Orders of the Day — Local Government Boundary Commission (Dissolution) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 1949.

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Order for Second Reading read.

3.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill, which repeals the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act, 1945, and winds up the Commission, is a logical and inevitable sequel to the findings of the Commission themselves as published in their reports and it casts no reflection whatever on the Commission, or on its work. The Act of 1945, which was passed during the period of office of the Coalition Government, established the Commission and gave them the duty of reviewing the circumstances of the areas into which England and Wales, other than London, are divided for the purposes of local government. The Act gave them very wide powers of altering local government areas. For example, they could increase or reduce counties, county boroughs or county districts. They could unite county with county, or county borough with county borough. Those were major tasks and not merely minor adjustments.

The Act of 1945 was silent, and intentionally so, about the functions of local authorities. It was not the purpose of the Coalition Government of that day in that Act to give any power to the Commission to re-allocate functions to different classes of authority and, indeed, the Commission soon discovered that the exclusion of any consideration of functions crippled their work and that any examination of boundaries alone was not likely to give any worthwhile results. Indeed, the Commission stated in their report for 1947 that they had come to the definite conclusion that effective and convenient units of local government administration cannot everywhere be procured (and this is our primary task) without a fresh allocation of functions amongst the various types of local authorities, particularly where the larger towns are concerned. Although the Commission recognised that they had no mandate to deal with the functions of local authorities, they decided, and my right hon. Friend encouraged them to do so, to set out in their 1947 report an analysis of the position with their recommendations for alterations, whether or not these were within their jurisdiction, and to ask either that fresh legislation should be enacted, or that they should be instructed to proceed on the existing unsatisfactory basis.

The Commission recommended, first, that England and Wales should be divided into one-tier and two-tier new counties, the one-tier counties being the largest of the existing county boroughs. Secondly, they recommended the creation of and allocation of functions to a new class of authority—the new county borough—which was to be a "most purpose" authority which would still be within the county for a few important services to be administered by the county council. Thirdly, they proposed the assimilation of the functions of county districts; and, finally, they proposed the preparation of schemes of delegation of functions in the two-tier counties.

In effect, therefore, the Commission said that the task given to them was unrealistic and not worth while, and they made far-reaching recommendations for the amendment of the law in relation to the status and functions of local authorities. My right hon. Friend expressed the Government's attitude to those recommendations in reply to a Question in the House on 8th April, 1948, the date of publication of the Commission's report. He then said that the Government would consider the report, which raised far reaching considerations clearly requiring the fullest and widest discussion by all interested parties before final decisions were taken, and he commended the report to the study of the House, of the public and particularly of local authorities.

My right hon. Friend had hoped that with the issue of the report there might have emerged a strong body of opinion amongst all classes of local authorities either in support of the recommendations of the Commission or in support of some alternative proposals. This has not occurred. On the contrary, views as to the structure and functions of local government differ not only from class to class of local authority, but even within each separate class of local authority. The Government are themselves reviewing the structure and functions of local government, but there is no prospect of legislation on this subject during the present Parliament.

The Government agree with the Commission that it is unrealistic to think of altering local government boundaries without at the same time considering the adaptation of functions to the different types of authorities. The position has arisen that in the absence of a power to the Commission of allocating functions, they are charged with the duty to do what is in their own view not worth while. The Government have felt, therefore, that in the circumstances they cannot ask them to continue with what could only be a makeshift policy.

The Bill itself is a very simple Measure containing only one operative Clause and a Schedule. The Clause dissolves the Boundary Commission, repeals the Act of 1945 by which it was established, and restores the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1933, relating to alterations of local government areas which had been repealed by the Act of 1945. The Schedule to the Bill sets out the way in which, in restoring some of the repealed provisions, it is proposed to amend them. It would be more suitable if detailed consideration of the Schedule was undertaken during the Committee stage, but it might be worth while if I now said something in general about the items in the Schedule.

Paragraph 1 of the Schedule proposes to retain the population limit of the 1945 Act below which a borough may not promote a Bill to be constituted a county borough. Paragraph 2 of the Schedule substitutes special procedure orders for provisional orders in Section 140 of the 1933 Act. This in effect means that the simplified procedure of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, which applied to the Boundary Commission orders, shall be retained for certain alterations to be made by order of the Minister on proposals made either by a county council or a borough council. Paragraph 5 makes similar amendment with regard to provisional orders under Section 146 of the 1933 Act.

Both paragraph 3 and paragraph 4 of the Schedule propose much the same kind of amendment. Section 143 of the Local Government Act, 1933, enables adjustments of county boundaries to be made where a county district or parish is not Wholly contained within one county or where part of a county is detached. Effect can be given to appropriate adjustments by order of the Minister on joint representations by the county councils concerned. In restoring this provision it is proposed that no action shall be taken under it before the end of 1951. Paragraph 4 of the Schedule proposes a similar limitation of time on proposals for further reviews of counties by county councils under Section 146 of the Act of 1933.

