§ The Secretary of State shall make regulations prescribing the apportionment between the council of a county and the councils of the districts in the county of any sums received by the council of a county under Part V of the Act of 1948.
§ The power to make regulations conferred on the Secretary of State by this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.—[Mr. T. Fraser.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
I hope the Joint Under-Secretary or the Solicitor-General will be as generous to the Opposition as they have been over 580 the recent Amendments moved by their right hon. and hon. Friends. They have commended to the Committee recently Amendments which they did not think were altogether necessary and which in some cases were not altogether good, but they were moved by their right hon. and hon. Friends and so they advised the Committee to accept them. We did not take up the time of the Committee in showing good reason why the Committee should not accept them, or did so briefly. We did not divide the Committee.
This Clause is somewhat similar to one I moved and which was discussed in Committee upstairs. It has the support of the Committee presided over by Lord Sorn, at least that Committee listened to representations from the District Councils' Association in favour of a proposition that the payments made to a county council under Part V of the Act of 1948, payments in lieu of rates from railways, transport and electricity undertakings, should be apportioned between the county council and district councils within a county.
Lord Sorn's Committee, on whose recommendations the Bill is based, agreed with the District Councils' Association that there should be an apportionment of the moneys received. The Committee did not accept the formula offered by the District Councils' Association but said that if some formula could be arbitrarily laid down or agreed upon, the Committee accepted the principle of apportionment.
In Standing Committee I put forward a new Clause which repeated the formula offered by the District Councils' Association to the Sorn Committee, and the Joint Under-Secretary of State said he could not accept this formula, advancing the same reasons as those given by the Sorn Committee. Nevertheless, he did not resist the principle that there should be an apportionment between the county council and the district councils within the county council. Since he said in Committee that he would be willing to have another look at the matter, I withdrew my new Clause and waited for his new Clause to appear on the Order Paper with the formula which he, with all the assistance he has at his disposal, could work out.
No such new Clause appeared on the Order Paper and I had to get to work myself. In this new Clause, I propose to give the Secretary of State power to 581 make regulations prescribing the apportionment between the district councils within the area of a county council and the county council itself; and I go on to say that the regulations made by the Secretary of Stateshall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subjectto the negative procedure in the House.
This, I believe, is a reasonable proposition. It may be that the new Clause is faulty in its drafting. I confess that I did the drafting myself, and I am no expert at the job. The Clause has this merit: hon. Members had to read it only once to know what I was trying to do.
I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be able to make a concession here. He will have a little time to discuss with the authorities concerned what he and his Department regard as a good apportionment between the county council and the district councils. He has not resisted the suggestion that there should be an apportionment. In Committee he seemed to accept the recommendation of the Sorn Committee that it would be a desirable thing to have an apportionment, but he was in some difficulty in working out a formula.
If he accepts the new Clause it will become part of the Act and he will be able to tell the district councils and the county councils that there must be an apportionment. He might then get an agreed apportionment, but in any case he would have been given power by Parliament to determine an apportionment which he would put into the form of regulations and lay before the House. They need not take time in the House, unless hon. Members decide to pray against them. We are not providing for a system which would eat into the Government's time in the House as and when regulations are made. I think this is a reasonable proposition and I hope the hon. Gentleman will make a concession on it.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne
I find it difficult to resist the opening words of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) or his courteous blandishments. He does it so charmingly. I wish I could do it as well. Indeed, I have some sympathy with the objective underlying the Clause. Unfortunately, I do not believe that it is workable in practice.
582 The district councils suggested to the Sorn Committee that Part V payments should be distributed to them on the same principle as that on which they receive their share of the Exchequer Equalisation Grant under the 1954 Act, but this proposal was not acceptable to the Sorn Committee, and the Government support the Committee's view.
Since then, the district councils have offered us no alternative suggestion. The Sorn Committee considered sharing on the basis of rateable values, but that would leave nothing for the county councils. It considered sharing on the formula used for payments by the Treasury in lieu of rates in respect of Crown property, and discarded that suggestion because the Part V payments, unlike the payments on Crown property, are not related to the value of the property occupied in each area by the nationalised authorities. Since the Committee stage on 10th May, there have been further opportunities to find a solution. My right hon. Friend has tried, unsuccessfully. No other suggestion has been forthcoming.
The new Clause simply hands the puzzle to the Secretary of State and says, "You solve it".
§ Mr. Browne
But can it be solved? Before the Secretary of State accepts an obligation that he shall make regulations, he must know whether he can make regulations, and the answer here is that he cannot. There is no question of the status of the district councils or the views of the county councils. If the Sorn Committee or anyone else had suggested a fair and reasonable method of apportionment, even though the amount involved averages only £70 a year for the district councils and even though the landward ratepayer, on the average, would not benefit, nevertheless my right hon. Friend would no doubt have considered making suitable provision in the Bill.
