I beg to move, in page 3, line 2, after "situated," insert:
or by the council of the said district being a borough.
The effect of this Amendment is to make it possible for a non-county borough to apply to the Commission for the consideration of a proposal for alteration of their boundaries or for uniting them with other districts or, indeed, for any of the changes which are enumerated in Clause 2. For many years the boroughs have had the right to apply to the Minister of Health in matters of this nature and to ask that their boundaries should be altered or extended or that they should be united with some adjoining or some contiguous district. That is a right to which the boroughs have attached great importance. Under this Bill they will not have the right to make applications of that nature to the Boundary Commission. It is true that representations may be made, and there is some obligation to have those representations taken into consideration, but the boroughs feel strongly that the right which they have enjoyed for so long to have those applications considered by the authority which has power to give effect to them, should not foe taken from them. They
desire very earnestly that they should have the right to apply to the Boundary Commission in respect of these matters in the same way as they have enjoyed the right for so long to apply to the Ministry of Health. In those circumstances I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to hold out to us some prospect that a borough which desires some alteration of boundaries or other matters shall have the right to call upon the Commission to investigate their case.
I support the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson). All we ask is that the right which these local authorities and non-county boroughs have had in the past shall not be taken away from them. I do not want to delay the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary, but I want to be able to go back to my own Division and say to these corporate boroughs that they will have the right of appearing before the Commissioners and putting their objections to any proposals brought before them. As the Bill is drawn it seems that these rights are to be taken away, and that the only opportunity they can have of any hearing at all is by an approach to the county council or the Ministry. I think it would be very wrong if these boroughs were deprived of their old inalienable rights.
I support the Amendment. It is very hard for these non-county boroughs, of which there is one in my Division, to have these powers taken away from them. In the past they have always had the right to make application, but not through the county council. Now they have to go cap in hand to the county council and say, "Will you put up a case for us to the Ministry of Health so that we can try to bring about an inquiry?" It does not affect at all the question of local government service, it does not give a better service, it is a question of not taking away from the non-county boroughs the powers they have to-day. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give way on this matter and allow them to make application, not through the county council but in their own right.
The general principle enunciated in the Bill is that any local authority can approach the Commission with its own proposals but the Commission is not, except in the case of a borough with a population of 100,000, seeking county borough status, bound to take these proposals into consideration where they emanate from a local authority below the status of a county borough, unless either the county council requests them to do so or the Minister requires them to do so. If I may make this point, to draw a distinction between the existing law and the system proposed in the Bill, at present the Minister has no power, still less a duty, to make any alteration of boundaries of a county or borough except on the application of the county or borough council. Hence, unless there is provision in the existing law for a borough council to move the Minister to take action, nothing could be done except at the instance of a county council; and it is familiar that county councils are not over anxious to secure borough extensions. However, under Clause 1 of the Bill the Commission have not only a power but a duty to review the circumstances of the local government areas throughout the country.
They are not in any way dependent on the initiative coming either from the local government body or the Minister. In considering, therefore, whether there is a prima facie case for investigating an area they would, of course, bear in mind any representations made on the subject by a borough or any other council. In order to make this abundantly clear an Amendment will be moved by my right hon. and learned Friend to the effect that the Commission must have regard to representations made by a borough or other county district council.
So far as I know anyone can present a Bill, but when Parliament sets up a Commission of this kind it might well be that it would not allow the Bill to go forward, but would send it to the Commission.
I think the Amendment is sound, and that it is a pity to take away from non-county boroughs a right which they had before. I am a little puzzled by the Parliamentary Secretary's remarks about the Amendment which is to be moved by my right hon. and learned Friend. I am not quite sure how far it goes to meet my views, but I understand that boroughs would be able to put forward their case without difficulty.
May I put it in this way? Under the old law there was a difference between the first county review and subsequent reviews. Under the first county review the Minister had power to make an Order, and it did not come before Parliament. This is, again, in the nature of the first county review in a period of reconstruction, and there is no difference, on this issue, between non-county boroughs and urban districts. There would be, of course, a full local inquiry where there was any question of alteration of boundaries, but alteration of the boundaries within a county is not a matter which, under the Bill, is subject to the control of Parliament.
