HL Deb 17 October 1972 vol 335 cc1677-810

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report. In doing so perhaps I owe your Lordships some explanation of the number of stars that appear on to-day's Marshalled List. These were Amendments relating to the Hampshire-Dorset boundary, and after the somewhat dramatic events that took place on the Committee stage the Government tried extremely hard to produce some compromise proposal that would satisfy the very many interests involved. However, after we had published our proposals on the list of Amendments, it became quite clear, following further consultations, that in our efforts to please everybody we had in fact pleased nobody. We therefore thought it wise and in the best interests of the House to withdraw these Amendments, and that is what the stars on the Marshalled List signify.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord Aberdare.)


My Lords, it would be lacking in chivalry to say other than "Thank you" to the Government for their wisdom in leaving the Lymington boundary where the House of Lords placed it at Committee stage. I have a question I should like to ask. May I ask the noble Earl whether yesterday's debacle, when the Government were defeated three times, had anything to do with the welcome return of the Government Chief Whip who in one day suffered more defeats than the noble Lord, Lord Denham, had in the whole time of his stewardship? None the less, we are very glad to see the noble Earl and we hope that he will continue in this admirable way. May I also say that the decision on Lymington will give enormous satisfaction in the borough of Lymington; they have repeatedly expressed their gratitude for the decision we took. I will do no more than commend the noble Earl and other noble Lords for their wisdom, in the face also of this incredible avalanche of Amendments that has descended on us.

May I put one further point to the noble Earl? While not disagreeing that he was perhaps right in the circumstances to remove from the Marshalled List all the Amendments connected with the Western boundary of Hampshire or the Eastern boundary of Dorset, those of us who were most concerned in this really objected only to Amendment No. 16A; the other Amendments were concerned with what might be called a sort of straightening out of the boundary, which would also increase the number who would be resident in Christchurch by moving one or two additional wards from the now dismembered Ringwood area. After all, it was the Government who started this by taking out Ringwood. If the noble Earl would be prepared to consider, provided there is full agreement in this matter between noble Lords here—those who represent Hampshire and the New Forest, the noble Earl, Lord Malmsbury, and others, can be recognised by the New Forest heather they are wearing—entertaining an Amendment along the lines of the latter Amendments that the Government have removed, which really relate to this Western boundary, without, of course, touching the Lymington one, which we now regard as fully settled, I think it would be possible to cover the situation, and incidentally be helpful to Dorset, and peace might then break out.


My Lords, on behalf of some of us who are very keen on the Lymington issue, may I say how deeply grateful we are to the Government for the action they have taken.


My Lords, I have every reason to believe that the border incidents and skirmishes among the tribes of Wessex are about to be settled. As a result of the Government withdrawing these Amendments we have been forced to face reality. This has had a magical effect, and I hope that we may be allowed on Third Reading to consider an Amendment that will appease all parties.


My Lords, as one who perhaps initiated the fight to keep Lymington in Hampshire, may I also express very deep gratitude to the Government for taking this decision. I assure them that their stock in this very important borough of South Hampshire will never be higher. May I, in answer to one question, have the assurance of the Government that this decision is not in any way going to be reversed in the House of Commons? Otherwise, I would say on behalf of all the people of Lymington that they are very happy to stay in Hampshire. Equally, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Digby, that all our discussions have not been aimed at Dorset, for which we have the greatest respect.


My Lords, perhaps I may take the opportunity of saying that Lord Digby and I have already discussed the boundaries and we are agreed, and we hope that others will follow us and will like what we have suggested.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, may I say that my gratitude is muted; it is the House of Lords who have decided this matter, not the Government.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, for what he has said about. the Chief Whip, and we all welcome his return. I will not be drawn on the noble Lord's further observations about my noble friend because I might be scourged from behind if this were the case. Secondly, I am grateful to noble Lords in all quarters for the reception which these asterisks have received in your Lordships' House. I am well aware that Her Majesty's Government are one of the most popular Governments this country has ever had and are now riding on a crest of popularity never yet attained in certain Southern parts of England. I have also noted with attention what has been said by those who have keenly interested themselves in this difficult border area and without in any way wishing to intrude, or to shoot the foxes which more properly belong to my noble friends Lord Aberdare and Lord Sandford, I have already assured a number of noble Lords that if there is a broad consensus of opinion—I think we have been stung sufficiently in these thickets and brambles which around this Dorset frontier to move warily in this area—we would certainly not dismiss the idea of moving a generally acceptable Amendment on Third Reading.


My Lords, the noble Earl did not answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Montagu; namely, that there is no possibility of reversing the Lymington decision in another place? Perhaps we should not press him further. Is he also aware that the spirit of the people of Lymington has been an important factor in this matter?


My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend. Of course I cannot speak for another place, which sometimes moves in a rather mysterious way. But so far as I know there would be no such intention. I think noble Lords opposite, and indeed noble Lords behind me, can sleep reasonably quietly in their beds over the week-end so far as this particular issue is concerned.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Schedule 1 (Counties and metropolitan districts in England).

3.8 p.m.

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 17: Page 227, leave out line 4.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 17, and I invite the House to consider with it Amendment No. 18. I hope this Amendment will also give satisfaction. The Government undertook to look again at the future of local government on the Isle of Wight to see what special or revised arrangements should be made for it in the Bill. Their conclusion is that the best solution is for the island to become a separate new county rather than introduce special arrangements for additional functions to be allocated to the island.

The House will recall that on August 1 my noble friend Lord Aberdare repeated an undertaking previously given in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government and Development that the Government would be looking again at the position of the Isle of Wight to see what exceptional treatment should be given to the island. We have accepted that some special treatment should be given and we have now concluded (and I believe this will be to the general satisfaction of the House) that the best course is to propose a county separate from Hampshire.

Before coming to this conclusion we considered two possible main lines of action. First, we asked ourselves whether the right course might be to set up some sort of special authority for the island within the overall structure of a county council responsible both for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. This authority, which might have been either a separate committee of the county council or a separately elected body, would have been responsible for county level functions in respect of the island. We decided against such a course because we regard it as essential that each county council should have full responsibility over the whole range of its functions over the whole of its area. To have breached this principle would have been a very serious step. Moreover, whatever form the island authority took would anyway have been a halfway step to a separate county council for the island.

The course we have adopted is to make the island a county on its own. This corresponds both with the dictates of geography and with the present administrative arrangements. Certain consequences follow from the simple fact that the Isle of Wight is an island, and these have to be taken into account. Going from the island to a Hampshire County Council headquarters in Winchester for meetings would take a considerable amount of time from the day of the county councillors representing the island. The same would apply to an officer travelling to Winchester or going the other way on duty to the island. This difficulty has been very powerfully urged upon us by the present Isle of Wight County Council. They presented us with some striking figures of the times involved. Then there are the difficulties of the occasional disruptions by bad weather to ferry services to and from the island; and the inflexibility of the ferries would place an additional restraint on county councillors from the island which nobody else would experience. Again, we had to consider what effect these difficulties might have upon the range of people from the island who would be willing to stand as county councillors in these circumstances.

So we have come to the conclusion that the island should have its own county council. Of course, there is no getting over the fact that the island has a population of only 109,000, which is far below the population of a quarter of a million which we regard as the normal minimum for an authority having responsibility for education and the personal social services, but we consider that the exception is justified. Nowhere else is faced with problems of communication with its neighbours which are in any way comparable. Nowhere else would there be so substantial a population whose county councillors would have such difficulties in representing their constituents. Nowhere else would there be such physical remoteness from the rest of the county.

In accepting this special case we are not ignoring the general presumption on population which we have sought to apply elsewhere to authorities responsible for the major services. On the contrary, what we have here is the recognition that the circumstances of the island are such that to insist on joining it with a mainland county to secure the population levels we now consider desirable would be harmful to the quality of the local government in the island. I think that only making a separate county of the island can preserve that, and for those reasons I commend this Amendment to your Lordships.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I come from Portsmouth. I have lived there for nearly 30 years. Portsmouth and Southampton, as neighbours of the island, entirely corroborate the evidence on which the Government have relied and are delighted that they have come to this decision in favour of the island. We wish the new county council the best of luck in the future.


My Lords, it would be ungracious if someone from the Cross-Benches who lives in Hampshire did not congratulate the Government on fulfilling the pledge that Mr. Graham Page gave in the other place and that the noble Earl gave in this place, to look into the special problem of the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight County Council itself will be delighted, the Hampshire County Council is very happy indeed, and the Member of Parliament for the Isle Wight is exhilarated at the decision the Government have made, It is going to be a small county. There will be difficulties ahead, but the new county will start with the good will of the neighbouring county of Hampshire, I thank the Minister for what he has done.


My Lords, as a resident of the Isle of Wight, I am sure that my noble friend's statement will be widely welcomed on the island. I should like to thank him for the pledge he gave and the fact that he has gone through with the pledge. May I also congratulate the Isle of Wight County Council and their Member of Parliament, Mark Woodnutt, for the persistence and obviously fruitful arguments they have put forward to the Government? I am very glad that they have been accepted.


My Lords, may I add a word of congratulation to the Government for having done what at any rate one member of the Royal Commission would have liked to do, although it was inconsistent with all our principles. I had a feeling myself that it would perhaps be for the strengthening of our general argument if we showed that we were not hidebound and were prepared to make just one exception; but I think that would have been wrong and that my colleagues were right. We went along together with a general recommendation of something like a quarter of a million, and therefore we did not propose that the island should be a separate unitary authority. However, I think that the Government are right to do as they have done. I should also like to congratulate them on their timing, because I cannot help feeling that if they had chosen to make this exception a little earlier in the life of the Bill it would have encouraged various other places who were somewhat below the minimum prescribed both by the Royal Commission and by the Government themselves to redouble their efforts to avoid shot-gun marriages and to do various other things which I am glad to say the Government have successfully resisted in most other cases. Therefore may I, from the Cross-Benches and also as a member of the Royal Commission, say how glad I am that this happy solution has been found for the problems of the island, and wish the people of the island the best of luck.


My Lords, may I thank all noble Lords for those sentiments, compliments, and thanks, and encourage them to keep up this attitude towards the Government.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 18.

Amendment moved— Page 227, line 25, at end insert— ("Isle of Wight The administrative county of Isle of Wight.").—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD ARWYN had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 19: Page 229, leave out lines 11 and 12 and insert— ("The county borough of Bath. The administrative county of Somerset.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in view of the result of the Division yesterday, I do not see any purpose in moving this Amendment.

Clause 3 [Chairman]:

3.17 p.m.

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 30: Page 3, line 13, at end insert— ("(4) The chairman of a district council shall have precedence in the district, but not so as prejudicially to affect Her Majesty's royal prerogative.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment formed part of the package of Amendments to do with civic dignities, and at the Committee stage we agreed, at the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, that the substantive debate on them should be kept until we reached the main new clause at the end of the Bill. Immediately after having taken that decision, I inadvertently failed to move this particular Amendment, and with apologies to your Lordships I move it now.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for having put this Amendment down and moving it now. What do the words: but not so as prejudicially to affect Her Majesty's royal prerogative actually mean in this context? Do they mean that only in the case of Her Majesty's being present in the district she will there take precedence over the Chairman, or anyone else?


Yes, my Lords, and the Lord Lieutenant acting as her representative.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8 [Constitution and membership of Greater London Council and London borough councils]:

3.19 p.m.

THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (VISCOUNT COLVILL E OF CULROSS) moved Amendment No. 31: Page 6, line 45, after ("of") insert ("metropolitan").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is a little drafting Amendment. It inserts the word "metropolitan" so as to enable my right honourable friend to make orders to see that the London borough elections take place in the same years as those of the other metropolitan districts. If this word were not inserted I think the subsection would make nonsense. I beg to move.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has said that this is a drafting Amendment, but I think it is a great pity that it was not tabled at Committee stage in order that we might have discussed it more freely than we shall be able to this afternoon. Certainly it is not seen as a drafting Amendment by many people living in the Greater London area. I have received a number of representations with regard to the effect it will have, for it provides for London borough elections to be held in the same years as the metropolitan districts. Metropolitan districts, under Clause 7, will have an election every year except the year of county elections, so London will have annual elections too, which is understood by a great many people who have taken note of the tabling of this Amendment. London has always had trienniel elections with the whole of the councillors returning together. This has been traditional for London boroughs and the metropolitan boroughs that preceded them.

I want to touch on the question of metropolitan districts being required to have three member wards or multiples of three, and to ask whether this requirement will also apply to London boroughs when the Secretary of State makes the order. London, again by tradition, has had a varying number of councillors per ward, some with one councillor, others with two, three, four or even more. London local government was completely re-organised less than ten years ago. There was a tremendous upheaval. Ward boundaries were completely redrawn, and some of the reorganisation of wards was not completed until last year. If the Minister is going to require three-member wards, the whole system will have to be upset again. I am not raising a point that has not been raised before. If my recollection serves me aright it was raised in another place, I think by the Member for Kensington South.

If London must be brought into line with the rest of the country, would it not be better if their elections were held in the same years as non-metropolitan districts? I should like to ask whether there has been or whether it is intended that there will be any consultations with the London Boroughs Association on this point? It is understood that the Minister will have discussions before making the orders referred to in Clause 8. This Amendment will commit the Minister before the discussions take place, and London boroughs will have annual elections. As I understand the position, if the reference in Clause 8, instead of being to metropolitan districts, were to non-metropolitan districts, there would be more scope for the discussions when they are held. Elections could then be annual or quadrennial and ward boundaries need not be changed. I should like to ask the Minister whether further thought might be given to this matter before Third Reading. Perhaps I should say that unless he is able to give some indication that further thought will be given to this matter it may be necessary to table an Amendment at Third Reading.


My Lords, there was a firm undertaking given earlier that no order would be made under this subsection (2) against the wishes of the London boroughs. I think this covers the question of one or three member wards as well. It is only an enabling power that is being taken by my right honourable friend. The difficulty about leaving the Bill as it stands is, as the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has already said, that if the London borough elections are held at the same time as the district council elections there is more than one method by which district councils can organise their elections, therefore the London boroughs would not know which was being chosen for them and there would be a substantial lacuna in the drafting of the Bill. In view of what I repeated in the undertaking given earlier, that this will not be done unless the London boroughs agree, I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied. This, as he said, is a matter that could be discussed as part of the preliminaries if anybody suggested making an order. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Lord.


My Lords, I wonder if the noble Viscount would take up the point which I asked he might consider; that is, at Third Reading to substitute "non-metropolitan" for "metropolitan". If he could give that assurance I should be quite happy.


By leave, my Lords, I think that is precisely the trouble in the drafting of the Bill as it now is. It looks as if it might be metropolitan" or "non metropolitan". If it is "non metropolitan" there would be the two different methods. If the noble Lord thinks that there is a possible solution in this I shall be glad to look at it again. At the moment I am advised that it would merely create difficulties, but I will certainly look at it again.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Constitution and membership of Greater London Council and London borough councils]:

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved Amendment No. 32: Page 235, line 30, at end insert— ("(4) In 1974 the ordinary day of election of London borough councillors shall be the first Thursday in May.")

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this Amendment also relates to London boroughs, and I hope that it is not so controversial, or at any rate susceptable to so many questions. It is simply that there was a gap in the Bill and the purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that there is no doubt about the day of the election of London boroughs councillors in 1974. It will be the first Thursday in May which is the day for all local elections after 1974. If we do not specifically provide for this I think there will be some uncertainty. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 33: Page 236, line 47, leave out ("general").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is purely a drafting Amendment. Neither the G.L.C. nor the London boroughs have annual general meetings, and to meet their wishes the word "general" has been removed. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 33A: Page 237, line 25, leave out from ("council") to end of line 27.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a correction to account for another consequential Amendment missed at the Committee stage. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 9 [Parish meetings and councils.]:

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 34: Page 7, line 11, after ("Act") insert ("or any instrument made thereunder").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment we considered with Amendment No. 1 to Clause 1. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 11 [Orders for grouping parishes, dissolving groups and separating parishes from groups.]:


My Lords, Amendment No. 35 is another drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 27, leave out ("the provisions of").—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Establishment of new authorities in England.]:


My Lords, Amendment No. 36 this is another drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 239, line 41, leave out ("date") and insert ("day").—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Local Government areas in Wales.]:

3.29 p.m.

BARONESS WHITE moved Amendment No. 37: Page 248, line 7, leave out from ("Machen") to end of line 11.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now revert to territorial Amendments, and I hope that the Government Front Bench is grateful that, so far as Schedule 4 is concerned, we have confined our efforts to this single Amendment. There is a great deal that we should like to say about other matters, particularly Mid Glamorgan and Cardiff, but we have refrained from doing so and I trust that we have earned the gratitude of Government Ministers in this respect. When we discussed the matter at an earlier stage this difficult question of the proposed change in the borderline between Monmouthshire which is to become Gwent and this new county of Mid Glamorgan was discussed and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, was good enough to say that he would give further consideration to the matter. I am most grateful to him and to the Secretary of State for Wales for having done this. I was able to discuss the matter with both of them during the Recess, but I think that in fairness to the people concerned l should set out briefly the case for our opposition to the pro- posals put down by the Government in this Schedule.

The net effect of these proposals would be to take into this new and, in the view of many of us, very unsatisfactory county of Mid Glamorgan, parts of what are now the county of Monmouthshire, which would become the new county of Gwent. I am very well aware of the reasons why these suggestions were made. As a matter of principle in the reorganisation of boundaries, the Government have correctly said that a river bed is not necessarily the best boundary, although historically it may have been so, and that it is wiser Ito take a watershed (we had a good deal of discussion yesterday about contours on another Amendment) which makes a more satisfactory boundary; and this I am not denying for one moment.

This principle is applicable to this Rhymney Valley area with which I have long family connections. At the moment the river is the boundary and it is suggested that a watershed would be more satisfactory. The trouble is that the Government have chosen the wrong watershed. Instead of choosing the western watershed, which would have made good sense, they have chosen the eastern watershed. This is really the nub of the dispute. Had they chosen the western watershed, as recommended by the Welsh Local Government Commission, which pre-dated the Redcliffe-Maud Commission by many years, and as was also suggested in the 1967 proposals for local government reform in Wales, they would not have interfered with communities which have very close historical and present connections one with another.

The western bank of the Rhymney River is a very steep bank. Admittedly, there are three or four small settlements on the western side of the river, but if you take the watershed line it is virtually desert. It is moorland with no inhabitants, other than the sheep and the ponies, and therefore you would be doing the minimum by way of interference with existing communities. If, on the other hand, you take the eastern watershed, which is what the Government have chosen, you will be putting into Mid-Glamorgan communities which have from time immemorial been in Monmouth-shire and which wish to remain in Monmouthshire. The present urban district council of Rhymney made it very plain to me that they would have preferred to have the entire Rhymney Valley taken into Gwent. If that was not possible they themselves would still prefer to remain in Gwent. I went there myself, I saw the clerk of the council and the chairman of the council and discussed the matter with' the Member of Parliament and so en. When it was known that I was going to Rhymney, the neighbouring district of Bedwellty also approached me and asked me to go and look at their problems. They have a rather more serious problem in that their community will be most inconveniently divided. For example, a large housing estate with more than 600 inhabitants is on one side of the river, and the school for the children is on the other side. The river will be taken as the division between the two counties and the children will be divided from their school for administrative purposes, though not of course geographically. So in some ways the Bedwellty position is even more tiresome than the Rhymney position.

I appreciate the difficulties of the Government, in the sense that when one gets further down the valley the arguments are not as crystal clear as they are in the upper reaches. But I nevertheless believe that the Government would be well advised to leave the present urban districts of Rhymney and Bedwellty in Gwent, or on the Monmouthshire side of the boundary, and that the consequential adjustments for these three small communities on the western bank could be left to the good sense of the Boundary Commission, which could in due course make adjustments to bring the boundary to the ridge of the western watershed. Therefore, I hope very much that, even at this late stage, the Government will be prepared to have second thoughts on this matter and will revert to what were the original proposals—and, I think, the far better proposals—for the ordering of local government reform in the Rhymney Valley. My Lords, I beg to move.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said about the meetings that we have had on this subject with the Secretary of State. I am also very grate- ful to her, and so is he, for the amount of trouble she has taken to go into these particularly difficult matters. In fact, I am really very sorry not to be able to help her by agreeing to accept this Amendment. So many Amendments on the English side have been happily agreed to or forced upon us, that it is a pity I cannot be more accommodating on Wales. But we have gone into this very difficult problem with extreme care and we think it is one where the provisions in the Bill are best left as they stand, with the Welsh Boundary Commission left to make any small adjustments which may be of assistance, particularly in the Bedwellty area.

The basic problem, as I think we are all agreed, is that it would be highly desirable to have both banks of the river Rhymney in one district and in one county, and there are indeed strong arguments which one can put forward for having the whole river area in Gwent. Indeed, this point was very forcefully put in the other place by Mr. Kinnock. But we felt, on balance, that it was right that this whole district should be in Mid Glamorgan, mainly on the grounds that two-thirds of the present population of the district are in Glamorgan. Having taken that decision, we were then bound to find our boundary on the eastern watershed and not on the western watershed. I see the arguments for the western watershed, particularly in the North, but the difficulty is that if the Government decide that the whole district should be in Mid Glamorgan for the reasons that I have given, one then has to find a boundary line which runs along the East.

The difficulty about the boundary which the noble Baroness proposes in her Amendment is that it goes back to the river boundary, and this has unfortunate repercussions in various places where certain developed areas, or areas of potential development, would be on the western side of the river. In the case of Rhymney, there is development at Bute Town, at Pontlottyn and in the region of Rhymney station, all of which, under her proposals, would be in Mid Glamorgan whereas on the other side of the river the main Rhymney urban district would be in Gwent. The same applies in the Bedwellty area, where there are areas of development at Tir Phil and Brithdir which, again, would be over the river and in Mid Glamorgan, whereas the other side of the river would be in Gwent. It would also be difficult, as she herself has said, if we accept her Amendments for Rhymney and Bedwellty, to know what to do with Bedwas and Machen further South. Either one says that they too must be in Gwent, in which case you come to the position where the whole district is in Gwent—which is the position we do not want to get into because we think they should all be in Mid Glamorgan—or you have an unfortunate split across the whole of the river itself, with the North of the river being in Gwent and the South of the river being in Mid Glamorgan; and this again is equally unfortunate.

We have looked into the matter very carefully and we have consulted again with all the local authorities. There was no change in their attitudes. Those who are in Glamorgan wanted things to remain as they are, while those who are in Monmouthshire also wanted things to remain as they are. So we have come down to the final conclusion that there should be one new district wholly in Mid Glamorgan, covering both banks of the river Rhymney, but with a reference to the Welsh Boundary Commission so that some of the illogicalities of this boundary, especially in Bedwellty, could be ironed out at a later stage. I hope the noble Baroness will feel satisfied that we have looked at it carefully, and will feel disposed to withdraw the Amendment.


