HL Deb 18 July 1973 vol 344 cc1148-60

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Polwarth.)


My Lords, in view of the confusion that has been exhibited on the Government Front Bench, may I ask whether this is not a classic example of the need for home rule for Scotland? Does it not occur to the Ministers on the Government Front Bench that if the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, left your Lordships' House at the present moment and went post-haste to Edinburgh, to St. Andrew's House, and tried to remove the confusion, it would help your Lordships' House to get on with more important business?


My Lords, if I accepted the noble Lord's suggestion, I should certainly invite him to come and join the party.


My Lords, three-quarters of the Front Bench at present are Scots. Secondly, I can imagine no more important business before this House than Scottish business.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Schedule 3 [Amendmentand Modification of Election Law]:


Sections 113 and 117 of the Representation of the People Act 1949 concern local elections. Therefore I am moving that for the word "county" in one case there should be substituted "island or district", and in the other case, "district or island". I beg to move Amendment No. 46.

Amendment moved—

Page 158, line 35 at end insert— ("in section 113(3) (Presentation of petition questioning local election) in subparagraph (b) for the word "county" there shall be substituted "island or district". In section 117(1) (constitution of election court in Scotland) for the word "county" there shall be substituted the words "district or island". ").—(The Earl of Balfour).


I can reassure my noble friend on this matter. Provision is made in the 1971 Act for the interpretation of the word "county" in relation to sheriffs; and with that assurance my noble friend may be prepared to withdraw his Amendment. However, my noble friend may also like to know that there is a possibility that some local authority areas may be contained partly in one sheriffdom and partly in another. In this situation there would be a question as to which sheriff would have jurisdiction in relation to elections in the local authority concerned. This point is being considered and, if necessary, an Amendment will be brought forward at the Report stage.


With that assurance, I should like the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I consider that this is a drafting matter. It is either necessary or unnecessary. In my opinion, certainly the date 1947 can no longer be appropriate. I beg to move Amendment No. 47.

Amendment moved—

Page 158, line 38, at end insert: ("13. In section 166 (Local elections in Scotland excluded form Parts II and III of Act), for the date "1947" there shall be substituted the date 1973".")—(The Earl of Balfour.)


I am happy to agree with my noble friend and to accept the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clauses 13 to 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [Substantive changes in electoral arrangements]:

THE EARL OF BALFOUR moved Amendment No. 49:

Page 9, line 16, at end insert: (" (4) It shall be the duty of the Council of each district or island area to keep under review the electoral boundaries of their wards and report to the Boundary Commission any substantive changes in the electorate or other matters concerning the representation of the people.")

The noble Earl said: May I briefly speak to both Amendment No. 49 and the next Amendment standing in my name, in Clause 18, No. 50? I put down these Amendments to draw attention to the fact that the review of boundaries and wards need to be carried out; and I felt, if the council of each district did not keep these matters under review, who else would? Also, I felt that the Secretary of State, on any representation made to him, should be in a position to invite the Commission to look into the matter properly. The problem here is that people, even within one district, can move from one area to another and thereby upset the ward or the election areas. I beg to move.


I am not certain whether it will be necessary to have a provision in the Bill to give effect to this proposal, but certainly what the noble Earl is asking for is desirable. The Boundary Commission in relation to local government is a new procedure and it may well be that unless local authorities' attention is drawn to the fact that this remains a matter on which they should continue to interest themselves, some of them, at any rate, may assume that they do not have to do anything; that they just have to wait for the Boundary Commission to act. It may be that the Boundary Commission will have its own sources of information and get it just as readily as it would do if the local authorities notified it. But I agree with the noble Earl that the most likely body to be first aware of a need for change is the local authority. Presumably, however, it will always be open to anyone else to suggest to the Boundary Commission a need for change; for example (and I say this in fear and trembling because of what the noble Lord, Lord Burton, may say), even the political Parties may be able to draw the Boundary Commission's attention to a matter of this kind.


