HL Deb 18 October 1966 vol 277 cc29-47

3.49 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wade, proposed the Second Reading of this Bill with all the persuasive eloquence which we are accustomed to expect from him. I was very much relieved to hear him say that one of the purposes of the Bill is to remove criticism from the local authorities. I hope that sentiment will spread among members of the Liberal Party, but I trust that your Lordships will not allow yourselves to be persuaded to give this Bill a Second Reading.

In the first place I submit to your Lordships that this Bill is really premature. Your Lordships will recall that there are at present a Royal Commission and two Committees of a rather special character investigating different aspects of local government. We have been rather unfortunate in our experience of these investigations into local government since the war. There have, in fact, been no fewer than seven inquiries of different kinds into local government since the end of the war. Only one of these inquiries has produced any result. Two were wound up before they had completed their task and one was laid aside before it had even begun. I am sure that in those circumstances your Lordships will not desire to do anything which may prejudice the three inquiries which are at present proceeding. It was rather surprising, I think, that the noble Lord made no reference to these inquiries. He said once or twice that these are matters worthy of investigation, but he made no mention of the fact that a very extensive and comprehensive investigation into all these matters is at present taking place, because the matters with which this Bill deals are all matters which must necessarily come within the purview of these three inquiries.

The Royal Commission is to report upon every aspect of local government outside London. It has the widest terms of reference, which must include most of the matters, if not all the matters, which are dealt with in this Bill. The two Committees are perhaps of even greater significance. Those two Committees are Committees, as I said a moment ago, of a rather special character. Their character is peculiar for this reason: that they are really joint Committees of the Associations of local authorities and the Minister. They were set up at the request of the Associations and have been conducting their investigations for about two years; before very long both those special Committees are likely to make their reports, and I understand that when the reports are received they are likely to be published. So the fact is that these matters are at present receiving a very considerable measure of investigation at the hands of these special bodies which have been set up for that very purpose.

These Committees, as I said, are really joint Committees of the Minister and the local authority Associations. Sir John Maude is the chairman of one of the Committees. His Committee is to consider in the light of modern conditions how local government might best continue to attract and retain people, both elected representatives and principal officers, of the calibre necessary to ensure its maximum effectiveness. That, surely, would include all the matters which are dealt with in Clauses 8 and 11 of the Bill. The record of a member's present interests, which is now restricted to his fellow members of the council, will under the proposals in the Bill be made available to any ratepayer who is prepared to pay a shilling for it, and this extended disclosure of a member's private affairs beyond any point which seems necessary is certainly a matter which Sir John Maude and his Committee will have to consider in the light of the evidence which will be given before them.

The second Committee are presided over by Sir George Mallaby. They are required to consider the existing methods of recruiting local government officers and of using them and what changes might help local authorities to get the best possible service and help their officers to give it. This Bill proposes to extend to local government officers a much stricter rule about the declaration of interest, both to the members of the council and to the general public, who are brought into this for the first time, than has been thought necessary before or, indeed, is, I believe, thought necessary in the Civil Service. There has been no evidence that what was considered sufficient when the Local Government Act 1933 was passed has for some reason since then become insufficient. We have heard no suggestion that in some way local government officers are becoming more concerned with contracts or matters which have to be disclosed to their councils. We have heard nothing really to suggest that there is any reason why they should disclose to the members of their council anything more than their interest. But it may be that one of these Committees will think otherwise. Until they do think otherwise I consider your Lordships ought to leave the law as it is.

I come now to the main proposal of the Bill. It is quite true that the White Paper describing the functions of the Commissioner for Administration—that seems to have been the title that has been selected for him—envisaged that his functions might be extended in the light of experience to other public authorities. The White Paper makes it clear that the intention is that the Government should first collect experience from the activities of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration before the system is extended to local government. I should have thought that was a wise and sensible procedure. It may well be that the experience of the Commissioner for Administration will show that such an extension is not necessary, or it may be that his experience will show that his functions should be extended in that way. But whatever the result may be, it seems to me that it is premature now to alter the law on a matter which will so soon come to be based upon practical experience.

