noble friend withdraws his Amendment, may I just say that I am a little puzzled at the noble Lord's reply. Individual citizens of this country are constantly having less and less liberty to decide upon their own actions, but for some reason there is this constant anxiety to allow local governments to make their own decision as to whether they shall do the right or the wrong thing. I must confess that I find it a little puzzling.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for his support. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, chose as an example in support of his own argument the practice adopted by firms of solicitors, because my experience of their practice is quite different from his. My experience is that when one receives a letter from a firm of solicitors it is either signed by one of the partners with his own signature, or, if it is not signed by one of the partners, signed with the name of the firm—"Yours faithfully, John Smith and Co.". That seems to me to be a quite unexceptionable practice. I am not certain that the Minister has dealt with this Amendment as helpfully as he might, but I did get one or two grains of comfort from what he said. I certainly should not wish to divide the House on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD ILFORD moved, in subsection (2), after "authority" to insert "which they are required by statute to perform". The noble Lord said: My Lords, subsection (2) of Clause 4 deals with the powers of the Minister—which, of course, means the Departments of the central Government—to make regulations and to exercise control over the whole of the services for which local authorities are responsible. That is not the case at present. At present the Minister can only make regulations prescribing standards of service, and so forth, and exercise control through the regulations in respect of those services the cost of which is borne in part by the central Government in the sense that the cost of the services is one of the factors upon which the general grant is now calculated. It is now proposed to extend control over the whole of the functions of the local authority.
§ In future, grants will be calculated in a rather different manner from the manner in which they have been calculated hitherto. I think it is because of this change that this alteration in the powers of the Minister is proposed. Grants are to be calculated in a different manner under which the costs of all the different services administered by the local authorities, and not merely some of the services, will enter into the calculation of the 681 grant. It seems to me that the opportunity is being taken of that change to extend the powers of supervision of the central Government to the whole of the functions of the local authorities.
§ I put down this Amendment on the Report stage of the Bill because it seems to me to raise a matter of major importance. This clause extends the power of the central Government to supervise and control the whole of the administrative acts of the local authorities. In recent years the relationship between the central Government and the local authorities has been the subject of a good deal of discussion. Generally speaking, it can fairly be said that the view has been accepted that the continued extension of the powers of the central Government to interfere with the administration of the local authorities has gone far enough and ought not now to be further extended.
§ When my noble friend, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, was a Minister, he did a good deal to check the growth of this, as I think, undesirable practice. But now a further extension of this interference seems to be evolving. If the administration of a local authority is not good, it is surely for the electors to exercise the power which they possess to tell the local authority so, and when the time comes to seek for councillors who will aim at a higher standard of efficiency.
§ This clause will make it possible for the central Government to make regulations, and generally to exercise supervision over the most trivial of the services performed by the local authorities. No doubt it will be said that the Minister has no intention of extending his powers to any very drastic extent. Indeed, in his reply when this Amendment was moved on the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that, provided the powers were exercised sensibly—by which he meant very little—he could see no objection to this clause. He also said, by way of example, that at present local authorities have a statutory obligation to make arrangements for vaccination against smallpox and diphtheria, but that they have no statutory obligation to make arrangements for immunisation against polio or for vaccination against measles. That is the present situation, and it does not seem to me to call for any amendment.682
§ I find it a little difficult to understand the noble Lord's view, that it is not desirable that some diseases should be subject to regulation and that others should not be, as he said, "potentially regulatable"—and I am quite sure that my noble friend Lord Conesford was not in the House when that observation was made. I really cannot see that on either of those grounds there is any justification for extending the functions of the Minister in the manner proposed.
§ I do not wish to employ exaggerated language about this matter. This is not, of course, a major invasion of the liberties of local authorities. But it does raise, and I think raises very clearly, this question of principle: whether it is desirable that Departments of the central Government should be given these extensive powers to regulate even the most trivial service performed by the local authorities. I think that this matter raises a principle of some importance, and it is for that reason that I thought it right to put down this Amendment at the Report stage. I beg to move.
Page 5, line 9, after ("authority") insert ("which they are required by statute to perform").—(Lord Ilford.)
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I took the liberty of intervening in the debate on this matter during the Committee stage because I thought there was a certain misunderstanding about the general purpose of the clause. The subsection which we were then discussing was the one about standards, where there is no particular statutory obligation on the local authority. This Amendment raises the same point (it is, I think, the same Amendment), but it has been put to-night on rather different grounds. It is said that at present the Ministry, or Ministries—because more than one Ministry is involved—have extensive default powers, but that as a question of principle those default powers ought not to be further extended. I doubt whether that can be a question of principle. If there were no default powers already in existence, I should have thought that the case for imposing them might be a question of principle. But where there are other default powers—quite considerable powers—now in existence, then their extension would not involve the same question of principle, 683 although it might involve another question of principle.
