§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, on behalf of the Lord Chairman of Committees, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name.
§ Moved, That the House takes note of the Special Report on the Bill from the Select Committee (on Recommitment) [H.L. 1974–75 No. 347.]—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ Lord CHAMPION
My Lords, this is a surprise to me. I expected at least that 865 my task would be to move an Amendment to something which would be moved in very much longer terms than the remarks of my noble friend. I certainly am surprised to find myself speaking at this stage, and I thought that the Chairman of Committees, who is usually so-courteous and so attentive to his duties in this House, would have been in his place to move the Motion standing in his name.
I must admit I am shocked to find a Minister of the Government moving this Motion because I regard this as being very much a non-Party matter, something in which no Party becomes involved. I think the Government should have stood clear from it. Despite the fact that the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, has entered the Chamber, the House may feel that I cannot very well now sit down and allow him to take up something which has already been moved by my noble friend. But if the noble Earl would like to come in at this stage, I am prepared to sit down and permit him to do so. This is purely a matter for him and for the House.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, I must explain to my noble friend Lord Champion that, in the unavoidable absence of the Chairman of Committees, I moved this Motion on his behalf in a purely neutral way—not as a member of the Government—so that the business of the House could proceed.
§ The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (The Earl of Listowel)
My Lords, I am entirely in the hands of the House. I apologise deeply for having arrived too late to move my Motion. If the House prefers the noble Lord, Lord Champion, to move his Amendment first, I would be delighted to accept that decision.
§ Lord CHAMPION
My Lords, for the good sense of the debate I would think it reasonable for the Chairman of Committees to speak now and to make the speech he would have made had he been in his place originally. As I have said, I know that the noble Earl is never discourteous to the House. It was purely accidental that he was not here, and so far as I am concerned—and obviously your Lordships would agree—I should like to invite him to come to the Dispatch Box.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of LISTOWEL
My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for his usual courtesy in excusing my delinquency on this occasion when I was not here at the right moment, as I should have been. I think I should start by apologising to your Lordships in advance for a rather lengthy speech which I personally feel is distinctly out of character since the average length of the speeches I make in your Lordship's House is, I suppose, something like one fairly short sentence. However, as I regard the decision which the House is being asked to take on the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, as the most important in connection with Private Bill legislation since I became responsible for Private Bills ten years ago, I am sure that your Lordships would expect me to deal with it as thoroughly as I can and also, of course, with the Report.
I should like to say at the outset of the debate how glad I am that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has put down his Amendment to my Motion, because it serves to focus attention on the main issue arising from the Report, and will enable the House to take a decision, having heardall the arguments on both sides. I think it would be for the convenience of the House, so that I do not have to inflict two speeches on your Lordships, if I expressed my opinion on the Amendment at this stage of the debate. I am afraid I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment, and I will offer my reasons for this advice later in my speech.
Before passing on to what I have to say about the Committee's Report and the Amendment, it might be useful for the House if I say something about private legislation in general, and the effect of the Local Government Act 1972, as a consequence of which this Bill was promoted. It is impossible to distinguish Private from general legislation objectively except to say that Private Bills are founded on a Petition from outside Parliament, whereas Public Bills, whether Government Bills or Private Members' Bills, are introduced by a Member of one of the two Houses. As to content, one can say, but only as a general rule, that Private legislation confers powers or benefits on individuals whether they are 867 individual persons, local authorities, companies, or private corporations.
Parliament, therefore, has no control over the number of Private Bills that are deposited or, of course, over the number of clauses they contain. The County of South Glamorgan Bill is a general powers Bill; that is, one dealing with the miscellaneous functions of the promoting authorities.
Until recently, the number and size of Private Acts passed each Session greatly exceeded those of the Public General Acts passed in a Session. We mention in our Report that until the 19th century Private Acts were the only way in which growing towns—and I think perhaps an historical perspective is useful in this connection—requiring, for example, street lighting or main drainage, could emerge from the antique system of parochial and magisterial government. Such General Acts as the Public Health Act 1848 and the Clauses Act of the 1840s were, to a considerable extent, based on the Private Acts which preceded them. General legislation on local government topics has, however, become ever more frequent in recent years; nevertheless, the volume of general legislation has not been sufficient hitherto to avoid the necessity of the promotion of a great number of Private Bills. To give your Lordships an idea of the figures involved, in the 21 years between 1953 and 1973 nearly 1,000 Private Bills were enacted. By no means all of these were general powers Bills, such as we are now considering: there were other Bills as well.
The total number of Private Acts is simply not known. There is no means of discovering the number of Private Acts in existence. In the middle of the last century they were being passed sometimes at the rate of 300 or more a Session; and between 1801 and 1884 (in the railway age) nearly 18,500 Private Acts received the Royal Assent. This was almost twice the number of Public Acts which became law during the same period. To say that about 10,000 Private Acts are still in force to some extent would not be an over-statement. In the field of public legislation there has been a continuing process of revision by repeal and consolidation which has kept the public 868 Statute Book in order, but no parallel procedure has been carried out in respect of Private Acts. The result is that the general state of local legislation is chaotic. There is much that needs repeal because it has been overtaken by the general law, has become spent, or is no longer applicable to modern circumstances. The legislation is also repetitive: the same powers are provided in differently-worded clauses. To come to the present day, in the last Session 29 Private Acts totalled some 730 clauses, excluding the Glamorgan Bill. The purpose of these figures is to give your Lordships some idea of the size, rate of growth, the obsolescence and complexity of the Private Act Statute Book.
I must now say something about the provisions and effect of the Local Government Act 1972, which led to the promotion of this Bill. The main object of the1972 Act, as your Lordships will remember, was to reorganise local government in England and Wales; and for this purpose it created a number of new local authorities. The old local authorities and their predecessors were subject to a large and indeterminate number of Private Acts for general powers. To rationalise this state of affairs, the 1972 Act provided, in Section 262, that all such legislation for general powers should cease to have effect in 1984 in non-metropolitan counties, such as the County of South Glamorgan and, in 1979, in the metropolitan counties. In the interval before repeal the old Acts are continued but, broadly speaking, only in the areas and as applying to persons to which they applied before the Act came into force. It was thus open to the new authorities to promote legislation to save from prospective repeal and, if desirable, to extend to the whole of their area what would otherwise be repealed by Section 262 of the 1972 Act. The House will appreciate that the Local Government Act offers a unique opportunity for a thorough review and rationalisation of the accumulated mass of local law to which I have referred—in fact, the first ever carried out on a national scale.
Guidance to the new authorities as to how this review should be carried out was offered by the Departments in a Circular issued by the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office on 28th 869 January 1974. I should like to quote to your Lordships one sentence from this Circular:For the exercise to be worthwhile, however, the process of pruning and redrafting must be drastic, and from earlier experience it was thought that most local authorities will not need to re-enact more than a very small percentage of the legislation which they are inheriting from their predecessors".The upshot is that if none of the new local authorities took steps to re-enact any of the local general powers enactments that affected their predecessors, there would, after 1984, broadly speaking, be no Private Acts for general powers in force. This would clearly be unacceptable to the new authorities and to the public, and therefore they may be expected to promote Bills to re-enact the powers they wish to preserve. The County of South Glamorgan Bill is the first Bill of this kind, and therefore a test case from which the other authorities will take their cue.
The Circular I have mentioned also urged the new authorities to begin their review of local legislation operating in their areas for the purposes of re-enactment at an early date. This the Promoters of this Bill have certainly done. But it seemed to me, when the Bill was deposited in this House, that such Bills should be scrutinised by Parliament with special care to ensure that the general law should not be changed unless there was a compelling need for that change, and also that whatever was enacted should be of the standard of draftsmanship required in a Public Bill. I took the view that to reenact a multiplicity of parallel but by no means identical legislative proposals, put forward by some or all of the new authorities before 1984, would only serve to recreate a quantity of local legislation suffering from the same defects, though doubtless to a lesser extent, as those that the wholesale repeals to be effected by the Local Government Act would otherwise sweep away.
To enable the House to carry out this duty, I moved a procedural Motion to which the House agreed last May, to recommit the Bill to a Select Committee whose Special Report I am asking the House to take note of this afternoon. The Committee, which consisted of the noble Viscount, Lord Hood and the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, and myself, had to decide whether the 870 usual criteria applied by the Committee which deals with unopposed Private Bills were adequate in the special circumstances of this Bill. These criteria are set out in paragraph 12 of the Report, and I need not quote them. The essential point is that the Promoter has to prove to the Committee his need for what he asks for, and that what he asks for is reasonable.
The Committee felt that they had a special responsibility over and above consideration of the needs of the Promoters, if advantage was to be taken of the opportunity to review and revise private legislation as a whole offered by the 1972 Act. The Committee considered that the proper remedy for a general mischief is general, rather than local legislation, and therefore decided to apply more strictly than in the past the principle which the Report sets out in paragraph 14(i); namely, that clauses should be disallowed if proposed to meet a need that is common to all or a great number of authorities. In other words, the powers asked for should be conferred by public general Act rather than by a Private Act. This is by no means a new conception—it is important that that should be emphasised. Promoters have often been asked to explain why a need which they wish to remedy is tolerated by a great many other local authorities. Of course, on this occasion we applied this principle much more widely.
The reasoning which led the Committee to apply this principle with some strictness is contained in the Report, but the central proposition is that to change the law, area by area, in a multiplicity of parallel, and not necessarily similar Private Act clauses is manifestly inefficient as compared with a universal change contained in the general Act provision. The House will appreciate that it is inherent in this principle that what is disallowed in a Private Bill on this ground should, if genuinely needed, be conferred by general legislation, and this brings me to the Amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Champion.
But before I deal with the Amendment, I should like to answer the criticism that the application of the criterion contained in paragraph 14(i) of the Report runs counter to a constitutional principle that a local authority has a right to petition Parliament for powers for its 871 area where a local need can be proved. I must point out that the right of local authorities to petition Parliament derives from Section 239 of the Local Government Act 1972 and prior to that from Section 253 of the Local Government Act 1933, so the right is statutory rather than constitutional; furthermore this statutory right to promote Private Bills has in no way been infringed by the Committee's decisions. The Committee recognises that in South Glamorgan it has paid more attention than formerly to the doctrine that the proper remedy for a general mischief is general, not local legislation. But there can, of course, be no right to require Parliament to agree to a provision in a Private Bill or not to disregard precedent when it is in the interests of sound legislation to do so.
May I now turn to the noble Lord's Amendment? I am glad to note that the Amendment does not seem to criticise the principle applied by the Committee, but says rather that it should apply only in cases where the Government can give a firm undertaking to introduce general legislation to meet a need. If clauses are disallowed on this principle it is certainly desirable in the Committee's view, as stated in our Report, that a complementary exercise should be carried out, and the necessary legislation introduced by the Government, so that in this way we can improve and maintain an efficient system of local government law throughout the land.
The difficulty is, of course, that the Government cannot give a firm undertaking to include specific legislation in their legislative programme for a future Session. But the Committee recommend that the Government introduce the proposed general powers Bill as soon as may be, and I understand that the Government have drafted and hope to introduce a Bill, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will no doubt inform the House in the course of this debate. I hope that the introduction by the Government of general legislation to meet common needs will be a continuing process.
The noble Lord's Amendment proposes that certain provisions of the South Glamorgan Bill should be subject to Recommitment, and I must point out to the House what that would involve. 872 According to his proposal, the South Glamorgan Bill would be recommitted in respect not only of the 31 clauses disallowed on the express ground of common need, which appeared at the end of our Report, but of the 61 clauses that were withdrawn by the Promoters because they anticipated that they would be disallowed on that ground. All these clauses would have to be reconsidered on Recommitment on their merits. The Committee would also have to be satisfied that the Bill contained the correct repeals and amendments of Acts consequent on such clauses as might be allowed. That would be the effect on this Bill. But, my Lords, the Amendment would have a much more formidable effect. It would open the door to a whole range of Private Bill clauses designed to deal with needs that are common to all or many local authorities.
No doubt many of the Bills containing these clauses would continue existing powers beyond 1984. Thus to a large extent the mass of private legislation that will be cleared away by the Local Government Act 1972 will be replaced. Parliament has a responsibility not only to legislate, but also to maintain a high standard of legislation, and would in my view be failing to carry out its responsibilities if this was allowed to happen.
There are, I believe, 40 county councils which were set up by the Local Government Act 1972. If, as I anticipate, the common need principle—as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, desires—cannot be applied and all these authorities were, between now and 1984, to promote Bills comparable in size to the County of South Glamorgan Bill, this would mean something like five major Private Bills each Session. This leaves out of account Bills which might be promoted by district councils. This programme would be more than the House could tackle with its present resources.