The White Paper describes the proposed functions of the Commissioner for Administration and further envisages that the Commissioner's jurisdiction might be extended to cover complaints against local authorities. That is not what this Bill does. The Bill contemplates that there shall be set up in each regional planning area a separate Commissioner. That means that there will be appointed eight Commissioners for Administration to deal with England and Wales, and ten if you include Scotland and Northern Ireland. I would submit to your Lordships that it is most essential that if the principle of investigation by a Commissioner is considered necessary in local government, the Parliamentary Commissioner's office should be a single office administering functions uniformly in all parts of the country. It is very necessary that his decisions and his treatment of his responsibilities, which is to some extent a new form of administration, should at least be uniform and consistent in each of the regional planning areas of the country.

The noble Lord seemed to me to be optimistic about the demands of staff which the setting up of these eight Commissioners is likely to involve. I am quite sure that if the noble Lord had had any experience of the administration of a Government Department that is particularly prone to receive comments and complaints which call for reply he would be much less optimistic about the numbers of staff that would be required for the purpose in these Regional Commissioners' offices. Of course, if the functions of the Parliamentary Commissioner are to be extended to local government, he will require additional staff. He will require Deputy Commissioners. But an important factor is surely this: that the decisions given in different parts of the country by these Commissioners should be uniform and should be subject to the general overall supervision of the central Commissioner in London.

I come now to what seems to me to be a serious, and important, difference between what this Bill proposes and the functions of the Commissioner for Administration. The Commissioner for Administration must, and indeed can, act only in response to the invitation of a Member of Parliament. I think that is a wise restriction, not only in the interests of the Commissioner for Administration but in the interests of Members of Parliament. I think that if it had been otherwise it would to some extent have denigrated from the position and responsibilities of Members of another place. I am glad to see that the requests for action by the Commissioner are to reach him through that channel.

If it is necessary in the case of the Parliamentary Commissioner, it will be equally desirable that some limitation should be put upon these requests if the system is extended to local government. I would think that at least it should be a condition for the Commissioner's taking action that the complaint should have reached him through an elected representative on the local council. What is proposed here is quite different. Here the Commissioner may act upon the request of any member of the public who is prepared to reduce his complaint into writing. That goes much further than anything which has hitherto been considered to be necessary. I am quite sure that these requests for investigation in local government matters should be made to the Commissioner through the elected members of the council, as the requests for action by the Parliamen- tary Commissioner must be made through Members of another place.

For all these reasons, I hope that your Lordships will come to the conclusion that the various matters with which this Bill deals, whatever substance there may be in them, or whatever substance there may not be in some of them, could best be considered by those bodies which are at present engaged in investigating them with the advantage of hearing evidence and of contact with those who are most intimately concerned, two advantages which your Lordships have not got.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, because I like him so much, I am sorry I have to join in the expressions of opposition to the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and particularly when it comes from another side of the House. It may well be that, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, your Lordships will think that, even in opposition to this Bill, there is little else left to be said, and it may be that my function for just a minute or two is to dot the i's and cross the t's, I having had, like so many of your Lordships, local government experience. I feel that the suggestions of the Bill are completely impractical, and I believe they are unnecessary.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, refer to the Royal Commission on Local Authorities which has now been established, presided over by Sir John Maude. It seems to me that if suggestions of this kind were necessary to be made at this moment in regard to the local authorities, the noble Lord, Lord Wade, might have seized the opportunity of the existence of the Royal Commission to submit first written and, maybe, later oral evidence along the lines of the suggestions which he now advances. We might thereby have avoided occupying time on this matter in a busy Parliamentary programme.

Obviously, the most important part of the Bill is the first part. So far as local authorities are concerned, I do not believe there are complaints which are of the serious level of complaints which are made in a national sense and concern Parliament. So, while it may be necessary—and I believe it is—that there should be a Ombudsman so far as Parliamentary matters are concerned, the necessity does not arise in anything like the same degree in regard to local authority work. Like so many of your Lordships, I have served for many years in another place, and it seems to me that the local councillor is a much more accessible man to the mass of the constituents than any Member of Parliament could possibly be. Invariably he lives in the city or town where he serves, and in many cases he lives in the ward he represents. Anyone having a serious complaint about anything that has happened in the local authority can, with the greatest of ease, go to his local councillor, and in most cases can obtain redress at that point. We all know that local authority officers are always available to ratepayers. They listen to them and give them decent explanations in regard to the problems which may be facing them.

Last of all, but most important, the local press can always publicise any detailed complaints at great length, if it is a question of a national problem or complaint. The national press cannot give a great deal of space to an individual complaint by some taxpayer or ratepayer, but we all know how columns of the local press are every week devoted to this kind of question and give it publicity which is never possible in the national sphere. Because of that, I feel that the necessity does not exist for the establishment of what the noble Lord calls a Regional Commissioner for Administration. That side of the Bill has been dealt with very adequately by the two noble Lords who have preceded me.