My Lords, I am indeed very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for his very detailed explanation of what I freely grant is a difficult situation. For myself, I am still not satisfied with the reply. He knows very well that, so far as concerns the small communities that he mentioned—Pontlottyn, Tir Phil and Brithdir, particularly, which are on the western bank—I should have liked to include them in my Amendment, but I understood that the Government were not prepared to take anything other than complete districts. It was for that reason only that I left them out and suggested that that was something which also could well be dealt with later on by the Local Government Boundary Commission, because obviously they ought to be in with the rest of the northern part of the valley.

Bedwas and Machen, I think, would also be very much happier if they were left in Gwent, although they had not approached me and therefore I was not in any position to speak for them. I myself think that the whole of the Rhymney Valley would be far happier in Gwent than in this shapeless, amorphous Mid Glamorgan which the Government are proposing. Had they even had the East Glamorgan which was originally suggested, so that everyone in the valley could look to Cardiff as the centre, that would have mitigated one's feelings about taking these areas out of Gwent. As it is, they have no centre to look to, and if the people of Rhymney, which is the place I am particularly concerned with, have to go to Pontypridd, Llantrisant, or wherever it may be, I think they will find it a considerable hardship. I am very sorry about this. I can see that the Government have given real thought to it, and for that I am certainly grateful. I think it is a pity that they have come to the conclusion that they have. It is a pity they started out on this course instead of accepting the western watershed.

We have recently had in Monmouthshire the ceremony of a memorial to the late Aneurin Bevan. It seems to me that the historic memento to him will also be a memento to Rhymney, because of the three great limestone rocks which are the memorial to Aneurin on the Waun-y-Pound Moor, one is named Ebbw Vale, one is named Tredegar and one is named Rhymney. Of course, from now on, if these proposals take effect, Rhymney will no longer be part of that trio, which it has been for very many years. To my mind, this is a cause for sadness. I do not propose to divide the House on this Amendment because I do not think this is a matter of major principle. I have put the Amendment forward for myself and for the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, and not officially from the Front Bench, as perhaps I should have made clear earlier on. I do not propose to withdraw the Amendment because I feel much too strongly for that, but if the House is not disposed to accept it then that is that, and at least we will have gone down fighting.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 27 [Community meetings and councils]:

LORD ABERDARE moved Amendment No. 40: Page 17, line 27, leave out ("As from") and insert ("For the purpose of exercising functions on and after").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 40, 41 and 42 are essentially drafting Amendments, to make it clear that community councils are to be brought into being as shadow authorities shortly before April 1, 1974, and, where appropriate, are to hold their first meetings before that date. I beg to move Amendment No. 40.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 41.

Amendment moved— Page 17, line 44, leave out ("as from") and insert ("for the purpose of exercising functions on and after").—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 42.

Amendment moved— Page 18, line 3, leave out ("as from 1st April 1974") and insert ("for the said purpose").—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 29 [Orders for grouping communities, dissolving groups and separating communities from groups]:


My Lords, Amendment No. 42A is a drafting Amendment and reflects in the Welsh clauses the same as Amendment No. 35 provides in the English clauses. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 19, line 8, leave out ("the provisions of").—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Establishment of new authorities in Wales]:


My Lords, this Amendment, No. 43, is a drafting Amendment. Again, it reflects in the Welsh clauses the same as Amendment No. 36 provides in the English clauses. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 258, line 8, leave out ("date") and insert ("day").—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD ABERDARE moved Amendment No. 44: Page 259, line 15, leave out ("section 44(4) and (5)") and insert ("sections 44(4) and (Temporary appointment of members of district, parish and community councils)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment ties in with a future Amendment, No. 47, which my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross will be moving; and, if it is convenient to your Lordships, I suggest that we take the substantive debate on Amendment No. 47. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 40 [Returning officers at parliamentary elections]:

3.47 p.m.

BARONESS WHITE moved Amendment No. 44A: Page 23, line 11, leave out ("the sheriff of the county") and insert ("the chairman of the county council").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in this Amendment I revert to a matter that we have discussed on two previous occasions; namely, the fact that in this Bill we are taking steps which would at least assist to perpetuate the office of high sheriff in county areas. I would make it clear that I am not here speaking in any way of those sheriffs who are appointed by elected councils in certain cities and in London. They are quite different because they owe their appointment and their office to bodies which are themselves elected, and therefore they have in them a certain democratic element. If elected councils which have these rights to appoint sheriffs wish to continue to do so, then one can assume that they are representing the feelings of people in their areas, whom they represent, and one would not wish to interfere with that.

The sheriffs I am referring to are those who are not "picked", as Hansard said, but "pricked" each year by Her Majesty from three names which are submitted to her, and which we are proposing should continue to be submitted to her, by the Lords Lieutenants of the counties. These persons, who are almost always gentlemen—not always, I think, but almost always—are presumably chosen because they have sufficient means to provide a luncheon for the judges and certain selected guests every so often, when the judges come round. To my mind, this is an historical anachronism. It leads to an undesirable degree of snobbishness in local society. I do not think that this is something we should perpetuate in this day and age.

I explained on an earlier occasion that, while the sheriff was a very important officer, by the 15th century his main functions had already disappeared, although there were a few functions left in relation to the administration of justice about which I was not quite so certain, as that is not my field. But we obtained from the Lord Chancellor himself (column 1430 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of September 22) his views as to what might possibly be left in this present day and age for sheriffs and under-sheriffs, who are normally solicitors, to do.

So far as I can see, the sheriff has nothing but social functions. The under-sheriff has had up to now some slight functions in relation to the administration of justice; but it seems to me that there is only one of these left. This was confirmed by the noble and learned Lord in the speech in which he said that the Payne Committee on the Enforcement of Judgment Debts had suggested that this one substantive function should also be taken away. The Government have not yet made up their mind; or perhaps they have and perhaps the noble Viscount can enlighten us whether on this important subject they have done so. The only reason I am not proposing the complete abolition of sheriffs is that until the Government have made up their mind on that matter, I suppose they still do some good. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when asked what functions remained for a sheriff, said that, so far as the administration of justice is concerned he thought, although he was not quite sure, there might be one or two vestigial functions— but there would be nothing left for them to do in the administration of justice that would cause me a moment's anxiety in the course of a year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22/9/72, col. 1430.] If there is nothing left in the administration of justice that would cause the Lord Chancellor a moment's anxiety, why should we perpetuate this anachronistic office which, I repeat, has now nothing left of substance except what I regard as, on the whole, a socially undesirable element.

We have, as we all know, Her Majesty's direct representative in the Lord Lieutenant of the County. He has a number of functions to perform. I was astonished when once sitting next to a Lord Lieutenant at luncheon he explained what he had to do. I was quite impressed. But I think that the sheriff has nothing to do, except, I repeat, to entertain the judges and such selected persons of note in the county as he thinks suitable to invite to his lunch—and that number must have some relation to the length of his purse. One or two rather wealthy sheriffs also give a ball; but this, too, is a function which it seems to me could be performed by the Lord Lieutenant of the County or the chairman of the county council or some other dignitary.

I do not see why in this Bill we should lend ourselves to maintaining something which is a kind of historical anachronism which in modern democratic society I believe has no proper place. I am not in any way against the element of pomp and ceremony in connection with our representative local government. I think that this is a natural expression of people's pride in their community; and I have nothing against the retention of Mayors or Lord Mayors with their dignities and so on. They are the direct representation of the wishes of the community. But the sheriff is no such person. He has no connection with the community. He is chosen purely at random; his name is put forward by some process of thought (a process which it is not open to us to know about and therefore to comprehend) as someone who should be regarded as suitable to be the high sheriff of his county. Apart from the fact that he must have enough money to pay for the lunch, there is no objective criterion that I can see whereby a sheriff is selected.

I would not presume to ask who advises Her Majesty which of the three names to prick, but I suppose that there is a time factor and the one that appears first on the list probably gets pricked first. This seems to me to be a completely irrational process. The persons chosen are not chosen by a representative body. They perform no direct service any longer to Her Majesty. If they did so, as does the Lord Lieutenant, that would be another matter. Their direct functions in the service of the Crown appear to have lapsed in the 15th century; therefore I am not in any way depriving Her Majesty of any service that she herself might receive if she were visiting the area.

For those reasons I have put down what at this stage of the Bill is hardly a nail in the sheriff's coffin but perhaps a tintack. I would suggest that at the very least we should remove from the sheriffs this supposed function of theirs which is to act as a returning officer for Parliamentary Elections. Here I speak with some experience. I was a county Member of the other place for 20 years. I know that in fact the sheriff of the county hardly ever—I will not say nine out of ten times, for I did not fight ten elections—showed up. In all my years as standing as a candidate for Parliament, on two occasions only did I have sight of the sheriff. The job was done by the county clerk or his deputy. If one wants to keep in line with other local authority units in the rest of this clause, it appears to me that while the county clerk will still do the work (and if in a borough or district it should be the major or the chairman of the district council) then it seems to me logical that the person to undertake this function in a county constituency should be the chairman of the county council.

For that reason, as a gesture at least, towards a democratic community in the 20th century, we should agree in this clause that for this purpose only, leaving the vestigial functions to a later stage, the returning officer in Parliamentary Elections in a county division should in future be not the sheriff but the chairman of the county council who was properly elected by that community.


My Lords, the noble Lord who is to reply is better educated than I, but from what I recall from my history books I think it is indeed poetic justice that the noble Baroness should have moved this Amendment because I seem to recall being told when at school that the sheriffs were appointed to keep the barons in order. It seems entirely apposite that the noble Baroness should now say what one of her predecessors must have been saying when sitting angrily in his keep some seven hundred years ago when the sheriff was sent to ask him why he had not obeyed his summons to attend Parliament. Whether it is right and proper that we should go all the way with the noble Baroness, bearing in mind the historical function of this office, perhaps will be decided in a moment; but it is very right and proper that the noble Baroness should exhibit some anger at this minion of the Crown who must have kept her predecessors in order if they cannot so keep her.


My Lords, I want to support my noble friend Lady White. We have to recognise in this 20th century that the days of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham have really gone. The sheriff of a county is a very charming relic of the old feudal society of centuries ago. His duties until a few years ago mainly consisted of witnessing the executions that took place in connection with the hanging of felons. But that is no longer appropriate because the death penalty has gone. I must say that I find the office of sheriff a very charming one. I speak here as a Deputy Lieutenant of my county—which probably runs somewhat in contradistinction to my normal activities as a fairly active and vigorous Socialist. Nevertheless, I feel that the sheriff should be restricted to strictly ornamental activities and should not take any part in the operation of the democratic machinery of our present electoral system.

My noble friend said that his privileges were confined to providing lunches for the visiting judges of assize, but I must correct her in a slight degree. In my county the high sheriff holds a garden party every year to which I am regularly invited and I enjoy it very much. But in so far as concerns the real activities of a sheriff, as distinct from the ornamental activities, he usually deputes these to an under-sheriff who is usually a solicitor practising in the county town. So I think the sheriff ought to bow down and not pretend to have any part in the democratic activities of our present society.

The chairman of a county council, on the other hand, is a person who is the product of a democratic system, like the mayor who usually acts as a returning officer in a borough constituency. I feel that the high sheriff should no longer try or pretend to interest himself in the democratic processes of our society. I think my noble friend is right and I sincerely and vigorously support her.

4.0 p.m.


The noble Baroness, Lady White, gave notice during the Committee stage that she was going to return with her tintack and her hammer, and indeed she has done so. I cannot go any further than did my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor about the administration of justice side of this matter. I do not think any decision has been taken since we were in Committee on this Bill which would throw any further light than my noble and learned friend was able to shed at that time. We are really back to the fundamental point, if it is of all that fundamentality, of whether we do or do not wish to preserve what the noble Baroness has said is an anachronism. She and her noble friend Lord Leatherland have said they take the view that the sheriff should no longer be associated in county areas with the democratic processes in the ornamental role that in fact he will retain under the provisions of this Bill, which is the same role as he has now. I suppose that there are two views about it. For myself and the Government, we cannot see what harm there is in it. Simply to change things because they are an anachronism is not necessarily a very good reason. Nor are we persuaded that the sheriff is any worse an ornamental figure as a returning officer in the county than truthfully would be the chairman of the county council, because, as the noble Baroness said, he could not be round all the constituencies in the same day any more than the sheriff in Flintshire, or any sheriff, would be able to be under the Bill as it is drafted

The subjects discussed with various organisations preparatory to this Bill included this matter among many others. Some people said one thing and some people another but nobody, I think, came up with the suggestion that the chairman of the county council should be the returning officer. All those who wished to depart from sheriffs suggested either a local government officer or the chairman of the district council who, I suppose, would have less ground to cover and would be the returning officer in some constituencies under the provisions in this Bill. In the counties we still have sheriffs for some judicial purposes, as my noble and learned friend said. They may be largely ornamental; nevertheless, it is an office which I think is held in some affection, not only by those who occupy it but also by others in the country areas. I am sorry, my Lords, but I do not think that I can advise the House that it is so inconsistent with the democratic processes that we ought to take away this admittedly nominal role of declaring, so far as he can get round to them, the winners of Parliamentary elections in the county areas. I suppose that in the end it is a matter of judgment and for the House to decide, but we are not automatically against anachronisms. The Government have considered this point and have had consultations about it. As I say, the noble Baroness's solution is not one previously favoured, so far as I know, by anybody. I hope, therefore, that if we are going to express a view on this matter it will be that the sheriff is somebody whose ancient office, though anachronistic, is one which is looked upon with sufficient favour for it to be retained.


My Lords, I wonder whether in this context it is possible to contemplate the blending of the feudal with the democratic. I say this because I know that if the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, will look through the notes which I am sure exist in the Home Office in respect of the period somewhere about 1964–65, he will find that an attempt was made by my colleagues and myself to upgrade the status of a chairman of a county council, who is possibly the most important man in the county yet somehow has very little status and is not usually shown the respect that is due to his office. Conversations took place on the grounds that it would be possible to combine the offices of chairman of the county council and high sheriff. I do not understand all the legalities and other matters that would arise from such a suggestion. I merely know that on that occasion the proposal fell to the ground because the people to be appointed as high sheriff had been notified for so many years in advance about when they were to occupy the office that it would have meant causing distress to many worthy gentlemen who had the expectation of becoming High Sheriff of London in due course. But I wonder whether the noble Viscount would be prepared to consider that suggestion.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, will be able to agree to my noble friend's proposal. That no one has suggested the chairman of the county council before matters not. The Report stage of a Bill provides an opportunity to consider matters which perhaps have been overlooked or which may have arisen after the Committee stage. I think it would be helpful if the noble Viscount could indicate who is responsible for nominating people to hold the office of sheriff. I have been in public life for a great many years and I have known many people who held that office. Sometimes I have been able to glean who would be the next sheriff, but, despite being fairly active, I have never known anybody on my side politically in the county of Surrey who has in any way been involved in considering who is suitable to hold the office. With perhaps one or two honourable exceptions the political complexion of the person has been well known and it seems to follow a particular pattern. We are genuinely disturbed about who nominates the people to hold the office and how it comes about that the names of these people are eventually pricked when they come before Her Majesty. It would be helpful for noble Lords to know this when considering this matter.


My Lords, if I may have leave briefly to answer, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, who referred to the dignity and proper position of a chairman of a county council, that that is something I had not foreseen would arise on this Amendment and I have not looked at the proposals which no doubt rest in the archives of the Home Office. I shall be glad to do so, but I doubt whether we could resurrect them in time for me to produce a successful answer on this Amendment. My "carrier pigeons" have been criticised in the past and I think that this would be over-taxing even their capacity.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, wants to know the machinery for selecting high sheriffs. To be honest, I do not know. I have seen in the newspapers every year a list of three names, one of whom is chosen; and I think it follows that the other two are in contemplation for subsequent years and that a third name is added to the bottom of the list. I was not aware, and I should be very dismayed to find, that any question of political flavour was foremost in the thoughts of those who put forward the names. I can only imagine that whatever goes by way of the "usual channels" in a county is that which is adopted for this process as well. Usual channels are familiar in this House, but they are fairly mysterious. There are, however, usual channels in counties about which I have some faint glimmerings of an idea. I do not think there is anything sinister about it, and I am quite sure that if there is anything political this is most unfortunate and purely fortuitous. No impression ought to go out that there is any desire or possible aim in excluding members of one profession or another from the choice, because that would go against all the principles upon which every such nomination is made, including that of Lords Lieutenant and everything else. I hope that what has happened in Surrey is no reflection of political bias of any sort. It would certainly not have my approval if it was. I am sorry that I cannot help the noble Lord further, but that is the extent of my knowledge.


My Lords. before the noble Viscount sits down, in view of what he has just said, can he explain to us whether it is mere coincidence that the high sheriff is always a Conservative, and usually a retired Lieutenant-Colonel, Rear-Admiral or someone of that sort?


My Lords, I have sat down. This is the Report stage of the Bill and, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I think that I must not make another speech.


My Lords, this is my Amendment, and I think I am entitled to say something further. If one looks at Clause 215 of the Bill it explains at least the external processes whereby the Lords Lieutenant suggest the three names to Her Majesty. Whether they have an advisory committee on this subject, as they have for justices, I doubt. Therefore, as I said, the way in which it is done is completely arbitrary. I was very much interested in the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Fiske. That is something that I should hope at a later point the Government may seriously consider, just as I hope, when they reach a decision about the vestigial functions in relation to judgment debts, they may look again at the whole position of sheriffs, because I think it is something which deserves further thought.

I would ask your Lordships to be so good as to direct your attention to this Amendment, because, although we ranged rather more widely, strictly only this Amendment is before us. The Amendment is concerned simply with the returning officer at a Parliamentary election. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, said that we love our anachronisms. Up to a point that is true. But as someone who has been a Member of an elected House, of a democratic House, I feel that this association with the whole Parliamentary system of democratic elections is completely incongruous where sheriffs are concerned. Sheriffs have no part whatever in Parliamentary democracy. As I say, they may be an anachronism, but their validity dates from a period well before there was any democratically elected Parliament in any sense in which we should recognise it. Therefore, I think I am fully entitled to ask for support for this narrow Amendment—and it is a narrow one—that we should accept the chairman of the democratically elected body for the county as being

the returning officer for the county. I regard it as sufficiently important as a point of democratic principle to ask the House to divide upon it.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that in the case of Anglesey, where she was Member of Parliament—


My Lords, I did not represent Anglesey.


I beg the noble Baroness's pardon. How many constituencies were there? In the case of Glamorgan neither the high sheriff nor the chairman of the Glamorgan County Council can possibly attend all the final decisions and announcements of the Parliamentary elections. Other people have to do this, and I think it is better spread in that way.


My Lords, the position of honour, and the choice which he makes, at the moment lies with the sheriff. If it is to lie with anyone at all, I think it should lie with the chairman of the elected county council.

4.15 p.m.

On Question: Whether the said Amendment (No. 44A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 44; Not-Contents, 104.

Archibald, L. Gaitskell, B. St. Davids, V.
Arwyn, L. Garnsworthy, L. [Teller.] Serota, B.
Bacon, B. Geddes of Epsom, L. Shackleton, L.
Balogh, L. Hall, V. Shepherd, L.
Beswick, L. Henderson, L. Shinwell, L.
Blackett, L. Hoy, L. Slater, L.
Blyton, L. Jacques, L. Stow Hill, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Leatherland, L. Strabolgi, L.
Burntwood, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Summerskill, B.
Champion, L. McLeavy, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Chorley, L. Maelor, L. White, B. [Teller.]
Cranbrook, E. Rathcreedan, L. Williamson, L.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Royle, L. Wright of Ashton under
Evans of Hungershall, L. Rusholme, L. Lyne, L.
Fiske, L. Sainsbury, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Aberdare, L. Auckland, L. Brecon, L.
Ailwyn, L. Balfour, E. Bridgeman, V.
Airedale, L. Balfour of Inchrye, L. Brooke of Cumnor, L.
Amherst, E. Barnby, L. Brooke of Ystradfellte, B.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Belstead, L. Caccia, L.
Amory, V. Berkeley, B. Carnock, L.
Ashbourne, L. Blackford, L. Clancarty, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Harvey of Prestbury, L. Rankeillour, L.
Clwyd, L. Headfort, M. Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Coleraine, L. Hood, V. Rennell, L.
Colgrain, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Ridley, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Congleton, L. Kilmarnock, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Courtown, E. Kindersley, L. St. Just, L.
Craigavon, V. Lauderdale, E. Sandford, L.
Croft, L. Leicester, E. Sandys, L.
Daventry, V. Long, V. Savile, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Loudoun, C. Sempill, Ly.
Derwent, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Stamp, L.
Digby, L. Malmesbury, E. Strathclyde, L.
Ebbisham, L. Mancroft, L. Swaythling, L.
Eccles, V. Mansfield, E. Tanlaw, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mersey, V. Thomas, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Merthyr, L. Trefgarne, L.
Exeter, M. Milverton, L. Trevelyan, L.
Ferrers, E. [Teller.] Molson, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Fortescue, E. Monck, V. Vernon, L.
Gage, V. Monckton of Brenchley, V. Vivian, L.
Gisborough, L. Monk Bretton, L. Wade, L.
Glasgow, E. Mountevans, L. Willingdon, M.
Goschen, V. Napier and Ettrick, L. Windlesham, L.
Greenway, L. Northchurch, B. Wise, L.
Grenfell, L. Nugent of Guildford, L. Wolverton, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Onslow, E. Young, B.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Poltimore, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

4.24 p.m.


Encouraged by my success in redeeming some of the honour, I beg to move this purely drafting Amendment, No. 45.

Amendment moved— Page 23, line 41, after first ("a") insert ("district").—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

Clause 42 [Conduct of local government elections]:

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved Amendment No. 46: Page 25, line 11, leave out from ("to") to end of line 12 and insert ("rules under this section relating to the conduct of elections of parish or, as the case may be, community councillors").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this Amendment goes with Amendment 51, and if one is looking at Amendment 51 I hope there is somewhere a manuscript version of it, because there were two misprints in it. If there is not, I will explain it when we come to it. Perhaps I might just move it with a Manuscript Amendment to it when it comes to the point. I will tell the House now what it is. In line 6 the words in inverted commas ought to read: of district, parish or community councillors or of the chairman …". These are typographical errors. I am afraid the machinery for getting them corrected has merely made matters worse and Amendment 50 has suffered from this as well, but I do not think it affects the sense of the matter in any way. They are really technical Amendments the purpose of which is to bring the provisions of Section 165(1) of the Representation of the People Act 1949 into line with the provisions of the Bill, and the provisions of that Act will be applied to the elections of district, parish or community councillors and the chairmen of those councillors at parish meetings by the new election rules as they are at present applied to district and parish councillors or the chairmen of them. They really take account of the introduction of the community councils in Wales, and we bring the lot together and deal with the method of electing them by rules under Clause 42 of this Bill. It pulls together and consolidates the old law under the 1949 Act.


