Orders of the Day — Surrey County Council Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 17th February 1931.

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Photo of Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise , Maldon

I beg to second the Amendment.

I wish to reinforce the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend that it is necessary to draw the attention of this House to the growing practice on the part of local authorities of coming to Parliament and seeking powers of a character which go far beyond those which can properly be described as coming within the category of local needs and interests. There is a natural tendency on the part of every local authority to make itself as important as possible and to acquire as wide powers as they can induce Parliament to grant. That action is only natural, but there comes a point where a dividing line must be drawn between matters which must be settled on lines of broad national policy, and matters which may well be left to the particular needs or particular fads and fancies of any local authority. I would ask the House to consider the Preamble of the Bill: To confer further powers on the Surrey County Council and to enact further pro-visions with respect to the good Government and administration. No one objects to the county council of Surrey asking for powers dealing with the good government and administration of Surrey. That, obviously, is what the Surrey County Council exists for, but when we come to the next sentence: and the preservation of the amenities. we open up a very wide question. It is not that anyone desires that any amenity in Surrey should be destroyed; far from it, but if the County Council of Surrey acquires special powers to deal with these amenities in its own particular way, other county councils will probably say that this power has been granted to one county and that they would like Parliament to grant similar powers to them. It is far too big a power to grant to any particular county. I invite the House to consider how a Clause of this kind gets sandwiched between Clauses quite different and purely local in character. I will read the marginal note to Clause 141: Supply of water to Botleys Park. A most legitimate undertaking. Clause 142 deals with the dissolution of the Surrey smallpox hospital committee, no doubt a matter well within the province of the Surrey County Council, who are no doubt capable of deciding whether that body should disappear. Clause 143 deals with footpaths; there we come to the border-line, but we will let it pass. When we come to Clause 144 the marginal note is: Preservation of woodlands. Here the Surrey County Council are asking for powers which it would be wrong, and impossible, for Parliament to grant to any particular local authority. This is an instance of a Clause of national importance being hidden away among a lot of other comparatively small matters dealing with baths and wash-houses. Having once given such powers to any particular local authority it becomes a precedent, and all other local authorities will seek to acquire the same powers. Let me return to the Preamble of the Bill. The powers sought there are for the control of establishments used for massage and of places used for certain classes of public entertainments, the sale of coke, moveable dwellings and encamp- ments, the construction of roads, town planning and building developments, and the prevention of acts tending to injure rural amenities. No doubt it is very necessary there should be powers for the regulation of massage establishments, but it would be far better for the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health to bring in a Bill dealing with it.

The same applies to places of public entertainment, which I presume would fall within the province of the Home Secretary. The sale of coke is a matter for the President of the Board of Trade. There is not a village, or hamlet or town, in which coke is not sold, and if the sale of coke is to be regulated it should be regulated by one law covering the whole of the country. The question of moveable dwellings has troubled the House in times past, but I have no doubt that the Minister of Transport is quite capable of dealing with that point. Town planning is a matter which should be dealt with by the Minister of Health. In this Preamble, with the exception of good government and administration, all the matters mentioned would be much better dealt with on a national basis, and it is to protest against the growing habit of local authorities coming to Parliament for powers to deal with such matters that I second the Motion for rejection.