I looked through what was said about this matter in another place. The noble Lord who moved this Amendment said that the excuse was the amplification of grant. But it was rather more than that. It was the reason given, and I think it is the reason which ought to govern your Lordships' consideration of the matter. I am quoting from what was said during the Report stage in another place, when the matter was raised by the Parliamentary Secretary who was dealing with it. At the bottom of column 487 he said this:Although the honourable Member for Hemel Hempstead may feel that it is a triviality, we are for the first time extending this grant"—that is to say, the general grant—to virtually every aspect of local authority expenditure. That is very important and generous, and it should be emphasised.I did not understand the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, to differ from that. I think he would welcome the extension and the Association of Municipal Corporations, who seem to be concerned about this, certainly would.
The Parliamentary Secretary went on:As we are going into the field of grant in this way, it does not seem unreasonable that we should have a residuary power to ensure that the standards are maintained. No sensible Government would go out of its way to have a whole pile of regulations applying to every small aspect of local government services. I therefore feel that the House would be unwise to accept the Amendment.He then went on to deal with a slightly different aspect of the matter, and he ended up by saying:It is not a curtain opener for a devastating onslaught on the freedom of local authorities, and I do not think that any responsible local authority would think for a moment that it was."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 734 (No. 78), cols. 487–8; 20/10/66.]I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, put his argument in that way. I do not think he considered that it was a savage onslaught, but he did say something about principle. The principle which seems to me to be involved is that, where you have grant-aided expenditure, it is reasonable that there should be proper default powers properly phrased. I looked at what was said here the other day when this matter was 684 under discussion, and my impression was that, in general, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, would have agreed with that opinion. But whether he does or does not I should have thought it would commend itself to the House as a whole.
The reason here—the excuse, if the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, prefers the word "excuse"—is the extension of grant-aided expenditure, and it is by reason of that extension that the default powers are also extended. That was said quite clearly by the Parliamentary Secretary in another place, and I find no fault with it. I should have thought that what the Association of Municipal Corporations were trying to do in this case was to get the benefit of the grant without the control which ought to go with it—in this case a default power. This happened directly after the 1914–18 war with early attempts in housing, and the local authorities were at one time put in the position of being able to spend the money to provide the houses without there being adequate control. Apart from the question of how many houses they built, they certainly overspent, and I think that any reasonable Government, of whatever complexion, ought to keep that measure of control over local authorities.
I agree with the conclusion of the Parliamentary Secretary in the other place, that any responsible local authority would not regard it as an onslaught on the freedom of local authorities. I agree, too, with what was said in another part of the same speech. I can see the case for saying that any local authority would feel irritated by this sort of power, but I cannot believe that anyone else would. If I may say so, all those comments seem to me to be only reasonable on what is not, as I see it, a question of any other principle than that where you are spending public money (in this case, by way of grant) you should take steps to see that you have a reasonable control over the authority who have actually to do the immediate spending. In fact, I feel that the A.M.C. are asking to have the jam without the slight pill which is intended to accompany it, and that (to use another metaphor) they cannot have their cake and eat it.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, it is a very small pill indeed. When this matter was discussed during the Committee stage in this House I said we would take it away and look at it again to see whether we could find a way of doing what this Amendment proposes to do without creating the anomalies which, as it is drafted, it would create. I very regret to report that we have not been able to find a way of doing this. After our last discussion on this topic, the A.M.C. asked me for a meeting, but did not suggest any formula which would solve the problem. I said that of course I should be delighted to meet them, but asked if they had got a new formula. So far, however, they have not produced one.
I do not want to take the House again through all the arguments we had last time, but I would remind your Lordships that the power to which exception is now being taken already exists over part of local government activity by virtue of the Local Government Act 1958. It is true that in that Act it is limited to services giving rise to relevant expenditure for the purposes of general grant, but among these services is, first of all, local health, part of which is optional—and I would remind the House that we are talking about whether regulations should be, applicable to optional services or only to services which local authorities are statutorily bound to render. Also among those services which the central Government can control by regulation but which are optional to local government are school crossings and road safety. Local health is only partly optional to local government, but school crossings and road safety are wholly optional. The power in question, therefore, already exists under the present law, and to my knowledge its existence has not given rise to any friction between central and local government.
The arguments advanced against the present clause, about invasion of the independence of local authorities and about the stultifying effect of regulations in general, apply, it seems to me, just as much to the existing power as regards most of the major functions of local authorities which they are bound by Statute to render. But it has not been suggested that the present powers have been abused; nor has any reason been 686 offered to suggest that a very small extension of these powers would be abused.
I would also remind the House that the power to make regulations (which is what we are talking about) is in any case ancillary to the power to withhold grant where a local authority fail to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard. The Minister could in some cases, with the approval of Parliament—and the approval of Parliament would be necessary to him—"turn the tap off" if standards were not maintained. It is, of course, quite unthinkable that any Minister of any Government would ask Parliament to agree to the withholding of grant because of default by a local authority in respect of a function in which there was no national interest. The incentive for Ministers to make these regulations must be assessed in that context, and if that is done the fears which have been expressed will, I suggest, be seen to be groundless.