My Lords, may we be told the words in the manuscript version?


Certainly. Line 6 of Amendment 51 to which I am speaking as well, should read: of district, parish or community councillors or of the chairman of a district, parish or community council …


It leaves out the word "of".


Yes, my Lords, it leaves out the word "of". I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I had been working on an out-of-date Marshalled List. My Lords, I beg to move.

Clause 44 [Omission to hold election or election void]:

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved Amendment No. 47: Page 26, line 37, at beginning insert ("In a case not falling within subsection (1) above").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is a matter that was referred to in advance by my noble friend Lord Aberdare under Amendment 44, which is the version of it which applies to Wales. I am referring to Amendments 47, 48, 49, 50 and 56, which is really the substantive matter of the main Amendments to the Bill to which he referred. We are dealing here with irregularities and other difficulties in elections which may occur in parish or community councils. The Amendments are all really on the same point. They are mainly drafting points, but the new clause at Amendment 56 gives the district councils specifically the substance of the power which is now in Clause 44(5), which is replaced by the new clause.

The main provision is to be found in Clause 44(1), but where that does not apply the district council can make the appointment or do anything necessary for dealing with the temporary difficulty. It is very technical. I think it is something that has to be in the Bill in order to cope with what one hopes will be a rare occurrence. I will explain it further to noble Lords if they are interested in the details, but really it is a drafting matter, and what one should notice is that the new clause takes the place of Clause 44(5) in the Bill at the moment. I beg to move.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 48.

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 4, leave out subsection (5).—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 49.

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 17, leave out first ("to") and insert ("and").—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

4.31 p.m.

Schedule 6 [Amendment and Modification of Election Law]:

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved Manuscript Amendment No. 50: Page 262, line 30, leave out ("44(5)") and insert ("44(4)").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the original Amendment No. 50 is the other Amendment where I am afraid that our attempts to correct a mistake have gone wrong. The Amendment should have read: Page 262, line 30, leave out ("44(5)") and insert ("44(4)"). This is part of the nexus that I have been explaining. I am sorry that this mistake occurred. This is the technical matter that I was discussing earlier. I beg to move.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 51 with the removal of the second "of" in line 6 of the words in brackets.

Amendment moved— Page 262, line 35, at end insert— ("11. In section 165 of the 1949 Act (application of the 1949 Act to certain local elections), as amended by Schedule 7 to the Local Government Act 1958, for the words from "of district, rural borough or parish councillors", in the first place where they occur, to "before mentioned" there shall be substituted the words "of district, parish or community councillors or to the chairman of a district, parish or community council or a parish meeting shall have effect subject to such adaptations, modifications and exceptions as may be made by rules under section 42 of the Local Government Act 1972".")—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

Clause 67 [Consequential and transitional arrangements relating to Part IV]:

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 51A: Page 46, line 2, leave out from ("apply") to end of line 4 and insert ("with or without modifications, or extend exclude or amend, or repeal or revoke, with or wihout savings, any provision of an Act, an instrument made under an Act or a charter").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 51A to Clause 67. This clause is concerned with consequential and transitional arrangements relating to changes in local government areas made under Part IV of the Bill. Subsection (2) states that the regulations-making power given to the Secretary of State by the clause may provide for the transfer of property, for the transfer of functions or areas of jurisdiction of public bodies, et cetera, and for the transfer of legal proceedings. This is followed by the statement that the regulations "may apply", followed by the words on the Order Paper. The Amendment inserts the words, "with or without modifications after the word "apply" at the beginning, and "with or without savings" after the word "revoke". These are necessary provisions to make the regulation power sufficiently flexible. In fact this is really a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Clause 68 [Transitional agreements as to property and finance]:

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 51B: Page 47, line 28, leave out ("consent of any sanctioning authority") and insert ("approval of the Secretary of State").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 51B and with it about a dozen Amendments to Clauses 68, 168, 169, 261 and Schedule 13. I think a fairly brief explanation covering all of them will suffice. What we are seeking to do with these Amendments is to complete the repeal of the Local Government Act 1933 and the repeal of the financial provisions in four other Acts. These Amendments were not introduced at an earlier stage because the matters with which they deal come more fully into the review of local government finance which has been going on and is to be the subject of future legislation, but their omission made the Bill incomplete, and the delay in arriving at the final stage of the Bill, which has caused a number of difficulties for us in other ways, has made it possible to introduce these Amendments here. The Amendments, so far as we know, are in accordance with the wishes of the local authorities themselves, even though they may not in every case go so far as the authorities might wish, and the process of consultation has not been as thorough as it would have been in other circumstances.

The fact that these Amendments are being introduced now in order to make these repeals possible does not in any way prejudge the outcome of the main review of local government finance, or in any way limit or confine the discussions on that subject. The Government hope to be able to announce their conclusions in that matter later this year and to introduce legislation at the earliest possible stage thereafter. I have written in more detail to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, on this matter. I hope he will agree that that information suffices for the purposes of these Amendments. I beg to move.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that these Amendments are something which it was well worth while introducing, even at this late stage. The Amendments to which he has spoken embody a measure of consolidation which appears to me to be well worth while in a Bill of this sort, to bring it up to date. I realise the difficulties in the Department, and particularly with those who have to frame such Amendments, that prevented this from being done at an earlier stage. The fact that it is being done now is something which I welcome. I am happy to say that there will be no opposition so far as the Opposition Front Bench is concerned. The Amendments, if I understand them, are practically entirely consolidation. There are slight differences embodied, but only such as would normally be embodied in a consolidation measure. That being the case, I think the House could accept these Amendments and give them a blessing.


My Lords, it is extremely difficult for anyone to follow these things who has not studied them closely. But may I ask the noble Lord whether there is another amendment to be made with regard to paragraph (a)? As a result of this Amendment the paragraph will read: a local authority may borrow without the approval of the Secretary of State, but so that the sum borrowed shall be repaid within such period as the authority with the consent of the Secretary of State may determine: But the authority has been removed from this subsection.


My Lords, there are a number of other Amendments, two of them to this particular clause. Do they not meet the noble Viscount's point?


My Lords, the other two Amendments deal with the next page. If the noble Lord will read subsection (5), paragraph (a), he will see my point. The second "authority" has to come out. My Lords, I now understand that the "authority" in this case is the local authority. I beg your Lordships' pardon.


My Lords, I must confess that there are quite a number of parts of this Bill which I have not looked at perhaps as thoroughly as I should have done, but I cannot at the moment see the noble Viscount's difficulty.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 51C.

Amendment moved— Page 48, line 2, leave out ("sanction of a Minister") and insert ("approval of the Secretary of State").—(Lord Sandford.)


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 51D.

Amendment moved— Page 48, line 18, leave out from ("under") to end of line 19 and insert ("paragraph 16 of Schedule 13 to this Act").—(Lord Sandford.)

Clause 79 [Qualifications for election and holding office as member of local authority]:

4.40 p.m.

BARONESS SEROTA moved Amendment No. 52: Page 54, line 40, lease out ("twenty-one") and insert ("eighteen").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment to Clause 79 which stands in my name and in the name of my noble friends. Those noble Lords who were present late on the fifth day of the Committee stage of the Bill will perhaps remember that I moved an identical Amendment then. I withdrew it, after a short debate, to give the Government time to consider the points that had been made and to see whether the House as a whole, and at this stage of the Bill, was prepared to reduce the age of eligibility for membership of the new local authorities from 21 to 18. I hope that this issue will be regarded as one that goes right across Party since all are now committed, I think, to the need to involve the younger generation as fully as possible in the responsibilities as well as in the rights of full citizenship through their active participation in the practical workings of our institutions, in which of course democratic local government plays a dominant part. Even those who perhaps a few years ago were somewhat hesitant about giving further responsibility to the young have more recently gradually grown to accept that denial of responsibility to those who are ready to accept it can contribute to the development of dangerous irresponsibility and general disillusionment with the established democratic processes of our society.

Remembering the wise advice of the noble Earl the Leader of the House at the outset of the Report stage of this Bill only yesterday—namely, that noble Lords should not "re-hash" all the arguments we used at Committee stage—all I intend to do is to remind the House that, in addition to having full legal capacity at 18, young people have now had the right to vote at 18 for the last four years, since, on a free vote, the other place overturned the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference that the voting age should be 20. The only disaster, my Lords, that I can think has occurred as a result of that decision was an election of a Conservative Government at the last Election.

I will therefore try to confine myself to-day primarily to the case that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, made on behalf of the Government, which as I listened to it, and later read it, I felt only amounted to a plea for delaying any change in the age of eligibility for election to a local authority, through the medium of this particular Local Government Bill, on the grounds that traditionally it has always been the same as the age for election to another place. He argued that such parity was sensible (I think that was the word he used) and ought to be retained. He also indicated to the Committee that if the Speaker's Conference that was announced on August 2, to consider among 'various matters of electoral law the minimum age for election to another place, was in fact to recommend a reduction to 18 then legislation would be needed and, on the principle of parity he had enunciated, the minimum age for election to local authorities could then be dealt with at the same time in any special Bill brought forward for this purpose. With regard to the timing, I think I am right in recalling that he suggested to the Committee that this might be done early in the next Session and possibly in time for the first elections to the new authorities in April, 1974.


And in that, my Lords, I was wrong.


My Lords, if that is so, I must confess that I feel even more strongly about my Amendment than when I originally put it down.


My Lords, I wanted the noble Baroness to know that I was wrong at the earlier stage.


My Lords. I am grateful to the noble Viscount for explaining the position to the House, but in a sense it strengthens the case that I should like to make on this Amendment to-day. I hope the House will bear in mind the fact that it is very unlikely—in fact, the noble Viscount has now assured us that it will not be possible—to be able to include 18-year-olds as eligible for election in the first set of elections for the new local authorities if the Speaker's Conference were so to recommend as a result of its deliberations. With that consideration in mind, and also the fact that I do not accept the principle of parity with eligibility for election to another place, I must confess that I remain completely unconvinced of the noble Viscount's argument in favour of the continuing relevance of this principle of parity between eligibility for membership of a local authority and membership of another place.

Surely, that argument is now totally outmoded. It is quite unrelated to the real differences that we know exist between the duties and responsibilities falling upon the elected and salaried Members of another place and those who are prepared to give part-time voluntary service to their local communities at parish, district or county level. The scope, the nature, and I would say above all the time involved in carrying out the various duties of a Member of Parliament to-day are quite different from voluntary service in your own local area serving your own local community. We know that it makes heavy demands on one's free time, but Parliament has decided, rightly in my view, that local government should remain a voluntary part-time service, supported now through attendance allowance but not by salary.

I tried during the Committee stage of the Bill, drawing on my own early experience of membership of a local authority, to show how actual participation in the complex processes of democratic local government at a relatively early age can be an invaluable learning experience for the young which continues on into adult life well beyond the field of local government itself. I am sure that many noble Lords who are Members of this House and who have had similar experience to mine, at all levels of local government, will have had the same valuable opportunities and would surely wish to allow the young to be eligible for membership, and therefore support this Amendment. I would stress the point that this Bill is concerned with only local government, and any decision we make on this clause of the Bill will affect eligibility for only local government.

The other prong of the noble Viscount's argument for not lowering the age of eligibility for membership when we discussed it during the Committee stage of the Bill was to my mind equally unconvincing. Now we have heard from him to-day that it will not be possible, regardless of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, for any change in the age to be taken through Parliament in a special Bill in time for the first elections. Also, we know that, quite apart from the problems of the legislative processes, local parties up and down the country are already in full process of selecting their candidates for the first set of elections from the spring of next year onwards. As I see it, if the major objective of this massive reorganisation that the Bill will undoubtedly involve is to modernise and to bring new vitality and new life into our local government system and local government services, then surely we should not from the very beginning exclude electors between the ages of 18 and 21 from standing as candidates, especially when that particular age group is so closely involved as consumers of the very services, such as education, housing, and public libraries, that local government is constituted to provide.

My Lords, at the Committee stage I recalled the concern, the understanding and the generosity that this House, in my experience, has always shown to the younger generation. Through my Amendment to-day we are, T believe, in a position to demonstrate our belief and confidence in their vitality and the responsibility that the vast majority have. If we accept this Amendment we bring them into full adult participation in the new local democracy that this Bill will establish. I hope that the Government have had second thoughts, and that they will take their courage in both hands and advise the House to accept my Amendment.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I will take my courage in both hands, but that courage entails being consistent with what I said before. I am sorry to have to disappoint the noble Baroness who has introduced this Amendment so attractively. I think perhaps it is not surprising that I have not been able to come here this afternoon and say that we have had further thoughts. This is the fourth time that this matter has been discussed on the Bill. It was dealt with twice in another place and of course, as the noble Baroness herself reminded us, she moved the Amendment in Committee.

Once again I appreciate that although this is a very different matter from that concerning sheriffs it is a matter for judgment, and the judgment that seems to me to be crucial here is whether or not we ought, as we have always done, to fall for the arguments produced by the noble Baroness: that when one is talking about the age for standing for local government one is talking about something quite different from the age for standing for election to another place. Ever since the process of deciding on the question of a minimum age has been part of our public life I think I am right in saying that there has been parity on the decided minimum age. That is so to-day, and it is the view of the Government that the Speaker's Conference, in looking at the question of the minimum age for election to another place, would find that it was seriously embarrassed in coming to an impartial and proper decision on the matter if in advance of their deliberations Parliament had already said that the minimum age to stand as a person to be elected to a local authority under this Bill should be reduced to 18. I, too, do not want to rehash the arguments. I am afraid that the Government stand on parity on this matter, and I would remind the House that the matter is now urgently under discussion. It was put before the Speaker's Conference, and we hope that it is one of the earlier matters—if not indeed the earliest—on which they will announce a decision.

As for the timetable, I wished to let the noble Baroness know that in fact I was wrong at an earlier stage in regard to the date. I do not think that necessarily one could not get legislation through before next April; but in reconsidering I took her point, as she said just now, that the candidates are now being chosen, so that in effect I think it would be impossible to provide a satisfactory piece of legislation which would make any difference to the outcome for those chosen in 1973. Nevertheless, the next opportunity will occur in the following year. Supposing that the Conference should decide to recommend a change to 18 for membership of another place and that this was carried into the field of local government, there are the community council elections in Wales and there are London borough elections in 1974, and thereafter other dates in 1975 and 1976. So I do not think that the delay will be a long one if we do not make the change now, but that it should come in further legislation, perhaps quite soon.

I am not quite sure how many people between the ages of 18 and 21 will in fact want to stand. I do not wish to say anything to suggest that they would not be admirable members of a local authority. I do not want to deny or contradict what the noble Baroness has said about the vitality and the importance of introducing younger members of the community to the responsibilities of sitting as elected representatives, whether in another place or on a local authority. I am sure that she is quite right about this. They could be valuable people, they could learn a great deal and could contribute greatly to the process of government. I suspect that the ones that one would most like to have may themselves be continuing their studies, which would make things difficult for them; but that is no argument because if the law were changed and they could manage to fit everything in, then good luck to them.

But I think that the judgment that the House has to make on this question is whether we should pre-empt a decision of the Speaker's Conference. It is really as simple as that. I feel pretty certain that if the Speaker's Conference were to decide to make the age 18 for another place, then it would follow automatically that it would be impossible to resist the suggestion that 18 should be the minimum age for local authorities. But if at this stage we decided for local authorities I believe we should make it impossible for the Speaker's Conference to look at this matter with true impartiality and with the true facts before them.

I remind the House—and this was confirmed by the noble Baroness at the last stage, when we were speaking about the terms of reference of the Latey Committee—that one of the things that we eventually decided was in the terms of reference of the Latey Committee but what was left out of the consideration of that Committee was the question of the age of voting; it was dealt with separately in 1969 by the Administration of which the noble Baroness was a member. But in just the same way as the then Government decided to leave out the age for voting, whether in local or in central Government elections, because it could prejudice the Speaker's Conference, so in exactly the same way I say we ought to leave out of this Bill the decision on the minimum age for standing for local government elections because it would prejudge in the considerations put before the Speaker's Conference the very matters that they are now engaged in dealing with.

Therefore I hope I can persuade the House to be patient on this matter. I know that it means missing the first elections, but I believe it is right that this question should be impartially and duly considered by the Speaker's Conference without our attempting, as it were, to twist their arm in this way. In effect, I think that is what we should be doing if we were to accept this Amendment. Therefore for the reasons that I have given, I ask the House to resist it in the exercise of its judgment.


My Lords, I am appreciative of the arguments which the noble Viscount has put forward, but nevertheless I wholeheartedly support the Amendment which has been moved by my noble friend Lady Serota. I think one of the great difficulties that is confronting our society to-day is the feeling of frustration on the part of young people—and when I use the expression "young people" I do not mean irresponsible and overgrown schoolchildren; I mean young people who are studying at universities, at polytechnics, at technical colleges, who are serving apprenticeships and who are working as full-time wage earners. These people, because they are forbidden to take part in the ordinary democratic processes, feel somehow (perhaps mistakenly) that they are something in the nature of second-class citizens. I should like to see them given the full rights of adult citizenship. At present the frustration manifests itself in demonstrations of irresponsibility—and we see plenty of those—and also in a form of hostility towards the older generation.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has put before us not a complete hostility to this proposal but a delaying tactic. He has asked us to wait until the Speaker's Conference has reported. But we have had delays on the part of the present Government in respect of many matters of great importance which have come before the country. We have had delays in connection with con- sumer protection; we have had delays in connection with prices and incomes. We have had two years' delay in both of those cases, and I feel that it would be to the credit of the Government and to their advantage if they would grasp these questions as they come before them and tackle them immediately instead of delaying them still further.

The Minister said that it was not known how many people aged 18 would wish to stand for local election. Probably the number would be very small indeed. Nevertheless, we are saying in the Amendment, "Let those who are 18 and who want to stand have the opportunity of standing." I speak not as an 18-year-old but as a Victorian, of whom there are quite a number in this House. Things have changed since we were 18: for example, at that age I was a company sergeant major fighting in France. Having the right to vote, these young people should have this additional right which would help to give them a sense of responsibility, something which is very much lacking these days.

These youngesters are not like we were at 18. Indeed, while many of us are looking to the past and are trying to relate the present to what went before, these young people are on the threshold of adult life and are looking to the future. They are biologically different from us at 18. I do not want to go into personal reminiscences and I will simply say that according to medical evidence they are biologically more advanced than we were. I am speaking of students at technical colleges and universities, apprentices learning skilled trades and young people earning their own living, contributing to their families and in some cases maintaining wives and children, remembering that in the last 20 years people have been marrying younger.

To descend from the somewhat high tone of my argument, I ask the noble Viscount to cast his mind back to last week's Conservative Conference. Who had the influence there? Was it Enoch Powell or the Young Conservatives? It was certainly the latter. We must bear in mind that 18-year-olds are more advanced educationally than we were at that age. They have had the benefit of grammar or comprehensive school education and were not cast out of school at the age of 14, as we were. I sincerely suggest that if these young people were given the opportunity to serve on local councils at the age of 18 they would immediately feel an increased sense of responsibility and would react accordingly, and that would be extremely good for the sort of society in which we live to-day.


My Lords, the noble Viscount omitted one point in refusing 18 to 21-year-olds the right to stand for local government election namely, that if a young man is not capable of doing the job the electors will not elect him. In any event, why should he not have the right to stand? These young people are admirable. Let us give them all the encouragement we can.


My Lords, the noble Viscount will not be surprised to hear of my extreme disappointment at his reply. As I listened to him it seemed that he could not adduce one argument against introducing the lower age for local government service other than that it might possibly prejudice the consideration of the Speaker's Conference. I appreciate the noble Viscount's position. As he said, the Government must be consistent. However, I believe from the way he advanced his case that he is personally convinced of the rightness of the Amendment. The House knows that this will come sooner or later. I am asking the House to do it now, when the time is right.

As for the number of young people who might wish to offer themselves for election, none of us knows the answer. My view is that it would, at any rate in the first place, probably be small, for a range of reasons with which we are all familiar. Nevertheless, while even one wishes to stand we should, in a democratic society, make the opportunity available. I take courage from the fact that, apart from the Minister, no noble Lords opposite have spoken against the Amendment. It may be, as I said at the outset, that because this is not a Party issue, noble Lords in all parts of the House will vote according to their consciences. I hope that they will go on record as being in favour of the principle of eligibility for local government election at 18, regardless of what the Speaker's Conference decides is right for the lowest age of eligibility for election to Parliament. I feel hound to divide the House, having deliberately moved an Amendment in these terms again, because I believe it is the feeling of the House, and certainly of noble Lord on this side, that an opportunity should be provided for the House to vote on this issue.

Resolved in the negative, and Amend-merit disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 80 [Disqualifications for election and holding office as member of local authority]:

5.7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 52) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 46: Not-Contents, 101.

Archibald, L. Jacques, L. [Teller.] Serota, B.
Arwyn, L. Leatherland, L. Shackleton, L.
Avebury, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Shinwell, L.
Bacon, B. Mersey, V. Simon, V.
Beswick, L. Merthyr, L. Southwark, Bp.
Blackett, L. Milford, L. Summerskill, B.
Blyton, L. Moyle, L. Tanlaw, L.
Brockway, L. Nunburnholme, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Champion, L. Phillips, B. [Teller.] Wade, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Platt, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Garnsworthy, L. Raglan, L. White, B.
Geddes of Epsom, L. Rathcreedan, L. Williamson, L.
Hale, L. Royle, L. Wright of Ashton under
Hall, V. Rusholme, L. Lyne, L.
Henderson, L. Sainsbury, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Hoy, L. St. Davids, V.
Aberdare, L. Eccles, V. Monk Bretton, I..
Ailwyn, L. Elliot of Harwood, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]
Amherst of Hackney, L. Emmet of Amberley, B.
Amory, V. Exeter, M. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Ashbourne, L. Ferrers, E. Northchurch, B.
Auckland, L. Fortescue, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Balfour, E. Gainford, L. Oakshott, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Gisborough, L. Ogmore, L.
Balogh, L. Glasgow, E. Onslow, E.
Barnby, L. Gowrie, E. Orr-Ewing, L.
Belstead, L. Greenway, L. Oxford and Asquith, E.
Berkeley, B. Grenfell, L. Poltimore, L.
Brecon, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Rankeillour, L.
Bridgeman, V. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Brock, L. Rennell, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hawke, L. Rhyl, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Headfort, M. Ridley, V.
Caccia, L. Hood. V. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Carnock, L. Hylton, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Carrington, L. Jellicoe. E. (L. Privy Seal.) St. Just, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Killearn. L. Sandford, L.
Clwyd, L. Kilmarnock, L. Sandys, L.
Coleraine, L. Kindersley, L. Savile, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Leicester, E. Sempill, Ly.
Cottesloe, L. Long, V. Sinclair of Cleeve, L.
Courtown, E. Loudoun, C Strathclyde, L.
Craigavon, V. Macleod of Borve, B. Swansea, L.
Craigmyle, L. Mancroft. L. Swaythling, L.
Cranbrook, E. Mansfield, E. Teviot, L.
Croft, L. Maybray-King, L. Thomas, L.
Daventry, V. Merrivale, L. Vivian, L.
Davidson, V. Milverton, L. Windlesham, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Molson, L. Wolverton, L.
Disby, L. Monckton of Brenchley, V. Young, B.
Ebbisham, L.