I should like to refer to the other means available to local authorities of securing alterations in their areas. This Dissolution Bill is restoring the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1933, which authorise changes in local government areas to be made by order of the Minister—in some cases subject to confirmation by Parliament—but certain kinds of extension cannot be made by order and must be sought by private Bill. An example is extensions of county boroughs to which there are objections. It is clear that a number of local authorities are considering promoting private Bills to secure extensions of their areas, and it would probably be helpful to them and to local authorities generally if the Government's attitude were stated.

It will be remembered that when my right hon. Friend announced the Government's intention of winding up the Boundary Commission, he said that the repeal of the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act would restore the position substantially to what it was before the passing of that Act, until such time as the Government have had an opportunity of reviewing the structure and functions of local government. That review is now taking place, and it is the Government's desire that for the time being as few changes as possible should be proposed or take place in the existing areas and status of local authorities, since obviously any such changes might well have to be undone, if indeed they could take effect within the time available, when the Government come to announce their proposals.

Some changes may, however, be urgently necessary and ought not to be postponed; for example, where an authority urgently needs extra land for the continuation of its housing programme and cannot obtain the land required except outside its own boundaries. In such cases the Government would not oppose strictly limited extensions, but where real and immediate urgency cannot be shown, the Government would feel bound to take such steps as are open to them to secure the rejection of such proposals by Parliament. It is to be hoped, therefore, that local authorities will give very careful consideration before embarking on legislation which may be both costly and abortive.

In conclusion, I should like to pay a sincere tribute to the Commission and their staff for the work which they have done in tackling what has been not only a difficult but has proved to be an impossible task. Whatever decision may be taken as to the ultimate shape of local government, the information they have gathered will unquestionably be invaluable to us all.

3.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

The Parliamentary Secretary has had a difficult task, in my opinion, in seeking to defend and to justify the decision of the right hon. Gentleman to wind up this Commission. I should like to congratulate him on the very skilful manner in which he sought to present a thin case. The task that has fallen on his shoulders has only done so because, like that "celebrated, cultivated, under-rated nobleman," the Duke of Plaza-Toro, the right hon. Gentleman prefers to lead his regiment from the rear. It is the safest position for him to adopt today. He will have the last word. No doubt that has its attractions today, but I hope that in winding up this Debate he will find it possible to say at least as much about this Bill as he did on the subject of devaluation.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I decided it would be wise to wind up the Debate instead of opening it so that I might have the opportunity of allaying the anxieties which might arise on the other side of the House.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

We shall be able to judge whether our anxieties are allayed by the answer which the right hon. Gentleman makes, but I am glad to hear that he has turned over a new leaf.

We on this side of the House regret and deplore his decision. We do not think it is justified and indeed we feel it will have serious consequences. We do not regard it as the logical sequel to the report of the Commission. The hon. Gentleman said that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the Commission to carry on. That impossibility is not revealed in any of their reports which I have read, and I think it is important that in considering this Bill the House should bear in mind the particular tasks which this Local Government Boundary Commission was set up to perform.

First of all, in 1945, in the days of the Coalition Government, a White Paper was produced. It was an interesting document, presented in January of 1945, showing the intentions which lay behind the setting-up of this Commission. Shortly, the Commission was intended to achieve two objects. One was to secure that all proposals for adjustments, whether of boundaries of counties and county boroughs or of county districts, should be examined by a single body, instead of the county council review under the Local Government Act of 1929 going on at the same time as Bills for extending county boroughs. It was said in that White Paper, with great accuracy, that a county council might well find itself under a duty to recast the local government units in its county while under the immediate threat of having the county itself dismembered; or at best, no assurance that the county would remain intact.

The second object was to provide machinery commanding public confidence and working smoothly and expeditiously and reducing to a minimum the cost of making the adjustment which had been—as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree—all too high in the past. That White Paper was adopted by this House on 15th February and as the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) said on that occasion, it met with praise from all parties. The right hon. Gentleman himself did not on that occasion strike a discordant note. He did not say then, nor did the spokesmen of his party, the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) and the Lord President, that it was nonsense to talk about functions and boundaries separately and that they have to be taken together.

On the contrary, in that Debate there was no reference to functions. It was clear that it was accepted on all sides that the primary object of this Boundary Commission was to iron out minor adjustments of boundaries to meet the urgent needs which were then, in 1945, existing. As the right hon. Member for Wakefield said in that Debate: Changes there must be, Certain changes, in my view, are already overdue, and I would like to see the discussion of these questions taken outside this building and outside Private Bill Committees."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 15th February, 1945; Vol. 408, c. 435.] That was then the position. This Bill was introduced and its Preamble recited first of all that its purpose was: to establish the Local Government Boundary Commission and then: to make further provision for the alteration of local government areas … exclusive of London. There was nothing in that Title dealing with functions. It was debated in the days of the Coalition Government and the then Minister of Health made it quite clear that the proposals in the Bill setting up this Commission did not purport to effect radical changes in our local government system. There was no Division on this Bill; there was no opposition to it. Again the voice of the Minister of Health was not heard.