Nevertheless, I agree that powers of this sort ought not to be wider than is necessary, and I can assure the House that I have satisfied myself that the clause is as it is solely because our attempts to find a satisfactory means of distinguishing between functions which are, or might properly be, a concern of Ministers and those which are of purely local interest have not been successful. We considered the possibility of limiting the power to the general grant services. That would have involved including minor though essential services, such as school crossings and road safety, and also the registration of electors, while excluding, for instance, such a major service as the disposal of sewage. Also, local government functions are not fossilised. They change, and their relative importance continually changes, so that any definition which consisted of a list of particular services which were of national interest, as opposed to those which were not, would soon become out of date.
On the other hand, a definition which depended on a general description, such as "services in which there is a definite national interest", which has been used by the Association of Municipal Corporations in correspondence with my Department since our last discussion on this topic, would be too vague. Indeed, 687 since its meaning would presumably depend initially on the interpretation put upon it by Ministers, the effect would be much the same as simply allowing Ministers to regulate.
The attempt to distinguish between duties which authorities are required to perform and those which they are merely permitted to perform—those which are optional—upon which this Amendment is based, seemed promising at first; but, for the reasons I gave during the previous discussion, it has still not been found possible to find some way of making this distinction. Nevertheless, the Government, of course, claim no monopoly of ingenuity, and if, even now, at this late hour between Report and Third Reading, the noble Lord who has moved the Amendment or his friends can find any formula that will allay the anxieties which exist to a certain extent. I shall be very ready to consider it. On that assurance, I would ask the noble Lord whether he would agee to withdraw his Amendment and may I also say that I shall count upon the support of the noble Lord, Lord Somers, on this, who complained a moment ago that we were insisting on giving too great liberties to local authorities.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, in his argument the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, seems to have effectively refuted the principal argument adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, in defence of the clause as it stands.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
But there is a point here, and I think both sides of the House recognise it. This is an aggravating, offensive pinprick for the local authorities, although the point at issue in the pinprick is not a very large one. However, small pins can be as painful as big ones.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
Not as damaging, I quite accept. I agree that no great damage is going to come to local authority services whichever way we decide this matter, but I think that some damage is liable to be done to the relationship between central and local 688 government. It is exactly this kind of treatment—this grandfatherly treatment—of local authorities which I made a point of seeking to avoid when I was Minister of Housing and Local Government; now it is creeping back.
I confess that I cannot see why the right of a local authority to receive grant should be jeopardised if it conducts a service that the central Government do not require it to conduct, and conducts it in a way which does not precisely fail in line with the recommendations of the central Government to any local authority which, at its discretion, adopts this service. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that there is no compulsion on a local authority to provide street crossings, but if we do not pass this Amendment a local authority which is considering whether or not to use its discretionary powers is apparently to be told by the Government that if it decides to adopt that service, then, unless it carries out that service in precisely the way required by the central Government, it may be damaging or jeopardising its receipt of grant. There seems to me to be no logic—
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, it was told that by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, when he introduced his Act of 1958.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, I do not follow that argument. The point here is that it seems to me that, unless we make this Amendment, it is a discouragement to a local authority to use its discretionary powers. If it is desired by the central Government that these powers should be used and used up to a certain standard, then it should be made a statutory duty; but if a local authority has discretion whether or not to initiate some service it should also have discretion as to the standard to which it raises that service.
I do not regard this as a very profound matter. I cannot understand why it is not possible to devise words which would meet the point, but I think my noble friend has been entirely right to bring it again to your Lordships' attention. It seems to me to be unsatisfactory from the point of view of good relationships between central Government and local government that central Government should be seeking these additional powers.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord has dealt very fully and I think not unsympathetically with the point which my Amendment raises and I am very much obliged to him for the consideration he has given to it. I observed in the course of his speech that he did not adopt the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, for, I suspect, the very good reason that the block grant was introduced for the express purpose of preventing the kind of situation which he thought might arise.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I rise only to say that my argument was absolutely and literally in terms of the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary in another place. I found nothing whatever inconsistent—it required the ingenuity of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, to find that—between what I was saying and what my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary here was saying.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I am ready to accept that; but the fact remains that the factors on which the block grant is calculated are not actually expenditure but notional figures which cannot be affected by any defect on the part of the local authority or by any superabundance on their part. I was saying that I am grateful to the noble Lord for the sympathetic manner in which he dealt with the Amendment. If it is possible for us to find a formula we will communicate with him again. As I say, this is not a major matter; I have no desire to press it on the House, and in the circumstances I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 20 [Application of ss. 21 and 22]:
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6, which with the permission of the House I will take together, are drafting Amendments consequential upon the inclusion of new clauses in Part II of the Bill since its presentation. I beg to move.
Page 16, leave out line 2 and insert ("The provisions of the next two following sections").—(Lord Kennet.)