May I say one or two words on the other two points which are the main items of the Bill? In regard to the question of the public and the Press attending committees of local councils, this, to me, sounds absurd. Any of us who have had experience of them know full well how informal committees of local authorities are, the cross-talk that goes on, the interruption of one manor woman by another. While this may be good and gets to the heart of the matter eventually, what sort of view could it leave in the mind of people, ratepayers of the borough, who see this kind of thing going on? After all, the last safeguard is that every corporation committee reports to the council, at which members of the public and Press can be present.

The noble Lord, Lord Wade, suggested that there was some element of "rubber stamp" in these bodies. Has the noble Lord ever been in a local authority council meeting? They do not give me the impression of "rubber stamps" either from what I read in the Press or when I see them in action. We were certainly not "rubber stamps" in my day on local authorities, and I am quite sure that all the discussions which take place in the various committees of the corporation, and all the complaints, are brought to light before the whole of the council. I should be very chary indeed about throwing open the committees of every local authority to the Press and the public. I feel there is a danger here which we have to avoid.

I come to my last point, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Wade, will be glad that somebody can offer a little sympathy in the matter of local authority officials being placed in the some position as elected representatives on the question of declaring a financial interest. I think he really has a point here. I believe that a local authority official should prove his integrity just as much as any elected councillor should prove his integrity. It is not for me to give illustrations—and I would not dare to do so—relating to a time many years ago when I had certain suspicions about the activities of certain chief officials. It may be that they could not be proved, but for all that there was something there. I have always felt that there was something to be said for putting officials in exactly the same position as councillors in the matter of declaring a financial interest, but this in itself would not justify a Parliamentary Bill.

It might well be that people with great knowledge and experience (perhaps this could be done through by-laws) could do something about this matter in individual corporations, but we do not want to bring the whole machinery of Parliamentary procedure to bear simply in order to make council officials declare a financial interest in regard to some of the work or contracts of local councils. This is a very unimportant side of the matter which does not justify a Parliamentary Bill. So I join with the noble Lords, Lord Derwent and Lord Ilford, in feeling that this would be somewhat impracticable, that it would be unnecessary to attempt it—and would it be fair to say to the noble Lord that, in view of all the Parliamentary work which faces us before October, 1967, he has not a very strong chance of getting this Bill through?

In my view, it is a good thing that the noble Lord has given us the opportunity to air matters of this sort in this one debate, but the fact is that there has been no previous study of this idea of appointing such a Commissioner as is proposed in the Bill. To my knowledge this is the only occasion on which there has been a debate on this proposal. I wonder, for example, to what extent the local authorities have been consulted about it. All these things being true, I join with the two noble Lords who have preceded me in hoping that your Lordships will fail to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I share to the full my noble friend Lord Royle's liking and respect for the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and I hope that the noble Lord will not feel that I am coming in only to hit a man when he is down, because I am rather afraid that he is down. One might put one's objection to this Bill on two questions of principle. The first is that the object, as I see it, of having local government and local authorities is to give scope for the exercise of a local discretion in local matters. A very good example of this is the matter of housing. When I sat in another place I used to receive countless letters about housing. I had a form which I sent back in almost every case pointing out that there was inevitably a discretion in dealing with housing applications and that, as a matter of both law and common sense, the discretion did not rest with me but with the members of the local authority which alone had the requisite knowledge to deal with competing claims.

Many people who fail to get a council house think it is due to maladministration, but somebody has to come to the decision. Everybody has the right to grouse, but in very few of those cases, if any, over a number of years did I find anything that an impartial person could have called maladministration. There were differences of opinion, there were differences of policy, and perhaps differences of judgment too; but if you put a local council and local councillors in the position of having to exercise discretion, and if you do it deliberately as we do by Statute, then you must leave them to do it. If you want an improvement, then it must be considered among the sort of questions which are being considered by the Royal Commission which is at the moment looking into the whole structure of local government. It cannot be done just by putting in a single person to investigate what is said to be maladministration. That is the key word in this Bill.