5.15 p.m.

LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 53: Page 55, line 25, leave out from ("authority") to end of line 29 and insert ("Provided that the Secretary of State shall by regulation give a dispensation for certain employees to be relieved of any disqualification which would otherwise apply under this Section.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, when this matter of disqualifications for election and holding office as a member of a local authority was before us at Committee stage some of my noble friends and myself tabled Amendments in the hope that the Government would either accept them or undertake themselves to introduce Amendments to give tangible form to the sympathy that had been expressed by the Minister responsible when the issue was raised in the other place. I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, had no thought and certainly no wish to renege on what was optimistically seen by many as an indication by the Minister in the other place to strive until a solution could be found that met the genuine sense of unfairness which undoubtedly exists among people who work for local authorities and which has been expressed quite strongly at annual conferences of staff organisations.

I refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT of another place for July 17 when the Minister said (cols. 213–4): What I am looking for is somewhere to draw a line, at which point it would be sufficient to say, Yes, this person may stand and serve as a member of the authority by which he is employed, but when any matters arise on the terms and conditions of his employment he should disclose his interest, not speak, and not vote '. If we can find the right division there, we may have achieved something. But what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said in Committee on September 15 can only be interpreted, my Lords, as a considerable retreat from that position. I have accepted that the Amendments which my noble friends and myself tabled in Committee were unacceptable to the Government. The one I move to-day is quite a different Amendment. It is designed to authorise the Secretary of State to give a dispensation by regulation to certain employees to stand for election. It gives to the Secretary of State the opportunity to draw such a line as he was looking for.

May I remind your Lordships that he said also on July 17, as reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT: My own feeling about it is that we are being extremely hypocritical if we exclude all employees of the local authority and do not exclude others who have perhaps a greater interest—I make no reference to topical cases, but they immediately come to mind—in the affairs of the council and may well be influenced more greatly than employees of the authority would be.

When the matter was before your Lordships' House in Committee there was reference to paragraph 49 of the White Paper, Cmnd. 4584, and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, then said: …there really ought to be a clear distinction, if possible, between the elected member…and the official who gives advice and implements the decisions of elected members…"—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 15/9/72, col. 697] I have wondered, my Lords, since he said that, how embracing the word "official" was meant to be, having regard to what the Minister had said in the other place. I appreciate what the noble Lord said when we were in Committee about paragraph 49 in the White Paper, but I hope that what follows in paragraph 50 has some bearing on the matter. There it is stated: The Government would be prepared, however, to consider proposals on detailed points relating to the application of the present law. The Amendment I am moving would allow the Secretary of State further time to consider the position and to use his discretion with great care. It seems to me that the Government have taken a much broader view in regard to the National Health Service. There is no need for me this afternoon to detail the proposals of the White Paper dealing with the National Health Service reorganisation, as set out in Cmnd. 5055, but I think it fair to say that those proposals are obviously aimed at securing the active involvement of those professionally engaged in a way that this Bill, as at present worded, does not seek to involve people in the field of local government.

There is one further aspect I wish to mention, and it is one which gives great concern to many others as well as myself. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said (col. 700 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for September 15) in reply to a point I had raised, and when pressed by my noble friend Lady White: Employees of new Regional Water Boards and National Health Service bodies will not be disqualified. That, of course, was a reference to disqualification for service on a local authority represented on a joint board which employs them. Clause 80 does not define a joint board or joint committee, whereas I would draw attention to the fact that Clause 174 seems to do so. Subsection (1)(a) of that clause refers to a joint board or a joint committee on which an authority is represented, as indeed does subsection (2)(b). I should like to ask whether the area authority of the National Health Service becomes a joint board if a local authority is represented on it. There is a great deal of confusion here. I think the House knows full well that I have an association with the National and Local Government Officers Association. There is a great deal of confusion that needs to be cleared away. If the Amendment I am moving is accepted, I think the position will be met. If it is not accepted, then a fuller explanation or definition of the words this Amendment seeks to delete is very desirable.

As I see the problem, it is not knowing how to deal with pecuniary interests and how to prevent voting or speaking when those arise, since that is covered adequately by Clause 93. The point at issue is simply that of drawing a line above which officers of local authorities are disqualified and employees below that line are qualified to stand for election. The Amendment is intended to meet that position and to clarify the situation in regard to joint boards or committees. I hope it will be accepted. I hope it will be appreciated that there are many who are entitled to stand for and secure election to local authorities who on the face of it have infinitely more to gain by obtaining contracts from a local authority than many of the employees. I would not for a moment suggest that when they seek to get those contracts they have in mind using their position by way of undue influence. The point is that there is no difficulty in controlling the position so far as those people are concerned, and there should be no problem that cannot be overcome. The Secretary of State, given the powers my Amendment would confer on him, could adequately deal with the situation. I beg to move.


My Lords, I hope the House will not accept this Amendment, because I feel very strongly, having served for nine years on a county council, although no longer, that it would be wrong that local government officers should serve on a county council of which they are officers. There is no reason why they should not serve, as under the present law, on another authority. I feel that this Amendment, which puts the responsibility on the Secretary of State to act by regulation, is wrong. Parliament ought to decide itself whether it is right or wrong for a local government officer to serve on a council as a member as well as serving it as an officer. Such an officer has a big responsibility in advising the members on certain subjects, and I think it would sometimes be very difficult for him. I hope the House will leave matters as they are. If it comes to a Division I shall certainly vote against the Amendment.


My Lords, I should like to support what my noble friend Lord Wolverton has said. I do not think it is in the interest, either of the employee or of the community in general, that this Amendment should be accepted. I have on a number of occasions known of a borough employee standing as a county councillor or of a county council employee standing as a borough member. It has always created friction and difficulties. Speaking from my limited experience as a councillor, I may say that on one occasion I took the issue up as to whether the chief officials of the county should receive a copy of the minutes of the full council. After discussion these officials came to the conclusion that they would rather not have the minutes as they were not necessarily involved with every department, and they felt that each of them was told what he should know and they felt that it was much healthier if they left anything else alone. I was a little surprised at this answer, but that was their opinion and I did expressly go to seek it. I should have thought it would have been to their advantage to have a copy of the minutes. They firmly came to the conclusion that they would be much happier not to have a copy.

Also I remember that a person who was an employee in the roads department retired and promptly stood as a borough member for his own town. He openly said that as soon as he had a chance he would like to be on the roads committee of the county council. He was duly elected and I think has made a great contribution to that committee. But he is retired, and I think that is quite different. I am sure it would not have been in the interests of the community if that employee had been an officer of the roads department and was able to stand for the council and be a member of the roads committee. That is not the sort of thing we want. Take the kind of situation that occasionally crops up: there might be some serious committee decision dealing with our relations with the unions or something like that, and I do not think it would be in the interests of people if, say, an employee of that wonderful organisation, NALGO, was also a member of the council. I feel that this status quo should be maintained.


My Lords, with great respect to the noble Earl, an employee of NALGO could now be a member of the council. I think that he has made a slight error there. Perhaps it applies to a member of NALGO.


My Lords, I am not sure that it could be on the same council. Of course he could be a member of another county or borough, but I do not think that this would be in the interests of the county.


My Lords, I was hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy—and I was listening with bated breath—would say what category of people he hoped that the Secretary of State would put on one side of the line. As it is, he has merely left the Secretary of State with this awful obligation to draw a line, and he has not given any guide as to where he thinks that the line should be drawn. I should like him to do so before the Minister replies.


My Lords, I am sure that fundamentally there is no difference between the two sides of the House on this matter. I think it has been made quite clear at every stage when this has been discussed that the Ministers have said that they want to do something about this but that the difficulty is to find the exact place at which to draw the line which would permit some to become members of local authorities and some to be excluded. We recognise that difficulty, and it caused us to put down the Amendment that now appears on the Marshalled List.

What we want to do here is to give the Secretary of State a chance to keep the options open; to permit the Secretary of State to see how the new authorities develop; to see how they get on and what their experience is; to consult them and to some extent to see how the agency clause is going to work out, because this, too, will affect very profoundly the numbers of people who will be excluded, or might be excluded, if we maintain the rigidity in the clause. I believe this to be a point of some importance, otherwise I would not be bothering the House with it at this stage.

So far as the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, and the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, are concerned, there is surely nothing new about what we are envisaging in the Amendment now before the House. As members of local authorities will know, Ministers have in the past issued circulars granting a dispensation to people living in council houses who are serving on local authorities to speak and vote on matters that affect them in their tenancies and occupation of the houses in which they are living. This has been done in the past by Ministers, as will be known to the Department and, I am sure, to the Minister who is to reply. This has had no consequences which could be regarded as detrimental to the decencies of local government, which I am sure that we all wish to maintain. We do not want to see the standards lowered, but we feel that certain groups of people will emerge—we know some of them now—and I daresay that when my noble friend comes to reply he will mention some of the groups that he mentioned on Committee in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke.

In the Bill we have a rigid line drawn which is quite unnecessary. We believe that with the inclusion of this Amendment we should grant to the Secretary of State power to look at this again as developments take place; the developments which must take place when the Bill becomes an Act. We are looking forward to a great period of reorganisation, a period of reorganisation in which we want certain types of people to have the opportunity of serving on local councils, and I should have thought that our Amendment was one which would commend itself to the Government. I sincerely hope that they will indicate to us to-night that they are prepared to accept it.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is clear from the speeches that we have heard from both sides of the House that there is a difference of opinion on this Amendment despite the fact that it was closely argued by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, and despite the fact that he said—and with a considerable amount of correctness—that this affects a great many people, and that those people feel extremely strongly about it. But because there is this difference of opinion which has been shown in the debate, I think that it is right to look for a moment at the fundamental principle, which is that in local government officers of a local authority should not become members as well, and that there should be no clash of interest, or even the appearance of a clash. Translating the principle into practice, confusion of the roles of member and officer could lead to difficulties which I do not think have been exposed in this debate, particularly in the position of senior officers exercising a chain of command, because of course junior officers could also become members of their authority if a change was agreed. In the functioning of the authority generally, there could be difficulty because a member might be involved in decisions affecting his own individual work. I simply put these points forward.

As I submitted to the House at a previous stage of the Bill, I think that without a great deal of further thought we could be in danger of impairing the position of strict political neutrality of the local government officer. These arguments, I am bound to put to the House, are accepted in the local government world. It is perfectly true that it has been argued that there possibly should be exceptions; exceptions perhaps for those who are not senior officers but employees whose jobs are really divorced from any policy content. But again on this point opinions are not unanimous.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, referred to the possibility of selecting groups of people, and said that he felt that his noble friend in winding up this debate would perhaps refer again to groups of people. It may well be that there are people who could neatly fall into exceptions, but if this were in fact to be carried into law. I think that the Minister in another place made it clear that the Government would wish to carry the local authority associations with them, and at the moment this is something which has not been agreed. Against this background, the Government have therefore thought it right substantially to re-enact the present law on this subject. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, spoke of the unfairness of the existing situation and, as I have said, I appreciate the line that the noble Lord has taken on this. But I think it fair to remind the House that under the proposals in this Bill there will be a twofold system of local government; it will widen the opportunities of officers to serve as members of other councils, and it will, for instance, give the opportunity to a man who is an officer serving in a county borough and has been living in a county borough and who until now has had the door to elected service in local government life absolutely closed to him, the opportunity to serve on another authority.

I assure the House that the Government have given careful consideration to see whether some suggested Amendments could be agreed by both sides of the House and with the local government world, but we really have found that there is no simple and coherent line which can be drawn in terms of senior officers, professional, or manual employees. I suggest to the House that we would wish the matter to be left for further consideration when the new authorities have had a chance to start work.

May I finally ask the House to consider the effect of this Amendment. The Amendment would draw a line by first providing that only officers whose appointments are made, or confirmed, by the authority itself should come within the possible ambit of disqualification, and this would free from disqualification a considerable number of officers. So far, so good, but it would lead to serious anomalies between them and other officers who remain disqualified. It really would be purely a matter of internal arrangement or accident as to whether a particular appointment is made, or con- firmed, by the authority, or whether it is made or confirmed by one of its committees. Under the terms of this Bill, this latter will happen, I think, more frequently rather than less frequently than before. Exactly similar arguments apply in respect of those appointments made by joint boards or joint committees or officers themselves. The persons appointed are in every case appointed to carry out a local authority job.

The Amendment also has the effect (and this is a new step compared with the previous stage of the Bill) that it will require the Secretary of State to free by regulation certain employees from disqualification presumably among those appointed by the council itself. It would comply with the Amendment that the Secretary of State exempted some such employees but not others. Like my noble friend Lord Hawke, I can find no indication as to how the Secretary of State should make his selection. However, I am not criticising the Amendment on the grounds that it is defective, but I really think it would be totally wrong for a fundamental constitutional matter such as eligibility of membership of a local authority to be left to the regulation of the Secretary of State of the day. If opinions of successive Secretaries of State were to differ, as well they might, local government could only suffer in consequence.

Before I sit down, may I answer one specific question which the noble Lord asked about joint boards and joint committees? A joint board is a board constituted by local authorities under a provision such as Section 6 of the Public Health Act 1936 for the performance of functions which would otherwise fall on those local authorities themselves. I think that is the essential part of what I am saying. A joint committee is a committee as described in Part VI of the Bill and the term, do not catch every species of combined authorities. They do not catch governing bodies of universities; they would not catch independently created statutory bodies such as the Metropolitan Water Board, Regional Water Boards and national health service bodies.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, drew the attention of the House—and I do not think it has been drawn to our attention before—to the effect that the agency arrangements may well have in this matter, and I think the noble Lord may well have a point here. On Report stage in another place, the Minister for local government said that the Government wished to retain in general terms the principle of the rule about eligibility, but within this we do wish to try to find some line of demarcation which will be acceptable to all, and we wish if we possibly can to take the local authority associations with us in thinking out the right provision. I am bound to say that this Amendment does not satisfy these criteria, and it is for this reason that I must ask the House not to agree to it.


My Lords, the noble Lord has raised in his reply a fundamental principle. I wonder whether we might consider that for a moment. We are living in a community where hundreds and thousands of citizens are deprived of their full rights of citizenship merely because they happen to be employed by local authorities, and I think that sooner or later we shall have to get to the real fundamental principle which is that no citizen should be deprived of any rights of citizenship merely because of the nature of his employment. I support the Amendment, ragged and untidy as it is, because it moves a little way towards that principle.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene before my noble friend who moved the Amendment replied, because I had hoped that the Minister would have been prepared to meet us at least halfway. I will refer in a moment to the actual Amendment and one way in which we might make it more saisfactory. I would, however, ask you: Lordships to think somewhat deeply and carefully about the point made by my noble friend Lord Maybray-King. Have your Lordships any conception of the number of persons in some communities who may be disqualified by these provisions? I am told that in some communities the proportion may be as high as 15 per cent. of the total electorate. I would ask you to think whether this is a sensible provision. As I understand it, the Bill is saying that persons who are paid by the local authority, no matter what their status, should be disqualified. We are all at one, I am quite certain, so far as senior officers are concerned, persons who come anywhere within the policy making area of a local authority. It is right and proper that they should be impartial and should not stand for election and commit themselves in any way. On that there is no disagreement in any quarter of the House.

But when one comes down to the bus drivers, to the canteen superintendent, to the person in charge, say, of the cleaning arrangements in the town hall or county hall, to the person in the parks—and the superintendent gardener in the parks, may not be the senior park officer but may be someone in charge of the flower beds, provision for recreation, and so on—is it really suggested that they should be disqualfied from standing, provided that their direct interest is not concerned, as in fair wage negotiations or something of that sort, just as if your direct interest is concerned in apportionment of contract you are expected to declare your interest and not accept any special dispensation, such as council house tenants and so on. Why should we suppose that an estate agent, a surveyor, or an architect or a builder, or anyone of that kind, whose business life is intimately connected with the operations of local government, may perfectly properly be a member of that authority, yet someone who works for the authority but has no provision of policy making of or advising the council directly should not be allowed to stand for election? This concerns very large numbers. This is something which has aroused a considerable feeling of injustice: that persons with business or professional interests are not excluded thereby, even though it is perfectly well known that they have close connections with council business, whereas those, as I say, who are working in capacities which cannot be considered as policy-making in any sense of that word are excluded.

It is suggested that under the proposals of this Bill there would be wider opportunities, owing to reorganisation, to serve on a body which is not a person's employing body. This is true so far as county boroughs are concerned, because the unitary authority will become a double-tier authority. But it is not so in other parts of the country. On the contrary, by the act of amalgamating authorities and making them very much larger it will be physically impossible for many people to serve on other authorities. If they are full-time employees they just will not be able to get to the meetings because the areas will be so much larger than they are now under the present arrangements. So while it is true that some people in county borough areas will gain, others will lose opportunities for serving in different authorities.

May I turn to the actual Amendment? I see the point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that if we accept the Amendment as it is it might cause some difficulties because it would delete all references to appointments made by committees, joint boards or joint committees. Would it be more acceptable to the Government, if my noble friend were willing to agree, that the proposed insertion should come at the end of paragraph 1(a), instead of in the middle? This would have a considerable effect. Would it be more acceptable if, instead of saying, "the Secretary of State shall", one said "the Secretary of State may"? We are trying to help the Government to carry out what they have said is their own policy, which is to try to find some line of demarcation. Unless we put something into the Bill before it leaves Parliament, it will not be possible, without completely fresh legislation. which is always very difficult, for the Government to do what they themselves have said they wish to do.

There should certainly be further consultations and negotiations, possibly between NALGO or other organisations of workers and the local authority associations, about where the line might be drawn. That would leave it open for this matter to progress rationally and amicably, we hope, and then, at the end of the day, when reasonable agreement had been reached, the Secretary of State might by regulation give effect to it. But if we do not put something into the Bill there will be no power to do this, and the further consideration for which the Minister has asked will be fruitless, unless the Government are prepared to find time for completely fresh and separate legislation to deal with this problem, which is very unlikely and which will lead to considerable delays.

I have made two helpful suggestions which might enable the Government to feel disposed to accept an Amendment at Third Reading, possibly putting in these words lower down or substituting "may" for "shall". That would not commit the Government to anything specific, if no agreement was reached and if negotiations were fruitless. The Secretary of State would not then have to do anything. But if, as we very much hope, the points which my noble friends and I, and the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, have made, are taken further into account as I believe they ought in equity, in justice and for morality in public life to be, then it will be possible to give some effect to them. So I plead with the Government not to turn this Amendment down out of hand, but to recognise that their own spokesman in another place made it quite plain that he appreciated that there is a very genuine problem here. We should just leave the door open or, as my noble friend Lord Champion said, leave the options open for something possibly to take place in the future. But if we do not put something into the Bill, it will not be possible to give effect to any sort of further consideration.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House may I reply to the noble Baroness? My advice is that there are about 34 million people over the age of 21, which means that about 5 million people would probably be disqualified if the noble Baroness were right when she talked about one in seven. There are certainly fewer than 5 million people in total employed in local government; in fact, there are under 2 million people in total. Therefore what we are discussing is the disqualification not of about 5 million people but of fewer than 2 million people. My second point is that we really are discussing fewer than 2 million people because, in all fairness, this Bill extends the opportunity for the people whom we are discussing to stand for a local authority, be it at district or county level.

My last point is that I am sorry but I cannot accede to the request which the noble Baroness has made, however reasonably she has made it. I think that if the word "may"—a permissive word—were put in, the Secretary of State would be in an exceedingly difficult position, for the reasons which I have already put to the House. In principle, this Amendment is not acceptable for the reason given by my right honourable friend the Minister of Local Government in another place. He has been quoted several times this afternoon, but what he also said was that he wanted to get as wide a measure of agreement as possible, particularly with the local authority associations, and I am afraid that at the moment we simply do not have this. For those reasons, I am afraid that I must ask your Lordships to resist the Amendment.


My Lords, on a point of order, are we to understand that it is now possible to speak several times on the Report stage, or is it only Front Benchers who can do that?


My Lords, I asked for permission from the House and it was granted.


My Lords, I am grateful to the House for sparing so much time to discuss this matter, and to the Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in the debate. Those who have listened in Committee and this afternoon will know that I am not worried whether any form of words that I may table as an Amendment are acceptable or not in themselves. What is important is the principle behind them, and nobody would be more pleased than I if the Government said that they were prepared to show a continuing interest and would continue in the endeavour to find a solution. Inevitably, because of the sympathy that was expressed in the other place, this matter must be pressed to a Division this afternoon and, possibly, if we can find another form of words which meets some of the points raised, we may have to come back to it at Third Reading, because it is clear that there are many people on both sides in each place who believe that something ought to be done and that if we try hard enough something can be done. I can only wish that half the ingenuity of thinking was put into finding an answer to this problem, as is being put into finding reasons why no progress should be made.

I intended to take up what the Minister said in the other place with regard to reaching agreement with the local authority associations. In my innocence, I thought that my Amendment provided an opportunity for continuing discussions with the associations with a view to finding a level at which a line could clearly be drawn. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, when we were in Committee I set out at what I thought was reasonable length the way in which this matter might be tackled and I drew attention to the progress that had been made, particularly in the field of education. I do not for one moment imagine that we shall find a complete answer to this problem all at once, but it would be well if we could make some beginning. My noble friend Lady White made no claim that 5 million people were being disqualified. What she drew attention to was the fact that the situation varied from district to district throughout the country, and that in certain districts as many as 15 per cent.—


It is 6½ per cent. overall.


But there are areas where the figure is as high as 15 per cent, because of differing circumstances. So I hope your Lordships will not feel that she erected a skittle which has been knocked down. In fact, she drew attention to what is a very serious situation. Let me take the noble Lord up on what he said about 5 millions out of 34 millions. He clearly thought that that was an impressive figure, but there are districts where that sort of percentage obtains at the present time. I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, for intervening, because he always enlightens me about the peculiarities of what goes on in the field of local government in Scotland. I never cease to wonder at what happens up there. He presented a picture which I just cannot recognise in terms of what is happening in England. I have been on no local authority where there have been any discussions about chief officers having minutes. Nevertheless, if he is not fully aware of the position

in England, I ask him to accept that this Bill will have very considerable effects in England, and it would be as well if he would come forward a little, over the Border, in his thinking, and realise that perhaps what obtains in Scotland and what satisfies them there is not quite good enough for us below the Border.

