§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Read 3ª (according to Order), with the Amendments.
§ Clause 41 [Provision of reciprocal services, etc., by Corporation and other local authorities]:
LORD DRUMALBYN moved, in subsection (2), to leave out all words after "the other hand," and insert:
for the manufacture by one party of any building or structural components of buildings for or on behalf of the other party, and for the purchase by one party of building fittings, components of buildings and other materials for or on behalf of the other party.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think perhaps I should start by explaining the scope of this Amendment. The rubric of Clause 41 reads:
§ "Provision of reciprocal services, etc., by Corporation and other local authorities."
§ As I understand it, the subsection, if I may interpret it, provides for agreements, 98 first of all, for use by one party of the plant and equipment of another party, or for their joint use, or for the use or joint use of the services of employees. It also provides for agreements for one party which is building houses for itself, say, in the course of overspill, in the area of another authority, to put up for that other authority in that area buildings, such as houses, libraries or clinics. Thirdly, it provides for agreements for one party to do work on site preparation for another party in such circumstances; and, fourthly, for one party to carry out maintenance on behalf of another party, presumably on buildings which the first party has itself constructed. Given the existence of a direct labour force, these seem to be reasonable arangements, and no objection is taken to that. After all, neighbouring authorities are not likely to pay Manchester Corporation more for work which they can get done more cheaply elsewhere.
But it is subsection (2) where the difficulty arises. That subsection provides for the Manchester Corporation to make agreements with the councils of 4 administrative counties, 7 county boroughs, 17 boroughs, 50 urban district councils and 6 rural district councils
for the manufacture or purchase by one party of any building, building fittings, components of buildings and other materials for or on behalf of the other party.
The Amendment that I am now moving would restrict Manchester Corporation's power to manufacture for another party to building or structural components, but leave its power to purchase, but not to manufacture, building fittings, components of buildings and other materials. The Amendment does not call in question the undoubted advantages of placing collective orders for buildings, as has been done successfully under the CLASP arrangements, and by consortia such as the North West Municipal Building Consortium. But there is no reason why one corporation should place such an order on behalf of other authorities. Authorities wishing to make such collective purchases can quite easily combine together to place orders simultaneously, and so together arrange to get the price advantage of joint purchase. Nor does the Amendment contest the power to manufacture buildings and structural components of buildings for or on behalf of other authorities.
§ The advantages of large-scale manufacture of industrialised houses is well recognised, and it seems sensible that if Manchester Corporation are to erect system buildings outside their own boundaries for their own overspill purposes, then they should also be able to do so for the authorities in the areas where they are putting them up for their own purposes, if those authorities accept their price. There is some reason, I understand, to question the Corporation's costings, but at the moment this has not got further, I gather, than what the witness, who is the director of the Direct Works Department, described as "a contemplated potential." I also recognise that no authority is likely to accept complete uniformity of buildings, and that neither Manchester nor any of the other authorities would like to see all the buildings they are to erect of the same type. It may well be, therefore, that for production to be on an economic scale, even for so large a Corporation as Manchester, Manchester might wish to cater for the needs of other authorities as well as their own, bearing in mind that their own demand for buildings of their own manufacture will represent only a proportion of the total requirements.
There is no question of a monopoly in the true sense, although it seems to me there is a danger of creating a monopoly within the meaning of the Monopolies Act. The director of the Corporation's Direct Works Department stated that he planned to produce at premises which had recently been acquired
precast concrete, including lintels, units and concrete blocks.
These are plainly structural components, and there is nothing in the Amendment which would stop him from doing so, whether for himself or for the other authorities concerned in this clause. But the clause, as drafted, goes very much wider than that. It would permit the manufacture for other authorities of any
building fittings, components of buildings and other materials.
I concede at once that learned counsel for the Corporation stated categorically that the Corporation had no intention of
manufacturing such equipment as glass, ironmongery, plumbing or electrical fittings.
If that is so, then, surely such classes of goods should have been specifically excluded, or, better still, power should have
been confined to production only of those goods which it was intended to produce and processess it was intended to carry out on behalf of other authorities. I say that because I think I can say with confidence that it is a generally recognised principle, as, indeed, learned counsel for the Petitioners have reminded the Select Committee in this House, that powers ought not to be conferred in excess of need—especially where they are unprecedented, as I understand this particular power is.
This subsection seems to me to offend against this rule, at least to the extent I have mentioned. I concede that the director of the Corporation's Direct Works Department wants to produce—and here again I quote what I think he said:
bespoke joinery and other manufactured joinery and school furniture, including laboratory bench and cupboard equipment for other authorities besides his own.