Page 16, line 40, leave out from third ("the") to (" 'rate' ") in line 41 and insert ("next two following sections").—(Lord Kennet.)
§ Clause 21 [Liability to be rated in respect of certain unoccupied property]:
Page 16, line 46, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("and the next following section").—(Lord Kennet.)
Page 17, line 2, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("section and to the provisions of the next following section").—(Lord Kennet.)
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, this Amendment is consequential upon one made in Committee. I beg to move.
Page 17, line 30, leave out ("three") and insert ("six").—(Lord Brooke of Cunmor.)
§ Clause 23 [Rating of certain office premises of nationalised boards &c.]:
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, this is little more than a drafting Amendment. It spells out more clearly what was broadly implied in that part of Clause 23(4) which the Amendment proposes to leave out. I do not think I need read it to the Committee. I beg to move.
Page 19, line 25, leave out from ("officer") to end of line 30 and insert ("makes such an application he shall, before the expiration of the period of seven days beginning with the date of the application, serve notice of it on the occupier of the premises and the rating authority for the area in which the premises are situated; and section 59 of the Rating and Valuation Act 1925 (which relates to the service of documents) shall apply to such a notice as it applies to the documents mentioned in that section.
§ ( ) Where it is determined in consequence of an application under subsection (4) of this section that the premises to which the application relates are not situated on operational land of the relevant authority to which this section applies, then—
- (a) the valuation officer may make a proposal in respect of the premises by reference to the same considerations as would have been applicable if the proposal had been made on the date of the application; and
- (b) any alteration in a valuation list made in pursuance of a proposal certified by the valuation officer to have been made by him in consequence of the determination shall have effect as if any notice of the proposal served on the occupier of the premises had been so served at the same time as the notice of the application served on him under subsection (4) of this section.")—(Lord Kennet.)
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, as noble Lords know, the general rule is that nationalised gas, electricity, and canal industries do not pay rates on the actual land or bricks and mortar which they occupy but make a single payment to each rating authority—either directly or through my right honourable friend—covering all their properties in the rating area. There are, however, exceptions. We have just made one by adding Clause 23 to the Bill providing for the separate rating of offices not on operational land. This Amendment is needed to enable my right honourable friend to make regulations to bring some coherence to the assessment of the excepted properties under the various enactments. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 19, line 37, at end insert—
("( ) The Minister may by regulations make such provision as he considers appropriate for securing, in the case of premises liable to be rated under this section and under another enactment and premises of which a part is liable to be rated under this section and another part is liable to be rated under another enactment, that the premises are included in the valuation list as a single hereditament with a single rateable value; and the regulations may make different provision for different circumstances and may contain such supplemental, consequential and incidental provisions, including provisions modifying any enactment, as the Minister considers expedient for the purposes of the regulations.")—(Lord Kennet.)
§ Clause 24 [Power to alter distribution of certain payments made by nationalised boards in lieu or by way of rates]:692
Page 21, line 24, after ("premises") insert ("occupied and").—(Lord Kennet.)
§ LORD KENNET moved, after Clause 24, to
§ Insert the following new clause:
§ Calculation of rate products
§ ". The Minister may, after consultation with any local authority or association of local authorities with whom consultation appears to him to be desirable, make rules as to the manner in which the product of a rate of one penny in the pound for any area is to be estimated or determined for such purposes of this Act and of any other Act, whether passed before or after this Act, as may be specified by the rules; and rules under this section may—
- (a) make different provision for different purposes;
- (b) repeal any provisions of, or an instrument made under an Act passed before this Act which the Minister considers will become unnecessary in consequence of the rules;
- (c) amend any provisions of an Act passed before his Act or of an instrument made under such an Act in such manner as the Minister considers appropriate in consequence of the rules;
- (d) provide that the provisions of any instrument having effect by virtue of an enactment repealed or amended by the rules shall continue in force as if they were contained in the rules."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this new clause is designed to make it possible to tidy up the variety of statutory provisions requiring the determination of the product of a penny rate in readiness for the consolidation Bill relating to rating and valuation which the Government hope to introduce very shortly after the present Bill receives the Royal Assent. There is a good deal of inconsistency of approach in the existing provisions, which deal in detail with some aspects and leave others completely at large. To a considerable extent this is the result of an accumulation of provisions in the nineteenth century fashion which tended to cross every last "t" and dot every last "i" and those in the current fashion which leave all detail to subordinate legislation—as, for example, the provision in Section 16 of the 1958 Act for determining penny rate product for county boroughs for the calculation of rate-deficiency grant.
§ The object of the new clause is to make it possible to deal with all the 693 estimates and calculations of penny rate product in one set of regulations, with different provisions for different circumstances where these are necessary. The clause contains the same provision for consultation as is included in the main rule-making power in this field, for example, that contained in the Rating and Valuation Act 1925; and the linked Amendment to Clause 39 secures that the statutory instrument containing the rules shall be subject to Negative Resolution. I beg to move.