My Lords, I am not saying that the limitations of the Parliamentary machine are an excuse for denying Petitioners rights that should be granted; what I am saying is that the staff of my Office would have to be greatly expanded to carry the load. This would also mean an increase in public expenditure, to say nothing of the burden that would be cast on the civil servants who would be involved with these Bills. The public and the legal profession would be inconvenienced by the 873 creation of even more Statute Law. As much of this private legislation would, I should hope, subsequently be repealed by Government legislation, it would also, in the long term, result in an enormous wastage of time and effort, on the part of both Parliament and the local authorities.
There is one procedural point to which I should draw your Lordships' attention in connection with this Amendment. The House has very rarely sought to interfere with the discretion of Committees on Private Bills, probably on the ground that the House does not have the opportunity enjoyed by a Committee of hearing the parties and their advocates and witnesses. When the House has done this, it has been by way of an Instruction to the Committee in respect of a particular Bill; for example, to have regard to certain circumstances or considerations before arriving at a decision. The effect of this Amendment, however, is to prohibit a Committee, should the Bill be recommitted. from applying a certain principle unless there is a firm undertaking on the part of the Government to introduce general legislation to meet a common need.
Your Lordships will appreciate that, although the Amendment which we are considering this afternoon is intended to apply to this Bill, it will also have the effect, as I pointed out, of applying to many other private Bills in the future which will have to be considered by Private Bill Committees of your Lordships' House. This is, I think, quite without precedent. If the discretion of Private Bill Committees is to be limited in this way, it should be done by a new Private Bill Standing Order.
I was saying that I should hope that much of this legislation would subsequently be repealed by Government legislation. I should like to remind your Lordships that the Promoters are asking the House to alter the law by passing an Act of Parliament not of the considerable size of the Bill as amended in Committee, which already has over 270 clauses, but which will probably at least double the number of clauses that it now contains. As I have pointed out, the inevitable result of doing this will be that other local authorities will promote similar legislation. My experience is that each local authority will draft its clauses without following precisely the South 874 Glamorgan precedents. In this manner we shall again have a quantity of Acts of Parliament dealing with the same problems but in different ways, or in the same way but in different words. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that this would be thoroughly bad legislation.
Before I conclude, I should like to acknowledge the enormous debt that the committee owes to my counsel, Mr. Talbot. Single-handed he went through the 287 clauses of the South Glamorgan Bill and advised us about the form as well as the content of each clause. When I say that after this intensive study of the Bill the committee sat for 26 days, the House will have some idea of the sheer volume of work that he undertook. I should like to thank him very warmly indeed on behalf of the committee.
Your Lordships have been good enough to entrust me with responsibility for private legislation for the last 10 years, and I am not aware of any occasion on which I have misled the House when your Lordships have been good enough to follow my advice. I regret to say that on this occasion my advice is that the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, although I am quite sure it is not intended to prevent the reform and rationalisation of local government law as envisaged by the 1972 Local Government Act, would, if agreed to by your Lordships, have that inevitable effect. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the House takes note of the Special Report on the Bill from the Select Committee (on Recommitment) [H.L. 1974–75 No. 347.]—(The Earl of Listowel.)
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Derwent)
My Lords, I am entirely in the hands of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has moved the Motion and I have put the Question. I merely raise the question whether or not the House would be in order if the noble Lord, Lord Champion, spoke to his Amendment now.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord CHAMPION rose to move, as an Amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert ("but considers—
- (a) that the principle adopted by the Committee, to disallow any proposal in the Bill on the ground that it was
875 to meet a need common to all or a great number of local authorities, should only apply in cases where the Government give a firm undertaking to introduce general legislation to meet that need; and
- (b) that those provisions of the Bill disallowed or withdrawn on that ground should be re-committed.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, if with the permission of the House I may speak again, having already said a few words on this matter, I will now address it on the subject of my Amendment. When I spoke before, I indulged in a little mild leg-pulling with my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. It was no more than that and I am sure he will appreciate that I have nothing but praise for his readiness to jump in and move formally the Motion standing in the name of the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees.
§ I have listened to the speech of the noble Earl with very great care and I agree with him about the importance of the debate, of the matter contained in the Report of the Select Committee and of the Amendment that I am now moving. The noble Earl has drawn attention to Section 262 of the 1972 Act. When the 1972 Act was going through this House as a Bill, I found no fault with Section 262. It seemed to me to make good sense, as it was designed to cause local authorities to review all the local legislation affecting their areas and to bring about the re-enactment of only those provisions that they regarded as necessary for the good government of their areas. As a spur to their efforts, that section gave the metropolitan counties five years and the other counties 10 years in which to complete the task before the repeal provision would take effect.
§ There is no doubt—and the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, has stressed this—that much of the local legislation had outlived its usefulness and that a considerable tidying up operation was both necessary and desirable. Just how much of the local law had become unnecessary for the future of the new areas is illustrated by the fact that the South Glamorgan Bill, as presented to Parliament, embodied only 3 per cent. of the local legislation that had operated in the areas that were merged to form the new county.876
In readiness for the coming into operation of the new councils, the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office issued a circular that was intended to give guidance as to how the authorities should proceed with the review of the local Acts affecting their areas. Also it gave guidance on the preparation and presentation of Bills which would, in the words of the circular, leave
local authorities and the public with a manageable, modernised and accessible corpus of local law.
That circular wisely pointed out that it would be advisable for the authorities to begin their review early.
so that any resulting Bill can be fitted into the 'queue' at a time best suited to the capacities of Parliamentary Agents, Government Departments and of course Parliament.
South Glamorgan, in association with the Cardiff City Council and the Vale of Glamorgan Borough Council, on consideration of that Circular and, they assert,
urged and encouraged by the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office
decided to press forward rapidly with a review of their inherited local legislation.
I am bound to say that I think it was quite wrong of the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office to press the new local authorities to begin their review and especially to present their Bills to Parliament before a special General Powers Bill had been framed and introduced into Parliament. This is important. These Departments undoubtedly knew that a General Powers Bill was absolutely necessary if much of the local legislation, which could be described as general in character, was to be kept out of the Private Bills of the new local authorities. The Departments were, of course, very well aware of the difficulties of securing a place in the legislation programme for Bills of that character, for they said in their circular:
If a special General Powers Bill is required to achieve this objective, the earliest practicable time at which such a measure might be introduced into Parliament would be the 1974–75 Session.
As we know, it was not introduced in the 1974–75 Session. Until quite recently the discussions about such a Bill had not even been completed and there is no guarantee that it will find its way on to the Statute Book in the 1975–76 Session. I have an idea that discussions are taking
place about this, but we know what happens with legislation—that discussions go on and that is difficulty over securing a "slot" in the legislation programme. Having myself sat on a legislation committee when I was a Minister, I know something about the difficulties and about the pressures that are brought to bear by Ministers to secure that their Bills come first.
§ If the ratepayers of Glamorgan have any justifiable complaint, it is, it seems to me, to be that their councils were urged to embark on a costly process which could have been much less costly if the Government had introduced the necessary General Purpose Bills and the Departments had said to Glamorgan, "Wait". In the circumstances, this would have been the sensible thing to do. It would have been fair both to South Glamorgan and to anybody else who was in the process of preparing Bills for presentation to Parliament. I must add that it is not only a Department of the Environment Bill that is required if a great deal of local legislation is to be forestalled. As it was, the councils of the South Glamorgan area, acting upon the Department's urging and circular, went ahead and presented their Bill which this House, on the wise suggestion of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, recognised as being a Bill of very exceptional character and requiring exceptional treatment. I agree with the Lord Chairman that it was desirable that the Bill should be treated as a test case, and, as that, subjected to something more than the normal Private Bill procedure.
§ The careful and prolonged examination to which the Bill has been subjected was part of that process of test. I am sure that this House is indebted to the Select Committee whose Report we are considering today, for the time and the care they devoted to the task which this House put upon them. But the test is not yet over, for I believe that the examination by this House as a whole of what the Committee did is another part of that test and something that we are engaging in today in this House. I mean—and I am sure that those Members of the House who might care to support the Amendment I am moving mean—nothing derogatory to our noble colleagues in asking the House to review their findings and to carry the examination of the Bill just one 878 stage further, for the outcome could be vital to local legislation in the future.
The Amendment is not intended to be so much a criticism of the work of the Committee as an attempt to bring about a re-examination of some of the recommendations from a different angle. The general background of the work of the Committee is set out in paragraph 1 of the Report, where it says:
The general state of local legislation is chaotic and there is a great deal on the local Statute book which should have been repealed because it has been overtaken by the general law, because the powers are spent, because it is no longer applicable to modern circumstances, or because it is undesirable for other reasons.
No one who has ever sat on a Private Bill Committee or who has been a member of a local authority could do other than support that general statement.
The trouble that I find with the findings of the Committee lies in their decisions resulting from the words, "because it has been overtaken by the general law". For in that context they went far beyond the words, "has been overtaken". They stretch that out, to use the words of the concluding paragraph of the Report:
The following clauses were disallowed by the Committee with a recommendation that the powers asked for should be included either in the Public General Powers Act referred to in the Report of the Department of the Environment or in future general public legislation.
Perhaps it was justifiable to disallow clauses that were to be rendered unnecessary by reason of the Public General Powers Bill, of which the Committee had some foreknowledge, but surely not in the case of clauses which should—and "should" is the word used by the Committee—be included in future general public legislation, of which there was no promise at all, either of an early drafting of such legislation nor of its finding its way into the legislative programme of the Government.
§ We all know that Governments like "eye-catching" legislation, and the kind of Bills that we are discussing here are certainly not by any means in this category. So Bills of this character will inevitably find a very lowly place in the queue for Parliamentary time. As I understand it, there are some 16 clauses and the whole of Part XI of the South 879 Glamorgan Bill which fall into the category of "should be conferred by Public General Act" to use the words of paragraph 14(i) of the Report. It is to these clauses in particular that the Amendment applies, but it might also be necessary to examine the clauses withdrawn by the Promoters—because they saw how the mind of the Committee was working—to see whether any of them fall into the category of, "should be conferred by Public General Act".
I am sure this House would not expect me to argue the merits of particular clauses turned down by the Committee, for I am arguing the general case that local legislation ought not to be based on a proposition that at some time in the future a Government might introduce general powers legislation on matters that are
common to all or a great number of local authorities",
to quote again paragraph 14(i) of the Report.
§ Perhaps I ought to add at this point that the last thing Parliament should do would be to discourage local authorities from looking at local needs and framing clauses in their Bills to meet those needs. I say that because there are so many instances of worthwhile general laws that started their lives in ideas in council chambers and in offices of local authorities. It has happened so many times and one could give so many instances, but if I attempted to do so my speech would be unduly long.
§ If the Amendment is carried, I say that it will be for the House to decide whether to refer the clauses coming within the terms of (a) of the Amendment back to the same or to another Committee, for the Amendment leaves that open. Which clauses to be referred back could surely be agreed between the Lord Chairman of Committees and the Promoters. That is something which could definitely be agreed as to the amount that would in fact be referred back. Such a Committee, having this matter referred back to them, could then explore the possibilities of securing a firm undertaking by the Government to meet the needs of the referred clauses, and if no such undertaking was forthcoming, 880 to reinstate the disallowed clauses, perhaps even in an amended form, to make provision for their immediate repeal in the event of public legislation being passed in the future.
§ The Promoters of the Bill and the ratepayers of South Glamorgan in my opinion certainly deserve that amount of consideration by this House, and I am appealing to the House to give them that. I am not sure that they ought not to be reimbursed for much of their expenditure on the preparation and presentation of their Bill, for if out of their inside and special knowledge the Departments concerned had said, "Wait a bit", there is little doubt that South Glamorgan councils would have held their hands. But that is another story and not for me today.
§ I understand that the Amendment is supported by the three local authority associations, who are understandably anxious about the future of local legislation and concerned about what appears to them to be a departure by Parliament from the tests to be applied—tests which have been developed over the years, tests which have stood the examination of time. Those tests are that it is necessary to show that a need exists in the area of the promoting authority and that the legislative provision sought would provide a satisfactory remedy.
§ It is a fact that those standard tests were acknowledged by the Government Departments in their reports to the Select Committee when they presented those reports during the process of the consideration of the Bill by the Select Committee. I am convinced that in the case of many of the disallowed clauses, South Glamorgan showed that a need existed for them and that the legislative provision sought would provide a satisfactory remedy. Parliament ought not to deny the Promoters such legislative provision on the ground that at some future and unspecified date, Parliament or the Government will make a general provision. This is in no sense a Party matter. It is a matter for the House I believe, on what is called a free vote. In the interests of good local government, I hope the House will support the Amendment, because I genuinely believe that for the future of local government this would be a wise thing for the Government to do. I beg to move.881
§ Moved, as an Amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert ("but considers—
- (a) that the principle adopted by the Committee, to disallow any proposal in the Bill on the ground that it was to meet a need common to all or a great number of local authorities, should only apply in cases where the Government give a firm undertaking to introduce general legislation to meet that need; and
- (b) that those provisions of the Bill disallowed or withdrawn on that ground should be re-committed.")[Lord Champion.]