But I understand he produced no evidence that there was a shortage of capacity to produce these goods, whereas evidence of the existence of adequate capacity was given by the Petitioners. All he said was that he expected he would have some unused capacity which he could usefully employ for and on behalf of other authorities.
§ Evidence was given that competition in the joinery trade was keen, and that the likelihood of the Corporation being able to produce joinery on a competitive basis was slight. I think evidence was given that the throughput of the whole existing unit is 187,000 feet of hardboard, ply-woods and block boards, whereas the commercial throughput is 200,000 ft. per operative. With the greatest respect to the Joint Select Committees, it hardly seems that the director made out a case for such manufacture, and I suggest that the clause should be amended: first because it goes far beyond even the stated intentions of the Corporation, and, secondly, because it is almost certainly uneconomic for the Corporation to go in for this type of manufacture. I think it unlikely that the Corporation could produce competitively goods such as the Amendment seeks to exclude. The fact remains that, despite their declared intentions, they might be tempted to try, by the fatal "surplus capacity" argument and by the desire to be self-sufficient.101
§ In any enterprise which does not depend for its survival on ability to make a profit there is an inherent danger of empire-building. Learned counsel stated that there was no intention on the part of the Corporation of making a profit out of other authorities—either, it appears, on what the Corporation itself manufactured or on what they purchased. I am bound to say that I do not understand this. If you do not make a profit you probably make a loss. Breaking even is a somewhat difficult operation, whether you tender for a contract or whether you negotiate a price.
§ In conclusion, there may be something to he said for allowing a large local authority to purchase building components and to use them in building construction done by its own direct labour force, even though statistics of the Ministry of Public Building and Works for last year show that the productivity on contractors' sites was 42 per cent. higher, overall, than on direct-labour force sites. There may even be something to be said for allowing a large local authority to experiment in the manufacture of industrialised buildings—that is to say, including their structural components, and erecting them on behalf of other authorities—but there seems to be nothing to be said for their attempting to manufacture fittings and non-structural components without regard to existing capacity elsewhere. They have not the expertise to do so.
§ I find it difficult to see any argument to substantiate the applicant's claim that public benefit will accrue from powers which they themselves say will remain largely unused. If the Amendment is accepted, the house-building programme will not be prejudiced in any way whatsoever, either in Manchester or elsewhere. What acceptance will do is to remove a temptation to venture into fields where it is exceedingly unlikely that the Corporation can operate economically—namely, the manufacture of building fittings and components. At the very least the Corporation should undertake to amend the clause so as to restrict manufacture to those items, if any, that they can make for themselves more conveniently and more economically than they can purchase them elsewhere. I beg to move.102
Page 30, line 23, leave out from ("hard") to end of line 26, and insert the said new words.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, I rise to support the Amendment so ably moved by my noble friend, but before I go further I should like to declare a contingent interest, in that I am a director of a company which manufactures building materials; and although in the course of the evidence it was made quite clear that Manchester Corporation do not intend to manufacture any of the products which my company manufactures, they are nevertheless taking powers to do so, and I therefore thought that, in accordance with custom, I should declare a contingent interest.
I have also had brought to my notice the fact that it is somewhat unusual for an Amendment to be moved at such a late stage to a Private Bill which has been through all the stages in the other place and has been through a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. I should like, however, to put this point to my noble friend, Lord Molson. If the matter had been debated at an earlier stage, it would have taken up the time of your Lordships. It might well have been put right in Committee in earlier debate, and thus this debate would have been unnecessary. I would enter a plea for time for consideration on the Floor of the House of matters of great import and principle which are dealt with by the Bill and which have not been dealt with in the earlier stages of its passage.
I believe it to be an important principle that manufacture is the job of competitive private enterprise and not of local authorities, and it is on that principle that I wish to make my observations. I accept that, in this field of industrialised building, where a public authority already has a direct works or building department a marginal case can be made out in favour of local authorities' manufacturing industrialised buildings, but I cannot see any justification for the manufacture of building fittings and components such as doorlocks, cisterns, taps, basins, lavatories, items of built-in furniture and the like. It is quite clear from what my noble friend has said that Manchester Corporation are seeking powers which are much wider than they 103 require, and in the course of the evidence given by Mr. Wilson, the director of the direct works department of the Corporation, it was made clear that they intended only to make about six types of product, two of which were not related to domestic building at all but were school furniture and laboratory desks and the like, in connection with educational schemes.