After Clause 24, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Kennet.)
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, I think I ought to invite the attention of your Lordships to the fact that this new clause will enable the Minister to make rules to repeal provisions of Acts of Parliament. I am not bold enough to say that, when I was responsible, I never introduced legislation of this kind to Parliament. It is something which Parliament views somewhat critically—and rightly so, because Acts of Parliament are Acts of Parliament and ought not to be amended or repealed by statutory instrument or in other ways which do not attract full Parliamentary scrutiny. I am not making complaint about this. It seems to be a reasonable proposal, but I thought I should mention it to your Lordships.
My Lords, there is one question about this new clause which, out of pure curiosity, I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. Why do the rules make different provisions for different purposes? It sounds very much as if the "home team" could change the rules at half-time if it was not winning. I do not imagine there is anything sinister in it, but I think it might be of some interest to your Lordships if the noble Lord would explain this particular provision.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I could not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, more in his comment about regulations which change enactments. I hate them, too; but, as he has just indicated, he knows as well as I do that one has to do it if one is to keep Parliament "ticking over". I fully share his view that this ought to be kept to the absolute minimum. I would point out that the regulations in question are, 694 as should always be the case in such circumstances, subject to Resolution. About why they allow a different approach to be adopted in different circumstances, let me say first of all that there is no intention at all of using this new provision to make changes of substance in the existing rules, and they already make different provisions for different purposes, because the statutory provisions to which they relate require them to. I have here an interesting budget of different circumstances. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, whether he would wish me to read the budget, or send it to him privately later.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, if the Parliamentary Secretary would give your Lordships just one case of an administrative character, I think that it would suffice.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, under Section 6 of the Rating (Interim Relief) Act 1964, any relief granted to ratepayers on account of hardship and any grant paid to the rating authority in respect of that relief have to be disregarded in calculating a penny rate product for the purposes of rate-deficiency grant—and will be similarly disregarded in calculating it for the purposes of the resources element. The 1964 Act had left the rates to bear one half of the cost of this relief (grant being at the rate of 50 per cent.), and this provision ensured that the authority did not recoup that half through the rate-deficiency grant. But the same provision—Section 6 of the 1964 Act—goes on to provide that, subject to that provision relating to rate deficiency grant, the relief granted is to be treated as a loss on collection and the grant in aid of it treated as part of the authority's rate income; the object being to see that the half cost of the relief falling on the rates is spread over county precept as well as district rates.
§ 6.44 p.m.
LORD CHAMPION moved to add to the clause:
( ) Nothing in subsection (5) of this section shall affect the provisions of section 237 of the Highways Act 1959 (which relates to contributions by county councils to the cost
of maintaining and improving claimed county roads); but for the purposes of that section—
and the cost of the provision, improvement, and maintenance and operation of a footway lighting system for such a road in exercise of those powers shall not be included among the costs and expenses in respect of which payments and contributions are to be made under that section.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment has been put down in response to an undertaking to consider an Amendment moved in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury. The intention is to clear the way in which Section 237 of the Highways Act will operate in regard to the exercise of lighting powers of highway authorities under the Bill. The purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that on claimed county roads (a) county councils should reimburse to claiming authorities the whole of the agreed cost of operating and maintaining road lighting; (b) county councils should contribute to the cost of providing or improving road lighting installations; and (c) claiming authorities should retain full financial responsibility for footway lighting installations. The Minister is advised that as the Bill is at present drafted there would not necessarily be full reimbursement of maintenance costs, but county councils would have to make an agreed contribution to the cost of installing, improving, operating and maintaining all lighting installations of road lighting or footway lighting which claiming authorities provide or maintain under the powers in this clause.
§ The Government were, however, impressed in particular by one of the points put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, when he moved his Amendment in Committee. As he said, the effect of the Bill would not be entirely free from doubt. While this doubt would not be new, because it would apply equally in relation to the lighting powers that highway authorities already have under the Highways Act, it 696 is clearly better to avoid extending the area of doubt if we reasonably can. We understand it will help the authorities to make the change over to the new arrangements for lighting on April 1 next year, if they know exactly where they stand in regard to these financial arrangements. Unfortunately this means creating an inconsistency between the financial arrangements for claimed county roads under this clause and those which apply in the case of lighting provided by claiming authorities under the Highways Act. After further consideration, however, the Government have come to the conclusion that the balance of advantage is in favour of having provisions which are certain in their effect.
§ The Amendment now proposed differs from that put forward in Committee by the noble Lord in one important respect; it excludes footway lighting installations entirely from the operation of Section 237 of the Highways Act, and claiming authorities will therefore retain full financial responsibility for them. As I explained in Committee, the noble Lord's Amendment would have the unfortunate effect of setting up unfair discrimination between, on the one hand, claiming authorities providing and maintaining footway lighting under the powers of this Bill, and, on the other hand, other authorities providing and maintaining footway lighting under their existing powers. By excluding footway lighting from the scope of Section 237 of the Highways Act we have found a way of getting over this difficulty while meeting in substance the purpose of the noble Lord's Amendment. I am sure that the noble Lord will have studied this Amendment and I sincerely hope that it will be acceptable to him and to the House.