I think we have got rather a long way from the point submitted to the Committee by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) who desires to give non-county boroughs some power of initiation of proceedings in order to secure an alteration of their boundaries. That is not provided for in the Bill. The only people who can make application for the review of the boundaries of the non-county borough are the county council concerned. I think the hon. and learned Member would agree that that was his point.
I regret that I was not able to follow exactly the answer which the Parliamentary Secretary gave on that simple point. He suggested that the Minister would, later, move an Amendment which will compel a number of people to have regard to the wishes of the non-county borough when its proceedings are initiated. The point put to the Committee in this Amendment is whether the non-county boroughs shall have the right of initiative in these matters, which is not given, and which the hon. and learned Member for Ilford does not ask to be given, to urban districts and rural districts.
That is a very Conservative argument. Because you have never had it you never ought to have it. I can well understand the hon. and learned Member making the most strenuous efforts to make that point. Is it the intention of the Minister to restore in some form or other the initiative which the non-county boroughs have hitherto had?
I regret to say that I did not hear the argument advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson), as expressed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but I will try to deal with that point. One cannot make this direct comparison between the present proposals and the old position, because in the old days and, indeed, until this Bill is law, the Minister has no power to make any alteration in the boundaries of either a county or borough except on the application of a county or borough. This Bill gives that power, first, to the Boundary Commission. It has, in a Clause already passed, the most complete power, in terms of a most comprehensive character, to consider all these matters. The Minister also has power to direct the Commission to take any matter of this kind into account. And the county council has power to request it. That may not be so much use to the non-county borough, but the Minister and the Commission will both look at this sort of point from an impartial and objective point of view.
What is to be gained by putting upon the Commission, which already has both the power and the duty to review the area, an obligation to take this matter into consideration? As I see it, it is certain that if representations are made to the Commission—and there is no deprivation of the ordinary right which the non-county borough has, in common with the urban or rural district council, to put its case to the Minister, as the result of which he may make a direction—the Commission will say, if it is a good case, "Here is something which we should take into consideration." We do not believe that it is right, in undertaking this very substantial task, which we desire to do with reasonable speed—and I have given an estimate of accomplishing it within four years after the war—to add to the number of things which this Commission has to do, if it is asked to do them, with the result that surrounding parties have to join in the argument.
There are 309 non-county boroughs, and under this proposal every one of those 309 non-county boroughs, even if the county council disagree, even if the Minister disagrees and if the Commission does not think there is anything in it, could force the Commission to hold a formal hearing and take its claim into consideration. I do not believe that is the right thing to do in the period of reconstruction. This is a procedure for a general review of our local government boundaries, and we must not cumber it by too great elaboration and by giving every one these opportunities. This assurance I have given before, and I give it again—no authority will have its area or boundaries tampered with without a proper inquiry under the aegis of the Commission.
I have listened with care to what the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have said. The Parliamentary Secretary said that he will move an Amendment which will have the effect of requiring the Commission in certain circumstances to take into account representations that are made to them. I moved that the boroughs should have the right to make applications. We desire to get this Bill. The difference between us is not very great. In those circumstances, although I regret my right hon. Friend was not able to accept my Amendment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 5, at the end, insert:
(3) The Commission in considering whether it is desirable to take into consideration the question whether any alterations ought to be made under the last foregoing Section in respect of any area of local government, and the Minister or the council of a county in considering whether to give a direction or to make an application under Sub-section (1) or Sub-section (2) of this Section, shall have regard to any representations made by the council of a county district included in the area in question.