It was particularly interesting, looking at the proceedings of the Select Committee of your Lordships, to see that no attempt was made by learned counsel for the Promoters of the Bill to answer the detailed and admirable case put forward by the Petitioners. Counsel's winding up, if I may quote briefly, begins on page 21 of the fourth day of the proceedings. He said:My Lord, I would wish, therefore, to deal with the matter on rather broad lines.…Surely it does not matter whether in the view of one expert Manchester has chosen the wrong block-making machine…surely it does not matter whether that particular block-making machine is going to cost x thousand pounds or y thousand pounds.My Lords, I think this sort of thing matters very much indeed. He made no attempt to answer the case put forward by the Petitioners but preferred to rely on a much broader concept. He said:The real issue is this, …are these powers sought likely in their exercise to achieve an improvement of production in a field which is beset, as is so often said, with social problems, namely housing, but I would prefer to use the word 'human'?So learned counsel made his appeal on broad human grounds, and made no attempt to answer the case which had been put.
I believe that one can be efficient and competitive and human, and that the best interests of Manchester certainly will not be served by inefficiency and a creation of losses which have to be borne by the ratepayers, the very simple practical argument being that if they were efficient they would be able to build more houses, or with the same amount raised by the rates, achieve more. So there is everything to be said for a public authority, if it is going into this field, being efficient and competitive, and there is nothing in the evidence so far to show that that is what Manchester is going to be.
Before the Select Committee of another place, Mr. Wilson claimed that his 104 department was always given work by the Corporation as a result of successful tenders against open competition, but in actual fact under cross-examination he had to admit that in the course of five years his final costs of work carried out by his department had been checked on only two occasions. So there is considerable doubt about the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of this department. The record so far gives no grounds for confidence in the future. Indeed, if Manchester Corporation are to achieve more efficiency, I would, with respect, submit that the direct works department of the City Corporation should become a separate trading entity and immediately be reconstructed as such by this I mean an organisation which has to produce its own accounts and which will be open to public audits, examination and inspection, and will carry the proper overheads of its separate trading organisation, just as those engaged in private building industry have to do.
Manchester Corporation should have no difficulty in bringing about this change, because they already have separate trading entities in their transport department and their markets department, and I understand that they are intending to have a separate entity for their present airports committee. I hope, therefore, if this Amendment cannot be accepted, that the Corporation will listen to what I have said and so spare the ratepayers one more burden with which they are going to be unnecessarily saddled.
Finally, I think that our having this short debate at this late stage will serve as a useful warning to those other Socialist local authorities who may be tempted to follow Manchester's example in the coming Session. We shall be watching local authority legislation very closely in the coming Session—I have done it before, as the noble Lord knows from his experience in another place—and I do not for one moment think that a Bill incorporating similar provisions will have such an easy passage in the next Session as this Bill has had so far in this.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will not be disposed to accede to this Amendment. It comes rather late in the day. But the only comment which I desire to make about 105 that aspect of the matter is that Amendments which are moved at this late stage of a Bill's progress through Parliament ought to be confined to matters which can be regarded as of general public importance or perhaps national importance. Such Amendments ought not to be used for the defence of individual or commercial interests which may be thought to be threatened. I have no desire to reflect upon commercial interests; it is our duty in this House to safeguard commercial interests. But the appropriate time for that to be done is during the passage of a Bill through a Select Committee in your Lordships' House or through Standing Committee in another place.
The Manchester Corporation and the local authorities adjacent to Manchester who arc enumerated in the Second Schedule to the Bill are confronted with a task of slum clearance and urban redevelopment of immense magnitude. I take the estimate of their task from the survey of the North-West Region which appeared at the end of last week. It is estimated that in this region there are 440,000 houses which are either slums today or will become slums before 1981. If the standard of amenity in these houses is raised by only a modest amount, it is estimated that the total number of unfit houses will rise to something like half a million, or over a quarter of the total number of houses available in this area. This area is, of course, as your Lordships who know it will recall, the oldest industrial area in this country. Many of the buildings, particularly the cottage buildings, were erected something like 200 years ago. The bulk of them are now worn out and fall far below the standards which are expected to-day.
Many of the local authorities in this area are relatively small. A problem of this immensity cannot be undertaken upon conventional building lines. If this area is to be rebuilt, as the local authorities are concerned to see that it is rebuilt, it will be necessary to have recourse to all the modern techniques of standardised building and industrialised construction of parts.