My Lords, I hope that the House will recognise that we on this side, seeing here an injustice which is being done to a great many people and being aware of the fact that this problem is going to be solved some day—and one hopes in the not too distant future—are justified in pressing this matter, because the replies we have received generally throughout these debates are the kind of replies that could have been advanced with regard to any progressive measure in the field of the development of democratic government. May I say, before I sit down, that I appreciate very much the kindly courtesy and the great care with which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, spoke on this Amendment. I thank him in particular for the definitions he gave with regard to boards and committees. What he has said will be studied carefully. Perhaps some of what he said will allay some fears and some criticism, but overall that criticism and that feeling of injustice will remain as far as concerns the mass of people we were considering when tabling this Amendment. I could wish that all those who go into the Division Lobby will have heard the debate, but it matters not, really, because what we on this side are doing is to seek to make clear that here is an issue that is going to be pressed until a satisfactory solution has been found.

6.2 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 53) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 36; Not-Contents, 94.

Archibald, L. Geddes of Epsom, L. Maelor, L.
Beswick, L. Granville of Eye, L. Maybray-King, L.
Blackett, L. Henderson, L. Peddie, L.
Blyton, L. Hoy, L. Phillips, B.
Brockway, L. Jacques. L. [Teller.] Rathcreedan, L.
Champion, L. Leatherland, L. Rusholme, L.
Collison, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] St. Davids, V.
Davies of Leek, L. Serota, B.
Garnsworthy, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Shackleton, L.
Shinwell, L. Wells-Pestell, L. Wright of Ashton under
Slater, L. White, B. Lyne, L.
Southwark, L.Bp. Williamson, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Taylor of Mansfield, L. Winterbottom, L.
Aberdare, L. Emmet of Amberley, B. Monk Bretton, L.
Ailwyn, L. Fortescue, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]
Albemarle, E. Fraser of Lonsdale, L.
Amory, V. Gage, V. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Auckland, L. Gainford, L. Northchurch, B.
Avebury, L. Gisborough, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Balfour, E. Glasgow, E. Oakshott, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Gowrie, E. Ogmore, L.
Barnby, L. Grenfell, L. Onslow, E.
Belstead, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Oxford and Asquith, E.
Berkeley, B. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Rankeillour, L.
Brecon, L. Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Bridgeman, V. Hawke, L. Reigate, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Headfort, M. Rhyl, L.
Byers, L. Henley, L. Ridley, V.
Carnock, L. Hood, V. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Carrington, L. Hylton, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.) St. Just, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Jessel, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Courtown, E. Killearn, L. Sandford, L.
Craigavon, V. Kindersley, L. Sandys, L.
Craigmyle, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Savile, L.
Cranbrook, E. Lloyd, L. Sempill, Ly,
Croft, L. Loudoun, C. Simon, V.
Daventry, V. Luke, L. Swansea, L.
Davidson, V. Macleod of Borve, B. Trefgarne, L.
de Clifford, L. Mancroft, L. Vivian, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Mansfield, E. Wade, L.
Digby, L. Merrivale, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Dundee, E. Mersey, V. Windlesham, L.
Eccles, V. Merthyr, L. Wolverton, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Milverton, L. Young, B.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

6.12 p.m.

Clause 84 [Resignation]:

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 54: Page 58, line 35, leave out ("council") and insert ("councillor").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is merely a drafting Amendment to correct a verbal error. The clause to which it relates deals with resignations and to this category of persons, not authorities. Therefore the reference must be to a councillor and not to a council. I beg to move.

Clause 90 [Term of office of persons filling casual vacancies]:


My Lords, Amendment No. 55 is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 62, line 41, after ("under") insert ("the foregoing provisions of").—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)


My Lords, this is the substantive clause that I mentioned on Amendment 47. It is the one that takes the place of the existing Clause 44(5). I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 90 insert the following new clause:

Temporary appointment of members of parish and community councils

".—(1) Where there are so many vacancies in the office of parish or community councillor, that the parish or community council are unable to act, the district council may by order appoint persons to fill all or any of the vacancies until other councillors are elected and take up office.

(2) In the case of a common parish council under which are grouped, by virtue of section 11(5) above, parishes situated in different districts, the reference in subsection (1) above to the district council shall be construed as a reference to the council of the district in which there is the greater number of local government electors for the parishes in the group.

(3) Two copies of every order made under this section shall be sent to the Secretary of State."—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

6.15 p.m.

Schedule 12 [Meetings and proceedings of local authorities]:

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 57: Page 274, line 42, at end insert— ("(3) The annual meeting of a parish council shall be held at such hour as the council may fix or, if no hour is so fixed, 6 o'clock in the evening.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 57 which is a minor technical Amendment providing that the annual meetings of parish or community councils shall be held at 6 p.m. unless the council decide otherwise. This is a new provision for this level, but it is paralleled by existing provisions which are being continued to provide that annual meetings of principal councils shall be held at noon unless the council decide otherwise. It all emphasises the part-time nature of service on a parish council.


My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this Amendment, but what happens if the parish councillors are not there by 6 o'clock in the evening?


My Lords, I do not think that that is a matter which can be dealt with by Statute.


My Lords, as one with experience within local government, I cannot understand why anything like this should be written into a Bill. Surely the autonomy ought to be left entirely with the councils. We do not need to write into a Bill that they ought to meet at a specified time or give them the alternative of making their own decision. Why not leave the matter to a majority decision of the council concerned? Local authorities, by a majority inside the council, have been responsible for saying when they will meet. There is nothing the matter with leaving them with this autonomy. I know that some people work in factories and that the whole environment has changed. There may be something in that; but that is a matter to which the local authority can give consideration. I cannot understand why the Government should want to write something like this into the Bill.


My Lords, it is not a matter of great moment but in fact there have always been provisions in respect of principal councils that, unless they decide otherwise, their annual meetings should be held at noon. This Amendment parallels that provision in the case of parish councils; but surely it is not a very difficult matter for the parish council to resolve otherwise as soon as they wish to do so.

LORD MERTHYR moved Amendment No. 57A: Page 279, line 3, leave out paragraphs 23 to 29 and insert— ("1 Part II of this Schedule shall apply to the meetings and proceedings of community councils as if the expressions "parish councils" and "parish councillors" included community councils and community councillors respectively.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the permission of the House I should like to move this Amendment on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who unfortunately has had to leave for an important engagement. She asked me to move it on her behalf. I must next declare an interest because I am President of the National Association of Parish Councils. In this connection I should like to draw the attention of the House to an Amendment down in my name (Amendment No. 219A) which deals with something of the same subject. The House may agree to debate these two Amendments together—but only in part because there is a little more that I should like to say when my Amendment is reached.

These two Amendments deal with the whole subject of the differences between parish councils and community councils. Let me say straight away that I think that in insisting on putting these differences into the Bill (where they occur in a great number of places) the Government are nothing less than crazy! What has happened, obviously, is that they have been urged by the Welsh Office to call these bodies "communities". and urged by the Ministry of Local Government—if that happens to be the name it enjoys at the moment; I do not know—to call them by the old name of "parish councils".

My Lords, I want every council of this kind to be called a parish council; I shall come to that when I reach my own Amendment. Why the Government cannot make up their mind as to which of these two answers is the better I am quite unable to understand. I have tried to find out. The only possible reasons I have been able to discover are, first, that there might be some muddle between the parish councils and the parochial church councils. But may I remind the House that it is 53 years since the Welsh Church was disestablished? I have lived in Wales all my life and I have never experienced the slightest trouble in that respect. The Church has got on much better with the Welsh people since disestablishment, and there is now no trouble at all in having parochial church councils on the one hand and parish councils on the other.

The only other possible argument I can discover is that there might be some confusion when successor councils are appointed in the towns. Admittedly some of the towns which are in future to be parishes are quite sizeable places. I purposely leave out the cities; it would perhaps be dangerous to talk about them as no doubt they will insist on still being called cities. So I tried to think of towns in Wales which I could quote as examples of biggish towns which would in future be parishes. Oddly enough, the two which first occurred to me as being quite big places were Merthyr and Aberdare. Then I decided to go on to more neutral territory, so I went to Newport which is a big town. I assume that I am right in saying that in future Newport will be a parish. If I am not, I shall be corrected. What in the world is wrong with calling the Newport council a parish council? I believe that it may be called a town council, but technically I suppose it will rank as a parish.

I thought that there were only two arguments against this, as if they were not enough; but then I remembered the very last Amendment on the Marshalled List moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, to the effect that the annual meeting of a parish council shall be held at 6 o'clock if no other hour was fixed, But what about community councils? Here again, the Government are going to allow community councils to meet at any hour they please, apparently, but will restrict parish councils to 6 o'clock. In my opinion, that is crazy. I should like to inform the House on the question of whether the Welsh people want the difference between community councils and parish councils. In my opinion, from all I have heard, they do not want it in the slightest degree. Yet the Government insist on it and thereby will waste an enormous amount of time in the years to come. Your Lordships will find that there are pages in this Bill that need not be there at all if the Government would only give way on this point.

In addition to the National Association of Parish Councils there is in every county in Wales, in all 13 of them, an Association of Parish Councils. Every one of those 13 have been consulted on this point—" Do you want your name to be changed to ' community '?"—and without exception every one of those 13 councils have resolved, either unanimously or by a majority vote, that they are against the proposal and do not want to have their names changed. Are the Government really going to persist in this matter against the wishes of the Welsh people? The English people are not so concerned because they are going to retain their name, but the Welsh people are to be compelled, against their wish, to change their name; and so far as I can find out—and I live there—no one wants that to happen.

I shall have a little more to say, though not all that I wanted to say, when I come to my own Amendment. Turning to the noble Baroness's Amendment I see that she wants to leave out the whole of one of the parts of Schedule 12 and to shorten it enormously by inserting the few words in the Amendment. I commend that to the House as a saving of time and trouble. The differences that appear in two parts of this same Schedule, Part II and Part IV, are ludicrous. If your Lordships will look at Part II at page 274 and then look a few pages on at Part IV, you will find that Part H refers to parishes and Part TV refers to communities. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who I entirely support, wants to save a great deal of time and trouble, in this House and outside, by leaving out Part IV and relying on Part II.

What would be the worst that would happen if we did so? There are two differences which would have to be allowed for, and they would be simply terrible, my Lords! May I just tell you what they are? In line 16 on page 275 it states that parish councils must not meet on licensed premises unless no other suitable room is available. The only word I need quote is "suitable". Turning to Part IV of the same Schedule, you will find that the whole of the wording is exactly the same, except that the word "suitable" is left out. There is one other exception which I will come to in a moment. What is meant by a "suitable" room? Will the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who, I presume, will reply on this Welsh point, tell us exactly what is meant by a "suitable" room? Will the noble Lord please tell us why the word "suitable" could not be left out?

The other point is this. In Part II it says that a parish council, in addition to its annual meeting, must have not less than three other meetings in the year. For some inexplicable reason a community council does not require to have three other meetings, or any other number of meetings, in the year. Why? That is just silly, in my opinion. Can the noble Lord particularly explain why there must be this difference? I repeat, it is crazy. I beg to move the Amendment.


My Lords, as far as the Amendment which we are discussing is concerned, I think that we on this side of the House would have no difficulty in agreeing with it; in fact, it was to have been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. This Amendment would result in some saving of time and space, and I think that the two small points referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, might without any very great difficulty be extended to the community councils as they are to parish councils. On this Amendment I have nothing further to say. My feeling about the noble Lord's Amendment to Clause 241, which I presume is the Amendment he referred to, No. 219A, is that I suppose we ought to discuss it when we come to it. I say frankly to the noble Lord that I was one who gave a great deal of thought to this question when I was a Minister at the Welsh Office. He was quite right in saying that the relationship between the Nonconformist Churches and the Church in Wales, as it is now, is a good deal more cordial than it used to be when the Anglican Church was the Established Church in the Principality. But that does not mean that some of us have not got long memories, and many of us would prefer not to have something with an ecclesiastical connotation.

It is true that in the rural areas the present parish councils are accustomed to calling themselves that, and perhaps the feeling is not very strong. But I can think of a number of urban and industrial areas where people would not at all take kindly to the word "parish". Therefore I would not wish to make a mandatory change. We felt that "community" was a good word, and that, in the social climate of Wales, it was an appropriate one. Therefore I hope that the Government will not do anything to change that. But that does not necessarily affect the form of the Bill so far as this Schedule is concerned. If the Government wish to save a little time and space by accepting Amendment No. 57A, I do not think we should object.


My Lords, I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, had to say. He spent a good deal of time discussing his own later Amendment, and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady White, that we had better discuss that when we come to it. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having fired off his guns early, and I hope to find some suitable answers for him. On the Amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, the Bill has been deliberately drafted on the basis that the constitutional provisions of local government areas and authorities in Wales, including communities and community councils, should so far as practicable be set out separately and not by reference to English areas and authorities. This has been done to enable Welsh people who wish to follow the Bill to have a complete picture of the constitutional position in Wales without having to refer to the English provisions. In fact, at an earlier stage in the origins of this Bill there were those who thought that there should be a separate Welsh Bill; but we have gone some way in providing a special Welsh section, and that is why it is here.

I would say to the noble Lord that community councils are not the same as parish councils in England, and it is important that their constitution and procedures should be dealt with separately. For example, they include rural parishes, boroughs and urban districts, all of them, without exception, to be succeeded by communities, and most of them with councils. The noble Lord mentioned Aberdare. I have not had an opportunity of checking with Aberdare to see whether they would wish to be called a parish council. I think they would rather resent it and would be far happier to be a community council. I think the same might well go for Pontypridd. These are the reasons why we have chosen the words "community council" but we can come to that point later. Meantime, as the noble Lord rightly says, there are differences. I was aware of only one small difference in paragraphs 2 and 4 of the Schedule, and that is the one about the meetings. It is true that the parish must have four meetings, but in drafting proposals for the communities—which, I repeat, will be successors to urban district councils and borough councils—we thought it better to that extent to leave to their good sense how many meetings they should have. I confess that I was not aware of the point on the "suitable room". I cannot imagine that this was intended. I will have a look at it and see if there is a misprint here, and if either both should be "suitable room" or both should be "room". I hope that the noble Lord will not press this Amendment on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, because I think there is some advantage in having all the Welsh provisions separate. They could then no doubt be taken out of the Bill and published separately.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 57A) shall be agreed to?


My Lords, may I suggest to the Lord Chairman that perhaps it would be better to put the Question a second time? It appeared to me that the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, was not intending to go to a Division.


My Lords, if I can get a Teller, I will divide on the Amendment. Will the noble Lord act for me? Apparently he will not.

On Question, Amendment negatived.


My Lords, Amendment No. 58 follows the same point that was made by my noble friend Lord Sandford on parish councils. This relates to the community council. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 279, line 10, at end insert— (" (3) The annual meeting of a community council shall be held at such hour as the council may fix or, if no hour is so fixed, 6 o'clock in the evening.")—(Lord Aberdare.)

Clause 99 [Admission of public and press to local authority committee meetings]:

6.35 p.m.

THE EARL OF MANSFIELD moved Amendment No. 59: Page 68, line 11, after ("apply") insert ("subject to subsection (3) below").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 59, and it may be convenient if I speak also to No. 60, which is the significant Amendment so far as Clause 99 of the Bill is concerned. As your Lordships well know, this clause was the subject of debate in Committee, when subsections (3) and (4) of what is now my Amendment were deleted by the Government, having been inserted, again by the Government, in another place on Report. There was no Division when the matter was last ventilated in your Lordships' House, and that may well have been in no small measure due to the fact that my noble friend Lord Sandford undertook firmly, and indeed with considerable grace, to review the whole matter and consult local authorities. Whether there has been any consultation, I am rather inclined to doubt, because there has not been very much time since September 18 when the matter was last before your Lordships. Certainly so far as the Greater London Council is concerned, as I am informed, there has been no consultation. But at any rate the matter was left where it was following almost wholesale condemnation by a number of noble Lords with wide experience of the local government field. It is perhaps fair to say that many distrusted Clause 99, in general, and subsections (3) and (4), in particular, or rather the lack of it, as it became.

I make no apology for returning to the matter to-day, partly because, like Topsy, this matter has "just grow'd", until now it is covered by Clause 99 as it appears, and more especially because with this particular Bill we are legislating for the proper and orderly local government for the next generation or so, and, as I suggest, the dissemination of information as to what the elected representatives of the community are about is no small or insignificant part of local government itself.

I am not going to rehearse again the arguments which were ventilated in Committee—many of your Lordships will be over-familiar with them already—but I wish to emphasise that the anxieties which are felt, and have been felt, by all the associations representing local government organisations are not the anxieties voiced by hidebound,stubborn or undemocratic forces among local authorities. I use those adjectives advisedly, because they were the adjectives used by some Members of another place when this matter was being discussed there. There is now among local authorities, as I am convinced, a widespread desire to give the Press, and indeed the public, as full a knowledge of the workings of local government as is prudent, having regard to the interests of the community as a whole and the employees employed by the community.

My Lords, my objections to the clause as it stands are twofold. There is a personal objection, perhaps, as a lawyer, to the passing of a measure which one can see—and in my submission it is obvious—is going to be bad law from the start. There are, as your Lordships well know, certain committees which are so constituted and whose business is such that it can be predicted that the exclusion of the public and the Press will be justified at every single meeting they have. On a previous occasion, various committees were cited as examples, but I should like to mention one more, which is the Leader's Co-ordinating Committee of the Greater London Council. That is a one-Party committee, consisting of the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council and the chairmen of some of the more important committees.

This body meets from time to time; it receives advice from the senior officers, and then decides on a very high plane the policy for the Greater London Council. I am advised that this body is going to be caught by this clause, if I may use that expression, and the effect of it is that what is in effect the "Cabinet" for the government of Greater London will have to go through the ludicrous manæuvre of passing a motion to exclude members of the Press and the public at every single meeting at which it is intended to discuss matters that it always does discuss. This cannot be good law; and it applies in the same way of course, to other committees, such as staff appeals tribunals and other committees which never make their work public because it is not in the interests of the public that they should do so.

The matter rests, therefore, as I have described. This Amendment has been drafted for inclusion in this Bill at this particular stage only as a compromise. It is not a whimsical idea to promote a power which will affect or detract from the undoubted advantages which Clause 99 gives with regard to the opening up of the committees to public view. All the safeguards which the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 provides are included in these Amendments. In other words, if a committee wishes to exclude the Press for twelve months it has to go through all motions which it would have to go through under the 1960 Act and under Clause 99 has to advertise what it is doing under the 1960 Act. It has to give the reasons why it is doing it; and all those, of course, are public. In a few instances—and they are important—it gives the right to one of these committees to conduct its affairs properly, yet in a way that will be very much more convenient and, indeed, very much less irritating to all, including the public and members of the Press who might otherwise attend on occasion after occasion to report the proceedings.

6.43 p.m.


I am glad, my Lords, that my noble friend has brought Clause 99 again to our attention on Report stage, and I want to support him in doing so. I was one of those who expressed great concern about this clause in Committee, and I am still more concerned now that I see the Government have tabled an Amendment (No. 308A), one effect of which will be to bring the clause into operation on April 1, 1973. Whatever may happen to this Amendment, I am absolutely certain that it would be too soon to try to do that by April, 1973. More time is going to be needed to iron out difficulties by discussions between the Government, the local authority associations and others, and I have therefore ventured myself to-day to table an Amendment to the Government's Amendment which would have the effect of postponing for a further 12 months the operation of this clause. That does not relieve us of the necessity of discussing it to-day and seeing whether we can improve the law.

I support my noble friend Lord Mansfield because it seems to me that otherwise an absurd position will arise, such as he described, in the case of those committees which will never be open to the public because of the nature of their work. I do not wish any Amendment to be of too sweeping a character, and it may be that the Government will argue that this Amendment is too sweeping. Nevertheless, I plead with the Government to accept some modification of this clause so that it will not be impossible for a council to pass a single resolution that will exclude the public for a year (or some other suitable period) from debates which, by their very nature, cannot be open to the public.

I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Sandford, in replying, would explain to your Lordships, and particularly to me because I am puzzled about this, how the Bill is likely to work. Supposing that there is a council meeting fixed for October 30, and there is in the council's calendar a meeting of a staff committee fixed for November 30, a month later. The full agenda for that staff committee can hardly be known at the time of the last meeting of the council a month in advance. Yet, if I read the Bill correctly, in conjunction with the 1960 Act, it is only the council which can pass a resolution to exclude the public from a committee. If there is any provision in this Bill or in the 1960 Act to enable a committee itself to pass a resolution excluding the public from some part of its proceedings, I have not been able to find that. If it is clearly foreseen on October 30 that all the proceedings of the staff committee which is to meet on November 30 will be of such a character that the public ought to be excluded, then of course it is relatively easy. But as the agenda will not be known by then, and as it is more than likely that some, if not all, of the items on that agenda will not be suitable for discussion in public, what action is to be taken? The council can hardly pass a resolution of any certainty a month in advance. Will it then be that those items which should be on the agenda for November 30 but which ought not to be open to the public will have to be postponed until a further meeting of the council has taken place, or will there have had to be a special meeting of the council beforehand to pass the appropriate resolution?

All these matters may be clear to others, but they are far from clear to me, and I suspect that there are many matters of this kind which ought to be further discussed and clarified before there can be any question of this new clause coming into operation. Indeed, for my part I would far rather the Government withdrew the clause so that the whole matter could be adequately discussed with the local authority associations with a view to an agreed clause being brought forward in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which has been foreshadowed for next Session. Meanwhile, my Lords, I strongly support my noble friend in arguing that Clause 99 is not satisfactory as it stands.


My Lords, I think it would be rather remiss of me not to say that I strongly support the Government and did support the Government when they deleted the subsections which we are now discussing and which the noble Earl seeks to put back into this clause. I am not going to argue the case. This was done by the Government when they actually moved their Amendment. It was supported, and it was carried in Committee here that these subsections should in fact be deleted from the Bill. What I really rose to say was that I, too, have put down an Amendment on precisely similar lines to those on which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has put down an Amendment. This must be a case of great minds thinking along similar lines, and I am happy to find that this is the case. But I rather think that we ought to leave the argument on this until we come to the Amendment to the Amendment which in fact we shall be moving when we get to this clause—that is, Amendment No. 308A, the new clause to be inserted after Clause 267. I rose originally to say that I very much hope the Government are not going to give way at this stage on something which was thoroughly considered and which was virtually a concession promised in the other House and carried out by the Government when the Bill came here. I think I will leave it at that, but I must add that if this Amendment goes to a Division I shall feel bound to support the Government.


My Lords, may I ask a question? A long time ago I was a member of the London County Council for three years. It is my recollection that the Leader's committee was a private Party committee, just as sometimes it was a committee of a whole Party and sometimes it was composed of a dozen chairmen. That surely is now excluded by its very nature, just as in our Party we do not expect to have the newspapers and the Press present at our private Party committee.