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Baroness Birk)
My Lords, I thought it might be helpful if I were to intervene at this point in the debate to make the Government's position clear on the issues which are before us today. I am sure that your Lordships would wish me to express the thanks of the whole House to the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, and to his colleagues on the Select Committee, for their very thorough and patient consideration of this Bill. I thought that the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman, through modesty, was himself unable to pay sufficient tribute either to himself or to his colleagues for what I think was both an extremely interesting piece of work, and a really important step forward in local government procedure. In my opinion, the paragraph read out by my noble friend Lord Champion about the present general state of local legislation, cannot be bettered for a succinct, completely relevant and up-to-date statement of the situation.
My Lords, first I should like to emphasise that this is not a conflict between central and local government or, indeed, between your Lordships' Select Committee and the local authorities. We have to accept, as did the Select Committee, that government gets more and more complex and sophisticated, and the quantity of legislation gets heavier and heavier. I might say that this applies whichever Government are in power. Surely, the issue is how to rationalise and yet keep the unique character of local authorities in this area.
My Lords, we are discussing the relationship between local legislation and 882 public general legislation. We are trying to find a balance, and to discover how to give local authorities an up-to-date body of legislative powers, in a way that is equitable, economical for them and their ratepayers—who are also taxpayers—and which makes legislative sense in public as well as local terms. I think this means consistency, so far as is possible, between different areas where the same problems apply. We also must bear in mind a most important factor; that is, the expense of promoting Private Bills.
In principle, it is absolutely right that local law should concentrate on those matters peculiar to one authority or a number of authorities, while public general legislation provides the powers needed by all, or the great bulk of local authorities. This is the road to clarity and to sensible economy. However, there is one exception I would make to this general principle. Although today there is not the same scope—and this is a point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Champion—as in the last century for making innovations of a general nature in local Acts, happily there is still a place for pioneering provisions in local Acts where, for instance, there is general agreement on the problem to be tackled, but some doubt on how best to tackle it. I remember that on the Second Reading of this Bill, I pointed out that a great deal of public legislation has evolved from pieces of private legislation in the past. In cases like this, an experiment by one local authority under a local Act could be of great benefit. A good example of this is a clause allowed by the Committee on the South Glamorgan Bill, and concerned with the closure of insanitary food premises.
My Lords, these general aims are clearly agreed by the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, my noble friend Lord Champion, and myself. The point at issue is how to relate local and public legislation, bearing in mind problems not only of local and public need, but also problems of that very scarce commodity, time. The previous Conservative Administration set out the policy to which I have referred in their Circular 14/74—and I think I should point out to my noble friend that this Circular was sent out under the previous Administration following the 1972 Local Government Act. 883 There is no Party political point in this. The timing was not this Government's, and the timing was one of the points with which my noble friend disagreed. The Circular said:The Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office aim to assist in reducing the bulk of the individual Private Bills which may need to be promoted by local authorities by seeking to extend by means of appropriate Public General Acts a number of useful, well-precedented provisions from local Acts.It is quite right and easy, as part of an interesting exercise in social history, to look back with nostalgia at the evolution of private legislation into public legislation, and to realise that we have had the benefit of a great deal of thought; we have built it into what is practicable and right for today.
We agree with this policy, and have been pressing on with the preparation of a miscellaneous provisions Bill of the kind foreshadowed by the previous Administration. I cannot agree with my noble friend that this was doing it the wrong way round. If it had been done in the reverse way, one could have just as easily argued as to why one should go ahead with a general Bill without giving local authorities an opportunity themselves to "have a go" at presenting what they feel to be the clauses they would like to see in a Private Bill. Frankly, the argument this way is a stronger argument because, as I shall show in a moment, a number of clauses put forward by South Glamorgan and discussed with local authorities and local authority associations have eventually found their way into the miscellaneous provisions Bill.
My right honourable friend has made substantial progress towards the introduction of such a Bill. Following consultations with the local authority associations, a list of possible provisions was sent to them in June. Since then, there has been further close consultation about individual clauses, and additional clauses suggested by local authorities have been sifted and discussed. A Bill has now been drafted, one which has been greatly helped by the comments of the local authority associations, and also by local authorities like South Glamorgan who have presented a Bill, and those who have Bills in preparation. Incidentally, I should make it clear, in case there is any 884 misunderstanding, that this Bill extends to the whole scope of local authority activities, including those for which the Home Office is responsible, which play such a part in local legislation, and not simply those in the sphere of my Department.
Therefore, we are now in a position to introduce a substantial Bill covering 30-odd subjects. All these are useful, well-precedented, and supported by the associations of local authorities. We believe all of them are entirely non-controversial. Indeed, we have left one or two provisions out of the Bill on this account in order to expedite its passage. I had hoped to have introduced this Bill in your Lordships' House by now, but as usual, there have been difficulties of pressure on Parliamentary time, particularly in this case on time on the Floor of the House in another place. My right honourable friends are currently urgently exploring the possibility of handling the Bill through Second Reading Committee when it reaches the other House, which might seem to many of your Lordships and Members of another place to make rather good sense. I very much hope that the arguments used by your Lordships this afternoon, together with the Amendment moved by my noble friend, will encourage those who are dealing with these procedural aspects to reach an agreed solution.
I will now deal with how all this applies to South Glamorgan. The House has been told of the drastic shortening of this first of the local authority Bills, and may have gained the impression that your Lordships' Special Committee—and there may be some comments made about this following mine, so I think I should get this clear—struck out many clauses on the grounds that they were more proper to public general legislation. This is not so. Most of the clauses lost were deleted because the Committee, having weighed the evidence presented to them—and they considered and heard a great deal of evidence—were not convinced of the merits of the clauses. The final page of the Committee's Report gives the list of provisions struck out as more appropriate to general legislation. There were 10 provisions where the Committee were fully satisfied of the need, and a further 11 starred provisions where the Committee were in some doubt whether the 885 law needed amendment but considered that if it did the amendment should be by Public General Act.
Of the 10 provisions on which the Committee were satisfied, 6 are already in the Government's miscellaneous provisions Bill. These deal with entry on land for certain purposes, recovery of deposits in certain cases, compulsory acquisition of easements in certain cases, golf courses, information as to ownership of certain land, and by-laws for prevention of fire at fairs and circuses. The seventh—on the supply of water, gas and electricity—is being drafted as an addition to the Bill; and an eighth, dealing with maintenance of burial grounds, is to be covered by an order under existing powers. This leaves two related subjects—touting and hawking, and regulation of street trading in Cardiff—which are still being considered for general legislation. I would stress that these are now under consideration. So that is the position on the 10 proposals which the Committee thought certainly suitable for general law, 8 already being provided for and the remaining 2 being under consideration.
Of the further 11 subjects on which the Committee expressed doubt the Government are satisfied on 2, and these are both in the general Bill. They are suspension of certain restriction covenants subject to compensation, and licensing of boatmen and pleasure boats. In addition, a third provision—protection of property broken into—is covered by the miscellaneous provisions Bill to the extent that we feel it to be consistent with individual rights. A small point in a fourth provision, affecting third party insurance of certain vehicles, is more appropriate for road traffic legislation and we have noted it down for that.
Te remaining 7 doubtful items have all been carefully considered. One—on the use of direct labour—is to be covered by general legislation from my Department to be introduced as soon as possible. A second, providing for additional expenses for members of the local authorities in the county, is considered wrong in principle, and I imagine a great many of your Lordships will agree with that. A third, on data processing equipment, is considered objectionable in principle, and the remainder are largely covered by existing legislation.
886 I have spelt this out in some detail and taken a little time over it because it is a matter that needs close and detailed consideration and is an easy victim of confusion. I should like to emphasise that where we have so far rejected proposals for the miscellaneous provisions Bill it is still open to the local authority associations to produce fresh evidence of need. And, of course, the Bill when introduced will be capable of amendment; it is still open for more clauses to be added to it. Thus we have a Bill ready for introduction and covering the bulk of the items identified by your Committee.
Other items will no doubt arise on future Bills of this kind, miscellaneous provisions or something of that sort. I cannot give a firm promise of legislation on them, but, as your Lordships will appreciate from what I have said this afternoon, it is the Government's intention to ensure, by one means or another, that local authorities get the ancillary powers they need before the expiry of their predecessors' powers in 1979 or 1984. I think we should keep these dates in mind, because quite unwittingly the impression may have been given that unless this Amendment is passed and all these clauses recommitted the powers would expire almost immediately. That is not true at all; there is a long period of time in which redress can be made and other action taken if the necessary public legislation does not come before Parliament. I am sure it will do so.
My noble friend's Amendment stresses the need for a firm undertaking by the Government. I am sure he and other noble Lords, and particularly those who have been in Government, as he has, will appreciate that in the nature of things there is a limit to how far any Government can go in such a situation. The fact that we have the Bill drafted—I am sure noble Lords know the difficulty of the time taken up in waiting in the queue for drafting—is so important that it certainly gives it an enormous edge. My noble friend would have us recommit all the clauses which had not been rejected by the Committee on merit and for which there was not a firm undertaking of public general legislation. I must tell the House that this would mean not only a possible but a very probable recommitment of 92 clauses. To give a 887 firm undertaking of the type asked, of public general legislation, is something that no Government could give, even where, as is the case, the Government have a Bill drafted and ready for introduction.
My noble friend talks about this being a test case, and I would suggest that in considering future Bills the Committee adopts the test adopted from time to time by previous Committees, that is, that the Government have an intention to introduce general legislation. This is what your Lordships' Committee have recommended. It is not a new test, as has been claimed, but a consistent formulation of the practice that has been adopted sporadically by Committees in the past. I would say here to my noble friend that if he wants to make a test out of this, then surely the right thing is to raise the points and the queries which come naturally to many people's minds, as he has so ably done, to express the doubts voiced by the local government associations as well as the Promoters of the Bill, and also take into consideration the number of other Private Bills that will come before the Committee. The more pressure there is for various clauses which should be included in public legislation the more pressure there will be on the Government to get on with it and include them in public legislation. I do not think it is a fair test to get to this stage and to chop the Committee off in the midst of its work, instead of letting it go forward and seeing how the procedure works out. We should bear in mind that as regards many of the clauses in the Bill, South Glamorgan have the powers now and those powers will extend to 1984.
In considering this issue I would ask noble Lords to appreciate that what we decide today will affect not only this Bill but, as the Lord Chairman pointed out, the way in which Committees of your Lordships' House deal with future business. Are we to have an orderly division between local matters in local legislation and general matters in general legislation, or a hotchpotch according to the precise timing of any particular Bill? My noble friend may think that I am putting too much weight on the effect of his Amendment. On the face of it, the Amendment asks for the recommitment of 92 clauses in one particular Bill. But if this Amendment is pressed to a Division and passed 888 I believe that it will be a rebuttal of the procedure of this Select Committee. That I think has enormous ramifications and effects not only for the Committee but on what so many of us are hoping to see, both on the Committee and off the Committee in, I would say, in all the political Parties, on what can be done about a sensible rationalised approach to local legislation.
The Amendment's practical effect would go far wider, and would have the effect sought in the Promoters' statement. Incidentally, from my reading of their statement it is quite clear that by the use of the words "unprecedented and novel" they go rather beyond the question of whether private legislation should be included in public legislation, but question the whole basis on which the Committee is working and the criteria that the Committee has set. They would bind Committees on future Bills to accept any clause whose merits were demonstrated, even though the problem is of national extent with somewhat different national provision in prospect. I believe that if this happened it would be the road back to the present chaos and not towards better future planning.
For South Glamorgan itself the authorities are not left without a considerable range of useful powers. As well as their existing powers lasting to 1984, they have been extended to the whole county, where the Promoters wished. I must disagree with my noble friend when he said that South Glamorgan were urged to put forward this Bill by my Department and the Welsh Office. They were not. When the Circular went out and they suggested that they would like to get in first with their Bill, they were certainly not discouraged from doing so; but they were warned of the difficulty there might be over many of the clauses. There was certainly no question of anybody leaning on South Glamorgan and suggesting that they should get on with the Bill; it was their decision.
I hope I have shown that my noble friend's Amendment goes further than he himself possibly intended, and that the effects would go much wider and could be seriously damaging to the Private Bill system and also to the future of local government. That would help no one. It would not help this House, it would not 889 help those in another place who consider the legislation, or indeed the local authorities themselves. Most of all, it would not help the private citizen, who is always at the receiving end of this process and yet is the most important partner in it. I hope that my noble friend, following this indication and also what the Lord Chairman has said, will take it to heart and head and not press his Amendment.