Indeed, the only note of criticism which was struck was struck by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. He pointed out, with some force, that this was a machinery Bill, and its value would depend—and he was clearly right—upon the guidance given by the Minister of Health under the power conferred on him by the Bill. That guidance was given in November, 1945, by the right hon. Gentleman, and that has been the guidance, I think I am right in saying, the only guidance given to this Commission since it was set up. It might be convenient if I reminded the House of the terms of that guidance. It was said in the Statutory Rule and Order: The object of all alterations in the Statute and of all alterations in the boundaries of local and Government areas is to ensure individually and collectively effective and convenient units of local government administration. This object is the governing principle by which the Commission are to be guided in exercising their functions under the Act. When the 1946 report of the Boundary Commission was published, and that did not happen until April, 1947, it became apparent that there were three rather minor points, having regard to the 1947 report, which were creating difficulties for the Commission. They were raised in that report. The first was that under the Act they had not power to review part of an area or make an order with regard to part of an area. The second was that they had no power to permit of the loss of status to non-county boroughs and no general power to divide non-county boroughs. The third point they raised in that report was that they recommended the assimilation of the function of rural district councils and urban district councils; indicating of course that that was outside their powers as they then existed.

But a long time has elapsed since April, 1947. It appears from the 1948 report, published in 1949, that the Commission received no answer from the right hon. Gentleman with regard to those points. I should like to ask why not? Have the Government no policy with regard to these particular points raised so long ago as April, 1947? Why is it that the Government have taken no action with regard to those first three matters raised in the first report?

The second report was not published until 8th April, 1948. That rightly recognised that the Commission had no jurisdiction over functions. Neither party intended it to have jurisdiction over functions when the Commission was set up. That report made it clear that it could have made orders on the lines that this House envisaged in 1945, but that in the opinion of that Commission these orders, in the majority of cases, would amount to second-best arrangements. I am trying to state what the Commission said. They took the opportunity of putting forward their views and stating that, in part, implementing their views would mean legislation and, in part, it would mean amendment of the general principles laid down in regulations.

Then they made the important observation that if their recommendations in the 1947 report were not accepted by the Government it would be their duty—and they did not say that they could not carry it out—to carry out their task on the basis of their present instructions. That scheme put forward by the Commission involved, as I think that the Minister of Health will agree, a very considerable alteration of functions. I do not propose to discuss that scheme now. We have had no Debate on it. There is no reference to it in the 1945 Act or in this Bill, and I assume that it would be out of Order to say anything about it. But what is clear—

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

On that point, may we have the guidance of Mr. Speaker? There have been several reports by the Boundary Commission which obviously do not form a part of this Bill. It would be an intolerable restriction, I should imagine; upon the course of the Debate if it were not possible to argue at least in general terms about what the Commission has recommended. I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman should be deterred from letting the House have his views, if he has any, upon those recommendations.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

If this Debate were on the proposals put forward by the Commission we should be only too glad to accede to the right hon. Gentleman's request, but as this Debate is on the Second Reading of a Bill abolishing a Commission set up by Act of Parliament in 1945, and that Act in its Preamble merely recited that the Act was designed to set up the Commission and to secure the alteration of local government boundaries, I was under the impression that it would be out of Order if I discussed in any detail—

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

—the proposals put forward by the Boundary Commission in their second report. All I am seeking to do is to go through the sequence of events which has lead to the right hon. Gentleman coming to the conclusion to wind up the Commission, and to make out what I think is a strong case for saying that the right hon. Gentleman has come to a wrong decision which will be fraught with most serious consequences.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Further to that point of Order. I merely raised the matter for guidance. The Second Reading of a Bill is always an opportunity for reviewing the whole field with which the Bill deals I thought that it would be open to any hon. Member in any part of the House to say that something else other than what is actually in it, ought to be put in this Bill. The hon. and learned Member is seeking to hide behind a narrow interpretation of the Rules of this House in order to conceal the poverty of the views of the Opposition about local government.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

Further to that provocative observation, I intend to do my best to adhere to what are the Rules of Order. If the right hon. Gentleman had wanted an opportunity to debate the reports of this Commission we could have done that long before now. The fact that he has provided no opportunity for Debate in this House shows clearly the barrenness of the Government's plans with regard to local government.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

Surely, the point at issue is not whether the Minister of Health has failed to provide an opportunity for Debate. What is at issue is whether we should have a realistic discussion of the Bill before the House, which clearly must entail some discussion of the general prinicples upon which local government functions or should function if it is to function properly.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

May I submit that in a Bill to abolish the Boundary Commission, the recommendations and the actions taken by that Commission must be considered not only as facts but on their merits?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I thought that the position was quite clear. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he wanted to link up this Bill with the original Act. That seems to me to be perfectly in Order. He also said that he did not want to discuss the detailed reports which have been issued by the Boundary Commission. That, I think, is perfectly correct. I do not think that we want to go into local matters in this Debate. This is a principle. The question is whether we do away with the Commission or whether we do not. I think that it would be going outside the scope of the Debate to make speeches on local matters which the Minister cannot answer because he is not concerned at the moment with local affairs.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

With all respect, Mr. Speaker, I should like to point out that this Bill will have important reactions in particular localities. I wish to be frank about this. I wish to argue from the point of view of my own constituency. If we are to have a Ruling which prevents us from showing how this Bill will affect our constituencies and from saying what we think ought to be done about it, that Ruling will so narrow the discussion that it will be most unsatisfactory.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

One must not plead on local grounds. This is a case where general principles should be argued. That is what I meant by my Ruling.

Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough

May I take it that we are not to understand that hon. Gentlemen are precluded from dealing with the activities of the Boundary Commission as essentially relevant to whether or not they believe it should be abolished, if they choose to do so?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I do not quite understand what the hon. Gentleman means by "the activities of the Boundary Commission." One does not want to discuss their reports in detail as they affect localities. One should discuss the general principle.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Luton

May we take it that your Ruling, Sir, does not preclude us from discussing those parts of the reports of the Local Government Boundary Commission which are concerned with the general principles of local government and not with particular localities?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I should have thought that was in Order.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

I am glad that the question has now been elucidated. In view of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, I should have thought that if his view had been right, the point of Order should have arisen during the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary when he moved the Second Reading of this Bill. If the Government had some views about the scheme set out in the 1947 report, that would have been the time to try to put them forward in this Debate, but that he did not do. It is clear from that report that the Commission wanted to do a great deal more than this House—than the Socialist Party and the Conservative Party—agreed in 1945 that they should do. That report was not published until 8th April, 1947.

The right hon. Gentleman made an answer to a Question on that date saying that the Government would consider it, but that it would involve legislation which would be highly contentious, highly involved and unlikely to produce unanimity among the local authorities concerned. Quite clearly, that issue was being shelved, although I should have thought that the reasons put forward by the right hon. Gentleman were more likely to attract him to enter the field than to deter him from doing so. Perhaps the explanation is that it would be unlikely to attract any votes, or, indeed, more likely to put votes on the other side.

The Commission, however, not having had any further reply, went on with its work and produced the third and final report in April, 1949, and that report sets out the letter which was sent by the Chairman of the Commission to the right hon. Gentleman, making it again quite clear that, even at that time, he had not received any reply to the three questions raised in the first report, and which are not of as big a character as those in the second report, or to the questions raised in chapters 8 and 9 of the second report. To that letter he had received no reply. In fact, the only reply he received to a later letter was a copy of an answer to a Parliamentary Question which said that it would not be practicable to introduce comprehensive legislation on local government reconstruction in the near future.

I should like to draw attention to the time that elapsed before that reply, which is the only answer to the Commission, was given. The second report was published on 8th April, 1948, and the only reply sent to them, in spite of their sending a letter on 24th November, 1948, was the answer to a Question on 29th March, 1949. I do not propose to comment on the courtesy of that reply to the Commission except to say that, surely, such a Commission is entitled to be treated in a more civil fashion.

The answer of the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the question of legislation. The Commission in their report indicated that part of their difficulties at least could be cured by amending the regulations which laid down the rules which they were to follow. The right hon. Gentleman has given them no guidance and no answer to the questions they raised with regard to the amendment of the general principles; and their 1948 report shows that they were quite willing to go on in accordance with the instructions as originally given to them by this House. They are quite willing to carry out the intentions of Parliament, although they say that, in their opinion, that alone would not be the best solution throughout the country.

It was not until 27th June, 1949, that the right hon. Gentleman announced their dissolution on the ground that it was difficult for them to proceed with their work. In none of their reports have they said that they could not carry out the task given to them in accordance with their instructions—

Photo of Mr Hubert Medland Mr Hubert Medland , Plymouth Drake

They had three years in which to do it.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

And during that time they were waiting for a reply from the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

What is the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's decision? It is to restore the position to what it was in 1945. This House has to bear in mind that, from 1939 onwards until March, 1945, no alteration of local government boundaries was possible. It was prohibited by the Register and Electors Act, which I think expired in March, 1945. Since the appointment of this Commission, all local authorities have been holding their hands, and so, in fact, there have been no Private Bill and no county reviews. Except in a very few cases, there has been no alteration of local government boundaries since 1939.

Let the House contrast that position with the position between 1929 and 1938. I am informed that, during that period, there were something like 1,300 boundary changes effected by local Acts, Provisional Orders and County Review Orders, and, if these figures are right, they must show that there is a tremendous number of alterations of boundaries urgently requiring to be made. These alterations of boundaries in the years before the war were often, and I think in the majority of cases, effected without alteration of functions. I must say that I think the right hon. Member for Wakefield was quite right when he said in 1945, during the Debate on the White Paper: Changes there must be. Certain changes are in my view already overdue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1945; Vol. 408. c. 435.] The position is much worse today, and, by reason of the right hon. Gentleman's decision, a great deal more time is going to elapse before these changes, which were already overdue in 1945, are going to be effected.

In my view, the responsibility for this prolonged delay is that of the Government and, primarily, that of the Minister of Health, who has, in his treatment of this Commission and by his actions in deciding to wind it up, revealed a remarkable degree of administrative incapacity. There is to be no county review, as I understand it, before 1952; there are to be no Private Bills, or, at least, they are very much discouraged, by what we have heard this afternoon, for a considerable time.

Then, again we get the situation which the White Paper formulated in 1945 of a county review going on, and, at the same time, a county borough seeking to extend its boundaries and the county not knowing to what extent it will be threatened by action taken by the county borough. That was one evil which the setting up of the Commission was to cure, and the cure put forward met with universal approval, but now we are to go back on all that. In view of this decision, there is now going to be no correlation between the development of county boundaries and the review of county authorities.