My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, shows how complex this issue is. I think it is worth emphasising at the moment that there is no difference of opinion between anybody in this House about the need for open local government. There is no desire for secrecy in any shape or form. Everybody realises that in some committees on some occasions there must be a moment when the Press and public must be excluded from the deliberations. I am afraid that the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, takes us back to Clause 99: it empowers a local authority to exclude the public and Press from a committee for 12 months. I think that goes much too far. The Government were right in yielding to the demands which were made in the other place and modifying that.

On the other hand, some of us feel that the Government's own solution of taking a decision at the beginning of every committee is too cumbersome. It is for that reason that I support those distinguished noble Lords, like my noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud, the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, and like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, to-day in asking the Government whether they can accede to the request of local authority associations, county council associations, the municipal corporations and the rural and urban district associations to remove this clause from the Bill for the time being and have a look at the complex issues that it raises. There is no difference of opinion between Government and Opposition, or between the associations and the Government about the aim. If there is any argument or difference at all it is about technique. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, suggested, there will be an opportunity some time in the future, after consulting the local associations on this matter, of bringing in a clause which will be much more satisfactory than the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, and the rather cumbersome Amendment which we wrote into the Bill last time. I am delighted to know that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, propose to put back the date of the operation of this clause by an Amendment later on. I hope that when we come to that Amendment we shall support it. It will give us time to give more consideration to what is a very complex problem.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, may I say a word in support of the perfect speech that has just been made? Some of us are not happy about the state of the Bill as it stands. I would support the Amendment that is being proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, if that were the best that we could get; but I do not like that, either. I had hoped that the Government were going to be able to produce some rabbit out of the hat which would satisfy what my noble friend Lord Maybray-King has so rightly asked for, which is something which would express the wish of people on all sides and on no side here on these Cross-Benches.

It seems to me that we are up against an important and critical question here. Local government is at the cross-roads quite apart from the Bill that is before us. Local government is re-thinking how it can better do its job of being the only democratic complement to Parliament and of providing efficient services up and down the country in a way which will enable people to participate in addition to the way in which they participate in the work of central Government and, I hope, in European Government in the future. In order to do that, they are ready to go forward with new techniques which I will not bore the House by mentioning.

But since the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, was a member of the L.C.C. there has developed a new kind of committee—and I think this was what the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, was referring to—called the Leader's Co-ordinating Committee, which has the advantage of being able to take advice from officials. It is not just a Party committee but is a part of the machinery of the Greater London Council. Other councils up and down the country (please God!) will follow that lead which has already been given by many other councils and is well outlined in various guidelines produced by the management committee on local government, the Bain Report, et cetera. That requires a new attitude on behalf of officials and senior officials to the leaders of the council on the elected side, and vice versa.

Just as it is unthinkable that we in this House, or those in another place, would go into Secret Session and exclude the public and the Press except at moments of great national crisis in the middle of a great war, it is equally unthinkable that the Cabinet, or a Cabinet Committee, would dream of asking the advice of officials at Cabinet meetings with the Press or public present. Yet in local government—although it is on a microscopic scale compared with the great doings in the Cabinet and Parliament—we combine the executive and the decision-taking process with the deliberative process. When the local authority meets in full council meeting, and when the education committee meets in full council meeting, it is a debating society, a forum, and it is perfectly right that the Press and the public should be there, and Parliament has said that they ought to be there.

But that is only part of what the local authority does. What we are up against here is the fact that we want local authorities to develop certain techniques, whether a policy committee consists of one Party or more than one Party. As Party politics develop—as they undoubtedly will, under the new scheme—there will be a need for senior officials to adapt their techniques to suit whoever is the political leader of the council. We want to encourage this and at the same time encourage greater participation, understanding and interest on the part of the public outside in what the local authority is doing. To do these things requires considerable thought. Your Lordships will agree with me, as an old hack in Whitehall, when I say that you cannot expect local senior officials to give confidential advice in the way senior officials fortunately have learned to do in Whitehall, except under the tradition of confidentiality, particularly as Party politics come into local government.

Therefore I hope more time can be given to thinking this problem out. Perhaps this Part of the Bill could be left out, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, suggested, and I must say that would certainly meet me completely; but if the Government cannot do that, perhaps they can consider some other way in which they can speed up talks with the local authority associations so that by April 1, 1974—and certainly not before it—we shall be able to move forward in an agreed way.

I should like to add this. I do not represent any local authority association or any interest that is concerned here. It would be a great mistake if people thought that the local authority associations were ganging up in this case against the Government or against the Press. They are doing nothing of the kind. The feeling in local government is unanimous that we have to find ways in which the public and our local governors can come into closer rapport.


My Lords, I have not been so impressed as some with the fears of local government associations. This is a subject which lends itself to magnificent generalisations. From a cynical point of view, we can get round most regulations or sections of Acts of Parliament. What I am supporting is the theory, propounded so eloquently by the noble Lords, Lord Redcliffe-Maud and Lord Maybray-King, and by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that there ought to be consultation with the authorities. It is a matter of principle. I cannot think of any subject which is more suitable for discussion with the associations. After all, as Lord RedcliffeMaud pointed out, we are beginning a "new look" at local government, and surely they ought to be brought in on the manufacturing of machinery of government. This twelve-month suggestion of Lord Mansfield is going too far, but I am all for what he said about consultation.


My Lords, may I say a few words in support of the noble Earl's Amendment. First, I would commend the brevity with which he moved the Amendment—an example to the rest of the House. He did not repeat his Committee speech once, let alone three times. The Government promised when we debated this question in Committee that they would look at it again. I am bound to say I think they have looked at it through the wrong end of the telescope because it has gone further and further away. But never mind that. I would just add that support very much the suggestion which the noble Lords, Lord Redcliffe-Maud and Lord Brooke of Cumnor, have made that we want something better than this clause.

I must repeat that nobody in this House or in another place, or almost anywhere in local government, wants to see the Press excluded from meetings where they should rightly be present. I do not think that that can be said too often. It is most important that those of us who sit on local government should have the good will of the Press—and this again is something that cannot be said too often. We shall not obtain the good will of the Press if we are going to have to throw them out of these committees at short notice. For that reason I have grave disquiet about the Bill as it now stands. I hope that the mover will not press this Amendment to a Division because if he did so it might be thought in the country at large that we are against the admission of the Press to committee meetings, which is not the case. But if the Government will look at the matter through the right end of the telescope, I think the House will be satisfied.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, I want to see more publicity given to the work of local councils, to the decisions at which they arrive, and to the considerations which have led them to those decisions. But I am not keen on the clause in its present form, and am even less keen on the Amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I feel, as other noble Lords have suggested, that there ought to be more discussions with the local authority associations in the hope that we might get some kind of compromise which would lead us farther than we are at present in the direction of admitting the Press to committee meetings but nevertheless avoiding the mandatory authority that is included in the Bill.

It is a fact that more and more councils are admitting the Press to more and more of their committees. But the choice as to which committee they admit the Press remains with them; it is not imposed upon them by Whitehall or by Act of Parliament. So I believe that the Government would be doing a greater service if they did their best to encourage councils to admit the Press to as many committees as possible—not to all committees—rather than to impose this mandatory requirement. It would be much better if it were done voluntarily. When all is said and done, the background to all our discussions on local government, as on other matters, is that we should give more power to the local councils. Here we are seeking to restrict their powers by Act of Parliament.

I am something of a mongrel so far as this particular clause is concerned: I have had a foot in both camps, local government and newspapers. I suppose that Wetherby's Stud Book would describe me as "By ex-county council chairman out of local weekly newspaper reporter". That was fifty years ago; things have probably changed since then. But I have noticed that most local papers do not give, as much coverage to the doings of the local council as their readers could expect them to do. If there were more inclination on the part of papers to give adequate coverage to local government affairs, I should feel more inclined to be an enthusiastic supporter of this particular clause in the Government's Bill. Of course, there are some exceptions. But one finds that the only occasion when a local newspaper gives a big story to the local council is when there is an open row in the council chamber.

If the Bill goes through in its present form I expect there will be some initial enthusiasm on the part of editors and they will start sending their reporters to committee meetings. I think those reporters will soon become bored, and I fear that there are many newspapers which will not be able to afford the employment of a trained local government reporter. All the same, we must look at the merits of this proposal. There are several drawbacks both in the Amendment and in the clause. One of the virtues about the closed committee system is that members are able to put aside all their prejudices and discuss matters in a businesslike manner. On the other hand, if the Press were present there would be a lot of playing to the gallery by Party politicians—perhaps on that side, perhaps on this side, perhaps on both sides. Another of the virtues of the closed committee is that members can listen to the professional advice of their expert advisers. They can question these expert advisers, and the advisers are able to make their views known impartially. I feel that if the Press were present the nature of the questions that would be put to them, and the nature of the answers they might have to give, could tend to draw them into the arena of Party politics; and that would be bad. I feel that if the Press were always present, then these officials would be inhibited from giving the frank advice they invariably give to us at the present time, and this might lead to many wrong decisions being taken by the committee.

I know, of course, that there is provision for a resolution to be moved at any committee meeting stating that the Press shall be excluded from the consideration of certain matters. That is obviously necessary. We in our committees discuss the possible acquisition of land—and we know how land is going up overnight from £500 an acre to £25,000 an acre if somebody puts a tick by a little sheet of paper marked" planning permission". We know that the route of a projected road can cause a great increase in land values. We know that the discussion of official salaries, and probably discussion of the conduct of certain officials, is something that ought not to be done in public. But when you come to that stage of a committee meeting where you feel that it is right to move the resolution excluding the Press from the remainder of the meeting, what is the atmosphere that is created? Some members might say, "Ah! they've got something to hide", and then, with the Press still present, make speeches suggesting that the other side is not perhaps acting as honourably as it should. That would all be in public. Then again, if the resolution were carried and the Press were excluded—my mind goes back fifty years to the days when I was a local newspaper reporter—that would be the cue to me to start lobbying the members concerned in the local bar and getting a really good story—probably a one-sided story and one not giving both versions of the facts.

There are, naturally, some arguments on the other side. If a committee—and this is the point the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, mentioned—met in the first week of the month, and a report of its activities appeared in the paper, this would enable local reaction and local criticism to make itself felt by the time the council meeting was held at the end of the month. That would be good: there is no doubt about it. Then, there are committees of councils which have delegated powers and do not remit their decisions to the councils for approval later on. It is right that their activities also should be available to the Press. But I have a feeling that if the Press is to be in on all these discussions, where we sometimes forget our Party politics in committee rooms and act, if one might say so cynically, as sensible men and women, then more and more of the business of council committees will be conducted in sub-committees or in the Party caucus, and if your Lordships think that is in the interests of the public getting additional information I feel that you are sadly mistaken.

Admitting the Press to these committee meetings is not the only way of informing the public. After committee meetings Press conferences can be held with the chairman and, if you like, the leader of the opposition and the chief official present. I know from my own knowledge that those are very successful indeed and public statements can be issued a few days after the meeting for general circulation to the Press.

I was delighted to hear the noble Lord. Lord Redcliffe-Maud, speak because in his report on the Management of Local Government he said: There is no substitute for good Press relations. He also said: We recommend that local authorities admit the Press to meetings of committees, but it should remain within the local authorities' discretion to decide whether or not to admit the Press. I think that is the right attitude. We want to see more and more committees open to the Press, but we do not want the mandatory authority.

Personally I should like to see more public relations officers employed by local authorities. The number is increasing but the majority of councils are still without one. If there is an overwhelming feeling in the House that the clause should stand as it is, although I do not like it, I would not be prepared to fight to the last ditch against it. I feel that the newspapers would soon become bored with the task of sending reporters to every committee meeting. I feel that there would be a crop of libels or slanders. I certainly feel that there would be a great deal more land speculation as a result of secrets about potential land purchases leaking out from the committees. I feel that this whole question demands further consideration on the part of local authorities and their associations. But if it is the general view of the committee that the Press should be admitted I would not agree with the Amendment. I look upon that as a loophole which is being used to try to defy the Act and I feel it would be better, if we are to have any exceptions, for a resolution to be moved at every meeting of every committee where it is decided that it is desirable to exclude the Press.

The Press is one thing but the public is another, and the proposal before us is that we admit not only the Press but the public as well. They are two different things. The Press representatives—let me say this very shyly—are fairly respectable, well-behaved people. They do not go to meetings in order to create disorder. But there are some gangs—and we can see this in the newspapers week by week—which pack the public galleries at open council meetings with one object only in mind, to reduce the whole proceedings to a shambles. If that kind of thing hap- pened at committee meetings the progress of our council committee work would be seriously impeded.

Then there is the question of geometry. Most of our council committee rooms are not big enough to accommodate members of the public. The answer to that might be, "Well, hold your committee meetings in the council chamber". But it so happens that two or three committee meetings often take place at the same time on the same day, so that that would not be possible. Then there is the psychological disadvantage of holding committee meetings in the council chamber. In the council chamber we would tend to have one Party on one side and one Party on another, whereas in a committee room we all sit round the table, mix with one another and try to discuss the business before us on its merits.

It is quite easy to imagine the kind of people that we should get crowding into our committee meetings. We should get tenants' associations, and your Lordships know what they have done at council meetings in some of the London boroughs! We might also get Women's Lib, and your Lordships know what Women's Lib can do when they want to make a public demonstration! We should have them divesting themselves of their invisible means of support; we should have them screaming as we have had them screaming at other public demonstrations. All this would act against the proper, efficient conduct of the business of the committee. I feel that there are some committees to which we might quite easily admit the Press for the whole of the meeting; there are some committees where I would definitely say "No", and I would include those committees dealing with finance and with land acquisition. I would let the council decide to which of their committees they would admit the Press. But so far as admitting the public to these meetings is concerned. I am dead against that. I still feel that it might be possible to reach a sensible and satisfactory compromise if the Government would once again confer with the local authorities associations.


My Lords, I intervene briefly at this moment because I am particularly interested in this debate. I piloted the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act through this House in 1960. It was a Private Member's Bill which was started in another place by Mrs. Thatcher and I was asked to handle it in your Lordships' House. Before that time access to council meetings was very much restricted. I do not want to see anything in this Bill which would interfere in any way with the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act of 1960 because that Act has worked extremely well. I have sat on a county council now for many years—I think since 1946. The main meetings are open to the Press, and even to the public, although the public do not attend at all. They could attend if they wanted to. But when it comes to meetings at which we do not want the Press—and there are just one or two—those committees have to report to the main council and therefore the Press, who are at the main council meetings, always hear what has been done, let us say, at the chairmen's committee which meets in private, or in some other committee which it has been agreed should meet in private. The findings of those committees often take place without the public being present, but that does not contravene the Act in any way because the Press and the public receive the reports which are given in public to the council meetings.

I support the Government in this. There may be county councils where great difficulties might occur, hut I think those difficulties are exaggerated. There is a perfectly simple, straightforward method of dealing with this which would not lead to any major difficulties and I hope very much that we shall not see any restrictions, or any actions being taken in this Bill which will interfere with the Act of 1960 which, in my view, still works very well. As the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, has said it is perfectly possible to hold meetings in private, with the consent of the council. In my experience that can be done without alienating the Press in any way at all.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, I think we all feel grateful to my noble friend Lord Mansfield for moving this Amendment, which gives us an opportunity to discuss this important matter further. It is a bad thing to repeat the speech that one has made at Committee stage, and it is quite unnecessary for me to do so this evening because I can say straight away that I agree with what has been said by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King and by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, and I have really nothing to add to those remarks. Every time I hear the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, speak I am increasingly amazed at the things he knows about. It is quite fantastic! I thought I knew all the things that the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, knew about—I mean, of course, that I thought I knew which ones he knew about—but then the other day is became quite clear that the name of the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, is greatly honoured among those who know about refuse disposal. Then we learned just now that he was a newspaper correspondent, and earlier this evening we learned that he was a company sergeant-major. As one who never got beyond company quartermaster sergeant, may I express my admiration? I found my particular ambitions fulfilled then that being the lowest rank at which one did not have to carry a rifle about. There is clearly no difference between us over our aim in this matter. It is just a question of finding the best way of providing opportunities to enable the public to be informed and kept in touch with local government arrangements. Many of us feel that the method which the Government are proposing will prove cumbersome and may be counter-productive to the end that we all have in mind.

I am sure that the Minister will deal with the point which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, raised. I had the impression that councils could delegate this responsibility to committees so that they could decide this matter at the beginning of each meeting. I had thought that a cumbersome arrangement and I hope that the Government will still find a way of consulting with the local authority bodies, which are deeply interested in this subject, to find the best way of achieving the end that we all have in mind. I should have thought that to enable that to be done it would, from the Government's point of view, be a modest price to pay to withdraw the clause for the time being and reintroduce it with the right answer; namely, an answer which will carry with it the support and confidence of all the local authority bodies. I believe that a compromise is attainable. The Government could then bring the clause forward when the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which it is believed will come before Parliament not later than next year, is introduced. I hope the Government will give consideration to that solution to this question, a solution which I think would satisfy the views of almost all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, it is now up to me to produce a rabbit. We have considered this matter very carefully since the last stage, looking at it through both ends of the telescope, at the same time examining a further joint memorandum from the four local authority associations urging that in view of the difficulties to which, in their view, this clause would give rise it should be withdrawn to enable further consultations to take place. As we have further explained to the associations, the Government are not persuaded, any more than my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood is persuaded, that the clause will give rise to such difficulties as to warrant our withdrawal of it. We remain convinced that the time is right for further progress in the direction of more open local government.

Experience since the passage of the 1960 Act, which my noble friend, as she reminded us, dealt with in this House, shows that the forebodings of the opponents of that measure did not materialise and that many authorities have been able to go further and to open most, and in some cases all, of their committees to the Press and public without undue difficulty. However, there are still far too many authorities which, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion said, persist in taking important policy decisions behind closed doors. It was argued at an earlier stage, and recently by the noble Lord, Lord Leather-land, that chief officers will be inhibited from giving positive advice at open meetings. I feel that that is a low assessment of the calibre of our chief local government officers. Certainly it will require readjustment by those few who have become for far too long accustomed to decision-taking in privacy behind closed doors. The experience of those who have opened their meetings shows that initial misgivings can be overcome. Where it is necessary for members to receive truly confidential advice from their officers, the 1960 Act specifically provides for it.

It has also been argued that to require open committee meetings will tend to encourage closed discussion in Party meetings from which officers are excluded, and I confess that no legislation can force a reluctant authority to engage in public discussion of major policy issues if it is really determined to avoid doing so. What we are proposing here, and what we shall be creating, is a presumption of openness which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, was advocating, and with which we agree, and against which a local authority will have to be judged by its own electorate. We recognise that legislation can do little more than help to create such a climate of opinion. That is why we are not seeking to legislate in relation to sub-committees or working groups of every kind.

I come to the specific matter of the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Mansfield. The point has been made that it could be frustrating for all concerned if, having publicly advertised a committee meeting, the committee were to resolve as its first item of business to exclude the public and Press; and it was with this thought in mind that we originally included subsections (3) and (4) which the noble Lord is seeking to restore. These subsections would, if carried into the Bill, enable a council to close a particular committee to the public for periods of up to 12 months at a time if it was clear that much the greater part of its business was likely to justify closure by individual resolutions within the terms of the 1960 Act. On more mature reflection, we believe that this would be wrong and would make it too easy for those who do not like open decision-making to seek to get round the intention of this clause.

Moreover, I think that the problem I have been describing is more apparent than real. Few committee meetings will be concerned solely with confidential business, and this will be especially true with the larger authorities that we are creating, and the more streamlined committee structures which we trust they will adopt and to which the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, has given so much atten- tion, and has drawn to our attention in previous debates on this point. It is to be hoped that committee members will concentrate more on policy issues which should be publicly aired and less on detailed day-to-day executive decisions which should be delegated to officers, or at least to sub-committees. As I have said, sub-committees are not covered by this clause.

It is common practice where meetings are already open to the public for the agenda to be divided into two parts, the confidential items being taken at the end when the public and Press have been asked to leave, and I am not aware that this creates any real difficulty. In those few cases where it may be found necessary to close the whole of a committee meeting it should be possible to indicate in the public notice and on the agenda, the strong possibility of this happening, though in answer to my noble friend Lord Brooke I would say that it can be only on the authority of the committee itself at the time that the resolution is moved and the public and Press are actually excluded. I confirm what the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, was intimating: that this is a matter which can be delegated. These are all matters which can be included within the code of practice which we understand the local authority associations are preparing.

It must not be forgotten—and the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, has not let us forget—that, as he said and as he pointed out in his Report on the Management of Local Government, this question of admission to meetings is only one aspect and is not necessarily the most important aspect of local authorities' public relations.—The noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, also made this point. I submit that the central principle is that public business which involves the spending of public money and the shaping of ratepayers' lives should be conducted in such a fashion that the public know what is going on. This means that the authority should publicise its progress and the results it achieves, keep the public informed of its decisions and the reasons for taking them, seek to educate public opinion in the problems which it faces, explain to the public what it is trying to do and the means it proposes to adopt and try to obtain the public's reactions to its efforts.

Thus, the admission of the Press to formal committees even if it is coupled, as it ought to be coupled, with the circulation in good time of an agenda and supporting documents, is by no means the whole of good public relations or good Press relations. A great deal more needs to be done by formal and informal Press meetings in which the agenda and the transactions of committees are explained and reporters (especially young reporters like young Leatherland) are helped with the procedures and are encouraged to disentangle the important from the unimportant. That helps too to ensure good working facilities for the Press; by, for example, providing them with comfort-able seats in the council chambers and access to telephones.

All these are things which I should expect to be covered in the code of practice, as well as guidance on the various practical matters that arise from the procedures laid down in the 1960 Act, such as my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor instanced. It is clear that it would help the House in coming to their decision—and I hope it will help my noble friend Lord Mansfield to decide not to press his Amendment upon us—if I can say now, as I do—and I think this will show that at least three minds have been thinking alike—that I am prepared, when it comes to deal with the commencement provisions to-morrow, to accept an Amendment either in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cum-nor, or in the name of the noble Lord. Lord Champion—but, I should hope, detached from Amendments that would affect other matters which I might not be able to accept—which would have the effect of deferring the operative date of Clause 99 for all authorities until April 1, 1974.

I appreciate the hesitation that many local authorities have about this clause although, as I say, I do not believe that their worries are well founded. An extension of a year in the operation of the statutory provisions would not put the principle at stake in jeopardy. Meanwhile. I hope that the existing trend towards more open local government will continue at an increased tempo. An extra year would undoubtedly give local authorities more time to prepare for the requirements of this clause (this is a time when they are already very much stretched), to make the necessary physical and administrative arrangements for admitting the public and Press to committee meetings. But, much more important, it would enable us to pursue the discussions with the local authority associations about the practical problems concerning the code of practice and to resolve any real difficulties that may emerge before these statutory requirements take effect. And, most important of all, it would give the newly elected authorities, the existing authorities in Greater London, the associations of all of them, ourselves and the bodies representative of the Press, a further chance and a longer time to confer together and to make progress in the wider fields of Press relations and public relations; and these things, after all, are far more important and wide-ranging than the relatively limited matter to which this particular clause and this particular Amendment refers. I hope that what I have said will enable my noble friend Lord Mansfield to withdraw this Amendment and my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, or the noble Lord, Lord Champion, to accept the Amendment for us to consider to-morrow to delay the commencement of this clause.