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down could I press her to be a little less shy about the prospective timetable of the miscellaneous provisions Bill which we were all awaiting with bated breath? I am sure it would satisfy most people who, like myself, are dubious about how they should vote, if it came to a vote here, if the noble Baroness could give us an assurance that, so far as she knows, the Bill will be introduced this Session.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I cannot; it would be quite dishonest for me to give an absolutely firm assurance. All I can say is that the Bill has been drafted and is ready to be introduced. I was hoping I might have introduced it in this House by now. Everything depends on an arrangement as to what happens to the Bill when it goes to another place, whether it goes to Second Reading Committee. My noble friend will know very well that the question whether a Bill goes on to the Floor of the House or to Second Reading Committee, must make a great difference to its progress because of the pressure of legislation. This is the problem. This is what is under discussion now. Unfortunately, there is nothing more I can say about it.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Lord ABERDARE
My Lords, I should like to follow what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Champion; that is, that this is certainly not a Party matter, and I am in no sense speaking for those of us who sit on these Benches but giving only my personal point of view. I find myself entirely in a frame of schizophrenia over this matter. On the one side I am convinced by the case made by our own Select Committee that the present opportunity to rationalise local legislation should not be missed. I should like to follow those others of your Lordships who paid a tribute to the Lord 890 Chairman of Committees, and those who sat with him and their counsel, for having undertaken a mammoth task. After all, in so doing, we are only following up the intentions that were accepted by Parliament in the Local Government Act 1972 in Section 262. The whole idea of this section was to compel local authorities to consider carefully what powers they really need. Certainly South Glamorgan have done that with commendable speed. I have no interest to declare in South Glamorgan, since I come from Mid-Glamorgan.
It would be totally wrong to allow this situation of private legislation to repeat itself. I believe that the Select Committee were quite right to subject this first Bill to rigorous scrutiny. They were right to take the view, which I quote from paragraph 15 of their Report:To begin anew a process of passing a multitude of parallel statutory provisions dealing with the same topic but in different localities would be an inefficient and wasteful procedure.Indeed, they went further and said that, if there were to be more Bills of the size and scope of the South Glamorgan Bill, they feared that existing Parliamentary procedures might not be able to cope. It was this that led them to adopt the two principles in paragraph 14 which really are at the nub of the discussion we are having this evening and at the centre of Lord Champion's Amendment. It was as a result of those two criteria that 109 clauses out of the original 287 were disallowed and a further 61 withdrawn by the Promoters.
Having said that, and sympathising with the Committee, as I do, in taking the view they did, I find on the other side of my split personality a deep sympathy with the case of the Promoters. They have, after all, done exactly what Parliament required of them. Their Bill would, I understand, preserve less than 3 per cent. of existing local legislation in the various areas where they are now in existence. Most of the clauses which have been disallowed were only reenactments of existing powers, and powers which, in any case, they will certainly need in the future after 1984.
Until today—at any rate, until the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, revealed something about the miscellaneous provisions Bill—we have all been very much in the dark 891 as to what the Government were proposing in the sense of general legislation. We had no clue as to whether this miscellaneous provisions Bill would cover some of the disallowed clauses that are listed at the end of the Special Report. The noble Baroness was kind enough to give us a quick guide through them and tell us which of those particular clauses were covered. It is certainly satisfactory to know that, but I doubt whether South Glamorgan have had a chance of looking at the clauses as drafted and seeing whether they meet their needs. I think that I see the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, nodding in assent, and I understand, therefore, that they have; I can only say that that is very satisfactory. There are, however, certain other clauses which were disallowed but which have not been included in this Bill in so far as it is already drafted.
It is also very satisfactory to know that the Bill will cover matters outside the scope of the Department of the Environment and that various Home Office matters which are vital to the conduct of good local government will be included in the Bill. I understand the noble Baroness to say that the regulations for street trading, for example, would be included in the miscellaneous provisions Bill.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I do not think that that is quite right. I said that street trading was one of the matters under consideration by the Home Office at the moment. I said that it was one of the matters being considered for public legislation, but not in this Bill.
§ Lord ABERDARE
My Lords, that highlights the case I am making; that is, that the local authorities have absolutely no assurance whatever that general legislation will be introduced on the regulation of street trading, nor, for that matter, on matters such as hackney carriages and private hire vehicles, something which has been under consideration by Parliament for at least 20 years, but nothing has come forward. It seems grossly unfair to expect local authorities not to have included in their own Private Bill matters that are essential to the running of their own local authority on the ground that this is a matter that should be legislated for in 892 general legislation when the Government are unable to come forward with firm proposals for legislation.
I entirely agree with what the Select Committee said in paragraph 28 of its Report; this is where I would say that the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, certainly is not a rebuttal of the Report because the Select Committee says that it is, in its opinion, essential that general legislation should be introduced to replace clauses disallowed on the two new principles introduced in paragraph 14. The Select Committee says that it is essential that this legislation should be introduced and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, says that there should be a complete distinction between local law and general law. But how do we cope with those powers which the local authority needs and which are disallowed because they should form part of general law, although there is at present no proposal for such a general law? I have given two instances in respect of street trading and hackney cabs and private hire vehicles.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, perhaps in giving a straight answer I misled the noble Lord. I said that to bring it together in public legislation is under consideration. This is still existing in private legislation and will exist until 1984 so far as South Glamorgan is concerned. It is not as though it is not there or is going away.
§ Lord ABERDARE
My Lords, I am perfectly well aware of that. Legislation about hackney carriages and private hire vehicles has been under consideration for 20 years and nothing has happened. The noble Baroness knows how difficult it is—she told us how difficult it is—to get general legislation on to the Statute Book. It is, therefore, essential that local authorities have the powers until such time as there is general legislation or until they can be shown, as in the case of this Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, that here are powers which the Government will seek to take.
In all this schizophrenia of mine I find the noble Lord. Lord Champion, an admirable psychiatrist. He solves my problem with his Amendment because he seeks to meet the difficulty. It is not a quarrel with the Select Committee's 893 principles in general. It is certainly not a rebuttal of its recommendations. It is simply an endeavour to ensure that clauses shall be disallowed only within the principles of paragraph 14 of the Report, where the Government give a firm undertaking to introduce general legislation to meet that need. In the case of this miscellaneous provisions Bill, that is exactly what they can do; if they produce the clauses in that Bill, then that satisfies the need and those clauses can be disallowed. However, this puts the onus on the Government to legislate for needs that are common to all or a great number of local authorities before a clause is disallowed; this seems to be fair to all the parties.
I appreciate, of course, the difficulties involved in recommitting these clauses, but it seems to be an injustice to local authorities if this is not done, and we may indeed, as the noble Lord, the Lord Chairman, said, have to revise our procedures, especially in the present exceptional circumstances. But I believe that we shall have to go further than what is contained in the Special Report in assuring local authorities that their necessary powers will not be in danger of disappearing, be it in 1979 or 1984.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie)
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Aberdare echoed the wish of probably every noble Lord in the House when he said that we should somehow try to bring some order into local Private legislation. Unfortunately, I found myself at variance with the conclusion he drew, but, like him, I am also immensely interested in Wales. This is not because I have a personal interest in South Glamorgan or, indeed, in Mid-Glamorgan, but because this was my first experience as a Member of the Select Committee on a Bill of this character, which was of a very large nature—287 clauses and 8 Schedules—and what struck me, for example, was the enthusiasm with which people travelled from South Wales and gave their evidence and the way the case was presented, with great care and skill. I learned a great deal and it was a privilege to serve on this Committee.
894 I am going to do something I have never done before and I hope I shall never do again. It is to ask the House if it will allow me to leave very soon after I have made my speech. It is for a reason which to me is special; this year happens to be the centenary of the birth of my father-in-law, John Buchan the author, and my husband, his brothers and his sisters are all giving a reception which ends at 8 o'clock. I hope that the House will not mind if I go because, as the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees kindly said to me, if I do not go tonight I shall have to wait another 100 years.
Having been a Minister at the Scottish Office at a time when we were discussing the reform of local government, I had a great many meetings with local authorities and I was very well aware of the difficulty of trying to secure the right balance between what is local legislation produced through this House by Private Bills and trying to reserve for Parliament matters of great public policy. I feel that in the debate so far we are agreed on the main matter of the need to bring order into private legislation, and I should have thought, too, although it has not been said in quite this way, that where a proven need is common to a number of local authorities the House might agree that Public legislation is the most efficient way to meet that need. I therefore submit to the House that the real issue before us today is how best to bring pressure not only on this Government but on their successors to promote legislation in various fields in every Parliament. Otherwise we shall without doubt return to the situation we have today.
I can understand the view represented by the Amendment moved so persuasively by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, which asks that, where there is no firm undertaking to introduce Public legislation, certain clauses should be allowed. I thought that the Chairman of Committees gave very clear reasons to the House as to why we did not adopt this course and I shall only add that, this being such a very difficult problem and the South Glamorgan Bill being a test case, we all gave it a great deal of thought and were unanimous in our decision. If the Amendment, and in 895 particular paragraph (a), were accepted it would lay an obligation on those to whom the defined clauses were recommitted to allow all those which commended themselves on merit to stand part of the Bill and these would include not only existing legislation but new proposals as well.
If noble Lords will look at the last page of our Report they will see that there are three provisions which are of a new character. They are Clauses 29, 251 and 260. As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, told us, it is possible for a local authority, if it has a good idea which it wishes to promote, to get it accepted. Whether or not one thinks it a good idea, Clause 260 is apparently to be the subject of special legislation. On the calculation which I made as to the number of clauses which would have to be recommitted in the terms of the noble Lord's Amendment, there would of course be the 61 clauses withdrawn and not yet considered. I do not believe that there would be as many as the total of 31 referred to in the last page of our Report mentioned by the Minister, for these reasons. There are, as she said, eight which will be part of the Miscellaneous General Powers Provision;there is one which will be the subject of an order, one which will be the subject of special legislation and one which is being drafted as additional provisions. There are three others which are considered unnecessary as they are already covered.
Therefore, we are left with 12 clauses which are considered controversial and are the subject of consideration for legislation but on which no firm undertaking is given. There is one which is the subject of a Working Party and there are two which the Government consider objectionable. Then there are two clauses which are partly covered but the rest of the clause is considered by the Government to be objectionable. Therefore, if my arithmetic is correct, we should have to recommit to a Select Committee the 61 clauses withdrawn by the Promoters and not yet considered and at least 15 for which there is no firm undertaking, making, if one takes into account those which are partly covered, roughly 80 clauses altogether.
It is not the size of the task in particular which I am suggesting is so difficult. 896 Of course any Select Committee of this House is only too glad to undertake any work which your Lordships think fit, but I submit that, if all these clauses were recommitted with an instruction from the House in the terms of the Amendment—notably those in paragraph (b)—the result would be very far reaching. There would be the promotion on a large scale of similar Private legislation with all the consequences of differing—and therefore confusing—provisions in various areas of England and Wales. There would be considerable expense for the ratepayers and there would be the inability of Parliament, as at present constructed, to consider Private Bills within the scope of one Session. Above all, I submit that to adopt the procedure recommended in the Amendment would result in the Government of the day feeling under no obligation whatsoever to proceed with legislation as a regular duty in every Parliament to ensure that domestic law reflects modern needs.
As the Minister told us, the new General Powers Bill will cover many Government Departments which were the subject of the South Glamorgan Bill and, as the noble Baroness has described it, the Bill reflects the Government's view that only certain provisions favoured by local authorities are justified. This will not satisfy either South Glamorgan or any future local authority submitting a Private Bill of the same character. I suggest that it is also wise to remember that local authority associations do not by any means always accept the ideas put forward by individual authorities. In fact this was a matter of complaint by the Promoters of the present Bill. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Parliament can ever entirely satisfy local authorities as to what they really believe is in their interests and is practical to do. As the Chairman of Committees said, local authorities have a statutory right to petition Parliament but they have no statutory right to have every demand satisfied.
I make the following suggestion for consideration. It may be that a certain reticence in not promoting every cause should commend itself to those who, like myself, believe that Parliament should legislate far less. We all know that Government Departments, if given instructions by Ministers to prepare legislation are only too happy to do so. I certainly 897 found that to be so at the Scottish Office which as the House knows, has been responsible for many years for a wide range of domestic and other legislation. If the battle is won within Government to promote a Bill, there is the pride of that Department in being able to lay claim to "our Bill"—a Bill of its own. The bar to such delights is of course the Government's decision on priorities, which is taken for reasons of necessity but also sometimes for reasons of politics.