I do not know how long it will be before the review which we are informed is now taking place will come to a conclusion, but I do feel that it is imperative that the Government should make clear as soon as possible—and they ought to be able to do it very soon indeed—what are their intentions with regard to the future set-up of local government, because the position cannot be left as it is.

The problem is urgent, and we really ought to know, and the local authorities ought to know, what the Government propose to do. Redistribution of local government areas is held up; retribution has fallen on the Commission. We believe, as the Socialist Party believed in 1945, that changes can and should be made and are most overdue with regard to local government areas, and that these changes can be made, as the party opposite agreed in 1945, without a radical alteration of functions. That is a view from which the Commission in its report did not dissent. I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add: this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which suspends the making of minor and urgent adjustments by a simple and inexpensive machinery originally set up by Parliament for the purpose.

4.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Symonds Mr Arthur Symonds , Cambridge

This is a simple machinery Bill designed to clear the ground for the comprehensive review of local government which the Government now think necessary. In the clearing of that ground is involved the winding-up of the Boundary Commission. As I see it, the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) really goes to prove the case for that winding-up. He argued that there was agreement in 1945 between both sides of the House to deal with boundaries and to ignore functions. That may have been so, but I would remind him of what the Boundary Commission subsequently discovered. They said: We have definitely reached the conclusion that in many areas—and these cover the great bulk of the population—our present powers and instructions do not permit the formation of local government units as effective and convenient as in our opinion they should be. Thus the alternatives before us were to make orders which would in many cases have resulted in second best arrangements or, taking the opportunity presented to us by our statutory duty to make an Annual Report, to set out our views. In other words, they said that, had they continued on the originally agreed basis, they could only have produced a second best result. We do not want a second best result with regard to the organisation of local government, and therefore think that the winding up of the Commission is perfectly justified.

The Government's case is quite straightforward. It has been found in practice that the Commission's terms of reference were far too limited in that they could not deal with functions. Not only that. The report which they produced in 1947 has not met with general acceptance, and therefore it would be quite impossible to expect such a report to be implemented in the second half of the life of any Parliament unless it were an agreed Measure. It would cut right across parties and raise conflicting interests of every kind. That being so, some comprehensive action is required. As, in any case, it would be unpopular with many vested interests, I think that the only way in which a Government could introduce effective local government reform would be to do so early in the life of a new Parliament.

There are two matters arising out of the proposals before us which should most concern us in this Debate. The first is how much change in local government is to be allowed in the interim between now and the comprehensive review, and what the machinery is to be under this Bill for interim changes, because we all appreciate that local government boundaries cannot be completely frozen for any appreciable length of time. There must be possibilities of adjustment—like those mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary—to deal with urgent housing needs. That is the first point which we ought to consider. The second is what should be the main principles on which the Minister should base his review.

With regard to Government policy in respect of changes within this interim period, the Bill makes it clear that there are to be no major changes. One of the changes most sought in many quarters is that from non-county borough to county borough status. But changes of status are to be ruled out, and we are left with only minor boundary adjustments to meet housing needs. The machinery adopted in this Bill to prevent changes of the kind I have indicated is shown in the first paragraph of the Schedule, where we have the figure of 100,000 carried on from the 1945 Act as the limit below which a non-county borough cannot seek county borough status. That, of course, prevents practically all non-county boroughs—in fact, all except one—outside the London area from seeking county borough status. That figure of 100,000 in the 1945 Act was assumed at the time to be a temporary arrangement to prevent changes while a review was going on. It was meant to cause a "freeze" in local government status for a short period.

It is now proposed to re-enact that figure in a new statute, and many of us fear that if the figure of 100,000 is put permanently into statutory form, it will tend to become a standard by which these matters are to be judged. This affects some towns in particular. In the 1947 Report, 10 non-county boroughs were singled out by the Boundary Commission for special consideration as "new" type county boroughs. The constituency which I have the honour to represent is one of those 10. Most of them are medium-sized towns with populations of just under or just over the 75,000 mark. They are all very proud of their history and achievements—and rightly so—and are anxious to achieve a status more in keeping with those achievements.

All except one of those 10 non-county boroughs would be barred by paragraph 1 of the Schedule to this Bill from improving their status, and they feel that this, in effect, amounts to special discrimination against them, especially when they remember how many counties and county boroughs there are smaller in size, and less efficient, than themselves. For instance, there are five counties and four county boroughs with populations of under 50,000; 10 counties and 20 county boroughs with populations of under 75,000; and 13 counties and 33 county boroughs with populations of under 100,000. If paragraph 1 of the Schedule is intended by the Minister merely, so to speak, to freeze the present status pending the comprehensive review, I would say that the paragraph is unnecessary. There are other courses open to the Minister without adopting this one. He can disapprove a local authority's resolution to present a Bill to the House. He may say that he would be unwilling to prevent any local authority from having access to Parliament; but, of course, if he made it clear to a local authority that he did not want certain action taken, his views would, no doubt, have great influence with that authority. There is, however, another course open to him. He could quite easily arrange to have such a Bill blocked on Second Reading.