The purpose of this Amendment is to reassure the smaller local authorities—and the fact that that reassurance is necessary has been shown by the Debate, I think—who are afraid that they might not be able to overcome the obstacles placed in their way by the county councils. Subsections (1) and (2) of this Clause give the Minister and the county council certain powers, and I think it may be desirable—and I propose that the provision should be inserted—that the Commission, when considering any question on their own initiative, and also the Minister and the county council shall be bound to have regard to any representations from a county district. This Amendment deals with that.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 7, leave out from "borough," to "as," in line 8, and insert:
or by the councils of any two or more contiguous county districts having a combined population of seventy-five thousand.
These rive Amendments cover two distinct points. The first point is raised by the Amendment which I have just moved, and the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) and myself in line 8. The other point is raised by the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend and myself in line 7.
I will endeavour to keep the two points separate so that the Committee will be able to appreciate them without confusion. The Amendment which I have moved deals with the question whether, where there are two contiguous authorities which possess a combined population exceeding the minimum limit of population for a county borough, those two contiguous authorities should be entitled to apply to the Commission to be constituted a county borough. There are many cases in different parts of the country where there exist two or more contiguous non-county boroughs, or perhaps a non-county borough and a contiguous urban district, or there may be cases where there exist two contiguous urban districts which possess, if the two districts were united with one another, a population which would justify those two districts in being constituted a county borough.
A few moments ago an hon. Member opposite stated that, in his estimation, the county borough is the most efficient unit of local government. That is a view which is very widely held. It is a view to which I would be prepared to subscribe. I submit that where there are contiguous populations which are capable of being administered as a county borough in a single unit of administration, it is desirable, and in the interests of efficient local government, that the local authorities who are concerned in that particular district should be entitled to go to the Commission and say that the districts ought to be united and ought to be administered as a county borough. As I understand it, there is no power at present for local authorities which are so situated to make an application of that nature to the Commissioners and require them to take it into consideration.
I am sure that, if the Minister is able to see his way to give effect to the Amendment, it would promote the efficiency of local government in very many parts of the country where this situation arises. On the River Medway there are a number of boroughs contiguous to one another, each possessing a population of comparatively small dimensions, which united together would form a more efficient unit of local government. It would be an improvement in the Bill if it was open to those local authorities to go to the Commission and say, "Here we have the minimum population which is necessary for an efficient county borough. We are prepared to surrender our independence in the interest of the efficient administration of our district. Please constitute us a county borough." It may be that my right hon. and learned Friend can assure us that the Commissioners possess the power to unite existing local government areas and form them into a new county borough. But local authorities who are concerned should be able to go to the Commissioners and put such a proposal before them. It would be a weakness in the Bill if we left the initiative to the Commissioners. It is a good thing that we should place on the authorities concerned some responsibility to formulate proposals of this nature and present them to the Commissioners.
There is, as I have said, another matter raised by these Amendments. That is the minimum population required for the constitution of new county boroughs. As the law stands, a borough is precluded from making application to Parliament to be constituted a county borough unless it possesses a minimum population of 75,000. Under the terms of this Bill the figure of 75,000 will be increased to 100,000. My point is whether that alteration of the law should be made or whether the minimum should remain at 75,000. I would not dissent from the view, which I think has prompted my right hon. and learned Friend to propose this Amendment of the existing law, that the sort of limit of population which is likely to make an efficient county borough is 100,000. But one of the great merits, as I see it, of our system of local government is that there is a certain degree of flexibility in the forms which our administration takes and, as one surveys the position of districts in different parts of the country, one of the matters which impresses one is that there are certain places whose populations are less than 100,000 which would make efficient county boroughs. There may be other places whose population exceeds 100,000 which would not function satisfactorily as a county borough. It is a defect in the Bill that we should tie ourselves down to the figure of 100,000.
I think it would be a good thing that the Commissioners should be given a wider range of discretion in determining which areas will be most efficiently administered under county borough government. We are not saying in this Bill that every town which has a population exceeding 75,000 shall be constituted a county borough. We are not going to say that every town exceeding 100,000, shall be made a county borough. I wish I could persuade the Minister to put that into the Bill. It would save me and those whom I represent in this House a great deal of trouble and unnecessary expense. All we are saying is that, if a particular town possesses a population exceeding that limit, the Commissioners shall have power, if they think fit, to make it a county borough. I am going to ask my right hon. and learned Friend to extend the range of discretion which the Commissioners must exercise and not fetter them down too closely to some particular figure.