My Lords, would it be in order for me to ask my noble friend one question arising out of what he has said where he envisages that there will be consultations continuing with the local authority bodies? Suppose this clause stands in the Bill and suppose that those consultations were to produce a method which would be less cumbersome than what he has proposed now, would it he possible then for an Amendment to be made to the method in some subsequent Bill that might be introduced possibly before the date of April 1, 1974?


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Amory will know how difficult it is for me to give firm assurances about future legislation, but the prospects after the passage of this Bill through Parliament of yet further legislation on local government reform, bearing in mind that we are already committed to legislation on local government finance, are not good enough for me to give anything like a firm assurance. Our own belief, as I say, is that we have provided here a framework in which these further detailed provisions, which are undoubtedly needed, can be developed and worked out.


My Lords, may I put a question to my noble friend Lord Sandford? Would he agree that the year from April, 1973, to April, 1974, will be a very crucial one in the case of the new authorities and that there is a danger that some secretive new authorities may seek to exclude the Press and public during that period and thus to present the community at large with certain cut and dried decisions which will not have been exposed to proper scrutiny?


My Lords, what I have already said about the difficulty—in fact the impossibility—of securing that an authority that is determined to take its policy decisions behind closed doors cannot find some way of getting round the legislation. That cannot be done. But we are seeking to provide here a stronger presumption towards open local government than there has been hitherto.


My Lords, with your Lordships' leave perhaps I might reply briefly to what has been said. I am most grateful to all those noble Lords who have spoken in this debate this evening. If ever a Government were informed of the anxieties which have arisen all round this chamber, such has happened to-night. In particular I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, for coming to my aid over the Leader's Co-ordinating Committee of the Greater London Council. One never wishes to make a had point in a debate, either legal or Parliamentary, still less does one like to be accused of one—as it happens wrongly, on this occasion—and I am therefore very grateful to him.

When it comes to "rabbits", I never thought that my noble friend Lord Sandford would produce one on this occasion and indeed I am rather glad that he has not done so. There has been a great deal of fairly hasty legislation in this Bill, but rabbits have a habit of getting myxomatosis and I would prefer an animal of an entirely different character and breed to emerge when all the parties have had time to consider and consult with each other. I venture to think that this debate has not been a waste of time. Much good may come of it in the end, but in the meantime, with your Lordships' leave, I should like to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 100 [Arrangements for discharge of functions by local authorities]:

7.39 p.m

THE EARL OF CRANBROOK moved Amendment No 61: Page 68, line 28, at end insert the following new subsection— (" ( ) or by two or more other local authorities jointly.")

The noble Earl said: My Lords, when I moved an exactly similar Amendment on the Commitee stage the noble Lord said that he thought that what I had in mind—and which I am quite certain he wishes as much I do—was already provided for in the Bill. It all depends on whether the functions which the principal asks the agent to perform on its behalf become the functions of the agent. This is a legal matter on which I am not competent to judge, and if the noble Lord can assure me that what I have in mind is legal and can be done—because the more we investigate the future of local government the more it becomes obvious that we shall often need to have two or more local authorities acting together as agents—then I shall be perfectly happy.


My Lords, there is no dispute as to the validity of the point made by my noble friend Lord Cranbrook during the Committee stage that it may be more economic and effective if in some cases district councils act jointly in the discharge of agency arrangements made with the county council, and the Bill already permits this to be done. Under Clause 101, a county council could make arrangements with one or more district councils in their area and the agreements reached between the county council on the one hand and each district council on the other could involve a requirement for co-operation between the district councils. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Cranbrook feels that this is a cumbersome way of approaching the matter, but in practice I do not think there would be any difficulty, in that the county council would need to discuss the arrangements with each of the district councils concerned. Whether the final outcome was an agreement between the county council and a group of district councils or whether there were separate agreements between the county council and each district council covering the same matters would be of no practical significance so far as the joint arrangements between the district councils were concerned. Under Clause 101(1) the district councils acting jointly could, if they chose, establish a joint committee for the purpose of the discharge of the function which was the subject of the agency arrangements. So in short we agree that the arrangements envisaged by the noble Earl could well be desirable in many circumstances, but we remain of the view that the Bill already permits these objectives to be achieved without further amendment. I hope that what I have said satisfies the noble Earl that his point can be met.


My Lords, I must confess that I find it so complicated that I am scarcely satisfied. I should have thought that my nice, tidy way of doing it was infinitely better. It certainly makes explicit what to my mind is only implicit in the Bill. I will not, of course, press this Amendment, but I would ask the noble Lord to think once more whether it would not be a little more tidy to make it abundantly clear by making some such Amendment as I have put down. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.43 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved Amendment No. 64: After Clause 105 insert the following new clause:

Application of foregoing provisions to police authorities

" .—(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section—

  1. (a) sections 100 to 102 and 105 above shall apply to a police authority other than the Secretary of State as they apply to a local authority;
  2. (b) sections 103 and 104 above shall apply both to a police authority and a committee of any such authority or authorities as they apply to a committee of a local authority or authorities;
and in their application to the Common Council as police authority those sections shall have effect subject to those provisions.

(2) A police authority may not arrange for the discharge of their functions by another police authority, and section 100(1)(b) and (3) above shall not apply to a police authority.

(3) The officers who may discharge the functions of a police authority in pursuance of arrangements under section 100(1), (2) or (5) above shall include the chief officer of police, his deputy while performing his duties and any civilian officer employed for the purposes of the police authority or one of the police authorities.

(4) A police authority may not arrange under section 100 above for the discharge of their functions by a committee or officer as respects part only of their area.

(5) Section 100(10) above shall not apply to a police authority.

(6) Any committee appointed under section 101 above for discharging the functions of one or more police authorities (including any subcommittee) shall consist only of members of the appointing authority or authorities and section 101(3) above shall not apply to committees of police authorities.

(7) Section 102 above, in its application to a joint committee of police authorities, shall have effect as if for paragraphs (a) and (b) there were substituted the words "by the Secretary of State".

(8) A person shall not be disqualified by virtue of section 103 above for being a member of a police authority or the committee (or any sub-committee) of any such authority or authorities by virtue of his holding any office or employment, except employment for the purposes of the police authority or one of the police authorities.

(9) Section 105 above shall not authorise any county council to make standing orders with respect to the quorum, proceedings or place of meeting of a police authority.

(10) For the purposes of this section the following persons shall be treated as employed for the purposes of a police authority, that is to say—

  1. (a) any person employed under section 10 of the Police Act 1964 for police purposes of the police authority's area; and also
  2. (b) in the case of a combined police authority, any person whose services are made available for the use of that authority in pursuance of section 4(5) of that Act."

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, we want so far as is appropriate to apply the powers of delegation which local authorities will have in Clauses 100 to 105 to police authorities, including combined police authorities, and that is what this new clause does. At the present moment, under the existing legislation a few combined police authorities—that is, where there is more than one county involved—do have limited powers of delegation, but not a single county police authority; and the local authority associations, from the consultations we have had with them, support the idea of giving this power of delegation in the clause. We have had to adapt the provisions slightly, because not quite all the provisions in the existing six clauses are suitable.

I hope that the new clause is largely self-explanatory, but I ought to say a word or two about it. In the first subsection we are applying the provisions I have mentioned; we are allowing the setting up of committees or joint committees, and the delegation to officers, in certain circumstances, of some of the duties. We then go on to place some limitations on the powers of delegation, because, for instance, we could not allow a police authority to delegate all its functions to another police authority completely; we would have to ensure that each police authority does what it is required to do under the Police Act; that is, to provide an adequate and efficient police force for its area. So that is not a responsibility that can be delegated to the police authority of another area. In fact if this sort of thing is in the minds of those concerned it would be better to go for an amalgamation of police forces, which my right honourable friend can still sanction, despite this Bill, under the Police Act.

Then we must also take account of the possibility that a local police authority might want to set up a committee to deal with part only of its area. I think this would be undesirable, and subsection (4) rules that out. I do not think, in the light of the debates we have had on the question of the police, that the House would wish to have police areas subdivided again, whether or not there have been good arguments in the past about that sort of thing. Then there are in subsection (6) some statutory functions which already exist under the Police Act, including the appointment of the chief constable and the setting of the establishment of the force; the number of officers concerned—both of which are subject to my right honourable friend's approval—the provision of equipment, and certain disciplinary functions, which we think should be discharged only by members of the authority itself. The point is that there may be other matters, such as, for instance, advisory committees, where the police authorities may wish to co-opt members who are not members of the police authority in their own right. But for the essential functions we think it should be only members of the authority who take the decisions.

There is one point in subsection (8), which is fairly complicated, which changes the situation about disqualification of magistrates. The effect of it is that a magistrate will only be disqualified for membership of any police authority under Part V of the Bill if he is employed for the purpose of that police authority, or, in the case of a joint committee or two or more police authorities, if he is employed for the purpose of one of those authorities—and "employed" is defined in subsection (10). So there have had to be one or two adaptations of the general provisions of the Bill, but in general we believe that it will increase the flexibility, and indeed the efficiency of the police and those in charge of them, if we can incorporate these amendments and give them the power to delegate and operate committees in the sort of way I have suggested, but subject to those limitations. I hope that that is a satisfactory explanation. If any noble Lord wants anything further, I will endeavour to assist. Meanwhile, I beg to move.


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Viscount for having explained so carefully this new clause. It is a new clause of considerable size. He has given it something of a Second Reading, although it is a very late stage in the Bill for that to happen. It is right that all these points should be collected in this single clause, but I notice that he has now firmly closed, under subsection (4), something which the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, and I were trying to achieve, by ensuring retention of the existing police authorities. That was something which we tried in Committee, but we failed and decided not to come back to it. When I read this new clause I thought that the noble Lord had firmly shut the door in my face and I was not trying to put my face in any more. It seems to me to be a wholly good clause and for my part I welcome it.

Clause 108 [Transitional arrangements for discharge of functions]:

7.50 p.m.

VISCOUNT GAGE moved Amendment No. 64A: Page 74, line 22, at end insert— (" ( ) No application submitted under subsections (1) or (2) of this section after 31st December 1973 shall be considered by the Minister.")

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, when I moved an Amendment dealing with this subject in Committee I argued that it would be quite intolerable if, right up to the last moment, new points were being raised and the Minister would possibly be giving directions which would have the effect of making the joint committees, who are so hard worked in various ways, start all over again. My noble friend Lord Aberdare sympathised with that point. For this I was very grateful. He did, however, argue in favour of flexibility. I have tried to meet that point in this Amendment. I am suggesting that the Minister should have all the flexibility he needs, but that he should not consider any new proposition after December 31, 1973. I suggest that it is reasonable for roe to say that if a local authority is suffering under a great sense of grievance they will realise that before December 31, 1973.

I also think that it would be wrong to allow this extended period for submitting complaints. I believe that it would have certain disadvantages. The sort of thing that might happen is that one authority might say to another, "If you don't meet us on this point we will make ourselves a great nuisance to you on other points right up to the last". I do not think that that would be a very satisfactory thing to have happen. I can see no real reason why any local authority should want to submit their grievances after this period. I believe that the Minister would be very glad to have the authority of Parliament for refusing to consider anything after that date. They might, if you agree, make the date earlier. That would not matter. However, I think that anything after that date would be really putting the joint committees to too great a strain. That is all I have to say. I beg to move.


My Lords, may I add a word in support of my noble friend Lord Gage. I think that he and I have watered down our Amendment quite considerably since the Committee stage, and I hope that we have compromised sufficiently for the Government to accept this proposal. I may be wrong, but as I read the Bill, there is a provision that the Minister cannot give a decision on this agency agreement after March 31, 1974. That is set out in subsection (4). But one could envisage the situation, if our Amendment was not accepted, where a disgruntled local authority could put in an application on March 29, 1974; the Minister, with the best will in the world, might not be able to meet his obligations and the whole thing could be thrown into the melting pot.

I hope that the Government will be able to give us this relatively minor point. It may seem such a small point that it is not worth wasting your Lordships' time further on it, but I did say in Committee, and my view has been in no way diminished by my experience since, that there is a grave feeling of disquiet over the whole question of this agency agreement, because there is potential uncertainty hanging over all the planning that is going on at the moment. We do not know to what extent this uncertainty will be realised, because the new councils who will create such uncertainty will not come into being for a few months yet. But the feeling, I emphasise again, that you cannot get ahead with planning establishments is particularly felt among the staffs of the existing local authorities, whose future is very much at stake. They do not know whether they will be working for one type or another type. This feeling is very real, and anything we can do to lessen the period of uncertainty and help the new authorities in the formidable task—a more formidable task than I think the Government realise—which lies ahead of them would be welcomed.


My Lords, I would say only one word in support of my two noble friends who are moving this Amendment, because it happens that I spent two days last week assisting at the birth of these joint committees provided by the Bill. That experience led me to think very clearly that any major points of dispute between one level and another level of the local authorities were bound to come out early. If they did not come out early they would very likely be frivolous or malicious. If a major point of dispute comes out at the proper time, as I think it will if counties get on with the organisation of the committees at the right time, there will be ample time to settle everything worth taking to the Minister in the time mentioned by my noble friend in his Amendment.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, I would assure my noble friend Lord Gage, and my other noble friends Lord Ridley and Lord Bridgeman, that we still have the utmost sympathy with the spirit that lies behind this Amendment, but we still hope to attain the same object, but with even greater flexibility than they would allow us, by doing by administrative means what they desire. We entirely agree that decisions on agency arrangements must be reached well in advance of April, 1974, and my noble friends who have spoken have made it perfectly clear why this is so:it is only on the method that we differ.

The Secretary of State for the Environment made clear in another place that a ministerial decision should be sought only as a last resort:preferably the new local authorities should reach agreement between themselves, and as early as possible. To assist this process there would be consultations between the Departments concerned and the local authority associations, leading up to the issue of a circular containing guidance on the circumstances in which agency arrangements might be appropriate. These consultations will start in the very near future, and it is our aim to send an initial consultation paper to the associations by about the end of this month. The consultations will then be urgently pursued with a view to drawing up the general circular of guidance by about the end of this year, or very early in 1973. These discussions, and the circular, will certainly have to cover the matter of the timetable for reaching agreement between authorities, and also the date by which any appeals should be lodged with Ministers.

Appeals will certainly need to be lodged in good time so that decisions are given well in advance of April, 1974, but for various reasons we do not think it would be appropriate to write a specific date into the Bill. First of all, as I have said, we shall be dealing in the circular with the timetable; secondly, we think it right that this should be discussed with the local authority associations; thirdly, in the light of those discussions, we may want to propose an earlier date than December 31, 1973, for some, or even most, purposes. We feel that it would be wrong to introduce an element of statutory rigidity and prevent any application to Ministers after that date. We entirely agree with the purpose of the Amendment, but in general we believe that with consultation, guidance, and with a date, or dates, given through a circular, we shall get the best of all worlds:we shall get our flexibility, and we shall not put ourselves in the position of having to make any last-minute decisions, because we fix a firm (late by which appeals have to be in. I hope that my noble friends will be satisfied with that explanation.


My Lords, I must confess that I was not as persuaded by my noble friend as I usually am. He did not give a very definite undertaking on Committee, and that is what made some of my noble friends anxious. He has gone a little way to-day. He has not mentioned dates, and I could not help being tempted to compare the treatment of Clause 99, where the Government put something into the Bill and had consultations after, whereas here we have to wait for the consultations before anything is put into the Bill or anything concrete is produced. At this hour, on a point of this sort, I should not think of pressing the Amendment, but I should like to have it negatived.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 114 [Members of local authorities not to be appointed as officers]:

LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 65: Page 77, line 32, at beginning insert ("(1)").

The noble Lord said:My Lords, the principle of the clause that I am seeking to amend is one which I strongly support. The clause is designed to ensure that a member of a local authority is not able to use his membership of that authority to prepare, by his contacts with fellow councillors and with the officers of the council, a place for himself on ceasing to be a member by resignation or by other cause. That I regard as important. The 12-month bar is some considerable safeguard against the sort of thing that we seek to prevent happening in our public institutions.

The Amendment I am proposing is admittedly designed to meet the sort of exceptional case that inevitably crops up from time to time. I can best illustrate what I have in mind by using an example which has been brought to my notice. It is of an ex-councillor who, upon losing her council seat, was employed by the council in a position which enabled her to render a service to people who sadly needed the sort of care and attention she was qualified to give them. In May of this year, this lady lost her council seat and shortly afterwards became a part-time assistant to a district nursing sister, being employed for some four hours a day. Under the general supervision of the district nurse she looked after some 35 patients in an area where there is a large proportion of elderly people who clearly need the sort of attention she was able to give them. The sort of thing she was doing was bathing patients, applying small dressings, treating bed sores, testing for hypothermia, as well as tending one old lady whose lees had been amputated, another suffering from Parkinson's disease and another completely paralysed.

After working for a month in this capacity someone must have noticed or remembered that Section 122 of the 1933 Act would apply, even in a case such as this, and she was discharged. The lady has not been replaced by the authority and these elderly people are being treated by over-worked district nursing staff as best they can in the very limited time available to them. This is the sort of instance which makes the clause look silly. But in my opinion it would be quite undesirable to delete the clause from the Bill and thus throw local authority employment open to possible abuse, though I am hound to say that it seems to me equally undesirable to have a bar in the quite exceptional sort of case that I have cited.

The Amendment would give to the Secretary of State power to approve an appointment by a local authority of an ex-councillor if upon application to the Secretary of State he is completely satisfied that in no way would such an appointment offend against the strict code which it is right to seek to maintain. That safeguard would be adequate to prevent any sort of abase but would enable the Secretary of State to modify the application of the clause in exceptional cases. I am sure that most noble Lords who know anything at all about local authorities, who know anything about the treatment of the aged, who know anything about the difficulty of coping with this type of case and of getting people who are qualified to do it to volunteer for this work, will realise that the case I am putting has some merit and that there would be some justification perhaps for the sort of modification which I am here suggesting.

My Lords, do not think I can add much to what I have already said. I hope the Government will be prepared to look at this proposal—I know it is rather late in the Bill to introduce it. Indeed, I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept the Amendment which I have on the Order Paper. It does not open the door to abuse but it would enable the Secretary of State to meet the occasional exceptional case of the sort which I have endeavoured to bring to the notice of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.


My Lords, I should very much like the Government to consider this proposal. I think the case that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has mentioned is one that is a problem to local authorities. I will give another typical example. The wife of a business man could very easily become a county councillor. If her husband died, she might be in the awkward position of having to supplement her own living. She might have nursing experience or possibly have been a teacher. It would be a pity if, having been forced to resign her seat, through having lost her husband, she could not then get employment. I have known of this sort of case and I feel that this waiting period of 12 months can create great hardship and I should like the Government seriously to consider this Amendment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has a very good point.


My Lords, the enthusiasm of the House for the case which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has put forward and to which my noble friend Lord Balfour has spoken should not allow us to forget that the noble Lord also said that he was in support of the principle of the clause, which goes back about a century. It reproduces the pattern of the 1933 Act which has been widely accepted in the local government world and it covers, of course, the cases, very exceptional perhaps, where an authority may have some reason to appoint an ex-member for a job and that appointment could be open to misconstruction.

The proposed Amendment as it has been put forward, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has said in support of the principle of the clause, would, in fact, weaken that basic principle, and I think it is fair to point out to the House that any kind of involvement of the Secretary of State in council appointments would run against the basic proposition contained in Part VII of this Bill and with which I am sure your Lordships are broadly in agreement:that local authorities should be free to manage their affairs, particularly appointments, so far as possible as they think fit.

Having said that, may I draw the attention of your Lordships to the actual effect of the noble Lord's Amendment as drafted? I think the proposed Amendment would provide no definition of the relevant policy of the local authority which the Secretary of State would be required to take into account, and it would not provide a definition of the public interest. I think this would get us into difficulties. Even if definitions were to be provided, it would not be at all easy for the Secretary of State to satisfy himself as to the council's policy or the public interest in respect of a particular appointment. In fact, if he came down as disagreeing with the council's policy we should have the unfortunate situation of controversy between local government and the Secretary of State. I apologise to the House because the noble Lord has indeed put a very good case forward. He has been supported by my noble friend Lord Balfour and I have seemed to be somewhat cavalier in putting forward the objections to what the noble Lord has said.

I know that this is a late stage of the Bill and my right honourable friend's Department has a great deal of work to do, but I should like to draw the attention of the Department of the Environment to what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has said, because he has certainly made a strong case. But in saying that, may I draw the attention of the House to one other point? As the noble Lord very well knows, this is not a complete bar on an elected member becoming an employee of a local authority; there is one year of delay. It may be that after my right honourable friend's Department has looked very carefully at what the noble Lord has said, they may find that they cannot get over it. But even though we are at a late stage of the Bill, I assure the noble Lord that if he will allow me to do so and will not press the Amendment to a Division I will see that this is carried to my right honourable friend's Department and looked at carefully before the final stage of the Bill.


My Lords, I would never accuse the noble Lord of treating anything cavalierly. He always gives the sort of attention we expect and welcome from him to anything that has been said in this House. It would be wrong of me to go over the arguments that I adduced at the outset. All I can do at this stage is to thank him most sincerely for what he has said, and for the promise that he has given that he will ask the Department to look at this matter despite the fact that the hour is late. I sincerely hope that something will emerge from that, but even if it does not I shall always be grateful to him for what he has promised to do in this connection. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.12 p.m.

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 67: After Clause 133 insert the following new clause:

Contributions towards expenditure on con current functions.

" . Two or more local authorities may make arrangements for defraying any expenditure incurred by one of them in exercising any functions exercisable by both or all of them."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this new clause fills a gap in the provisions of the Bill to which my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor drew attention at Committee stage at column 819 of Hansard of September 18. It enables different authorities to make arrangements about the defraying of expenditure when they are collectively engaged in joint or agency arrangements. The Government's new clause reflects one of the two points which my noble friend Lord Brooke made. There is no doubt that the enabling power which he urged upon us will be a valuable addition to the powers of local authorities. My noble friend also asked that it should be a requirement for county and district councils to consult each other before undertaking any expenditure on functions which either could exercise, but he made no qualification about this. That is really the reason why we have not been able to accept that part of what he urged upon us, so our new clause makes no reference to it. It does not include a statutory requirement to consult, for the very good reason that, to a certain degree, local authorities exercise concurrent powers for a very large number of small every-day services. They are allowed concurrent powers for this, and a requirement to consult in detail would be undesirable.