I believe that practically every speaker has referred to the famous Section 262 of the 1972 Act, which provides for the repeal of existing legislation in 1979 in the Metropolitan counties and in 1984 in the other areas of England and Wales. I suggest that, by these provisions, the Government have a spur to action if they will use it. They can urge all Depart merits not only to promote the present Bill but to consider the main needs which will be common to most or all local authorities in the future. This is entirely my personal opinion and I have not asked the Chairman of Committees what he thinks, but I suggest that it may be wise to extend the time for the metropolitan counties from 1979 to 1984 because we should then have eight years for all local authorities in which the Government and the local authorities together can enact the necessary legislation. I should not favour extension beyond 1984 because, if that happened, the Government could sit back with the feeling that everything was all right because the local authorities had all their existing legislation for another five to 10 years.
I hope it will be possible for the Government to address themselves to the problem of the action they should commend to local authorities in the promotion of Private Bills, particularly at this time of financial stringency and having regard to the need to ease the enormous increase in local rates. When the noble Baroness replies, if she does, perhaps she will give consideration to the question of whether any practical steps are being taken to ensure that public legislation can be promoted as occasion requires to meet the general needs of local authorities. My Lords, if we, as a House, can urge the Government to face up to bringing order into the chaos of Private legislation—and all the consequential work 898 which this will entail for the Government of the day—I believe that that will be the best means whereby Parliament and the local authorities can work together, producing together a clear and consistent corpus of local Acts which truly reflect local need, and Public Acts which reflect wider issues of policy, which, I submit, are without doubt the responsibility of Parliament as a whole.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Viscount AMORY
My Lords, before my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie leaves the Chamber, may I say that I wonder whether the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, would think it impertinent on my part if I were to say that we envy her very much going to the party she mentioned. We wish that we were going, too. We think that she should leave immediately, but we find it impossible to believe that a Scottish ceremony or celebration of such importance could possibly terminate at the ridiculously early hour of 8 p.m.!
This is probably the first time I have every screwed up the nerve to rush to the aid of the Welsh. My experience in this House is that generally they can defend themselves very effectively indeed, and that they almost invariably prevail. Perhaps that is the feeling which brought me to rush to their aid, because my instinct has always been the same as that of a rather famous French statesman who said that, whenever he could, he rushed to the aid of the victors.
We all listened to the very interesting speech by our Lord Chairman, the Earl of Listowel. We are absolutely unanimous in believing that there is no more courteous, fair-minded and experienced Member of this House than the noble Earl; and we also feel the same about the three Members of the Committee to whom this problem was remitted. We all appreciate, too, the very considerable time that the Select Committee spent deliberating on this question. How right the Committee was to give special examination to this case as being, I think, the first of its kind to be put forward since the Act dealing with local government reform came into force. The aim of the Committee to save Parliamentary time is also admirable. But the criteria suggested by the Committee in this case has, as the noble Lord, Lord 899 Champion, said, left all three local Government associations very unhappy indeed. When one remembers that membership of these three associations covers a great field of practical experience and responsibility, I am sure that we all wish to make every effort to remove that unhappiness, if we can.
Those three associations would all agree that when there are problems that are common to all, or most, local authorities, then the best way to deal with these is by general Parliamentary legislation, when such a course of action is likely to be available. When considering a miscellaneous provisions Bill, the expectation has traditionally been, I believe—although I am not sure about this—that matters covered by such Bills should be non-controversial. How much of a limiting factor that is in practice, I do not know. Some of us have memories which go back some time, and the experience to date has been that opportunities in this connection are, in practice, few and far between, because of the pressure of Parliamentary time.
I am certain that the object of the Select Committee is not simply to impose uniformity on local authorities; if I thought that, I should be very worried indeed, because uniformity is often the deadly enemy of real local government and cannot be reconciled with it. But not for a moment do I believe that that has been the aim of the Select Committee. Local authorities believe that there are many problems that, for one reason or another, are best dealt with by local laws. Some of those problems may best dealt with, in the first instance, by local laws, and then perhaps at a later stage incorporated in a general powers Bill. I expect that the Select Committee would not disagree with those views.
But local authorities fear that if the new criteria, as worded in the Select Committee's Report, were to be adopted, they would sometimes find themselves in the air, or falling between two stools. For instance, it might not be easy for local authorities to discover in a particular case how many other local authorities would need the same provisions, or how soon the general powers of a Parliamentary Bill would be likely to be brought forward. They would understand the Select Committee's fear of over-swamping, and 900 certainly would not want that to happen. But could not the risk of that overswamping—due to an excessive number of provisions in local Bills being brought forward separately—be reduced by, for instance, expedients such as model clauses or provisions borrowed from other local Bills? But by all means let Parliamentary Bills with general powers be used whenever they are practicable.
We were interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, told us about the imminence of a miscellaneous provisions Bill; the sooner that can be brought forward the better. But I believe that a single Bill will not deal with this question between now and 1984. If we are to rely more on general powers Bills, then there must he some assurance that it would become a standard practice to introduce these Bills at frequent intervals, so that local authorities' proposals are not left in the air for very long. We all realise that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, found it very difficult to give specific assurances about that. But I know that the Select Committee wish this to happen. However, the hope which the Select Committee expressed does not go very far towards satisfying many of us who remember the past record of these miscellaneous provisions Bills.
I welcome what the noble Baroness said; that is, that it is up to the local government associations to bring forward further proposals which they feel would be desirable now, as well as the draft provisions that have already been put forward. But I repeat that I do not believe that a single miscellaneous provisions Bill will get to the heart of this; nor will it satisfy the unhappiness that exists.
I hope that the Select Committee, by one means or another, will consider the cogent argument put forward by the noble Lord. Lord Champion. All of us in this House who know the noble Lord, know that he has no tendency to exaggerate problems or to put forward unreasonable cases. I hope, too, that a way will be found to ease what we regard as the too restrictive criteria which the Select Committee has, as the moment, put forward. I think that there are ways of doing this. I acknowledge the difficulties about time, but I should have thought that there were ways in which the Committee, if it was good enough to give further thought to this question, could put 901 forward some proposals which would go some way, at any rate, to satisfy the very real anxieties of local authorities all over the country.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, listening to this debate so far, it seems to me that Parliament is laying up trouble for the future by failing to impose upon itself the kind of discipline which it has demanded of the local authorities. If Parliament, through the voice of the Special Committee of the noble Earl the Lord Chairman, is going to lay down what I will call a new doctrine, a new doctrine which pays regard to a conception so vague as "future public general legislation"—and I quote those last four words from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Champion—then surely it behoves Parliament first to introduce the general legislation.
My Lords, I call this a new doctrine. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, does not regard this as a new doctrine. If that is the noble Baroness's view, may I quote very shortly what I believe to be the view of the Parliamentary Agents. I have been supplied with a memorandum by Parliamentary Agents in which they say this:These principles"—that is to say, the new doctrine that I am describing—are a far cry from those which hitherto have operated in the consideration of a Private Bill. Clauses have not been normally disallowed on the ground that duplicate general legislation is pending unless that legislation is before Parliament in a Public Bill which has passed the Committee stage in the second House. This has been the invariable practice where that consideration arises".My Lords, we are told by the noble Baroness that the general legislation is in the pipeline. That is fine. Let us have it out of the pipeline. Let Parliament suspend for the moment the deadlines of 1979 and 1984 imposed upon the local authorities. Let Parliament, for a change, impose a deadline upon itself, by which time the necessary and relevant general legislation shall have been put on the Statute Book. Then, and only then, shall Parliament, having cast the mote out of its own eye, see clearly to impose a fair deadline upon the local authorities, by which time they shall have brought forward Private Bills to enact the purely local requirements, which I think 902 we are all agreed are what the Private Bills of local authorities ought only to have to contain.
My Lords, without this self-discipline from Parliament, I simply do not believe that this general legislation is going to be forthcoming. The reasons other noble Lords have already touched upon, and I need not waste the time of the House by repeating them. We know that there is always something more urgent demanding any Government's time, and nothing so dull as legislation regarding local authorities' powers. We know also that this topic is not of any great interest or excitement to the electors—and we know, of course, that Governments of all complexions have to keep one eye upon the electors. But, my Lords, suppose we do not have this self-discipline, that the deadlines imposed upon the local authorities remain and that the general legislation is not in large measure forthcoming. What is going to happen? As the deadline approaches, the local authorities, in increasing numbers, are going to press forward with their Private Bills. This will cast great strain upon all concerned, not least upon the Department of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees.
Furthermore, in the absence of general legislation, Parliament at some stage will have to give way on some of the points, and when future local authorities come forward with clauses the like of which have been denied to South Glamorgan and other local authorities earlier in the queue, then Parliament is going to feel constrained to grant those similar clauses to the later applicants in the queue because of the absence of the general legislation. Then, South Glamorgan and the early corners are going to have a real grievance—and that way, my Lords, lies chaos. So I hope that something on the lines of what is being demanded by noble Lords in this debate will he forthcoming, and I think that the best way to ensure that it is forthcoming is to support the Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Champion.
§ 7.6 p.m.
My Lords, if I may, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Champion, on the excellent way in which he introduced his Amendment, and say that I have no connection with Wales but I come into this matter really because I was interested 903 in another Bill, which I regret I lost in this House, which dealt with part of what is in the Bill before us. I should also like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for the way he introduced this Bill, which he did in the same excellent way as when he replied to the debate on my Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Champion, would convey to the officials of his authority and to the many people who came up to give evidence how very grateful the Committee must have been, because I have read the transcript and I thought they did exceptionally well.
To the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I should like to suggest one thing. She keeps on stating that there is no time for anything; but, my Lords, surely there are plenty of other Bills that we could very well do without and in whose stead we could put these very important ones. I should like to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, said in regard to the metropolitan counties. There are only two Sessions left, and at the moment we have to get the Bills through by 1979. I hope we will give them the opportunity to go on until 1984, because it they do not get this extension of time. the Bills will be very much rushed. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, kept on talking about her Department. Surely her Department is not the only Department connected with legislation, and it seemed to me, just going through the things she mentioned, that Clause 202 might be dealt with by the Home Office. When she comes to wind up, or when the noble Earl winds up, perhaps we can be told what other Departments have been consulted and what will be in the Bill which comes under their province. It seems to me that we should have had somebody from the Home Office here to give us their views, because so much local government comes under their jurisdiction. The noble Baroness said that the local authorities could give their views, but I think she will agree that this present method of giving their views is not really satisfactory.
I gather that the noble Baroness will have received (the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, mentioned this matter) representations from the Associations of County Councils, district councils and metropolitan authorities. They, of course, are not at all happy. As I understood the 1972 904 Act (most of which I dislike intensely), I thought it gave local authorities the opportunity to settle more of their own problems. If they are going to produce Bills which will be applicable to their particular locality and they are going to be turned down, this is not what I should have thought was envisaged by the 1972 Act. Naturally, the three associations mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, are opposed in principle, because as I understand it they are losing rights which they have had for about 100 years. So, too, are the corporate bodies, which obtained their rights previously, through Parliament, for the special needs in their areas.
I had hoped that under the 1972 Act the local authorities would become more independent, but it will not be so if they have got to be covered by a general powers Act and by general legislation in the future. Although it may be desirable in theory to put all their public powers under one umbrella, it would not appear that the scope of a general powers Bill, which has been mentioned before, will be convenient because it is going to be, I gather, very limited if the clauses have to be non-controversial and take the minimum of Parliamentary time. The Association of County Councils suggested that there should be a triennial miscellaneous provisions Bill not confined to controversial clauses. They also suggested (and this was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory) that a list of model clauses should be considered and accepted by Government for inclusion in local Acts. Naturally, the suggestions will have to be discussed in detail and the associations would want to be consulted at an early stage. I mention this—and perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will be able to confirm them—since I gather they have not been consulted in regard to the present policy.
I agree that one does not want to go through all the clauses of the Bill, but I should like to mention a couple. This points out the need for some local action. I should like to mention Clause 154, the seizure of cattle; and Clause 135, warrants for entry into brothels; and Clause 155, the seizure of dogs. From the evidence that I have read I think that Clause 154 would affect very few authorities. In view of local government reorganisation 905 new powers are needed in Glamorgan. It would appear that in the Select Committee Report some clauses were omitted because it was considered that they were not unique to the locality. I should like to stress that it is also stated that these clauses have been disallowed for other reasons than solely because they were problems common to other authorities. It seems to me slightly contradictory.
I have read much of the transcript and particularly the evidence in regard to dogs given by Councillor Mrs. Matthew-son. She said that half the council's time was devoted to this problem. There were 200 straying horses and a great many dogs. She remarked to the Committee that she was not speaking of Medicine Bowl but of Cardiff City. She said that mares had foaled in school playgrounds. She also said in regard to dogs that there were a great many sick dogs in the town and there were a lot of open plan playgrounds and dogs had attacked some handicapped children. The figures the police gave in 1974 were that there were 1,228 dogs in police stations and 446 street accidents were caused by dogs. There were 140 lost sheep in 48 hours and 19in one night. The police support this particular clause. It was mentioned that Rochdale town police had acted under Section 112 of the Local Government Act 1972; but the police doubted whether it would work in Glamorgan. I mentioned taxi cabs in a previous debate. The same thing comes into this Bill again, so I will not repeat it. It seems to me unfortunate that this city has also to suffer the same disability as Plymouth.