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman has quite clearly put before the Committee the two points that his Amendment raises. The first is the question whether two districts having a joint qualifying population should be able to make an application to be considered for county borough status. The second is what that qualifying population shall be. I support him on the first point but oppose him on the second. I think it is desirable that, if the three Medway towns which he gave as an example desire to have county borough status—that is a case where the three together would be over 100,000, so the question of the qualifying population does not arise—they should be in a position to present an application. I think that that is desirable.
I do not share my hon. and learned Friend's view that the minimum population should be reduced from 100,000 to 75,000. The Act of 1888, which established county boroughs, proceeded on the basis of 50,000, and then, threw in Canter bury because that was the place in which Christianity was established in this country. We have, therefore, the anomaly of the county borough of Canterbury with a population of 25,000. I recollect that during the discussions on the Education Act I had to address a meeting in Jarrow, which has a population far above 25,000—
I was only going to say that they pointed out the dangers in which we get by departing from the standard that has been laid down. If Canterbury, why not Jarrow? The figure of 100,000 has some reasonable comparison with the total population of the country now, as the figure of 50,000 had in 1888. I suggest, therefore, that while the Minister should stick to his figure, he might very well give way on the question whether two or more county districts desiring to have county borough powers should not be able to apply for them. The Bill limits the applications to boroughs. For once my hon. and learned Friend is generous to urban districts, inasmuch as he would allow two or more urban districts or a borough and a county district to make the application. On that point I think that his wording is to be preferred to that in the Bill.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not accede to the plausible pleading of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson). If there is one weak spot in local government to-day, it is the fact that there are too many county boroughs which make no contribution to the ex- penses of the surrounding county, which they are only too anxious to exploit if they want a few extra square yards of area. The Bill enables two boroughs to be amalgamated, but I understand that it does not allow them to cease to be part of the county in which they are situated. We should not allow this Commission to go roving over England. It is a semi-irresponsible body, an ad hoc Commission of a totalitarian nature such as that of which we heard last night. I have no use for it, and I have no use for this Bill and am sorry that it has been introduced. To allow an ad hoc Commission of this kind, which may or may not be composed of competent persons, and which may or may not have some bias, to go roving tip and down England merging boroughs into county boroughs, will spoil the whole set-up of county government and will be the reverse of what we choose to call democracy.
The Bill goes far enough without these Amendments. It enables amalgamations to be made where they can be shown to be in the local interest. Anything which goes still further to knock the bottom out of county government or to add to the aggrandisement of the present county boroughs, will be very wrong at this juncture. I would much rather, although we cannot deal with it in this Bill, see county borough status afforded to county councils. The weak spot in county government, and one of the reasons why some non-county boroughs and urban districts in certain parts of the country do not progress in housing, sanitation and so on as they should do, is that nobody has really the authority to do the job.
I am sorry, and I will not pursue it. I hope my right hon. Friend will not at this stage allow this Bill to be used for the creation of more county boroughs.
I will not follow the hon. Gentleman in his speculation concerning county boroughs and county councils, but I would like to support the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson), mainly on the grounds that I feel there is in this Bill a certain lack of flexibility and a rigidity which may in some cases have unfortunate consequences in the future In my own division we have a curious situation of which the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is well aware. The city of Peterborough, which is a non-county borough, has a population of over 50,000 and is situated in a small county called the Soke of Peterborough. The city of Peterborough provides something like 85 per cent. of the population of the county. Around it are other urban areas, so that if all the population were taken together there would toe an urban population of something of the order of 75,000 people. This is rather a special position, and it was recognised by my right hon. Friend in the Education Bill. I think it was in Section 2 of the First Schedule that special machinery was brought in to deal specifically with the situation in Peterborough and Cambridge.