The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is quite right on this; we do not think this Amendment is necessary. But we think that the local authorities will certainly keep these matters under review, and in any case, as Lord Hughes says, in Clause 14(3) the words are: If the Boundary Commission receive a request from a local authority or from any person that they should conduct a review under subsection (2) above with respect to any local government area in which the authority or person appears to the Commission to have an interest, the Commission shall consider the request. The preceding clause gives the Boundary Commission the right at any time to: review all or any part of the local government areas". So that is the body which has to keep the local government areas under review. But obviously the local authorities themselves will be taking a constant interest in this matter, such is the nature of local government, and if they request the Boundary Commission to make a review, then the Commission is bound to consider the request. So this Amendment is unnecessary.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clauses 17 to 20 agreed to.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clauses 21 and 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Change of name of region, islands area or district]:

THE EARL OF BALFOUR moved Amendment No. 52: Page 12, line 20, after ("proceedings") insert ("or arbitration").

The noble Earl said: Here we have in Clause 23(3), at line 20, the expression: or render defective any legal proceedings". I have suggested that we should insert the words, "or arbitration". In many casesterms of leases, contracts and various such things—because often it is an easier and cheaper way of settling any dispute, the words "or arbitration" are used. The term used might be: In case of a dispute between the local authorities, or whoever it may be, the matter shall be settled by arbitration". I have attempted to seek legal advice as to whether the term "legal proceedings" would cover arbitration, and I was rather led to the impression that it would not. Hence the reason for my Amendment. I beg to move.


We are here talking about the consequences of a change of name of an authority. The subsection reads: A change of name made in pursuance of this section shall not affect any tights or obligations of any council, authority or person, or render defective any legal proceedings". My noble friend is seeking to add the words "or arbitration". In its ordinary sense the expression "legal proceedings" does not include arbitration, but there are instances in Statute where express provision is made so that it is deemed to include arbitration—for example, the Bankers' Books Evidence Act 1879. But the essence of arbitration is the agreement of the parties to go to arbitration. It is best, therefore, that in this area of arbitration, which is governed by agreement and not by Statute, there should be the minimum of statutory interference and the effect of any change of name should be left to be dealt with by the parties them- selves. The use of the expression "legal proceedings" in the subsection is primarily to cover proceedings before the courts where more formal rules and procedures apply and there is no question of the agreement of parties. A change of name here could lead to delay and expense, and even dismissal of the action in certain cases, and it is this situation that the subsection is really providing for. Having said that, I am prepared to look at this matter further, if my noble friend will withdraw the Amendment, to make quite certain that the interests of the existing authorities and their successors will be in no way prejudiced.


I am most grateful for that highly technical reply and am happy to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.20 p.m.

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 54: Page 12, line 24, leave out ("before 16th May 1980").

The noble Lord said: Subsection (4) of Clause 23 reads: The name of a region, islands area or district shall not be changed under this section before 16th May 1980 unless the change is made with the consent of the Secretary of State". I can understand the reasons for putting in a date. The declared view of the Government on this and on other matters has been to give the maximum amount of freedom to local authorities to make their own decisions in matters of their own business, and that is a point of view with which I heartily concur. However, I think the change of name of an authority can affect a great deal more than just their own business. It can cause complications in relation to what people outside know, what they think of an area, and at a time when most local authorities in Scotland concern themselves very much with trying to attract industry into their area it is important that outside people should know exactly with whom they are dealing. We have too much trouble as it stands, even with long established and well known names, with the amount of remarkable ignorance of the situation which exists.

Not so many years ago I attended an exhibition arranged by the Hydro Board in Birmingham. This was at the time, if I remember rightly, when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was chairman of the Board. An industrialist there who was contemplating coming to Scotland said he had just learned that some remote ancestors of his came from Aberdeen and therefore he thought he might be in-interested in going there, but before doing so he would wish to be assured that Aberdeen possessed an electricity supply and running water. If one can have that sort of misunderstanding about a name which has become famous, if in nothing else at least in story—funny story in particular—what will be the position if there are to be frequent changes of names of local authorities? We heard a good deal about this yesterday when some names, perhaps well known in ancient history but not so well known at the present time, were queried, and in one case at least a change was made.

So while generally I should be reluctant to say that the local authority should act only with the consent of the Secretary of State, I think this is a case where the Secretary of State might retain a power and not just have it for a limited period. I am quite certain that if there are good reasons for a change it will be a formality; the Secretary of State will not withhold his consent. But there could be circumstances in which a change was made for reasons which were good neither for the local authority itself nor for other people concerned. Therefore, in those circumstances I think it would be better that the position should be safeguarded and that an outside, unbiased party should have a right to say "Yea", or "Nay". I beg to move.