I should like therefore to suggest one or two points. First:That the subject matter for general provisions is proposed for general legislation.I read that from the transcript. I should like to know how this is going to be done and whether a general powers Bill will ever be successful. Then:That the subject matter has been or is the subject of consideration by a Departmental Working Party.I should like to know what it is about and when it is going to report.That the Promoters cannot show special urgent local needs.I hope that one of the subjects I have mentioned perhaps shows a local need.
It might be of interest to mention one other: Clause 135, warrants for entry into 906 brothels. This proposed clause was to enable a justice to issue a warrant to a police officer to enter a suspected brothel and arrest any person managing the house. Evidence was given under the Act of 1956. Both the districts in this area have seaports frequented by foreign seamen and according to the evidence brothels are the cause of disturbances and fights. Under the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952 it is necessary to name someone before a warrant can be obtained. According to the evidence, the Home Office stated that they had no objection to the clause and the evidence showed its particular value in ports in the county such as Cardiff and Barry. This seems to be another type of clause that we should look into to see whether it is special for local needs. I should like to mention the fourth clause: that in certain cases the local needs are common to a large number of authorities; in which case the matter is one dealt with by general law.
I hope that we will all support the the noble Lord, Lord Champion, in the Lobby if he presses this Amendment to a Division, because I think it is a principle that we must see carried out in this House. Finally, I should like to express my fears in regard to what was said by Lord Brecon in a debate on the Public Health Bill in the House of Lords on 24th November 1960. He said:In this aspect, therefore, the Bill follows earlier Public Health Acts; those, for instance, of 1890, 1907 and 1925, all of which were substantially based on clauses which had previously been included in local legislation.In doing so the Bill is meeting the recommendations of various Parliamentary Committees."—[Official Report; col. 871.]That is what is stated; but nothing has happened since 1960, except for the Highways Bill 1971, and I would suggest that if we are not careful we may be in the same situation again.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Lord GRIDLEY
My Lords, it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I address the House on the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. If I had known that I would hear such a studied defense of the situation as the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees gave, I should have been very nervous of delivering a speech in this House; for what I want to develop in my speech is no criticism whatsoever 907 of the Select Committee and no criticism of the procedures of this House, which I most greatly respect. My object in speaking is to hope (as was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Champion) that the House will consider this as a completely non-Party issue; rather an issue which interests us all and on which we shall take a decision in due course.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, gave as his reasons for disliking what was in the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, the fact that there would be numerous Bills coming to your Lordships' House in the future and that the general state of legislation was chaotic; but I do not think an argument of that calibre is necessarily an argument for disallowing the arrival of Private Bills in this House. I should have thought that the fact that local authorities have the power to bring private legislation is not only of value to them but must of necessity be of great value to Parliament. If that did not continue in the future, and if local authorities were discouraged from adopting the procedure of Private Bills, I think that Parliament would be the loser.
My Lords, I support the Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Champion. With regard to the Chairman of Committees and the Select Committee, under paragraphs 14(i) and (ii) of their Report they enunciated the principle that clauses in this Bill should be disallowed unless they met a need common to all or a great number of authorities. This, in my submission, cuts squarely across the right of local authorities, for the legislation they require, to bring their own particular problems to Parliament. I completely fail to see how a problem which applies to a particular area or a particular local authority can be the same for all local authorities. This is part of what I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said will come in the miscellaneous provisions Bill the intention in that Bill is to cover problems which apply universally throughout the country. I suggest that this would be difficult to achieve.
If the principle arrived at by the Committee were carried to a logical conclusion, it would seem to me that there were problems affecting local authorities that they would have to wait for the eventual legislation which has been promised by 908 central Government in this general purposes Act. If local authorities and the Promotors of Private Bills have to wait for the necessary legislation, this will discourage the Promotors of Private Bills, on the ground of expense and time, from ever bringing such Bills to Parliament. As I have said, if this situation existed and was encouraged, it would detract from the right which has existed for many years for local authorities to follow these provisions.
There is, in my opinion, another important point: if this right were lost, then a provision of great value to the central Government and Parliament could well be lost, for a Private Bill tried out and working in a local authority area can afford valuable information to Government when, as in a matter of national application or policy, Government desire to bring before Parliament their own legislation to meet a particular case. Let me give an example. If one refers to the Second Reading of the Clean Air Bill in your Lordships' House (Hansard of 24th April, 1956, columns 1157 to 1159), one finds that the Minister Without Portfolio, Lord Munster, in speaking to the provisions of the Bill, praised the contribution made by local authorities which, under the provisions of their local Acts, had played a notable part in dealing with the problem of air pollution. The noble Earl said:The problem of air pollution has been the subject of various Acts of Parliament far well over a hundred years, but it has not yet been solved.… We owe a debt of gratitude to all those local authorities who have in days gone by obtained powers under local Acts to deal with this subject.…"—(Official Roport, 24/12/1956; cols. 1156–7.)It is interesting to note in this connection that Section 34 of the Manchester Corporation Act 1946, dealing with pollution, was incorporated in the Act of 1956, as was the whole of Section 35. I could give other examples of the value of local Acts, but I will mentiononly one other: the City of London (Various Powers) Act of 1954. For the reasons I have stated, I support the Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, not in any Party sense, not without respect for the Chairman of Committees and the Select Committee, but in the interests of local Government and, if I may say so, of the undoubted value to the central Government of Private Bills.
§ 7.25 p.m.
My Lords, my first purpose in addressing your Lordships tonight is to underline the unity of the Committee whose Report is before you. We sat for an unusually long period of time—nearly 30 days—and on every one of those days we had to take decisions on the clauses which had been put before us. We never had to have recourse to a vote in order to settle any difference between us. In every case we, after discussion—sometimes fairly rapid, sometimes more lengthy—found that we were of a common mind, and all decisions were taken unanimously. The same is true of our Report; those recommendations are unanimous and all three of us believe sincerely in them.
If anything could shake me in my belief, it is to find myself at variance with the noble Lord, Lord Champion. We have sat on a great many Committees together over the past few years, and I have the highest regard for his wisdom and judgment. Normally I expect to be spared from having to speak, because I can always agree with what he has said or proposed. On this occasion we differ, but I am happy to believe that we differ on the application of a principle rather than on the principle itself. The basic proposition put by the Lord Chairman of Committees, that the proper remedy for a general mischief is general rather than local legislation, was not contested by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I have listened carefully to the speeches, and no noble Lord who has so far spoken has dissented from that general proposition. If this remains true when the last word is said tonight, I think that will have been an important outcome from this debate and one that will be of assistance to future Committees which sit to consider similar Bills.
The discussion this evening has centred essentially on the application of that principle. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, would have the principle applied in a particular way: that the Government must give a firm undertaking to introduce general legislation on any particular proposal. I see difficulties. The noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to the problem of committing themselves or any Government to a legislative programme very far in 910 advance. I see a further difficulty in what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, proposes. Reference has already been made to the list of clauses which are contained at the end of our Report. In a number of those cases the Committee were not convinced on the evidence brought before them that there was a need. They felt that the general law was probably adequate to enable the local authorities to do what they wanted to do. But we went on to say that if there was a deficiency in the general law, this must affect a number of other local authorities, and if there was a loophole that should be tilled nationally and not locally.
But in order to establish whether there is a need, time is required to look into this matter further, to observe whether a deficiency in fact exists, whether this comes up in the law courts and a ruling is given. Time is required to consult with local authorities to see whether this clause is brought forward in other Bills. It is not possible for the Government to give a firm undertaking now to say they will bring in legislation in all those cases.
Then it seems to me that there are controversial subjects. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, mentioned, for example, the question of street trading. Government Departments have been working away for a considerable period of time, trying to produce national legislation on these subjects. They would hesitate to give, either today or tomorrow, a firm undertaking that there will be legislation; but surely we want them to continue to try to produce that general legislation.
It has been suggested from both sides of the House that the problem is to find the right balance between local legislation and public legislation. If I may refer for a moment to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, it has never been in our thoughts to exclude altogether local Acts. In fact, as your Lordships will be aware, the County of South Glamorgan Bill is by no means a thin document. Although it is thinner than it was, it still contains 75 Clauses.
§ Lord GRIDLEY
My Lords, if I may just interrupt the noble Viscount, I should like to make it clear that I did not think it was the policy to exclude altogether 911 Private Acts, but I think it is a discouragement for Promoters to bring Private Bills if every time they have to consider that they cannot really get anything through unless it is of general application throughout the country. The Private Bills would dry up.
My Lords, that is not at all the line we were taking. If the noble Lord looks at the Bill he will find that a great many of the clauses are of purely local application. That will always be so, but it is where they are of more general application that we think they ought to be in general law and not local law. The problem is to arrive at the correct balance and, in fact, it has to be dealt with partly in local and partly in general law. It is a question of where the line is to be drawn, and I believe that if we were to follow the ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, that line would be drawn in the wrong place. Subjects which ought to fall on the general side of the line will, because the Government ought to take a decision and give an undertaking now—and they will be unable to do so—fall therefore on the local side of the line. And once the line is drawn in the wrong place there will be all the consequences of recommitment and of Committees reaching their decisions in those circumstances.
We should have to face all the consequences which have been described by the Lord Chairman and by other colleagues, including the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Bclhelvie. Therefore, I need not repeat them. There will be uncertainty as to whether a clause is suitable for inclusion in a local Act or whether it should be reserved for a Public Act. Some of your Lordships have this in mind. For instance, the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Airedale, have mentioned it, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. They asked: Is it not possible to allow local authorities, given this uncertainty, to have what they have asked for, on the understanding that if a general Act is introduced the local Act will be replaced by the general law? Such a procedure would be perfectly feasible, but it would be wrong because it would involve an abuse of Parliamentary time and resources. It would mean that much legislation, which would be 912 repealed before 1984, would be put on the Statute Book, and, the pressure on Parliamentary time being what it is, I think that would be wrong.
Secondly, there was the point which was touched on by a number of your Lordships; that is, that once a matter is dealt with in Private Acts a great deal of the incentive for dealing with it in a general Act is taken away. In that way the pressure is being taken off civil servants to produce general legislation, which is something that we all want to do. The Committee have said —as clearly as noble Lords have said it tonight—that we believe it is essential that general legislation should be introduced if the principle is applied which we should like to see. It is certainly welcome news that there is a general purposes Bill in draft on the stocks. It is greatly to be hoped that this will be introduced during this Session.
It is also good news—this answers a point which was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers—that this not only covers Department of the Environment subjects but, as I understood the noble Baroness, it also covers Home Office subjects and other Governmental subjects. However, that is only a start. I agree wholeheartedly with, I believe, the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, who said that one Bill is quite inadequate to deal with this situation. I think we should certainly think in terms of miscellaneous provisions Bills at frequent intervals between now and 1980. I also think that Bills on particular subjects might well be required; for instance, a Bill on street trading, if this can be hammered out. The miscellaneous provisions Bill may well have to be reserved for the less controversial subjects, but there may well be controversial subjects which will require a Bill to themselves. I think it is very important that some machinery should be devised, if it does not already exist in Whitehall, to keep this matter under constant review. Certainly there ought to be consultation, not only between Departments but also with the local authorities, and particularly the local authorities' associations. In that way, the general legislation will be brought forward over a period of time, and I have no doubt that it will be necessary to keep up the pressure at all levels. It seems to me that there 913 will be frequent opportunities for your Lordships to do this as and when other local Bills of this kind come up for your consideration.
Before I close, I should like to touch on an aspect of this matter on which I think the Committee were even more totally unanimous than on any other. I think it is one in which your Lordships will join me; that is, to express the appreciation of the Committee for the care, the skill and the courtesy with which the case of the Promoters was developed by their Parliamentary Agents and by the witnesses.
Appearing before your Lordships is always a daunting experience—certainly I find speaking before your Lordships always a daunting experience—and, on this occasion, even those who were adept were, not unnaturally, disconcerted by the rather novel approach adopted by the Committee. They all acquitted themselves very well. I should also like to say a word of thanks and warm appreciation for the help, support and encouragement which we received from representatives of Government Departments, and of course from the staff of your Lordships' House. Like the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, I cannot resist saying one word about Mr. Talbot. His topographical expertise in the jungle of Private law and in the mountains of Public law was a constant source of wonderment, and his wit and humour were a constant source of enjoyment.