Therefore, I argue that the Minister's objective of freezing status as it is now can be achieved without this objectionable figure of 100,000 being given permanency in a statute. In any case, it does not completely close the gaps, because there is one which I have mentioned of those 10 which is over 100,000, and there are four other non-county boroughs in the London area also over 100,000. What we hope, therefore, is that the Minister will completely restore the status quo ante 1945 and not merely substantially restore it, as he says he is going to do. In other words, we hope that he will modify paragraph 1 of the Schedule and so not prejudice the future with regard to the standard by which non-county borough and county borough status is to be fixed.

We think that he should restore the figure of 75,000 but, I would add, restore it not on the original basis of the 1931 census but on the up-to-date estimates of the Registrar-General, because since 1931 all the authorities most closely involved in these issues have grown considerably and are still growing. The 1931 census figures would be completely meaningless. My right hon. Friend may say that if he puts the figure at 75,000 it may leave the door open to quite a number of authorities to seek to promote Private Bills now in order to achieve county borough status. But I can assure him that, at any rate speaking for my own constituency, that would not be done by Cambridge, because we appreciate that a matter of this kind cannot be settled effectively at this stage of the life of this Parliament, and in any case we are sensible enough to realise that no Private Bill put forward by Cambridge could hope to succeed unless account had already been taken of the effects of county borough status for Cambridge on the remainder of the county. I realise that the two problems are inextricably linked up and we could not hope to solve our own domestic problems simply at the expense of those around us.

So much for the interim situation pending this comprehensive review. We hope the Minister will completely restore the status quo ante 1945 and not merely substantially restore it, because otherwise he would run the risk of setting an undesirable standard for the future.

As I see it, the second and most important feature of this Debate is to try to get from the Minister some indication of the principles on which his review is going to be based. I am not asking him for any detailed information about the actual structure of local government which he envisages. It may well be that he has not finally made up his mind as the review is still under way, but I think it might help if one stated certain general principles and tried to get the Minister's reactions to those principles.

To my mind, the first and most vital principle should be that local government must be local, with all that that implies; in other words, that the personal services and so on most closely affecting the life of the citizen should be controlled by people on the spot living among the electors to whom they are responsible. One can well see the case for general and non-personal services being organised over a wider area if necessary, if that leads to greater efficiency and economy; but in the last resort I myself would be quite happy to sacrifice a little efficiency in the interests of a really live democracy. As I see it, a live pulsating democracy is to be preferred to any soulless and remote system of control, even if the latter, in the narrowest accounting sense, might be considered more efficient and economical.

I think the case for the claim that that should be the basis can be illustrated from these 10 non-county boroughs that I have mentioned. All of them have been closely investigated by the Boundary Commission in the course of its inquiries, and they have all been found to deserve on their merits the higher status, the "new" county borough status, which the Boundary Commission recommends for them. They happen to be a convenient size numerically, but it was not simply on account of numbers that the Boundary Commission picked them out for special treatment. I should like to quote paragraph 62 in the 1947 Report: We are entirely unable to distinguish between the towns in (1)"— that is, existing county boroughs— and those in (2)"— that is, these 10 non-county boroughs— on individual merits. The 10 non-county boroughs are as capable of administering local government services as are most of the 52 county boroughs. These non-county boroughs have exercised most efficiently powers that the Boundary Commission recommends that they should have in the new status which it proposes, and many of them have been pioneers in many spheres of local government. Cambridge, for instance, had a school dental service many years before other people thought of it. What concerns me particularly is that delay in recognising the claim of these towns to higher status is detrimental to local government efficiency. It is disheartening and discouraging to those men and women who have been and are still ready to devote their time and energies to the service of their fellow citizens.

That leads me to the second and final basic principle on which I hope the Minister will base himself. I think he should not start de novo. He should not draw up a neat paper plan of the most efficient way in which local government might be organised with everything neatly dovetailed, because to do so would ignore the history which lies behind local government and would ignore the human beings who carry it on. I hope very much that he will start on the basis of things as they are, and will seek to adapt and re-organise that structure to suit modern conditions, remembering all the time that he is dealing with a living organism. I hope very much that he will take fully into account the claims of those existing organs of local government for whom I have spoken—the medium-sized non-county boroughs which have proved their efficiency and which are preserving the essential elements of local interest, local participation and local initiative which alone give life and vitality to local government.

4.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Roberts Mr Harold Roberts , Birmingham Handsworth

I find myself in hearty agreement with very much of what was said by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds). I hesitate to make a suggestion to any Member as to his duty, but might I say this to him in a friendly way—that perhaps, as a preliminary to raising the points which he has put before the House, and which are really suggestions to the Minister for action when the Bill has been passed, he might very well enter a caveat by voting against the Bill to start with?

Photo of Mr Arthur Symonds Mr Arthur Symonds , Cambridge

Will the hon. Member tell me why?

Photo of Mr Harold Roberts Mr Harold Roberts , Birmingham Handsworth

If the hon. Member fails to do that, then the other courses which he mentioned are still open to him. The hon. Member for Cambridge has spoken of the work of smaller local authorities, but it has been my good fortune to spend many years in the city council of the largest county borough in this country so that I can perhaps look at this matter with some degree of detachment. The Government are asking us to repeal an Act passed by general consent four years ago, and through the mouth of the Parliamentary Secretary they give certain reasons for that. The reasons given are that the Commission set up to administer the statute tell us, "It is no good; until functions have been altered and further legislation brought forward, the job is hopeless and should not be undertaken."