I rise to support the noble Lord. Lord Hughes, in this Amendment. A change of name can affect not just the district or region which changes its name but the adjacent districts or regions. There is a wider implication here and I trust that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to this Amendment.


I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that it is a serious matter to change the name, and I think he is perfectly right—and also my noble friend, Lord Balerno—in saying that a change of name affects people outside the area concerned, although I believe it is equally right to say that the people who stand to lose most by a change of name are the inhabitants themselves. There are any number of things which are affected—maps, books of reference and all the rest of it. I should have thought that this was something that everyone concerned would take into account and that there would not be a tendency to change names frivolously (if I may put it that way) with each change of régime in a local authority.

The reason why the date of May 16 has been put in is because once the matter has been fully discussed, as it was before the Bill was introduced, and once Parliament has considered the matter, it seems that it would be only right that the Secretary of State should have a chance to express a view on a proposed change of name, and indeed even to prevent it if he thought it was inappropriate. That is the reason why it is being done in what might be termed the launching period of the new régime. But, given the fact that it is so obviously important to the inhabitants of the area themselves, we thought this was something which could safely be left to the local authorities. After ail, we are extending their powers of decision very widely indeed in this Bill and we thought that this was among those items where we could afford to leave it to the local authorities concerned.

My own personal view is that if a name is to be changed at all it ought to be changed pretty quickly at a time when we are changing names in general and before it gets into the maps and books of reference. But there is the safeguard of the Secretary of State, for the reasons I have given. I hope the noble Lord will agree that after that date, and simply because it will be obvious to everyone that if they are going to change the name they should change it quickly, a control will be unnecessary. After all, in the past names have not been changed without a good reason for so doing, and that is why we provided this initial period of five years during which the Secretary of State should exercise oversight of changes of name.


I must confess that I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on this subject. I do not think it is likely to happen often, but I can conceive of a name becoming a sort of political football, and that would be a great pity. I should have thought that the submission of a series of names to the Secretary of State would be a formal matter but it would discourage the frequent changing of names. May I mention one point which came out yesterday? There is sometimes a name which is popular locally, but the point of a name is much wider, and sometimes the local authority might not realise the wider significance of changing the name. I hope the noble Lord will give this matter further consideration.


May I ask the noble Lord what the present position is? Are existing local authorities able to change the name off-hand? I know that it happens only seldom. The last one of which I am aware was in my own part of the world when, many years ago, the county of Forfarshire became the county of Angus. Can the noble Lord say what the present position is?


I think the answer is that they are not able to, but I am not sure of that without getting confirmation. I see that I am right; they cannot change the name without the consent of the Secretary of State. I should like to think of this proposal further in the light of what the noble Lord has said. As I have said, we are relaxing controls in many ways and we should like to consider whether this is an appropriate way in which to relax the control or not. I would point out that there is the safeguard of the Amendment made on the Report stage in the Commons which requires a resolution for a change of name to be passed by a majority of the whole council, not just a majority of those present. Even so, I shall be happy to reconsider the matter.


That is as far as I can expect the noble Lord to go on this occasion. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clauses 24 to 28 agreed to.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Qualifications for nomination, election and holding office as member of local authority]:

3.31 p.m.

THE EARL OF SELKIRK moved Amendment No. 55: Page 15, line 39, at end insert ("and has been resident in the United Kingdom for twelve months.")

The noble Earl said: Clause 29 deals with what I call the geographical qualifications, to enable anyone to stand for a local authority. I should like to draw attention particularly to subsection (1)(a). The rule, as it stands, is that anyone can stand for a local authority provided he has one of four qualifications: he can be on the electoral roll; he can have lived in his own property for 12 months; he can have worked for 12 months, or he can, during the whole of that period of 12 months, have lived in the authority's area. The first qualification is of a very different character from the others. I am not quite certain how one gets on the electoral roll, but I rather think that if one stays fora fortnight in October in almost any place, one would probably get on the roll. That is a very different proposition from the other three qualifications.