I think I have said enough to show that I found sitting on this Committee an interesting and fascinating experience. I have always found sitting on Select Committees of your Lordships' House fascinating and interesting, and this was perhaps more so simply because of the magnitude of the task. It certainly was a marathon, and I believe that if any one of your Lordships had been sitting in my place you would have felt as I did, that 40 repeat performances on the same scale within the next eight years is just not "on". For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, may be persuaded to withdraw his Amendment and that we can rest content with the Motion of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount this question? If 914 it is unfair to expect the Government to be tied down by a rigid timetable, is it fair to impose a rigid timetable upon local authorities whose action is so interdependent with Government action?
My Lords, I personally did not impose a timetable, but I should have thought that some timetable was essential if one were ever to get results from this field.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
My Lords, I do not intend to delay the House for more than a few moments. This has been a very long and fascinating debate and I am sure we all look forward to reaching a conclusion, which I hope will be a correct one. I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I am sure that it was not necessary for the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, to say that he was speaking to show the unanimity of the Committee, as I have no doubt that everyone felt there was total unanimity on the Committee. But I think it is correct to say that it is only the Committee, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who have spoken in favour of the Special Report. I do not say that in any unkind sense; I think that has been the tone of this debate.
I do not at all criticise the Select Committee's work. I have the greatest respect for the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, for my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir and, indeed, for the noble Viscount, Lord Hood. They are, indeed, the three wise Members of the House who continuously work incredibly hard and who, I am sure, are the buttress of the Committee work of the House. In this case, their scrutiny was as thorough as ever. As we have heard, over a period of 26 days they considered not only 278 clauses but the procedure for future Bills. My only comment on those 26 days is that they were spent in London and involved a great many people coming up to the House from Wales. I should have thought that in future the Committee might consider going to the area from which evidence will be frequently obtained.
My concern in speaking is for the South Glamorgan authority, for their councillors, for their Parliamentary Counsel and, primarily, for their ratepayers. They 915 promoted a Bill in good faith—encouraged by the Department of the Environment after consultation—designed to streamline existing powers; in fact, the powers were reduced to 3 per cent. of what they previously had. They also threw in a few more powers which they sought; I think there were 10 clauses. When the Bill left Wales it had 278 clauses, and is now a shadow of its former self at a cost of £100,000, which is a very material factor. I do not think that this is an encouragement to other local authorities to promote Bills, when this has been so manifestly rejected and when, as I repeat, the authority already had these powers. They were seeking a very small percentage of new powers.
I said at the start of my speech that I support the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I should have wished to go a little further, because I do not support the new criteria. I accept that the Select Committee were quite right to protect the working of Parliament. They were quite right to see that new legislation which is to go through is in a form which Parliament can digest. They were also quite right to improve the drafting of legislation. But I feel they were wrong to change the rules without checking, first, that all the players would accept the new rules; and, secondly, that the rules could be interpreted in crystal clear fashion. I say that having taken advice that, as my noble friend Lord Amory said, the new rules leave some doubt as to how Parliamentary Counsel will advise local authorities in future. This is a matter which must be cleared up. For example, Clauses 8, 11, 12, 13, 23, 39 to 41, and 46 to 53 could all be interpreted as powers for general purposes. I say to the noble Viscount. Lord Hood, only that I am told that that is how counsel view the matter. I believe that that is one weakness of the Report.
However, its main weakness is what we are trying to correct; that is, that the Government should bring in this general powers legislation, and they should have done so a long time ago. The weakness of the Committee—and I support the noble Lord, Lord Champion—is that they threw out 10 clauses which they said were suitable for general powers. We have already heard from the noble 916 Baroness, Lady Birk, that only six of those clauses were accepted by the Government for general powers, while four were not. Therefore, I would ask the noble Viscount, Lord Hood: what happens to the other four? They are required by the local authority. The Committee said that they are not to be accepted because they should go into general legislation, yet the Government say that they will not go into general legislation because, in their view, they are not general. I do not think this point has been answered, but if it has then I apologise.
What is the Government's role in this matter? They were very right to encourage local authorities under the 1972 Act to prepare their Bills, to have consultation and to bring them forward in an orderly fashion. I accept that the Government are in a difficulty as there are approximately seven Departments, all of which have to be consulted and involved in general legislation. But, quite clearly—and I believe that this is the fundamental argument of the noble Lord, Lord Champion—the Government must give a lead with their general powers before local authorities bring forward legislation, so that they know what is already included.
I should like to finish with three thoughts. First, if the Bill is to go through in its present state I suggest to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that there is a case for the ratepayers of Glamorgan to be sympathetically considered for reimbursement by the Government as their Bill has been treated as a test case at a cost of £100,000. Secondly, if it is impossible, as I accept, in this overworked Parliament to produce within this Session a Bill giving general powers, why cannot the Government publish a circular setting out the model clauses which all local authorities could adopt in their Bills? That is a strong argument, and the reason why I think so is that if these model clauses were incorporated in a Bill its size would not matter. The noble Viscount, Lord Hood, will remember that in 1969 there was a West Midlands Bill. In fact, there were five Bills, 300 clauses in each, and how long did the Special Committee take? It took one day per Bill. The reason was that all of the clauses were acceptable. They were basically model clauses. I do not think it matters whether the Bill is large or 917 small; it is the model clauses which count. Finally, my Lords, if the Government are not prepared to issue a circular, which they could so well do, they ought not to encourage local authorities to produce further Bills, thus repeating the unhappy performance we are seeing tonight, until their general legislation comes forward.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTERHILL
My Lords, may I be allowed to contribute a couple of sentences to this debate. I apologise to your Lordships that I was not present during the earlier part of the debate. I was engaged upstairs on your Lordships' business for another purpose.
I do not wish to go into this matter in any detail, but two principles are involved, both of which I reject. Unless I misunderstood the purpose of local government reorganisation, it was intended to strengthen the position of local authorities. What is now proposed does not strengthen local authorities; it weakens their position. To me the other principle is equally important. The Bill now before us seems to suggest that progress comes from the centre. I reject utterly that proposition. I believe that progress in this country has come from the periphery rather than from the centre. Therefore, to leave to local authorities the initiative which they have enjoyed for a very long period of time is essential and in the best interests of the country.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, I intervene at this stage because I feel unhappy that the Government have been unable to give us any real indication of when the general powers Bill will be presented to us. We have no firm commitment from the Government. I accept that the Government have good intentions and we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that the Bill has been drafted. However, we have no idea of the clauses which it contains and this makes it very difficult for local authorities, who are still looking at their legislation, to assess whether they are wasting their time, energy and possibly their money. I should have felt happier this evening if on behalf of the 918 Government the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, had been able to give us a firmer assurance.
Having listened to noble Lords this afternoon, one would think that this Bill is designed to cover all local government legislation in one fell swoop, that it would become completely static and that we should never need another set of model rules. We have to accept that local government will continue to make progress and will still want to bring about changes. Therefore, I should have liked the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, to tell us that there is to be a biennial, triennial or quinquennial review so that local authorities can consider problems among themselves and say, "We can get together and in three years' time bring forward a concerted point of view."
The problem is much more urgent in the case of the metropolitan counties than it is in the case of Glamorgan, but I shall be supporting Glamorgan and will be speaking to that end. The local powers of metropolitan counties will cease completely by the end of 1979. This is a very short space of time, bearing in mind that we shall probably have a General Election during that period which will delay Government legislation for a period of three to four months.
The other misapprehension that certain noble Lords have is that all local authorities act as though they were members of a local badminton or table tennis club. Local authorities are political bodies who see things very differently from one another; they have different points of view because they are Party politically orientated. I am wondering whether the sale of council houses will become a model rule. That will be very difficult. There will then be the problem of establishing in local authorities direct labour building departments. Is that to become one of the model rules? Is it no longer to be part of a local Act? The matter is not quite so simple as noble Lords have said. It is very nice to have clean air and regularly swept roads, but very contentious items are contained in local legislation and they will be retained only if local authorities are allowed in future to bring forward that kind of legislation.
I am as appreciative as any of the noble Lords who have already spoken about the difficulties which the Committee faced. It is argued that Parliament will be unable to cope with the heavy 919 programme of private legislation that will come from the local authorities. But it was not the local authorities which asked to be reorganised; it was central Government which decided to reorganise local government. If they now say, "We have built a hornets' nest and we are unable to solve all these problems, so hold back", that is not the fault of the local authorities. I am not suggesting to my noble friends on this side of the House that it was their folly; but the folly is there, and it was brought about by a previous Government which no doubt had advice from their civil servants regarding the problems which would arise. Therefore the Government that brought forward the reorganisation of local government recognised that local government needed to bring about some rationalisation of the accumulated mass of local law. Having accepted that fact, the Government brought forward, perhaps not very logically, the idea that local authorities should have a timetable, look at the legislation which existed in their counties and make changes.
The noble Earl the Chairman of Committees said how wasteful it would be of Government money and time if all local authorities brought forward their own Private Bills; but as many noble Lords have said, the Government themselves should have brought forward legislation, and then no other local authority, including South Glamorgan, would have begun to consider their legislation until they had looked at the Government legislation and said, "That is all right", gone down their own lists and found themselves with purely local legislation which they could bring forward in local Bills.
There is a saying—I do not know whether it applies in this House—about putting the cart before the horse. I think that the Government are doing so in this case. Other noble Lords have said this afternoon that local legislation has been used for many years as a testing ground for new ideas. Special provisions that are not contained in the general law have been promoted by local authorities in their own Bills. In many cases, when they have proved successful, they have been adopted by other local authorities, and very often they have then been incorporated in general legislation. The 920 Public Health Act 1961 proves conclusively that many of the provisions contained in that Act were taken from a number of the local Acts of various authorities.
I am very concerned with the principle, not that the South Glamorgan Bill is a test case only in certain instances but that it is a test case against people who serve on local authorities. I should have said that the principles enunciated by the Committee in their Report could lead to an extinction of local government private powers. This is an important point, and it has been said that this is not the intention. But if one looks at the conclusions drawn by the Committee—and I listened carefully to the speech made by the Lord Chairman of Committees—one sees that they are disallowing provisions which they say are related to matters, "common to all, or a great number of authorities", and therefore consider them to be matters for general legislation, whether or not they were likely to be included in a general powers Act by the central Government. Because they were general in their application they were automatically thrown out.
In the past, local authorities have had to prove quite conclusively to Parliament that a local need arises, and in order to get their provisions they have had to run the gauntlet and to prove that a local provision is necessary. What this Bill has shown is that they feel that the Acts they have in the new area are Acts which they fought for in those conditions. They proved conclusively to past Parliaments that those provisions were necessary. Why should this Parliament suddenly say that they do not think they are necessary? I should have said that once Parliament had agreed, there would have to be some very good reasons why Parliament should disagree when it is only re-enacting the same Acts. Under the Local Government Act 1972, it is quite clear that local authorities can promote Private Bills if they are satisfied that such action is expedient. I should have thought that the South Glamorgan authority felt that these powers were expedient and needed to be repeated.
Perhaps some noble Lords may think that I am a little more brash than others in this House, but in my view the Committee have accepted the principle that 921 "Whitehall knows best"—or Marsham Street in one particular case. I do not accept that view, and I speak with 20 years' experience as a member of the Birmingham City Council. I say to noble Lords who are listening tonight that Birmingham City Council is no mean authority. It is a very large local authority; before local government reorganisation it was the largest all-purpose local authority in the country. Therefore tonight I can say quite clearly, and without any fear of contradiction, that in the past Birmingham has been in the forefront in promoting private legislation which many authorities have subsequently taken up. Because Birmingham is a large local authority, it has often seen multiple problems which are thrown up in large cities, and many other authorities have seen this and followed our example.
I can remember sitting on the Birmingham City Council as the chairman of the Housing Committee when we brought forward our own Act of Parliament—the Multiple Occupation Bill. At that time, we had to prove the need conclusively to the Government. I can remember how difficult it was to convince Ministers and civil servants that this would be a serious problem in Birmingham because of the influx of people from all over the world who came to live in the city, and that if we did not govern the city properly by seeing that houses were not multiple occupied, ghettoes and slum conditions would be created. Eventually, we convinced the Minister that we were right, and when local authorities have complained about multiple occupation, I am surprised that they were not able to take the same kind of powers as Birmingham took, which they now rigorously enforce by taking people to the courts.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Champion, but I think it is necessary to put forward points of view and to explain how a local government has perhaps been particular in the first place and become general afterwards, or when local government Acts have been particular in the first place and many years afterwards the Government have decided that that was the right course to adopt. Perhaps I may point out that the Birmingham Corporation Bill, which was passed in 1919, had a famous clause in it known as the "Birmingham Clause". This gave to the Birmingham Corporation a general power to acquire land by agreement, 922for the benefit, improvement or development of the city, and in advance of requirements".This was a far-reaching clause and it was under that clause that the Birmingham City Council was able to go forward with a very ambitious programme of slum clearance and the rebuilding of the city centre of Birmingham. In fact, if the approach to the South Glamorgan Bill had been the approach in 1919 other local authorities—and Birmingham in particular—would have waited until 1963, when the Government brought forward their Local Authorities Land Act. But by that time, of course, people and local authorities would have been in great difficulties. Now that is general in approach. In 1919 every local authority could have brought forward that clause, wanting to acquire land and develop it at some time. The general approach might quite easily have been turned down under the South Glamorgan proposals.