Clause 27, page 24, line 11, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Champion.)
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for the care and courtesy with which he has gone into the point which I raised on Committee stage. I am very glad to see that he has been able to draft an Amendment which meets the anxieties of the Association on whose behalf I spoke and which also takes care of the anomaly which he explained on Committee stage 697 and to which he has referred again now. I am very glad that he has put this Amendment down and I again thank him for the trouble he has taken to meet the point.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I hope I shall not be out of order in saying that I am sure this Amendment will be most acceptable to the local authorities and that they will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for his action, and to my noble friend Lord Grimston of Westbury for having raised the matter.
§ Clause 30 [Transfer of road lighting systems]:
Page 25, line 44, leave out from ("system") to ("was") in line 45.—(Lord Champion.)
§ LORD MOYLE
My Lords, I was proposing to speak on the Question, whether Clause 27 shall stand part of the Bill.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I was rather shocked, because on Report we do not discuss the Question whether the clause shall stand part. We can discuss here only Amendment No. 13 and the technical point of this Amendment being necessary to give effect to Amendment No. 12 which I previously moved. I hope my noble friend will see the point.
§ LORD ILFORD moved, in subsection (2), to leave out all words after "date". The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment arises from the changes which the Bill proposes to make in responsibility for highway lighting. The highway authority is not at present the lighting authority upon all the roads for which it is the highway authority. There are certain roads where non-county boroughs and urban districts are the lighting authorities. This Bill proposes to change that arrangement and to make the highway authority the lighting authority in respect of the whole of the highways under their control. With this proposal there is no disagreement.
§ But the Bill goes on to provide that the lighting apparatus—the lamps and all other things which are involved—should 698 be transferred from the lighting authority to the highway authority. The Bill then proceeds to make a provision which seems to me to be most undesirable. It provides that the outstanding loans and loan charges incurred by the lighting authority whose property is to be transferred to the highway authority shall remain with the lighting authority; that is to say, if the lighting equipment owned by a non-county borough is transferred, as it will be, to a highway authority, any outstanding loans or loan charges in respect of the transferred equipment for street lighting will remain with the non-county borough. I would have thought that that was a most unjust arrangement.
§ When transfers of property take place between local authorities it is an invariable rule that the outstanding loans and loan charges go with the property that is transferred. I would have thought that that was the right accounting and the most equitable way of dealing with it. So far as I know, there has been only one precedent to the contrary and that was in the Trunk Roads Act 1936. Then the loans and loan charges in respect of the equipment on roads transferred to the trunk roads authority were retained by the authority which had previously been the highway authority. There are many precedents the other way. When the gas and electricity services were transferred to new authorities, the loans and loan charges followed them to the new authorities.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary said in another place that he did not want to be judged by the precedent of the Trunk Roads Act 1936. I can quite understand that. He went on to say that he preferred to justify what was being done upon principle. When I read that I confess that it filled me with alarm. Is this an attempt to establish a new principle? There may be big transfers of property between local authorities and the central Government. In those transfers are the loans and loan charges still to remain with the authority that provided the service? I should have thought that it was almost elementary to say that when a property is transferred from one authority to another, even if the authority to which the property is transferred is a Government Department, the outstanding 699 loans and loan charges ought to be transferred with it. I hope that your Lordships will say that the principle in the Bill is not a principle which makes any appeal to you. I beg to move.
Page 26, line 16, leave out from ("date") to end of line 18.—(Lord Ilford.)
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, I should like strongly to support my noble friend Lord Ilford in this Amendment. There seems to me to be a point of principle here. The only possible defence that I can see for the Government is to quote the precedent of the Trunk Roads Act 1936—thirty years ago, and in my view, a bad bit of work so far as this provision is concerned. Certainly in normal life outside Governmental and Parliamentary circles, it is accepted that when assets are transferred, liabilities are transferred with them.
In this case the assets of the lighting authorities on trunk roads are being expropriated by the central Government and the Government are refusing to take over the loan charges. The argument has been used on behalf of the Government that this is not a revenue earning service and therefore the comparison with the nationalisation of electricity and gas is invalid. But neither are the hospitals a revenue earning service and I cannot conceive that Parliament or the local authorities would have accepted it if the Government when they took over all local authority hospitals, had said that the loan charges on these hospitals must remain with the local authority—I repeat, that was not a revenue earning service. That would have caused an explosion of anger.