These processes cannot be undertaken by authorities that are too small, except in conjunction with other authorities possessed of greater resources than themselves. It is in order to obtain the powers 106 that are necessary to carry out the reconstruction of this area in that manner that this Bill has been promoted. The Manchester Corporation are seeking these powers to enable these modern methods of construction to which I have referred to be adopted, not only by the Corporation but by the other authorities which will be associated with them. The adoption of these standardised methods will have to be undertaken throughout the whole of this great area. The Manchester Corporation already have facilities for manufacturing building fittings. They manufacture standardised windows and doors and articles of that sort. I am told that articles such as lavatories or bathrooms are manufactured as single units and are placed in houses without the separate parts being individually fitted. All these methods will be necessary if this great task of reconstruction is to be carried out.
I have found it a little difficult to understand what the purpose of this Amendment really is. As my noble friend pointed out, the clause envisages an agreement between the various local authorities concerned, of which the Manchester Corporation will normally be one, but will not necessarily be one. The clause asks for powers for the manufacture or purchase by one party of any building, building fittings, components of buildings, and so forth. The Amendment proposes to leave out the power to purchase and leave the authorities with power for the manufacture by one party of any building and so forth on behalf of the other. I have found it difficult to understand what the purpose of that is. Unless there is power for somebody to purchase the building, for the authority for whom it is intended to purchase the building when it has been erected, or to purchase component parts which are to be manufactured, what is going to happen to it? Are the Manchester Corporation or one of these authorities going to manufacture buildings or component parts and give them away to the other authorities? It is surely inherent in the whole purpose of the clause that one party should be in a position to pay for the work which is done by the other party.
I would submit to your Lordships that by omitting any power to purchase the whole purpose of the clause is really defeated. The Manchester Corporation 107 are certainly not going to manufacture things to give them away. My noble friends would have something to say if they were to do that. It is an inherent feature of the whole system that somebody should be able to purchase these things.
The other alteration which the Amendment seeks to make is in the latter part of the clause, where it deals with:building fittings, components of buildings and other materials for or on behalf of the other party.There again the Corporation are seeking power to manufacture and to purchase. In this case the Amendment would omit power to manufacture, and only the power to purchase would remain. It is possible, of course, that the Manchester Corporation may purchase these articles in bulk and re-sell them to the other authorities, but it is not the intention of the Corporation that they should act as wholesale builders' merchants. What they are asking for is power to manufacture these articles as well as to purchase them. I should have thought that without the power to manufacture them the clause really loses its force altogether. That, I submit, is the real purpose of the Amendment, to defeat the whole idea of the Manchester Corporation and these other authorities taking part in this comprehensive scheme.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, would my noble friend forgive me for interrupting him? I can assure him that that is not the purpose at all. I explained the purpose in my speech. It is a small purpose, and I think he is going much too far in dealing with this question of purchase. It is perfectly possible, as I said, for the various authorities to make their purchases collectively. But that is no reason why one person should purchase on behalf of everybody and then retail to the other authorities.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I am glad to have my noble friend's assurance. I confess that his explanation of the Amendment does not enlighten me. I am no wiser now that I was before, and I hope that my noble friend will not take it amiss if I continue to say that the purpose of this Amendment is really to prevent the authorities from taking part in this comprehensive scheme altogether.
I can assure my noble friends that the supply of material and the manufacturing 108 capacity both of the local authorities and of the business enterprises engaged in this task will be required to the full in carrying it out. The Corporation will not have to compete with commercial traders. Both will be required. This is not a case of what used to be called municipal trading. It is really quite a different proposal. My noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale passed some strictures on the Manchester Corporation Works Department. He read, from the transcript of the evidence given to the Select Committee, passages which he claimed showed that the conduct of the Works Department was not efficient. What he did not tell your Lordships is this: that the Manchester Corporation, through their Works Department, are building houses. Before the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will approve of the tender of the Works Department they will require tenders to be obtained from private builders as well, and comparison is made between the estimates of the Works Department and the tenders obtained from private builders. That I think should be a sufficient safeguard. The Works Department of the Corporation has been in existence for more than 40 years (I think it was established in 1920) and has proved its efficiency. It will be able to undertake as the central component of this group of local authorities the immense task that they will be called upon to perform in reconstructing this obsolete area.