It might well be argued that the other three propositions are too restrictive. I am rather inclined to think that it is not too restrictive, but it is open to doubt. If it is not too restrictive, then I think paragraph (a) is too open if it means that any British subject—and I believe "British subject" means anyone who is a citizen of any part of the Commonwealth—can come into a local authority, be registered in October, and then is entitled, so far as I know, so long as he keeps that registration, to stand forthwith for the local authority. I am doing no more at this stage than moving a probing Amendment. I should have thought that if this is to stand in line with the other three restrictions there should be an additional qualification. Possibly one should say that he should be on the electoral role for 12 months, but I would suggest, if I may, that the Government should look at this again. I think the mere extending of the electoral role to someone who in fairness may have been in this country for only three months is a little too wide if the other three qualifications are considered necessary. Would the noble Lord look at the question to see whether it should stand exactly as it is? I beg to move.


As usual there is some force in what my noble friend says, but before I take it away to look at it, I ought to state at any rate the arguments that exist for maintaining the law as at present because this clause reproduces the existing law on qualifications for election which are at present set out in Section 50 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947, as amended by the Local Authorities (Qualification of Members) Act 1971. So in a sense this has been looked at fairly recently. But that is no reason why it should not be looked at again.

As my noble friend says, it is the case that a British subject, or a citizen of the Irish Republic arriving in an area on or about the qualifying date for the register, which is October 10, could get on the register if the general circumstances of his stay satisfy the registration officer that he was resident in the area. As my noble friend knows, the register is compiled with regard to the circumstances at October 10, but not published until the following February. Under Clause 8 of the Bill, local authority elections in Scotland will be held on the first Tuesday in May, so candidates standing at these elections qualifying by being on the register of electors will have been resident in the area for at least seven months.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, he may have left the area and still be on the register. That is my point.


I take note of my noble friend's point, but if he has left the area he might have considerable difficulty in getting the people to sign his nomination papers and to put him forward. I think one has to bear in mind that a candidate cannot simply decide for himself that he should stand at an election. He will have to be nominated by local government electors for the electoral division or ward for which he wishes to stand. The restriction proposed by the Amendment is not one which applies for nomination for an election to another place. The restriction imported by the Amendment could debar an able candidate from standing in circumstances in which it would be obviously desirable that he should stand. For example, one would not have to look far round this Chamber to see people who might have been minded to stand for election to a local authority shortly after their return from holding distinguished office abroad. If they had strong connections with the locality, the mere fact that they had worked abroad would not deter them from doing so, and on return to the locality they could offer experience valuable to the council of the area concerned. My father did this on retiring from the Indian Civil Service. So these are matters one has to weigh in the balance in reaching a decision on this.

It is the Government's view that this matter can be left to the good sense of the electors in subscribing to nomination papers of the candidates and recording their votes in the ballot box. With respect I do not think my noble friend's arguments outweigh the argument that I have put forward.


I do not propose to press this Amendment, but if it is left to the good sense of the electors you do not need (b), (c) or (d). If you have those three paragraphs the good sense of the electors is superseded. In these circumstances, however, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.38 p.m.

LORD BURTON moved Amendment No. 56: Page 16, line 3, after ("land") insert ("with a value of not less than £10").

The noble Lord said: When I first stood for the county council 24 years ago, I remember that I had to become a tenant of a piece of ground to a value of no less than £10 to allow me to qualify. Since then there has been another Act which has dropped this qualification from the Local Government (Scotland) Act. I do not mind if it is £10 or any other figure, but I feel that there should be a minimum qualification. After all, as we stand at present, someone could just pay a peppercorn rent or 1p for a piece of land to allow him to qualify. Somewhere there should be a minimum qualification. I beg to move.


While I am very interested in the Amendment, I must say that I do not think it is very clear. I do not think that the noble Lord made it any clearer in the course of his short introduction, for which I commend him. What does he mean by £10? Is this a value, a rateable value or rent? The Amendment just says, "to the value of £10", but does not explain what is meant by "£10". If it is an annual value, a rateable value, one can measure it, but if it is the selling price of land, one would not get much land for £10—you could carry it away in your window box. Before we discuss the Amendment any further, could the noble Lord explain what he means by £10?


I would agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, has said, that perhaps it is not very clear. I do not really mind what the figure is or how it is valued, but the principle I have in mind is that there should be a minimum value for a tenancy or for an ownership of a piece of ground. It is ridiculous that one may be able to pay perhaps a peppercorn rent and still qualify. If the Minister would look at this he might even put an Amendment down to put it right at Report stage.


My Lords, in order that the House may hear the statement of the E.E.C. Council of Ministers I beg to move that the House do now resume.

House resumed.

Forward to