The local government problem in the Peterborough area is greatly aggravated by the fact that Peterborough is very close to the boundaries of three other counties, and it will present a first-class headache to this Boundary Commission when it comes to sorting out this rather curious position. I do not propose to argue the case now, but there are those who take the view that a possible solution would be for Peterborough and the contiguous areas to be made a county borough. The merits of that could be considered by the Boundary Commission, but, as I understand the Bill as it is now, that consideration is absolutely barred because Peterborough and the surrounding districts have not got a population of over 100,000 people. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister either to accept the appropriate Amendment so as to make this possible, or to give us some assurance that the rigidity with which we are faced at the moment will be removed.
I am a little puzzled by the drafting of this Amendment, although I do not wish to make a serious point about it. If I have followed this Amendment correctly, if it were accepted, the Subsection would run as follows:
If application in that behalf is made to the Commission by the council of any borough or by the councils of any two or more contiguous county districts having a combined population of seventy-five thousand, the Commission shall take into consideration the question whether or not the power conferred by the last foregoing Section, of constituting the borough a county borough ought to be exercised.
That, as it runs, is strange, because the little boroughs of 800 or 900 of which we have been hearing only a short time ago would by my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment be given the power to force the Commission to inquire whether they should not be county boroughs. The other peculiarity about the Amendment as it is drafted is this: If half a dozen urban districts get together and say, "We think autonomy and safety from the county council is the life to lead. We together amount to 75,000 people. We may be combining five or six districts, but altogether we amount to 75,000. The county council does not approve it, but the Minister approves it. The Commission shows no sign of taking any interest in us whatever. We have a right to force an inquiry as to whether we should not be constituted a county borough." Those are two strange proposals, I venture to suggest, under both headings.
Perhaps I might deal with them more seriously. The drafting has consequences which I cannot think my hon. and learned Friend had in mind. I think he intends the 75,000 limit to apply to a single borough, or county district, with some reasonable limitation of what county districts they might be. There is some misapprehension here. In the first place, the Commission are not fettered in the way that my Noble Friend thought they were. The Commission have complete power at present, until this House has approved any Regulations that may be made. Under Sub-section (1, d) they have power:
to constitute a borough (either by itself or together with the whole or any part of another county district) a county borough;
That deals with the point which my Noble Friend made. The question we are discussing here is under what circumstances the Commission can be forced to have a full scale inquiry into the circumstances in which some ambitious—and it may possibly be properly ambitious—borough can get this new status. That is how it stands in the Bill. It may be different after general Regulations are submitted. The powers of the Commission still remain quite flexible and it will be open to the House to consider the Regulations that are submitted.
Certainly, I must oppose the Amendment. I could not possibly accept something which gives any borough of what- ever size the right to compel an inquiry as to whether it should be made a county borough. Nor do I think it would be right to say—on this point the Commission has complete power to work with flexibility—apart from the question of whether amalgamation is desirable in that kind of case, that the councils of two or more contiguous county boroughs having a combined population of 75,000, or any other figure, should have the right to go to the Commission and say, "You must assume amalgamation and you must consider whether we should be a county borough." There might be five groups of minor authorities so intent upon their independence that their amalgamation would not be desirable at all.
My third objection to the whole of the Amendment is on these lines: Twice, with complete frankness, and making the position perfectly clear, I said in this House that the Government considered that the proper limit for a county borough was 100,000. The functions falling on a county borough in the sphere of education and many other things have grown since the old days. The figure was not challenged in a single one of, I think, 30 speeches which were made during the White Paper Debate and the Second Reading of the Bill. To come back in Committee to the figure of 75,000, which the House as a whole—the House took an interest in the White Paper and in the Second Reading—did not criticise through the mind of any one hon. Member, is something I could not possibly do. For those reasons I cannot accept the Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 23, leave out "or (6)."