In conclusion may I say this: neither in the City Council nor in the Standing Committee in another place, nor in the Select Committee in your Lordships' House, has this matter been treated as a political or an ideological question. When it was before the Manchester Corporation it was accepted unanimously. I understand that the Standing Committee in another place was unanimous, and I am informed that the Select Committee in your Lordships' House was also unanimous. This is not a political question. It is not an ideological question. It is a question of urgent practical administration, and I hope that in those circumstances your Lordships will not be disposed to accept this Amendment.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, I find myself in complete agreement with everything that has fallen from my noble 109 friend Lord Ilford. I take a certain interest in this matter, because in Schedule 2 a number of local authorities which are likely to benefit from the passage of this Bill are local authorities which I represented during 22 happy years in another place, and I have not ceased to take an affectionate interest in them, even though I have come to your Lordships' House. Therefore, I am most anxious that this measure should be passed.
However, if I may say so, with great respect, I think that your Lordships would be well advised to reject this Amendment for an entirely different reason. I believe that it is important to maintain the distinction between public legislation and private legislation. A special procedure has been set up by which Private Bills are dealt with by Committees upstairs, where it is possible for evidence to be advanced and for cross-examination to take place. The matter has been dealt with not only by a Select Committee in another place, but by a Committee in your Lordships' House, carefully chosen, and in whom I think we ought to have complete confidence. The fact that that Committee have approved this Bill unanimously should, I think, unless there is some important matter of principle, be conclusive for us.
The very fact that my noble friends on the Front Bench have been quoting evidence given in Select Committees which it is now impossible to prove or to test by cross-examination, and which was deal with upstairs in a forensic atmosphere, shows that this is hardly the kind of matter which can with advantage be dealt with upon the Floor of the House. There may well he occasions when a matter of great principle arises, where it is entirely proper for your Lordships' House to decide that a matter is of too great importance to be dealt with by Committee. I well remember the occasion when the late Lord Birkett persuaded your Lordships to reject a Bill advanced by the same Corporation and dealing with important matters of amenity in the Lake District. That, I am sure, was a right thing to do. But that was dealt with on Second Reading. It was not raised on Third Reading, after the whole matter had been carefully investigated by a Select Committee of this House in whom your Lordships have, 110 or certainly should have, complete confidence. So, apart from the merits of the case, which have been so admirably put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, it is important to maintain the distinction between private and public legislation, and I do not think this is an appropriate way of dealing with this matter. I hope therefore that your Lordships will reject this Amendment.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES:(THE EARL OF LISTOWEL)
My Lords, your Lordships will appreciate that I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who proposed this Amendment, or the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, who supported the Bill, in discussing the merits of the Amendment. Nevertheless, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to say a few words about procedure, in the hope that it may assist noble Lords who have attended this debate to form a judgment about the procedural aspect of the issue now before the House.
Clause 41, which the noble Lord seeks to amend, was argued for the best part of three days before the Select Committee to which your Lordships referred the Bill. That Committee, after hearing counsel and witnesses for the Petitioners and the Promotors, decided to accept this clause, including subsection (2), which the noble Lord wishes to alter, and which had been inserted after equally thorough consideration by a Select Committee in another place. The whole Bill, therefore, including this clause, and subsection (2) of the clause, have already been considered with the utmost care by the Select Committee of the House. While your Lordships are fully entitled to amend or reject a Private Bill at any stage, the House has taken the view in the past that Amendments of substance on Third Reading are undesirable. In fact, no such Amendments have been made.
There are only three precedents in the present century for the moving of substantial Amendments, or the moving of the rejection of a Private Bill, on Third Reading. These were the Kent Water Board Bill, in 1955; the Adelphi Estate Bill, in 1933, and the London County Council (Spitalfields Market) Bill, in 1900. In all three cases your Lordships decided not to accept any Amendment of substance and to support the views of the Select Committee as to the merits 111 of the Bill. The procedure which the House has adopted for dealing with Private Bills has proved its value because it ensures absolute fairness to Promoters and Petitioners. I am bound to point out to your Lordships that if we start amending Private Bills on the Floor of the House, where we cannot hear counsel and evidence on behalf of the parties, public confidence in our fairness would be impaired.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, I hope that I shall not take too long. I rise not to discuss the merits of this matter, but to state what my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government thinks is right in this kind of case. I think that most of what I shall say has in fact already been said, but I repeat it not merely with reference to this clause and this Amendment, but to the Bill as a whole—and I hope for future reference. In this case, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has just stated, there were full hearings in Committee of both Houses. In these cases Ministers who have a public interest to safeguard are required to present reports. The reports, I understand, are usually read to the Committees. They are available to anybody who asks for them from the moment they have been issued, and they are therefore public documents. My right honourable friend, being called upon to do so, made a report in this case, and it so happened that he took no objection to this clause. He confirmed that opinion when the clause was amended.