On the other hand, restricting the requirement to consult to certain categories of proposals, general policies, programmes of such-and-such a size or programmes up to such-and-such a financial limit would greatly reduce the flexibility which is required in any consultation procedure. So that, on balance, we have concluded that a reference to consultations in the new clause is undesirable. The clause as now drafted pre-supposes that there will be consultation between responsible authorities, and will encourage local authorities to consider whether or not to consult other authorities before using their concurrent powers. It will also leave them free to exercise their judgment on how necessary that is. But the flexibility introduced by the other aspects of my noble friend's suggestion is something which we are glad to adopt. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend one question about the agency arrangements. This Amendment does not meet the point which my noble friend Lord Brooke made, but I assume that the next Amendment would give permission for an agent to incur expenditure on behalf of the principal, by agreement, up to a 2p rate. Am I right in that? I am sorry to jump an Amendment ahead, but the two are very closely allied.


My Lords, I think I should find it easier to stay in order if I took note of what my noble friend has just said, and dealt with it when we are actually discussing the next Amendment.

Clause 134 [Power of local authorities to incur expenditure for certain purposes not otherwise authorised]:

8.17 p.m.

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 68: Page 93, line 9, at end insert— (" (1A) It is hereby declared that the power of a local authority to incur expenditure under subsection (1) above includes power to do so by contributing towards the defraying of expenditure by another local authority in or in connection with the exercise of that other authority's functions.")

The noble Lord said: This Amendment plugs a gap in the general power to use the free 2p introduced into the Bill at Committee stage. The general purpose of Clause 134 is to enable a local authority to incur expenditure for the benefit of the area, but in respect of which that authority has no specific power. It also allows a local authority to contribute towards the expenses of other bodies operating for the benefit of the area. The Amendment now makes it clear that the power also enables one authority to contribute towards the expenses of another authority which is providing services for the benefit of the area, but leaves discretion with the second authority as to whether to accept. The power to contribute is available to an authority, whether it is acting as agent for another authority or whether it is making a contribution direct to that other authority without the existence of any agency arrangement. The Amendment is in declaratory form since it could be possible to interpret Clause 134 as giving power without making the Amendment, but for clarity's sake the point is put beyond dispute.

I think my noble friends Lord Cranbrook and Lord Davidson will see that this Amendment, coupled with the previous Amendment, ensures that there is flexibility in the sharing of the financial burden between authorities which are in a joint working arrangement or an agency arrangement with each other, plus a power for one authority to supplement the services of another authority to the tune of the free 2p, whether or not a joint or an agency arrangement is operating. I think that is the point on which my noble friend Lord Cranbrook wanted an assurance, and I imagine that it is for that reason that he tabled Amendments Nos. 69 and 70. If I have not already satisfied him, perhaps he will indicate what further assurance he wants. I shall then try to give it on my Amendment, which may save him the trouble of moving his Amendment to my Amendment. My Lords, I beg to move.

8.20 p.m.

THE EARL OF CRANBROOK moved Amendment No. 69 as an Amendment to Amendment No. 68: Line 5, at end insert ("The limitation to the rate of 2p in the pound expressed in subsection (3) above shall not apply to expenditure incurred under this subsection.")

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving this Amendment I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who has I think admirably met the point which I raised on Second Reading with the two Amendments Nos. 67 and 68. They do practically all that I would wish to be done and allow both the agent not having concurrent powers, as well as the authority which has concurrent powers, to contribute out of its own local rates. The reason why my noble friend Lord Davidson and I put this Amendment down is because we were a little disturbed, both of us coming from a part of the world where the local authorities tend to use voluntary organisations to do a great deal of the work which they could do themselves, and fairly frequently to do work which would otherwise be illegal for them to do. Although I do not think that the 2p limit would ever be very greatly at risk, it did seem to us that in the case of an authority which worked a great deal through voluntary organisations and the like, and also if it was a county council going in for agency arrangements on quite a large scale, there might come a time when the 2p rate would not be sufficient for both.

Under this clause the Secretary of State certainly has the power to vary the 2p rate, but I am not quite sure whether he can vary it for an individual council on request or whether it must be varied for every local authority in the land. Looking at it, I had assumed that it must be for every local authority in the land. I think that what my noble friend Lord Davidson and I fear will be a very rare occurrence, because a 2p rate is quite a substantial amount of money; and I would not want to press my Amendment if the Government did not wish to agree to it and could assure me that they will look into the matter to make quite certain that what we fear would not occur. But it is a risk, and I should be sorry to see it happen in a rather forward-looking authority which was spending its 2p rate to the limit. I beg to move my Amendment to Amendment No. 68.


My Lords, I am not quite sure where we stand now. I thought I understood the noble Earl to say that the remarks I had made on Amendments Nos. 67 and 68 satisfied him, and that he would not feel it necessary to move his Amendment; but, nevertheless, he has done so. So I am not absolutely certain what more I need say in order to get him to withdraw his Amendment. I wonder whether the noble Earl could make a little clearer what it is he wants from me?


My Lords, it is not the noble Lord's obtuseness, I am sure; it must be my failure to make myself quite clear. What I am worried about is this. If in fact a local authority acting as an agent wishes to pay out of its free 2p for something concerning the function for which it is acting as an agent for another authority, it is permitted to do so under the new clause which the noble Lord has just moved. What disturbs me is that that local authority might already have committed practically all its 2p rate to some arrangements with voluntary organisations and the like, so that there was very little left for a statutory function. It seemed to me that it would be a mistake for it not to be able to carry out a statutory function because it had already paid away most of its 2p rate to other organisations which were doing things within its area. It is for that reason that we put down this Amendment which would exclude from the 2p limit money which was spent on a statutory function. Have I made myself clear to the noble Lord now?


With great respect, my Lords, I am very anxious to get this clear because I think it is an important point. Am I not right, or am I being unduly obtuse, in saying that under the first subsection here a statutory function cannot be covered by the 2p rate because it is specifically excluded? If a local authority has statutory powers by virtue of any enactment, that does not come within the 2p rate expenditure, as I understand it, so the particular position could not arise.


My Lords, I was including in what had become a statutory function a function which it was exercising as an agent. Normally, it would have no power to incur expenditure as an agent. This gives an agent the power to spend money on a function for which it would normally have no statutory power. I would be sorry to see that curtailed because all of the 2p was already committed to something else.


My Lords, I think I see what the noble Earl is driving at, but I must confirm that the noble Baroness is perfectly right. The free 2p is for spending on those functions, activities or purposes for which that particular authority has no statutory duty. What an authority is doing as an agent for another authority is quite a different thing. The fact that it may be providing some particular service—say, a district providing some part of an education service—does not mean, because it is acting as an agent, that it has taken on itself, as it were, the mantle of statutory responsibility for education. It means simply that it is acting as an agent. The position remains that it is free to spend 2p in the extension of whatever it might be doing as an agent for the benefit of its own particular area, but not more than 2p.

The other point the noble Earl was making was that it is important to make sure that there is enough "in the kitty", as it were, for the discharge of statutory functions first of all, before considering what more might be spent on non-statu- tory functions under the powers provided in the Bill and known colloquially as the "free 2p". The point I was making on Amendment No. 67 remains: that when two authorities are exercising their powers concurrently, it is up to them to make arrangements for the sharing of the cost of the discharge of those functions; but as they are exercising concurrent powers, and they both have statutory responsibilities, the use of the free 2p does not arise here unless it is used to defray further expenses in conjunction with the discharge of those statutory functions but going beyond those statutory functions. I hope that makes the position clear.


My Lords, I must confess that I do not think the noble Lord on the Front Bench is any better at explaining the position than I am myself, and I am a little more muddled now than I was when I started. Perhaps between now and the day after to-morrow the noble Lord will try to disentangle what we have both been saying to-night, to see whether he can understand what we are both driving at and if the position as it appears to be in the Bill is correct. I am still a little disturbed, I must confess, that the agent who is carrying out a function for which it has otherwise no statutory power might be too limited by the clause as the noble Lord has moved it. That is the only thing that worries me, and perhaps the noble Lord could just think about that during the course of the next 36 hours.


Certainly, my Lords, I will do that. Then the noble Earl and I, who have had extensive correspondence on the subject, can continue it beyond the date on which this Bill receives the Royal Assent.


My Lords, with permission, I will withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment to the Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, Amendment No. 71 is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 94, line 2, after ("area") insert ("as").—(Lord Sandford.)

Clause 137 [Insurance by local authorities against accidents to members.]:

8.31 p.m.

LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 72: Page 95, line 31, after ("member") insert ("or officer").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, an Amendment similar to this was moved at the Committee stage, and I subsequently withdrew it. The purpose of the Amendment is to authorise a local authority to take out an insurance for officers in the same way that Clause 137 allows insurance to be taken out to cover accidents sustained by members while engaged on the business of the authority. I withdrew my Amendment after the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, had repeated assurances given by his right honourable friend Mr. Speed in the other place, that the point of the Amendment would be met by the powers provided in Section 7 of the Superannuation Act 1972. He further promised to write to me as to whether the proposals for local government would follow the National Health Service proposals in this respect. I am greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for writing to me, and I appreciate the detailed nature of his letters. I am not at all sure that they have taken us very much further; indeed, those with whom I have consulted are certainly not satisfied with the position and feel that there is a genuine need to include the word "officer", as proposed in the Amendment, in this clause.

Without repeating all that was set out in those letters I should like to pursue just one or two points. Under Regulation 7 of the Local Government Benefits Regulations 1954, local authorities have a discretionary power to pay an injury allowance to a contributory employee who ceases to be employed in consequence of permanent incapacity as a result of injuries sustained in the course of employment. Over and above this, paragraph 97 of the Scheme of Conditions of Service for A, B, T, and C officers in local government service recommends employing authorities to indemnify employees or their dependants against violence and loss caused by violence or criminal assault in the course of that employment. Both these provisions exist concurrently. Some authorities have taken out insurance cover going beyond the risk of assault. Here I ought to say that the staff side have sought within the National Joint Council to improve paragraph 97 to which I have referred.

In his first letter, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to the preparation of regulations to deal with this matter and mentioned agreed terms for injury allowances which include upper limits for the amounts which may be awarded but leave to the employer the decision as to the nature and amount of the award. I will quote from the closing paragraph of the noble Lord's letter of September 28: It is not intended to limit the discretion of local authorities by laying down rigid formulae such as the scales of employment according to the degree of impairment. Scales of this kind have been proposed for the National Health Service and some other public services, but in local government it has been found preferable to leave the employer to deal with each case on its merits and this will be the basis which will apply. The powers will be such that if an authority choose to provide injury allowances by means of arrangements through an insurance company they will be able to do so. Some authorities prefer to carry the risk themselves and would not want to be confined to providing cover through insurance policies. The powers will enable either course to be adopted.

My Lords, in the light of what was said, I thought it proper that I should consult with those on the staff side; and the advice I have received is that in fact nothing is conceded by what has been stated in those letters. The staff side feel that nothing has been conceded by anything that was said. I think I ought to say bluntly that there is genuine concern that the Government intend that what now exists will be swept on one side, except the power to pay under regulations. I have thought it fitting to pursue this matter to this stage. I do not anticipate that if I press my Amendment I shall get very far with it; but if anything additional to what has been said can be said from the Front Benches opposite, something that can give satisfaction to the staff side, it would be extremely useful. The acceptance of the Amendment would give a great deal of pleasure—and more than pleasure, satisfaction—because it is felt that the Amendment improves the clause and certainly would make the Bill to that extent more acceptable to the staff side. I beg to move.


My Lords, I think it was right that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, should have referred in some detail to the correspondence that my noble friend Lord Sandford has had with him on this matter. I ought to point out that there are two strands, as I understand it, in the noble Lord's argument. First, he is quite right that negotiations are going on. These are really the fairly familiar type of negotiation between employers—not in this case just the Government; there are local authorities and some other employers in the public sector who are concerned in this matter—and the staff who are employed by them. The details of the terms and the extent to which the negotiations succeed in the eyes of one side or another seem to me to be one thing. What we must be sure of in dealing with the legislation and the statutory basis for the negotiations is that the employers are able to concede or to agree to a reasonable proposal, if that is what emerges from the negotiations between the parties. I should be loth to go into the details of the negotiations themselves because I think that that is something that we should be chary of doing on the Floor of the House. It is better left to the machinery set up between the two sides. This is going strong at the moment:meetings have been taking place and will probably continue to take place. We must be sure on the Report stage of this Bill that if a local authority desires to provide cover by way of insurance for its officers as well as its members it has the statutory power to do so. That seems to me the point on which the Amendment turns and none other.

My Lords, the situation is simply this. Under Section 7 of the Superannuation Act there are powers to make regulations. These powers relate not only to local government employees but to a number of other employees in the public sector and, for all I know, elsewhere. I think it is mainly the public sector and local government. There is absolutely nothing whatever to prevent regulations from being made under Section 7 to deal with this matter by way of insurance. There is at the moment a proposal to make regulations under that section. The only thing that has been left at large, as I understand the present state of play, is whether a local authority shall be forced to do it by way of insurance rather than carry the risk itself. The whole essence of this Bill is to leave local authorities with a certain amount of flexibility, independence and ability to judge for themselves. There will be nothing to stop local authorities from dealing with this matter by way of insurance. The regulations under the Superannuation Act, when made, will allow them to do so.

The only thing at which we draw the line is forcing them to do so. As a matter of fact Clause 137 is permissive anyway, so the situation is covered under the existing Statutes. The regulations will make it doubly sure. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has had spelt out to him in the correspondence the contents of the regulations so far as they had gone at the moment. He is aware of what is going into them. There can be no possible doubt that insurance cover of this kind can be provided by local authorities to their employees, if the authorities wish to do it by way of insurance. Some may prefer to take the risk themselves. lf, in addition to the Superannuation Act and the powers under it, and in the regulations that are to be made, we muddied the water by putting in an extra overlapping power in this Bill, we should be falling into that cardinal sin of Parliamentary drafting which is to make it uncertain, by duplicating powers, what were the powers in the original Act.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, will accept from me that there are perfectly adequate powers to do this by regulation under the 1972 Act. I hope that he will accept the good faith of what my noble friend Lord Sandford said in his letter and that in the circumstances he will forgive me if I do not go into the details of the staff negotiations in the joint committee which is meeting at the moment; and that he will allow me the honour of telling the House that this is an unnecessary Amendment because powers already exist. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Lord. I cannot go into the details of it now. I hope, though, that he and those he has consulted will feel sure that what they want can be achieved under statutory powers already on the Statute Book and that they have nothing to fear at all.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. I am still left with the feeling that there is no good case for not accepting this Amendment, but in view of the Government's attitude it would be wasting the time of the House to press the matter further. I had no intention of discussing the negotiations. There is a great deal that could be said. I hope that it was not inappropriate to quote briefly from what the Minister had set out, because I think it is important. What has been said by the noble Viscount will be studied carefully. I am grateful to him for the great care he has taken with his reply and for the clarity of what he said. I hope that a degree of satisfaction will be obtained by those for whom I have endeavoured to speak, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 142 [Provision of entertainments]:

8.44 p.m.

THE PAYMASTER GENERAL (VISCOUNT ECCLES)moved Amendment No. 74: Page 98, line 9, leave out from ("provision") to second ("of") in line 10.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords I think it would be for the convenience of the House if we discussed Amendments 74 to 77 together. Your Lordships will remember that when we were dealing with Clause 142 on Committee stage the Committee inserted a new subsection (1)(d). That subsection empowered local authorities to support the development and improvement of knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts and the crafts which serve the arts. We have since found that there was a small defect in Clause 142 because, as it stands, it enables local authorities to provide only in the case of entertainments and dances refreshments and programmes, and to charge for those facilities and for admission. This is too narrow. I am told that concerts would come within the definition of "entertainment" but that an exhibition of art or of the crafts would not. Your Lordships will be well aware that, what with transport and security and insurance, these exhibitions cost a lot of money, and therefore the object of these four connected Amendments is to put right that oversight. I beg to move Amendment No. 74.


My Lords, this is one of the few groups of Government Amendments which we can wholeheartedly welcome and support. They relate to a little omission which I must admit escaped us, and we are delighted that the Government have recognised just in time that something needed to be done. We are certainly strongly in favour of including exhibitions of art and crafts in the provisions of the clause.


My Lords I beg to move Amendment No. 75.

Amendment moved— Page 98, line 12, after ("dance") insert ("or exhibition of arts or crafts").—(Viscount Eccles.)


I beg to move Amendment No. 76:

Amendment moved— Page 98, line 27, after ("dance") insert ("or exhibition of arts or crafts").—(Viscount Eccles.)


I beg to move Amendment No. 77.

Amendment moved— Page 98, line 28, leave out ("at any such entertainment or dance") and insert ("thereat").—(Viscount Eccles.)

Clause 148 [Arrangements by local authorities for receipt and payment of money]:

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 78: Leave out Clause 148 and insert the following new clause—

Financial administration ("148. Without prejudice to section 109 above, every local authority shall make arrangements for the proper administration of their financial affairs and shall secure that one of their officers has responsibility for the administration of those affairs.")

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this new Clause, which replaces the previous Clause 148, is to require local authorities to secure good financial administration and to make one of their officers responsible for this matter. The new clause has been tabled in response to strong representations made by the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants who were concerned that the Bill did not do enough to secure and maintain financial integrity in local government. We understand that the new clause is generally acceptable to the Institute. It does not retain, as the Institute would have liked, the statutory post of treasurer, since this would conflict with the Government's view that each authority should be able to adopt the management structure most likely, in its view, to meet its needs. I beg to move the Amendment.


My Lords, may I say that I very much applaud the spirit of the Government both in listening to the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants and proposing this Amendment; and also for not listening to them more than the Government have done. It would have been intolerable if these (if I may say so) seemingly arrogant professionals had insisted on having the word "treasurer" inserted when the Government have been showing such wisdom in leaving an increasing amount of discretion to local authorities about what they call their officers. I only wish that the Government had been able to go further and been able to forget the director of social services and the director of education, not because these are not indispensable officers but because you can trust the local authorities to appoint them rather than have Parliament telling them that they must. But equally, here again, it is right that we should have an instruction from Parliament that every local authority must see to it that there is an adequate person to do this work. It is absolutely right that the wording should be in the terms proposed by the Government, and I support the Amendment.

Clause 151 [Accounts to be audited by district or approved auditor]:

8.50 p.m.


My Lords, what your Lordships may have to suffer on account of my voice, which labours under a very heavy cold, for which I apologise, may be compensated for by the knowledge that Amendments Nos. 79 to 101 comprise a package already handled by my noble friend Lord Sandford under Amendment No. 51B. Accordingly, I beg to move Amendment No. 79, and likewise to move formally the rest of the Amendments on page 11, up to and including Amendment No. 101 on page 24.

Amendments moved—

Clause 151, page 104, line 32, leave out ("a") and insert ("the").

line 33, leave out ("or of a") and insert ("of each of the parishes or communities in a particular district and of every").

line 35, leave out ("the same") and insert ("that").

line 38, leave out ("the parish or community is, or").

page 106, line 46, after ("(a)") insert ("(c)").

page 107, line 8, after ("direction") insert ("and subsequent financial years")

line 11, leave out from ("if") to ("be") in line 12 and insert (" by virtue of a resolution of the body concerned under subsection (2) or subsection (4) above, for the financial year so specified and subsequent financial years the accounts are to").

line 13, at end insert—(" (11) The provisions of this section shall have effect with respect to the accounts of a common parish council under which are grouped, by virtue of section 11(5) above, parishes situated in different districts as if all the parishes in the group were comprised in that district in which there is, at the time at which this provision comes into force, the greater number of local government electors for the parishes in the group.")

Clause 158, page 111, line 36, leave out from the beginning to ("the") in line 37

line 38, after (" accounts") insert ("of that body").

leave out ("him") and insert ("the body")

Clause 161, page 113, line 44 after ("shall") insert ("(a)")

line 45, leave out ("may, instead") and insert ("b")

line 46, after ("auditor") insert (" or

(c) if the body is a principal council or the Common Council, resolve that certain of the accounts concerned shall be audited by an auditor appointed by the council and the rest of those accounts shall be audited by the district auditor")

page 114, line 2, leave out from ("allow") to ("shall") in line 3 and insert (" particulars of the new appointment made under paragraph (a) above")

line 5, leave out from ("resolution") to end of line 6 and insert (" under paragraph (b) or paragraph (c) above shall be sent to him together, in the case of a resolution under paragraph (c) above, with the particulars (required to be sent to him under subsection (1) above) of the appointment made by virtue of the resolution")

line 41, at the beginning insert ("The provisions of subsection (8A) below shall apply")

page 115, line 4, leave out from the beginning to ("and") in line 6 and insert—

(" (8A) If any of the events specified in subsection (8) above occurs, the body which appointed the auditor shall—

  1. (a) proceed to make a new appointment, Or
  2. (b) resolve that the accounts concerned shall be audited by the district auditor, or
  3. (c) if the body is a principal council or the Common Council, resolve that certain of the accounts concerned shall be audited by an auditor appointed by the council and the rest of those accounts shall be audited by the district auditor.")

line 8, leave out from ("allow") to ("shall") in line 9 and insert ("particulars of the new appointment made under paragraph (a) above")

line 11, leave out from ("resolution") to end of line 12 and insert (" under paragraph (b) or paragraph (c) above shall be sent to him together in the case of a resolution under paragraph (c) above, with the particulars (required to be sent to him under subsection (1) above) of the appointment made by virtue of the resolution")

line 14, leave out (" (8)") and insert (" (8A)")

Clause 165, page 116, line 45, leave out ("parish meeting of a") and insert ("the chairman of the parish meeting of every")

page 117, line 17, after ("authority") insert ("or by or on behalf of a parish meeting")

line 18, after ("authority") insert (" or the chairman of the meeting")

Clause 168, page 119, line 14, leave out Clause 168 and insert the following new clause—

Rates of interest in relation to certain sums due to local authorities

("168.—(1) The rate of interest fixed by subsection (2) below shall be substituted for the rate or, as the case may be, the maximum rate of interest determined by or under the following enactments (which relate among other things to the interest payable to local authorities on certain sums due to them), that is to say—

(2) The said rate shall be one-quarter per cent above the relevant rate determined by the Treasury in relation to loans made for a period of fifteen years under section 3 of the National Loans Act 1968 (local loans by the Loan Commissioners); and in this subsection the "relevant rate" means the rate applying on whichever of the following dates, namely 1st April or 1st October, most closely precedes the date from which interest first becomes payable in relation to the sum in question, or, where more than one rate has been so determined, such one of those rates as the Treasury may from time to time direct either generally or with respect to any particular enactment.

(3) As soon as may be after giving a direction under subsection (2) above the Treasury shall cause it to be published in the London Gazette.")

Clause 169, page 119, line 24, leave out from beginning to ("shall") and insert (" Part I of Schedule 13 to this Act shall have effect with respect to the powers of local authorities to borrow and lend money and with respect to their funds, and Part II of that Schedule").

Line 26, after ("by") insert ("Part I of that Schedule or").

Schedule 13, page 284, line 1, at end insert—


  1. PART I
    1. cc1801-10
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