The second question of principle—and I am trying to be as brief as possible—is that local government is not an isolated thing; it is part of the whole structure of government in this country. In carrying out the main functions of local government, and in the main matters over which any Member of the other House gets complaints, you find arising again and again questions of the partnership between central and local government, sometimes between one organ of local government and another. There is a delicate balance in education, and people whose children are sent to what they think is the wrong school often raise a pretty fruity grouse about it, if I may put it that way. That is not a matter of maladministration; it is a question that often raises deep questions of policy.

A third question which local authorities have to deal with so often is planning in one form or another. That is most obviously a case where there is a function for the local authority and a function, too, for the Minister of the day; and the success of planning and the policy of planning must depend on those two things going together more or less hand in hand. There are times when one or other of the bodies concerned—the local authority or the Minister—has to dig its toes in. Local authorities do dig their toes in sometimes, not always successfully but they may do it and they do do it.

When one comes to the question of a grouse about planning, I think one must remember one or two things. The first is that the planning machinery provides for appeals to the Minister for, if need be, having the matter taken out of the hands of the local authority and put, even in the first instance, in the Minister's hands. Similarly in education, the policy, the educational plan, has to be approved by the Minister and its execution on many points, under the Education Act, depends on ministerial action in the first instance, or on an appeal to the Minister in other cases. A balance of that sort is not something which can be examined and looked into for maladministration by an independent official—it is too delicate—and if one has cases where there is not what the French would call an abuse of power but an excess of power, then, indeed, the courts are open and they are used.

It seems to me, therefore, that the trouble about this Bill is that it cloaks an undue interference with the local discretion of the councillor, and an undue interference with the balance that necessarily exists between local government and local authorities on the one hand and the Government of the day on the other. Therefore, I am sorry to say that I think this Bill is radically wrong. There are numerous Committee points. There are points, too, on Part II of the Bill. But as a concept I believe it to be fundamentally in error, and while no one would say that local government or any government in this country is necessarily perfect, this is not the way to remedy the grievances of the subject.

After all, local authorities are elected bodies, and the difference between a complaint against a Government Department and a complaint against the local authority is that you can go to the councillor in the one case and get a very effective remedy; in the other, owing to the complexity of the tasks of central Government, it may be more difficult. I see the case for the Ombudsman. I think it is right that he should proceed through elected Members of Parliament, and I find no parallel channel through which a regional Ombudsman could proceed if he were instituted by this Bill. I am sorry about it. I rather dislike differing from the noble Lord, Lord Wade. He really puts his case so well; so many of his views and feelings one naturally shares. But there we are, and I do not think we ought to accept this Bill.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I need not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, particularly in view of what has already been said about the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Wade. But speaking from the point of view of someone who has been concerned with rural local government for a number of years, I have not found that such a procedure is necessary or desirable. I need not go into further detail, because a lot of noble Lords have spoken and it does not seem very likely, unless a large number of backwoodsmen appear from one side or the other, that the noble Lord would get a majority if he pressed his Bill to a Division. But I sympathise with his object in raising the matter, because I know that his sense of justice is very high.

So far as the admission of the public to committees is concerned, the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 has considerably improved the position here. Members of the public have more rights now than they used to have, and the Press can attend meetings where there is a committee of the whole council. Therefore, it does not seem that the public are in any way prevented from making their voices heard, either through the Press or by asking their own councillor.

With respect, I would agree with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Royle, who has greater experience than I have in local government and other matters. I was going to say a lot of the things which he has said, because my own experience supports them. However, I feel there is some point in the matter of the pecuniary interest of officers, which is raised at the end of the Bill, although it does not seem that this is the right vehicle for getting these reforms, if they are needed, through Parliament. It seems that it would be better to wait until there is an opportunity of doing so when we have heard the result of the inquiries which the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, has spoken about. Being a member of one of those bodies that he mentioned, I know that very soon a large amount of evidence and paper is going to be thrust into everybody's desk on the matter of the administration of local authorities.