The Parliamentary Secretary made great play with the greatest of the three reports laid before Parliament, namely, that for the year 1947. I must read one of the passages of the later, but less spectacular report, that for 1948. I pass right to the end—the worst that can be said against it: But we still remain of the opinion that neither we nor our successors can everywhere create effective and convenient units of local government without some amendment of local government legislation. I accept that; they cannot everywhere create them, but they can do it somewhere.

I think I had better mention the events which occurred in connection with the correspondence with the Minister. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that when the Boundary Commission made their great report in respect of 1947, they were encouraged by the Minister to take a wide view of their functions. If I may say so, that was quite right, because the opinions of local government officers, who are an able and experienced body of men—whether we agree with them or not—must be of great interest. Later, however, I do not think he was as helpful to the Commission as he might have been.

In December, 1948, when they had done an enormous amount of work and made most valuable researches but had not dealt with any of the minor specific functions they had been given, they wrote to him to find out where they were. As far as I can see, that letter was not acknowledged for more than three months, and then it was acknowledged only by an indirect method of letting them have an answer which had already been given in this House some three or four days earlier. I think the Commission deserved better of the Minister than that. I can only suppose that the Minister could not do any better because he did not know where he was, and his rather despairing appeal to Mr. Speaker that the area of discussion this afternoon should be wide, so that we on these benches might give our views on the contents of the 1947 report, seemed to indicate that he is looking to us to find him a policy.

I quote from the 1948 report: In view of this letter and of the considerations stated in our Report for 1947 it is now our duty to proceed with our work on the basis of the existing statute law and of the General Principles laid down for our guidance. None the less we are reluctant at a time when no decision has been taken either by the Government or by Parliament on the major points raised in the two Reports to take any steps which would obviously be inappropriate if it was thought right at some future date to give effect to our recommendations either as they stand or in some modified form. Accordingly, we now intend to select those cases in which the Order would be both appropriate under the existing statute law and General Principles and also, so far as we can judge, appropriate if either the law or the General Principles were amended on the lines recommended in our Reports or in some similar manner. An obvious case for which early Orders would be appropriate is the union of two or more counties—a matter on which no suggestion for alteration of the present law or General Principles has been made. Similarly, in some cases, but unfortunately not in the majority, an Order for extending a borough would be equally necessary and appropriate whatever the status of the borough might become. We shall also continue the investigation of county boroughs with populations below 60,000—the figure mentioned in General Principle No. 7—and shall proceed with the systematic review of county districts. The reviews of some 700 county districts have not yet been begun. There is quite enough useful work to be done within the ambit of the Act of 1945, and they say, "We are prepared to go on and do it." They make it plain that their decisions will be such as in no way to conflict with any future legislation on local government which may be dealt with by Parliament. Instead of that, the Government propose to root them out, to repeal the Act and, on the face of it, to go back to the earlier state of affairs; but the Parliamentary Secretary warned us that that was not quite so. The earlier state of affairs had, of course, one merit—it was a lawyers' paradise. Far be it from me to detract from people like Parliamentary agents, but, after all, I think public convenience is of greater importance than their convenience, and the setting up of a permanent commission of this kind was designed to be of general assistance.

It would have been of general assistance, if we go back to the reports of the Commission and take them as reasons for what we do this afternoon. We must consider not only the report of 1947 but that of 1948, in which they say that there is other work which they can still do—very minor compared with what they were meant to do, but still important. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that if we go back to the law as it was before 1945, certain people must be very careful of the Bills they promote. They must work under the shadow of the 1947 report, which was not in existence formerly. That is to say, local authorities must not only go back to an inconvenient form of procedure but go back under a cloud, and the hon. Member for Cambridge was rightly apprehensive of that very unfortunate state of affairs.

It was suggested by the Minister of Health that Members here should give their views on the report of the Royal Commission. Well, I do not think it is for the Opposition to make too many suggestions as to legislation. Apart from anything else, they have not the large amount of material which the Minister can collect to help in formulating proposals. However, I can at least make one or two remarks on what the people of the country—the local authorities—appeared to think about the report of 1947.

To begin with, the Welsh counties unanimously turned down the recommendations made in respect to that land. The recommendations, apparently, did not apply to Gwent and so the Minister is not, perhaps, as closely affected by them as he otherwise would be. Then they aroused definite hostility among small authorities affected by them. I have a recollection of going to Cromer about that time and of seeing, as I got near Uppingham, a large notice saying, "This is the county of Rutland." Going back I saw a similar notice somewhere near Caistor. That is to say, the local authorities were displaying a spirit worthy of G. K. Chesterton in his finest days. We recollect how the London boroughs, in "The Napoleon of Notting Hill," fought for their independence. The counties began to show a similar spirit towards the Government's proposals.