There was, however, another clause in the Bill to which he did object: that clause is still there. But that is not the point. The point is that the Minister is there to fulfil a particular function: to represent the public interest in the matter being considered. The decision must, however, rest with Parliament. Parliament for this purpose uses Committees in both Houses, and I know that both the two noble Lords sitting on the Front Bench opposite have sat in another place time and again and heard Members seeking to move instructions on Second Reading—not on Third Reading—and being told, "This is a matter for evi 112 dence, and it therefore ought to go to the Committee".
This obviously was a matter of evidence. It went to the Committee, it was considered by the Committee, and what is happening now is that two noble Lords, who of course have every right to do so—I am not for a moment disputing that—are seeking to reverse the verdict of the Committee. This verdict was arrived at on evidence heard, on cross-examination, on statistics provided; all we have to go on here is what we are told by one party or another. I am not for a moment impugning the accuracy of what we have been told, but can anybody really suppose that an hour or two hours or so, either in this House or the other House, without evidence being heard, with no more than that, can properly take the place of hearings which lasted on this particular clause for three days before a Select Committee of this House?
My right honourable friend most certainly does not take that view upon a point of this kind, which depends on evidence and which, notwithstanding anything we were told by noble Lords opposite, seems to me at any rate not to raise any Party issue at all or indeed any important political issue of any kind; it is simply a question of rivalry and competence and efficiency as between private contractors and the Manchester Corporation as a body—a question of fact if ever there was one. Are we really being asked to decide the matter in this way? That is the substantial objection, and my right honourable friend does not agree to dealing with this kind of point by instructions on Second Reading, far less on Third Reading.
The difference is that the noble Lords who raise this point on Third Reading are raising a point which has already been lost before the Committee, and invite us to act as some sort of court of appeal on a question of fact (I am bound to say that my legal self might shudder a bit on this one), and to do it without even hearing any evidence at all. I suggest that it cannot be the right thing to do. I hone I have been courteous to the two noble Lords who have raised it. They had, of course, every right to take this course and, if they do not think it impertinent of me to say so, I thought 113 that they did it extremely well, because it was a rather difficult case. I think, however, that this is a wrong procedure in cases of this kind. May I make one other point? I mentioned the report made by my right honourable friend. As a matter of fact, in this case there were six reports from five different Ministers. There are public interests affected in these cases. That is why these reports are called for under the procedure of both Houses and used as public documents.
I notice that no objection was taken to, indeed no mention was made of, the report in this case. It does not seem that a type of matter which does not call for any comment, favourable or unfavourable, in Ministerial reports, can have an overwhelming public importance. Obviously, on that last point opinions opposite differ. I do not think that it is a political point and I trust, as does my right honourable friend, that we shall not be led into the practice of reviewing what are, after all, rather minor questions of fact, questions of balance, questions of efficiency, questions of cost and so on, without evidence before the House, that cannot give an enormous amount of time to them and has no material whatever before it to arrive at a conclusion on those questions.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I express gratitude to the noble Lords opposite for the exposition which they have given of the procedural aspect of this matter. I am bound to say that it did not occur to me at the time that this was in any way a minor matter when powers are being sought in regard to building materials and components for an area which, if one tots up the figures of the four counties concerned, one sees contains something like 10 million inhabitants. I am not certain that they are all covered by the Second Schedule, but this is what it amounts to. It cannot be 114 considered a minor matter. So I think there is a real question of principle involved here, which my noble friend stated very clearly.
If I may, I should just like to say this to my noble friend Lord Ilford. He is entitled to say what he thinks is the effect of an Amendment, but I really do not think he is entitled to insist on what was my purpose in putting it down. I can assure him that my purpose was not in any way to try to disrupt the way in which Manchester Corporation are trying to meet the human needs of their own people in collaboration with others of a wider area. This, certainly, was not my purpose, and I made specific reference to the CLASP procedure, and so forth.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend and I much appreciate his assurance. I hope that nothing I said reflected in any way upon the manner in which he moved this Amendment. It was not intended to do so.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I am greatly obliged to my noble friend and I am sure that is so. I do not think I need detain your Lordships any longer. I felt it right, and my noble friend felt it right, to bring what we believed was a matter of importance before your Lordships. Having done so, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill passed and returned to the Commons.