The Bill provides that if the Commission make a negative Order under Subsection (6) of this Clause, that is to say if the Commission make an Order that no alteration ought to be made in the boundaries of the local authority, the matter shall not be opened for reconsideration for a period of ten years. The Amendment seeks to omit that provision and to make it possible, hi a case in which the Commissioners have made a negative Order, upon an application for the matter to be gone into again within a shorter period than ten years. Under the Local Government Act, 1929, the Committee will recall the county councils were given the duty of reviewing their county districts from time to time. The county councils were precluded under that Act from reviewing their county districts more frequently than once in ten years. I think it was found under that Act that where the county council had decided that no change should be made in a particular district it was on the whole undesirable that they should be precluded from reviewing it for so long a period as ten years. Circumstances in particular districts may change very rapidly, although it is quite true, and I do not dissent from the proposition embodied in this Bill, that if an Order is made changing he status of boundaries of a particular district they ought not to be changed again for a reasonable period. I would submit to the Committee that the same considerations do not: apply where an Order making no change is made. Frequent changes are undesirable, but this Amendment would not bring that about. It would merely have the effect of making it possible, if circumstances changed within a period of ten years, for the Commission to act in the light of the altered conditions.
I hope the Minister will not accept this Amendment. One of the difficulties of carrying on local government has been the way in which a particular district may be perpetually assaulted by a large neighbour who comes forward time after time with applications for an extension of boundaries, and who, when they are rejected, again submits the same kind of proposition within a couple of years. It is essential, if local government is to be conducted reasonably, that people should know that these assaults can be delivered only at reasonably distant intervals. There should be an opportunity to recover financially from the blow that such an assault inflicts on a small authority. They are compelled to brief counsel and to appear before these inquiries, and it is necessary that they should be protected. They also have the right to know that once a decision has been given they can get on for a reasonable time with the administration of the area that has been decided, regarding that area as a unit that will not be lightly disturbed. I think that that is a conclusive argument against even the negative order being capable of review.
I was very glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said, and I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) agrees with him—although I must point out that this applies both to the orders which are not subject to Parliamentary control and to those which are. The principle stated in the White Paper—and I have always regarded it as an important aspect of our proposals—is that the element of stability in local government should be increased.; and there is just as much reason why that stability should follow an unsuccessful assault as a successful assault. The Amendment would allow an active petitioner to petition every year. If there has been a substantial change in the distribution of population or in any other circumstances, the Commission can be urged to take the view that it is proper to allow the petitioner to appeal again. But, apart from that, I think that both the negative and the positive orders should be allowed to stand.
Mr. R. Duckworth:
I beg to move, in page 3, line 36, at end, insert:
(9) The Commission shall give notice to the council of every borough to which an order under this Section relates and if within four weeks thereafter objection to the order is made by any such council and is not withdrawn the order shall be provisional only and shall be of no effect until confirmed by Parliament.
This Amendment is intended to preserve the right of a non-county authority to appeal, under the Act of 1933, to Parliament if they object to any order which has been made by the Boundary Commission. The position is that town councils have the right to review all their county districts, and, if they so desire, to apply for an order for the alteration of boundaries, so that they may present a petition to the Minister of Health. The Minister, having received and duly considered it, may, after holding a local inquiry, make an order. If that order is unsatisfactory, it can be objected to.
Under Section 146 of the Local Government Act, 1933, and the Order must be provisional only and could not be confirmed until taken to Parliament. Under this Bill, the Boundary Commission will take the place of the county council in considering the boundaries of these non-county districts, and the non-county boroughs wish to retain their rights of appeal to Parliament on the decision of the Boundary Commission in the same way that they may do so now to an Order by the Minister. It is this right to come to Parliament which the non-county boroughs value very highly, and I sincerely trust that they may be permitted to continue to have this right.
