HL Deb 02 July 1968 vol 294 cc276-7

[No. 2]

Clause 2, page 3, line 27, leave out ("with the approval of the Minister") The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason: Because the Minister must retain his responsibility for ensuring that the terms of any proposed loan of officers, servants or consultants are not to the disadvantage of the public purse.


I beg to move that this House doth not insist upon its Amendment No. 2, to which the Commons have disagreed. This is the one which said that the Countryside Commission might lend their officers to local planning authorities without the need for the Minister's approval of the terms on which they do so. The point about this Amendment is that if these words were deleted it could give rise to a false impression that the Commission would be able to lend their officers without the Minister's approval. In fact, they would not. The staff of the Commission come, for establishment and all administrative purposes, under the control of the Minister of Housing. Whether or not these words are present in the Bill, the Minister will have to approve the terms on which the Commission can lend officers to anyone else. This being so, it was the view of the Government, endorsed by the House of Commons, that it is better to say so in the Bill and so avoid any possible doubt.

Moved, That the House doth not insist on its Amendment (No. 2) to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Kennet.)

8.20 p.m.


My Lords, the issue is whether or not, under the powers given to them under the Bill, if the Countryside Commission wish to lend a member of their staff for a fortnight to a local planning authority they must get the Minister's approval for the financial terms. It is of course an absurdity that that should be necessary. It is necessary because—and I am sorry to say this—my old Department has not moved with the times and still insists on keeping over the work of the National Parks Commission, a vice-like financial control which it proposes to extend to the new Countryside Commission.

I think one of the factors which swayed your Lordships' House in carrying this Amendment was the powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Strang, against the restrictive effects of this close financial control by the Minister over the work of the Commission. I accept of course that this Amendment is symbolic. It makes little difference in practical effect whether the Amendment is in the Bill or not. The fact that the Government are insisting, and are coming out into the open to insist, on this continuation of a detailed financial control which is not conducive to wise spending of Exchequer money affords me the opportunity of expressing once again my most urgent hope that this Department will one day soon wake up to modern ideas about financial control, and will at last realise that it is not reasonable to call upon people, and to appoint people, to do a thoroughly responsible job throughout England and Wales yet treat them in matters of finance as children.


My Lords, the Department is really fully alive to modern ideas and has no intention of treating the Countryside Commission or its staff like children. The point is, whether or not these words are in the Bill, the people concerned remain on the Vote of the Ministry, and of course all arrangements for their future, or their services, on loan or in any other way, must remain under the control of the Minister who is responsible to Parliament for them. Since there is no real issue of whether these words are or are not there, I should like to repeat my former point, that it will be for the general understanding of how things work if they remain in the Bill; but there is no intention whatever on the part of my right honourable friend to administer this in any narrow or pettifogging way.