Furthermore, of course, it would slightly prejudge the issue if we agreed to accept a regional Ombudsman, because we do not yet know about this. Many of us hope we shall not have regional local government, because in any case that would hardly be local government at all. If there are going to be inquiries into local injustices, it is much better for them to be made through the local medium because, certainly in the country districts, most people know who their councillor is and have access to the officials, whereas in a wide area or under central Government, of course, the ordinary man does not have such easy access to officials or to his Member of Parliament. For these reasons, therefore, I am afraid I also must join the numerous noble Lords who have said they are against this Bill's being given a Second Reading.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I had intended to speak on this Bill and there were one or two points that I wanted to make. They were that the Bill is premature, unnecessary and administratively unjustifiable, expensive and also cumbrous in its provisions. But the five noble Lords who have spoken have already made these points so comprehensively and so convincingly that there is no need for me to detain your Lordships by trying to make them all over again, and I would not wish to do so. I fully appreciate the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, that he had the highest opinion of local authorities in this country, and I am sure that that was a sincere and genuine feeling. But, actually and fundamentally, it seems to me that the provisions of this Bill are derogatory to local authorities, and for that reason, and for reasons which the noble Lord has just given, it would be a great pity in any way to discourage what I think is generally admitted to be, on the whole, a body of very able and public-spirited people who are doing a job extremely well.

On Part II, I should just like to say that I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Royle, about this matter of Committees. I may not know as much as previous speakers about local government in this country, but I do know quite a lot about administration in various countries, including a little in this one, and the idea that the public should have unrestricted access to committee meetings does not to me make administrative sense or even seem a possibility. That is all I wish to say, except that, with due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I regard this Bill as unsound in principle and in practice and I hope that it will not be given a Second Reading.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an interesting discussion on the three not very closely related proposals which are put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, in his Bill. As a matter of fact, the Government are not as convinced that the proposals in themselves are mistaken as is the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. In point of fact, there is very little, if anything, in the Bill which the Government think would be wrong. No, my Lords: our difficulty with it is one of timing—purely and simply that. Perhaps I may take the parts of the Bill in turn. I am afraid I shall have to repeat some points which have been made by noble Lords around the House, and especially by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford.

On the question of regional Ombudsmen, Commissioners of Administration, the Government's view is that the first thing to do is to get the Parliamentary Commissioner—in other words, the National Ombudsman; in other words, Sir Edmund Compton—off the ground and running' and to let that system operate for a certain amount of time until we see how it works, and to find out how one can fit an Ombudsman into a nation such as ours at all, before going on to the question of whether or not there might be more like him at regional or local level. I should like to remind the House of what was said by the original White Paper on the Parliamentary Commissioner. The White Paper [Cmnd. 2767, paragraph 17] said: In due course, it may be desirable to consider extending the powers of the Commissioner to deal with complaints of the private citizen against the administrative actions of other public authorities. But, first, we intend to seek experience of the Commissioner in the field of relationships between the citizen and central Government. The Government believe that we should stand by that proposed timetable.

There is also the question that all the time that we are discussing these matters the Royal Commission on Local Government are sitting, and they will be examining the relations between the public and local authorities with as much thoroughness as they will examine all the other questions which fall within their remit. We do not want to prejudge what findings they may come up with by any further action at this point.

Perhaps I might jump Clause 8 for the moment, keeping that until later, and continue on the clauses of Lord Wade's Bill, beginning with Clause 9, about the declaration of interest by members and officers. Once again we know of no special objection to doing what the Bill proposes should be done, but it would cut across certain conversations which my right honourable friend the Minister is having at this moment with the local authority associations on this very point—that is, the question whether the present provisions for the declaration of interest of elected members and of officers are adequate and, if not, what changes should be made. I think I should inform the House that this problem is proving to be rather more intractable than we expected it to be before we began these conversations. There are ramifications, legal and structural, which, to be perfectly frank, had not entered our heads, and I do not think they had entered the heads of the local authority associations, either. These things are prolonging the talks. They will, of course, come to an end, but at the moment we are reluctant to accept any piecemeal solution in an Act of Parliament which might make it impossible to come to what might he a better solution after these talks have been concluded.

I turn finally to Clause 8, which deals with the admission of the public to committee meetings. As I understand it, the effect of this clause would be not to admit the public perforce to all committee meetings, but to say that they could come in unless the authority ruled that they should be kept out. That is the reverse of the present procedure, where they are kept out unless the authority says they should come in. It would also put all committee meetings in the position of full council meetings, and of meetings of committees consisting of the full council, where the public is at present admitted. Really, the Government have no objection to this whatever—we see many advantages in it—but I am informed that there might be a physical difficulty. Many council premises have not been improved, enlarged or modernised, not only since the war but since the original provisions began operating. There is going to be a physical difficulty in letting the public into many of the committee rooms and many of the buildings, and there is actually a danger of the disruption of council business by the sheer physical presence of people. Many authorities might have this physical difficulty—we do not know—and once again the Government would be reluctant to impose astatutory duty upon them before this has been examined. So, in conclusion, I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Wade if, having heard the debate and the sentiments of the House, he would withdraw his Bill; and, if he could not find it in himself to do that, to advise the House to vote against it.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I have listened with great interest to all the comments that have been made. I admit that some of the comments have been somewhat critical of the Bill, but I am not at all deterred. When introducing any reform one must expect a considerable amount of cold water at the outset. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, rather criticised me for not having produced examples. I was endeavouring to be as fair as possible. I did not want to abuse the privileges of this House by retailing a number of heartrending cases without having had the opportunity of investigating them thoroughly myself and of being quite satisfied that there was not some other side of which I had not heard. That was my reason for not producing all the evidence that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, would have wished.