I think, perhaps, the hon. Member for Moss Side (Mr. Duckworth) may hardly realise the difficulty which may be caused by acceptance of this Amendment. Indeed, I do not think that those who support the Amendment, or who may support it, can have realised that there is, really, in the first place, no sort of call for the Commission to give notice to the council of the borough to which an Order relates, and this period of four weeks is something which is quite anomalous in the Bill. Nothing of the kind appears anywhere else. But the real point of the Amendment is that, by it, it is sought to give the non-county boroughs which have some alteration made to their areas—maybe, the small addition of part of a district or a small reduction—the right to come here. The matter was specifically Debated when the, White Paper was before the House, and I do not think it was seriously challenged in the Debate that, in this review after the war, in which we hope to deal with many important local government matters, we cannot encumber this House or give the opportunity to 309 non-county boroughs to bring every point with regard to their boundaries here. There is nothing modern about what we are proposing. This is what was done in the first county review, and I cannot, at this stage, accept so fundamental a change in our proposals.
I beg to move, in line 25, at end, add:
() In Section one hundred and thirty-nine of the Local Government Act, 1933 (under which the power to promote a Bill for the purpose of constituting a borough a county-borough is limited to boroughs with a population of seventy-five thousand or upwards), for the words 'is seventy-five thousand' there shall be substituted the words 'as estimated by the Registrar-General is one hundred thousand.'
This really follows logically from the provisions of Clause 3, Sub-section (3), in which there is a limit on the right of boroughs to demand that the Commission shall look into the question whether they shall become county boroughs, the limitation being that it is only boroughs with populations of 100,000 or upwards who can demand such an inquiry. The Local Government Act, 1933, in the Section referred to in my Amendment—a short Section which I can read—has these words:
The council of a borough shall not promote a Bill for the purpose of constituting that borough a county borough unless the population of the borough is 75,000 or upwards.
Now, of course, we do not propose—it might well be thought unseemly—to say that a Bill should not be promoted for this purpose, because Parliament may properly object to anything so sweeping as that; but I should think that, if the limit is there for applications to the Commission, there ought to be a similar limit to (the promotion of Bills, and that is the sole purpose of this Amendment, with this one addition—if the phraseology stood as it is under Section 139, that is, "unless the population of the borough is 75,000 or upwards," that, by the rules of interpretation, refers back to the last census, and it has been found more satisfactory in several connections to have a new phraseology—"as estimated by the Registrar-General." The Registrar-General can give a more accurate picture of the present population than can be given by a census, which as we know, may be many years old, or, at any rate, may, even in peace-time, be some years old.
I am bound to say that I think my right hon. and learned Friend is unduly restricting the size by limiting the power to make new county boroughs to a minimum population of 100,000. It will make possible a very small number of these county boroughs. There are only 12 non-county boroughs with a population exceeding 100,000, and of these, seven are in the county of Middlesex and will be precluded altogether from applying for county borough status. As matters stand at present the prospect is that the number of new county boroughs will be restricted to five. I have no doubt that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) would say that that is a good thing.
Nevertheless, I would still submit to the Committee that experience has shown that local administration reaches its highest efficiency in an all-purpose authority. There are many authorities with a population falling short of 100,000 which would constitute efficient county boroughs and would be able to administer efficiently all the services of local government. I have no hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be prepared to modify his Amendment in the fight of the considerations I am endeavouring to advance. All I desire to say is that, while I recognise that he is doing a great service towards the improvement of our local government by this Bill, I had hoped that it could be improved to something much greater if he could have given the Commissioners a wider discrimination in this matter.
I rise only to draw attention to what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said that only five non-county boroughs in England can ever hope to achieve county borough status. If I understood the Minister correctly at an earlier stage, that is not the case, as I understood that any non-county borough was eligible to have their claims for county borough status considered provided they could persuade either the Minister or the Commission that their claims were worthy of consideration. Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend will clear up that point.
I am grateful to my Noble Friend for giving me an opportunity of correcting the misunderstanding. I am not going to give any indication whether it would be my own personal view that there should be more or fewer county boroughs, but my hon. and learned Friend was, I think, incorrect in suggesting to the Committee that the only legally possible way of creating new county boroughs lay in examining the existing county boroughs and seeing how many have populations of 100,000.