There the issue in terms of money was a large one. Here the issue in terms of money is relatively small. But the principle is quite clear. Moreover, the correct principle is embodied elsewhere in this very clause, which provides that when lighting responsibilities and assets are being transferred from one local authority to another the responsibility for loan charges will be transferred likewise. It is inconsistent for the same Government Bill to enunciate one procedure where there is a transfer between one local authority and another, and a different procedure where there is a transfer between the local authority and the central Government. Those are the grounds on 700 which I suggest to your Lordships that there is an important principle here, and I warmly support my noble friend's Amendment.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, the case for this Amendment has been argued cogently by both noble Lords who have spoken. On Committee stage I said that I would discuss this with the Minister and ask her to consider this in the light of the discussions which then took place. The Minister has carefully considered her policy on this matter—I can assure the House of this—in the light of the arguments and facts brought out on Committee stage. However, she has come to the conclusion that—with all respect to the knowledge of both noble Lords—there are no grounds on which she feels she can change her mind. I do not wish to repeat all the arguments for the Minister's view which I put earlier. I am sorry that they did not completely convince noble Lords opposite, in spite of the fact that I did my best with them. But I do not withdraw any of the arguments that I used then. I believe they were germane and right.
I would invite noble Lords to look at the fundamentals of the problem. What, after all, are noble Lords opposite asking the Minister to do? They are asking her to make, as it were, retrospective payment to local lighting authorities in respect of the capital liabilities which they voluntarily chose to incur in the past in the exercise of their statutory powers. There is no question of this payment being necessary in order to relieve financial hardship to these authorities, or in fulfilment of a pledge or agreement, explicit or implied. On the contrary, it must be admitted by noble Lords who support this Amendment that the authorities will, in any case, gain financially by the lighting provisions of this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, talked a good deal about the transferring of assets. It is true that posts and things will be transferred, but what is really being transferred here is obligations, rather than assets—obligations, that is, to provide a lighting system
I feel that the proposal in the Amendment is a very difficult one for any noble Lord to justify. What are the reasons given by noble Lords for this Amendment? As I understand the situation, 701 there are two: one, that it would be anomalous to have one arrangement in this Bill for local authorities and another for the Minister; and two, that because the transfer of loan charges with assets is the normal practice among local authorities, this practice ought, therefore, to apply to central Government as well.
The first of these reasons need not, I suggest, detain us long. I have already explained at some length in the Committee stage the way in which this difference came about—namely, at the express request of the local authority associations. I have also explained how one can find a rational justification for having a difference in this matter between central and local Government. But the main reason for this transfer as between local authorities is simply that this is what the local authority associations asked for, and the Government, I think rightly, acceded to their request in this matter.
On the second argument in favour of this Amendment, we recognise that the transfer of loan charges in these circumstances is normal practice among local authorities, but we do not feel that this by itself is an adequate reason for central Government: to adopt the same practice without regard to the merits of the particular case. That is what the noble Lords, Lord Ilford and Lord Brooke of Cumnor, seem to be saying, if I understand them correctly. If the practice were in itself an appropriate one in all circumstances, this would no doubt be a good reason for the central Government to adopt it. I do not know if it is always an appropriate practice to adopt as between local authorities: obviously it is so in some cases, as when the assets transferred earn revenue, or when they are transferred together with rateable values, following a boundary change. Whether it is appropriate in the present circumstances seems less certain, but there is no need for me to go into that, as I am talking about local authorities. What the Minister feels is that it is quite clear that it is not an appropriate practice in regard to the transfer of lighting systems as between central and local Government, which is of course what this Amendment is about.
I am not sure whether noble Lords supporting this Amendment still maintain that the transfer of loan charges is an established practice in all circum- 702 stances when assets are transferred between central and local Government. If so, they have, I suggest, completely failed to make their case. Indeed some of the precedents they have quoted—not to-day—are rather unfortunate from their point of view. For gas and electricity for example, full compensation was paid because the assets transferred were commercial assets, and the loan charges taken over with the assets were, of course, taken into account when the compensation was assessed. Hospitals provide a better example, but in their case this was clearly part of a quite exceptional arrangement which covered local authority health services generally and voluntary hospitals as well. Trunk roads? Certainly not, as even noble Lords opposite admit. Nor was this, as some noble Lords seem to suggest, an isolated example that somehow slipped through the net.
At an earlier stage of this Bill, in another place, the spokesman of the Party opposite mentioned the takeover of fire services in 1941 as another example. This was a very poor example to support the contention, and I can quite understand why we have not heard anything about it in this House in support of this Amendment. It is possible that many more doubtful precedents could he dragged up on either side, but I suggest that all they would establish is that, when this question has had to be dealt with in the past as between central and local Government, it has been dealt with ad hoc in what seemed to be the fairest and most sensible way in the circumstances of the particular case. And that, my Lords, is precisely how the Government propose to deal with it in this Bill.
Finally, my Lords, may I repeat once more that the principle adopted by the Minister on this matter will involve no financial hardship for anyone because it is obligations that are being transferred, rather than assets. On the contrary, the lighting authorities concerned will still stand to gain financially by being relieved of their responsibility to maintain and operate the existing lighting and to contribute their share towards the cost of providing new lighting If any compensation were appropriate, it would need to be assessed in some quite different way. But in fact there is nothing to compensate. In the Government's view there 703 is no rational case for this Amendment, and I have to ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.