However, I feel somewhat forced now to give an example, so may I give one which is within my own knowledge? This is of a small local charity which found it necessary to close down and move. They were therefore very anxious to sell their property. There were difficulties about selling, because it was thought that the local authority would want the property. There was a question of change of user. At any rate, an application was made for change of user, and eventually this was turned down. The charity was then advised that the proper course to take was to serve a notice to purchase on the local authority—that is, under Part VIII of the Town and Country Planning Act 1962. The effect of that is to say to the local authority, "If you will not let us sell to anybody else, buy it yourself and we will negotiate a figure". The local authority then came along and said, "If you will withdraw your notice to purchase, we will negotiate voluntarily and then we will purchase". There were prolonged negotiations, and eventually a price was agreed. Finally, in March of this year, the local authority said, "We have decided not to go ahead with the purchase". Altogether two years had elapsed. The property had deteriorated very greatly, and it was a very unfortunate loss to the charity concerned. I put that forward only because I feel I was challenged to give one example. I think there is a prima facie case for some kind of investigation.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but what could a Commissioner have done about that? That is the point I was making: I did not want actual cases.


I do not think—and this is the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison—that there is a right of appeal on that particular point. I do not think there is any appeal procedure in such a case. But if it was found that there was a number of cases like this and the Commissioner—if you like, with the approval of the Parliamentary Commissioner; I would not object to consultation on that matter—were to publish a report, I think it would probably stop that kind of injustice, if there is an injustice.

There have been many detailed points, and obviously I must not attempt to answer all of them because I do not wish to take up the time of the House. I think the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, questioned the possible expense: but achieving justice does involve some expense, and trying to make it clear to people that justice is done involves some expense. It is often said that asking Questions in this House and in another place (particularly in another place, where many matters of local interest are raised) costs quite a lot. I am not at all sure that the expense involved in going through a regional Ombudsman would not be less than the expense of the procedure of asking Questions in the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, who of course speaks with great authority on these matters, referred to the various Committees that are sitting. I am aware of those. My only reason for not referring to those Committees was because I thought I had spoken long enough as it was. I do not think the ground is fully covered by the Committees that are sitting. The noble Lord also said that this reform was premature. Of course, whenever you suggest a reform you are told that it is premature, impracticable and all the rest of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Royle, suggested that it was impracticable; he asked why my recommendations were not referred to the Maude Committee. In fact, they have been referred to the Maude Committee; that is the answer. I am doubtful whether the proposals I put forward will be covered by the terms of reference of the Committee. He questioned my words about "rubber stamp" decisions by a council in full. May I give an example? I want to make it clear that it occurred some years ago, before the 1960 Act. The council concerned were wholly members of one Party, except for one Independent. This one Independent member was not allowed to sit on any Committee of any importance; all decisions were made in secret in committees, by the Party caucus. He was frustrated all the time and felt that alone he could not play any useful part in the council. This is the kind of case I have in mind.


My Lords, I was in that happy position, being the single member of the opposition, on a county council. I had a glorious time without any responsibility.


My Lords, I am glad to hear of the noble Lord's success.

I am obliged to the noble Earl, Lord Gains borough, for his support, as far as it goes, though I gather it does not go far enough. So far as access to the committees is concerned—andthis was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton—I have made it clear that this is not unrestricted access. The burden of proof would be on the committee to show that the Press should not be present. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in winding up, said that it was a matter of timing. What I fear is that if we do not do anything about local authority complaints, nothing will be done for years. I think there is a stronger case for tackling local authority complaints than those at the Parliamentary level. That, I think, is the real point. Of course, there are detailed points which it is right to consider

Resolved in the negative, and Motion for the Second Reading disagreed to accordingly.