I think every noble Lord in the House tonight will be pleased that a national exhibition centre, which will be the pride of Great Britain, is being built at Stone-bridge under the Birmingham Corporation Act. It would not have been built if Birmingham Corporation had not got the Act placed on the Statute Book in 1959 so that it should have powerto provide, erect, maintain and conduct an exhibition hall".There was no thought in 1959 of building a huge exhibition centre. It was thought that a new exhibition hall was needed because the atrocity which was called "Bingley Hall" in the city was badly bombed during the war; it was a hopeless place in which to hold exhibitions anyway, and it was felt that in the rebuilding of the city centre at some stage we would build a nice new exhibition hall. But because that provision was on the Statute Book we were able, with Government aid, to build a large exhibition centre. If the principles included in the South Glamorgan Bill had been operative in 1959 nobody would now be able to say: "We have this marvellous new exhibition centre which we hope will do such a lot for the prosperity of this country".
I do not want to give any more details of things that Birmingham have done because I know all local authorities can enumerate such instances. But if your 923 Lordships accept the view expressed by the Committee I think all initiative by the local authority will be stifled and if we accept these proposals it will remove "government" from local government and we shall be asking local authorities to become nothing more than agencies for the central Government, and that at a time when the Government are asking for greater participation at all levels. It is a contradiction in terms to be saying: "Do not participate too much and do not endeavour to change too much because it creates all kinds of difficulties for us".
I want to say, quite quickly, that in my view people who are elected to serve on local authorities are responsible persons. They are removed if they are not, and the persons who advise local councillors have been proved to be trustworthy. Those who have been elected to the position of local councillors, and the officers who serve them, are nearer to local problems and difficulties; in other words, they are much nearer to grass-roots problems. They are not desk-bound civil servants in Whitehall. They have a fundamental right to place before Parliament measures which they feel are beneficial to the people whom they represent in their local authorities.
My Lords, I feel very strongly that this Bill needs to be considered very seriously. The principle that a local authority has a right to petition Parliament for powers in its area, and where it has to prove a local need, is an important privilege for local authorities. That privilege should be continued, and should be tested only as to the appropriateness of the question of the legislation that they bring forward. It is my considered view that the local authorities concerned, and not Government Departments, are the best judges of what local legislation is necessary for their areas. I support the noble Lord, Lord Champion, because I feel quite conclusively that there is a principle other than that which is being debated here this afternoon; that principle being that local government should still retain the word, "government", and not be merely a local authority.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord RHODES
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, the Lord 924 Chairman, for his courtesy in not objecting to my speaking, despite the fact that I had not put down my name. I will be as brief as I can. I support the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who is today living up to his name, because he is sticking out for the principle which stands out above any other; that is, the principle that local authorities, as envisaged in the 1972 Act, should be able to control more of their own affairs, as was so ably put a minute or two ago by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill.
If anybody is in any doubt as to whether local authorities in different parts of the country need to have autonomy and to be able to promote Bills, all that person needs to do is to watch the programme on television on Monday nights, the play which is based on the book by Mary Gaskell. In that play, one can see how various localities throughout the country have suffered in the past, and have had great difficulty in catching up with the present. In the old days, I opposed very bitterly Manchester Corporation—in fact, until comparatively recently—because the 1972 Act chipped where I live out of Yorkshire and made me into what is known as a Greater Mancunian. I have objected to it all along. I thought that Bill was a bad Bill. When we were discussing the Community Land Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in her reply agreed that the Bill was a bad Bill. Yet here we are, perpetuating that bad Bill and pursuing some of its worst elements.
My Lords, what happened under the 1972 Act was not wholly bad. At any rate it brought together authorities like the district councils of Oldham, Bury, Rochdale and Tameside. Very often, they had a common cause, common desires, and a common objective in what they were proposing when they came with their Private Bills. They are now being gathered up. The Select Committee has done a lot of work, and we see the outcome of their Report. I would say without any fear of contradiction that if we undermine the ability of local authorities to come here to promote their Bills, we shall be taking a backward step.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, mentioned a Clean Air Act 1946 of the Manchester City Council. In my 925 district for years we could not grow cupressus. The owners of cottage gardens wherein grew rhododendrons used to go round with a rag, some soap and water, and rub off nearly one-eighth of an inch of grime. Then what happened? In 1946 a Bill was brought in in another place. I remember it very well, and there are Members in this House who will remember that Bill being brought in in another place; there was quite a bit of controversy about it at the time. But that was in 1946, and it was not until a decade had passed before central Government was able, or was at least mindful, to introduce a Clean Air Act. We had a 10 years' start simply because Manchester Corporation had the wit to introduce this Act.
Let us come on to 1950, to home repairs and protection of dangerous places, which sounds very prosaic. That was a legacy from the past, too. That was mining tips and subsidence. It had to be dealt with by the people on the spot who knew the problems. Government did not get round to doing anything about it for years. In fact, similar powers were vouchsafed to local authorities only two years ago, but Manchester introduced it in 1950.
So we go on. Whether it was a question of movable dwellings or being able to invest staff pension funds in equities, Manchester led the way. They led the way, too, on something that general legislation cannot cover. It cannot cover the question of hackney carriages. What pertains in one big area does not pertain in another. Manchester got through their legislation many years ago. In fact, Working Parties have been working on this question of hackney carriages ever since 1954, and nothing has been done about it in a general way since Manchester acted on it many years ago. My Lords, I believe that if local authorities cannot come to this House to promote Private Bills for the needs of their own localities, we shall be the poorer for it. I support the noble Lord, Lord Champion, in his splendid bid to do something about it.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Lord CAWLEY
My Lords, I am tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, in that I was born in the City of Salford and my home was within three 926 miles of the Manchester town hall. But I want to raise with the House another point, a curious anomaly in our procedure which has arisen on this Bill. I refer to Part VIII, now Part V, "Assistance to Industry and Commerce, etc." This was petitioned against by two authorities in South Wales, Merthyr Tydfil and one other, and as usual it was submitted to a Select Committee, of which Committee I took the chair and four extremely distinguished Members of your Lordships' House were appointed as members. We sat for five days and they were five full days; that is equivalent to ten half days, as compared with 26 half days the Committee of three sat. Though we had full power to reject the whole of Part VIII, there was no serious suggestion that we should do it. The Committee took the view that it was a quasi-judicial proceeding and that we had to study the Petitioners' case and decide whether we should make Amendments or, if necessary, reject the whole Part. We did in fact make a number of Amendments and we cut out one complete clause. No representations were made as to general policy. I do not think if they had been made by anyone the Committee would have taken them into consideration. We were working entirely on the evidence and, of course, the submissions of the Government Departments.
The Department of Trade suggested that this Part should expire in 1984, that curious Orwellian date which has been fixed for the expiry of all local government Acts. We questioned the representative as to why the Department wanted this Part to expire in 1984, and his reply was:The Government's view is that it is undesirable and untidy that this situation should continue".Later he said:My Secretary of State takes the view that in the present untidy situation it is desirable that the continuation of powers we propose you should allow for South Glamorgan should, as with other authorities, lapse in 1984".He was further questioned and he answered that if a miscellaneous provisions Act were enacted in the meantime a clause or Schedule could be put in by which the provisions could be repealed.
So we now got into the position that the 1984 Amendment was put to the Committee and they unanimously rejected it. The extraordinary part of this is that this 927 Part of the Bill was not submitted to the Committee of three. I think that is most likely in accordance with our procedure. If it had been, it appears it would certainly have received the butcher's knife, and most likely all the provisions the Petitioners wished to have removed would have been removed by the Committee of three. It does seem a most extraordinary legislative process that, because somebody has opposed, therefore the surgical knife is not applied to this Part of the Bill. I do think that in future it might be made possible that the Chairman of Committees should have his bite, so to speak, at the legislation, before the Petitioners come in; it might then well be that the Petition would be answered by means of the Chairman of Committees, or the Lord Chairman Commission, and the Petition, which is of course extremely expensive, would be avoided. My Lords, I do not think there is anything else I want to say. I am still in a state of schizophrenia about the main point we have been discussing today, and I await the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and the Chairman of Committees.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord CHAMPION
My Lords, I understand that the Chairman of Committees is not to reply to this debate at this point, and I can well understand that because he made an excellent speech at the outset; I cannot imagine that he has much left to say at this point. I shall be very brief. The debate has, in my opinion, been conducted in a way wholly commendable and in accordance with the best traditions of this House. I hope I shall be forgiven if I do not refer to the many excellent speeches we have heard in the course of the debate. I am so much caught up in the traditions of this House that anything taking place after 7 p.m. in this Chamber can readily be termed "this late hour". This is certainly a late hour and I want to proceed as soon as possible to a Division.
There are some remarks I ought to make. Perhaps I should say in courtesy to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, who apologized for her absence during much of the debate, that she gave us the reason. It is quite right that she should go to a reception or something of that 928 sort which celebrates this great man, John Buchan. I must admit that, as I listened to her speech, I wished she had taken the 39 Steps before she made her speech, because it was a very powerful contribution. Anyway, we are glad to see her back with us again.
An important point made against the Amendment is that it rests on a promise of a general powers Bill. My noble friend Lady Birk made much of this and told us of the attempts being made to fit the Bill, which, I understand, is now prepared, into the programme. But, my Lords, it is not only one Bill that is required to meet the difficulties consequent upon disallowing so many of the South Glamorgan clauses. This is a point which was rightly stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and itemised by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. Much has been said, too, and particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, about the difficulty of persuading Governments to commit themselves to legislation. What we would say about this is that, if Governments will not commit themselves, then local authorities ought to be given the clauses they ask for, if they can justify them. And I think, in regard to many of the clauses that are in dispute here, the authorities concerned have justified their inclusion in their Bills, and they were taken out only because there was the possibility that at some later time Bills may be introduced dealing with the matters.
If we refer these things back to a Committee, they will look at them, and if they feel there is nothing sufficiently definite to make them disallow them, they ought to include them in the Bill and let them remain there. Another point, and an important point, was made; that is, that a large number of clauses will be referred back to a Committee. The Amendment that I am moving would limit the number of such clauses to be treated in that way, and any clauses already met by a Bill introduced during the period when the reference back has taken place could be dealt with without difficulty, and certainly without delay. This would cause neither difficulty to a Committee nor time to be lost. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory—I must refer to him—was right when he said that a Committee ought to be able to find a way of easing the situation, and this 929 is what we are after. There should be a way of easing the situation which is now being imposed on the local authorities. He said this from his vast experience as a Member of both Houses and his experience as a very high ranking Minister.
I could refer to others, and I ought to, but I have been under pressure to end this debate as quickly as possible and proceed to a Division. My Lords, I thank
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ The Earl of LISTOWEL
My Lords, I should like to say a few words in reply to the debate on my Motion. I shall certainly look at the procedural point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cawley. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and other noble Baronesses and noble Lords who have said some kind words about me and the members of my Select Committee. In view of the decision that the House has taken on the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, I shall in due course move a procedural Motion to recommit the appropriate clauses of the South Glamorgan Bill. In the meantime, I shall consult the noble Lord and the Promoters about which clauses should be recommitted, and I will consider the question of a suitable Select Committee for Recommitment.
§ all who have supported this Amendment, and ask them to do something more than support it by words and to support it with their feet into the Division Lobby.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 51; Not-Contents, 17.929
|Aberdare, L.||Digby, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Drumalbyn, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.|
|Alexander of Potterhill, L.||Elton, L.||Popplewell, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Falmouth, V.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Amory, V.||Fisher of Rednal, B.||Rhodes, L. [Teller.]|
|Arwyn, L.||Granville of Eye, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Gridley, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Hale, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Hill of Luton, L.||Somers, L.|
|Castle, L.||Hinton of Bankside, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Iddesleigh, E.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Cawley, L.||Kinnoull, E. [Teller.]||Tenby, V.|
|Champion, L.||Lee of Asheridge, B.||Vickers, B.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Long, V.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Clwyd, L.||Lyell, L.||White, B.|
|Collison, L.||Maelor, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Denham, L.||Monck, V.||Young, B.|
|Birk, B.||Kirkhill, L.||Shepherd, L. (L. Privy Seal)|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Listowel, E.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor)||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, B|
|Hood, V. [Teller.]||Melchett, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Platt, L.|
§ On Question, Motion, as amended, agreed to.