I feel that we have carefully reconsidered the matter in the light of the discussion. The Minister, after the most careful consideration, has felt that this is a matter of principle to which she would adhere. I would just say to the House, if I may, with a feeling for the House, that I hope we shall not get into the habit too easily of dividing against the Government on too many of these matters which are not matters of major principle, because the last thing I want to see is anything growing up between the two Houses that would act to the detriment of this House.
My Lords, I apologise for speaking after the Minister, rather than before him, but I must say, in a few words, having listened to the argument, that in my opinion this Amendment is right and ought to be supported.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I feel that, too: and I also apologise for speaking after the Minister, but I wanted to hear what he had to say. It seems to me that local authorities have had to spend quite a lot of money since the war on putting in new lighting installations. While it may be a small amount of money to the central Government, it is a good deal of money to the local authority. These new lighting installations cost a considerable amount of money. It was always a difficulty, in the years when I was on the local authority and the county council, that sometimes on a trunk road where the parish council were the lighting authority they could not afford it, and they had to be helped financially to install lighting which was vital on these trunk roads. Although they had some grant, at the same time they had to spend ratepayers' money to put these installations in. I am sure they will be pleased that
§ the liability of having to provide lighting and the maintenance of it is now to be taken over by central Government. If the central Government are taking over the assets, I cannot see why they should not take over the loan charges, many of which have some years to run, because many are new installations and fairly expensive. The central Government are to get the use of the assets, and I do not see why they should not take over the liability of loan charges.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who has evidently taken great trouble to inform himself about this matter, and I regret that his researches still seem to me to lead him to a wrong conclusion. I would, in particular, dissent from the view that by removing a service from the local authority you are confirming a benefit on it by saving it the cost of carrying on the service. Other considerations besides cost are involved. I will not attempt to deal with the other arguments advanced by the noble Lord, except to say this. The noble Lord said that he would regret a difference of opinion with another place on a matter of this kind. It seems to me that this is just the sort of point which ought to he raised in your Lordships' House. It is just the sort of revision of Bills passed elsewhere, perhaps rather hastily, for which this House ought to make itself responsible. I should have thought that this was precisely the sort of point on which your Lordships' House displayed its utility. I regret that I am not convinced by the arguments that have been advanced by the noble Lord, and I must ask your Lordships to divide on this issue.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 14) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents 49; Not-Contents 31.705
|Abinger, L.||Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Effingham, E.|
|Aldington, L.||Colville of Culross, V.||Falkland, V.|
|Auckland, L.||Conesford, L.||Ferrers, E. [Teller.]|
|Audley, Bs.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Ferrier, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Daventry, V.||Fortescue, E.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Derwent, L.||Furness, V.|
|Glendevon, L.||Mar, E.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Mar and Kellie, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Merthyr, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Milverton, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Hastings, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Somers, L.|
|Ilford, L.||Napier, L.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Kilmany, L.||Newton, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Long, V.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]||Vivian, L.|
|Lothian, M.||St. Helens, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|McCorquodale of Newton, L.|
|Addison, V.||Hughes, L||Shepherd, L.|
|Arwyn, L.||Kennet, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Latham, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|Bowles, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Stocks, Bs.|
|Burden, L.||Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Stonham, L.|
|Champion, L.||Maelor, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Collison, L.||Moyle, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Peddie, L.||Wells-Pestell, L|
|Hall, V.||Phillips, Bs. [Teller.]||Williamson, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Shackleton, L.||Wootton of Abinger, Bs.|
|Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller.]|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, this Amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 12 which has already been accepted. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 26, line 41, at end insert—
("( ) In this Part of this Act 'road lighting system' means a lighting system which is not a footway lighting system.").—(Lord Champion.)
§ Clause 39 [Orders and regulations]:
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, this Amendment is linked with new Clause 1 which we have just added to the Bill. Its effect is to make subject to Negative Resolution any rules made under the new clause with respect to the estimation and calculation of the product of a penny rate. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 30, line 34, after ("regulations") insert ("or rules").—(Lord Kennet.)
§ Schedule 1 [Rate support grants]:
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, this Amendment is consequential on the addi- 706 tion of new Clause 1 to the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 37, line 28, leave out paragraph 4.—(Lord Kennel.)
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, this Amendment is consequential upon the Amendment last adopted. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 38, leave out line 5 and insert ("section (Calculation of rate products) of this Act").—(Lord Kennet.)
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, this Amendment also is linked to new Clause 1. The words sought to be left out direct how the domestic element is to be taken into account in computing the product of a penny rate and also provide that the reduction in rate poundage for householders is to be disregarded in that process. These are matters of detail which can now be left to rules made under the generalised new power. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 39, line 7, leave out from ("rates") to end of line 12.—(Lord Kennet.)