I am sure the Committee realise that this is not a party matter. With the assurance that this decision is based solely on the practical difficulties and is in no way a reflection on the status of the district councils, I hope that the hon. Member will withdraw his Motion.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I am grateful to the hon. Member for the spirit in which he 583 has approached this matter, if not for the conclusion which he has reached.
He said that this problem is incapable of solution. He said that we cannot take the rateable value because on that basis the district councils would get all of the payments and the county councils would get none. If we took 50 per cent. of the rateable value, the district councils in each county would get half the money and the county council would get the other half. If we took 25 per cent., the district councils would get 25 per cent. of the money and the county council would get 75 per cent. of it. That does not seem a difficult thing to decide. It may be that the county councils would be unwilling for the district councils to have a share of this money at all, but the Sorn Committee recommended that they should have it and the Joint Under-Secretary has not denied that there is justice in their claim.
Other formulae have been suggested. I do not know whether Colonel Findlay, V.C. of Dunbartonshire, a very active member of the District Councils Association, has written to the hon. Member as he has written to me. Colonel Findlay is in London today on other business; he is engaged elsewhere. When he reads the Report of the debate he will be very disappointed in the Joint Under-Secretary, who has been unable to do anything for the district councils. Colonel Findlay submitted a formula which I considered incorporating in my new Clause. Eventually I thought it would be too risky to try another formula in the new Clause, and for that reason I put down the Clause providing for the formula being decided by regulations.
It must be possible to do this. I have suggested a formula and Colonel Findlay has made other suggestions. It must be possible to do it. I am sorry to say this, but if the hon. Gentleman is unable to accept this Clause I must draw the conclusion, as will the district councils, I think, that the decision to resist it has been taken not because it is impossible to work out formulae, since several have been suggested, but because the Scottish Office do not want to find themselves at variance with the County Councils Association. County councils would feel offended if he accepted this Clause. I rather suspect that it is because of that 584 that the hon. Gentleman replied as he has done, but I wonder if he could not, even now, change his mind.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
Quite clearly, we are unconvinced by the Joint Under-Secretary's speech. He indicated that the district councils themselves had, since the Committee stage, offered no alternative, but surely the hon. Gentleman's speech made it perfectly clear that no alternative would be acceptable. It is because the county councils themselves are not prepared to accept any suggestion that he has had to come to the Box and defend the Secretary of State and the county councils. Perhaps I may say that I am not surprised that the Government should say that this is impossible; if a Labour Government had been in power they would have said that the impossible only takes a little longer, and would have been able to do something about it.
I wish to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has said. The district councils are going to be terribly disappointed by the reply given by the Joint Under-Secretary tonight, and I hope that even at this late stage he can give them some hope at least that the Scottish Office is sympathetic, despite what the county councils' attitude might be.
§ Mr. McInnes
It is not impossible to find a suitable formula that would enable this proposal to be put into effect. For example, it has been suggested that if each of the district councils got 20 per cent. of the rateable value within their own areas that would, in essence, mean that the county council would get the remaining 80 per cent. Surely the Joint Under-Secretary will not tell us that a formula of that kind is unworkable?
I cannot help feeling that what has actuated his decision tonight is his desire not to offend the county councils, but he must appreciate that the district councils have an unanswerable case. This difficulty about finding a formula seems to me to be a synthetic or imaginary one, and one that could be surmounted if the minds of the Scottish Office were applied to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has suggested one method; other methods have been suggested also, and I hope that though the hon. Gentleman has indicated that he 585 has made up his mind that it is impossible to find the necessary formula that does not close this question, and that it may be possible, by some other means, to give effect to this demand that the district councils be given an apportionment of the money.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne
I can assure hon. Members opposite that we did not consider this matter with closed minds. Almost too much time was taken up in trying to find a solution. What I have said is quite genuine and perfectly right—we really cannot find a formula. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) asked, "Why not make it 50–50 or 25–75?" He will remember that the amount which was mentioned, is, on the average, about £70 per district council, and a fair split—and we must have regard to both sides of the question—would be so ridiculously small as to be, in our view, not worth putting into effect. I do appreciate the moderation with which the hon. Gentlemen have made their speeches. I appreciate also how important this is—as a matter of prestige rather than of cash—to the district councils. The words with which I rejected the Clause were chosen with great care and sincerity, but, again, I regret that the Government cannot change their mind.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Although the hon. Gentleman has mentioned a figure of £70, he appreciates, of course, that in the large district councils the figure is not one of £70 but very much greater. There are district councils with a rateable value which exceeds that of many large boroughs. We have some district council areas with populations of 70,000, so it means quite a lot to a district council which is seeking for itself some prestige and standing which is at present denied it.
The Joint Under-Secretary will appreciate that this is not a new Clause that I could withdraw. I do not want to trouble the Committee with a decision, but we had better have a negative result. I am not at all pleased with the reception of the new Clause.
§ Question put and negatived.
§ Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), considered.