It is not for me to defend the counties. I am a borough man. However, this I may say. I would remind the Minister of the old Liberal saying, in which there was a lot of truth, that good government is no substitute for self-government, and that what the people of a district want is, after all, a very material factor in deciding what they ought to have. Furthermore, I had not gathered that the non-county boroughs were at all enthusiastic; nor, oddly enough, that they would disagree with the Commission being swept away. I think they are wrong myself, for a very good reason: that if they got rid of King Log they would have King Stork before they were very much older.

I have to consider, as far as I can, what are likely to be the lines of Government legislation. The right hon. Gentleman has preserved—and still preserves—a statesmanlike reticence on the point—perhaps for the best of all reasons, that he does not know. But let us consider what, in fact, has been the Government's record. To begin with, there can be no doubt that the Leader of the House was very pleased indeed with the system which some people called that of the Regional Commissioners, but others rudely called that of the gauleiters, who governed this country during the war, and there were some strong suggestions, as the war drew to a close, that he regarded with much admiration Oliver Cromwell's system of government by major-generals. It is true that in the legislation that the Government have enacted, they have always tended to put more and more into the hands of larger areas—counties as against non-county boroughs.

Here let me interpose a reminder to the House of a service which the hon. Member for Cambridge did for his city in 1945, I think it was. The Government came forward with the Police Bill, which they carried through, taking away the police from various non-county authorities. I recollect that one of the results of the Bill was that Cambridge was to lose control of its police force. The Cambridge Council and the town clerk came here in dire distress. I met them in the Lobby. They saw the hon. Member. I think there was an amendment put down. At any rate, the Home Secretary devised the formula by which Cambridge got away with it, And a very good thing, too.

It is a very curious historical twist. Hon. Members opposite derive historically from the Liberals and Radicals of the late Victorian age, and there is no doubt about it that those Radicals viewed with great concern the powers of the counties. That was due to historical causes. The county represented quarter sessions and the nobility and gentry of England. Whenever they could see that power abridged by the making of smaller authorities, they welcomed it. They greeted exultantly, for example, the invention of parish councils by the Fowler Act. The wheel has gone full circle. The landed gentry are being gradually replaced by a very able, very well administered county bureaucracy, and it is the modern trend of legislation in these Socialist days to throw power into the hands of the counties and to take it away from the non-county boroughs.

Accordingly, if I am asked for my individual views on the report of the Commission, I say that I consider, as does apparently the hon. Member for Cambridge, that the Commissioners are too mechanical; they have too little regard for history and for the sentiments of the different areas; and I think also that they tend to be unduly hard upon the non-county boroughs. It is very fashionable among ignorant people to sneer at Little Pedlington. It is true that my active life has been spent in the service of a great city, but I was born in Little Pedlington, and I am not ashamed of the borough in which I was born, which had a population then of about 13,000—it is now about 21—but which was, I think, as well administered a small borough as one could find.

I think of other small boroughs up and down the country which are models of good administration, and I regard with great suspicion all legislation which tends to cut them down or to abridge their powers. It may well be that some of the smallest may have to lose powers. One cannot have too much regard for history, although I think any man of sensibility would regret to see a place like Rye deprived of its powers, or having its powers lowered.

However, these are merely suggestions for the future. The question is, what are we going to do now? Carry on while the Government are making up their mind, having General Elections, making up their mind again afterwards, whether they are in a position of responsibility or in that of a shadow Cabinet, and only then to satisfying us? Meanwhile the system of inconvenience which was then remedied by this statute is to be restored. I see no reason to do it. The existence of this Act in no way interferes with the Government's review of local government functions. It does not prevent them or anybody else from reviewing them. It will not be abused, because the Commission, by a self-denying ordinance, make plain that they will do nothing to interfere with the status quo. Accordingly I regard the Bill as totally unnecessary.

It can have only one rational justification, namely, that this remedial power having been swept away, it will be open to the Minister, or any future Minister, to bring in a far more drastic statute, and one clipping the wings of local authorities, under the pretext that they cannot agree, and, therefore, must be governed from above; the Minister praying in aid the fact that the very abuses are there which the Government are not allowing the Commission to remedy. That would be a rational although a Machiavellian justification for this Measure. The only reason given so far is the one given by the Parliamentary Secretary, which completely breaks down when one takes the trouble to read the report on which it is based. We have not, I suppose, yet got to the point where the mere whim of the Minister or of the Cabinet is a reason for passing a measure. It must, I think, be supported by some semblance of reason, and as I see none in this measure I do not feel able to support, and, indeed, shall vote against it.

5.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

I came to the House prepared to make an attack on this Bill and even perhaps to say a hard word about the Minister of Health. Having listened to the speeches of the Opposition, I am in very great danger because they are converting me to his side. The opening speech was, I think, the usual gambit in the game of hunting the Minister of Health. This Parliamentary game usually starts about 3.30 in the afternoon and ends about 9.30 by the rabbit hunting the dogs. I am not getting caught up with the dogs if hon. Gentlemen opposite will pardon the analogy.

The hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) does not, I am sure, believe for a moment that the Minister of Health or any other Member of the Government intends to organise the local government of this country in terms of gauleiters or regional commissioners. Never, I believe, was there a party holding office which had more experience of local government or was more passionately devoted to the principle of local government than the present Government. It is utter nonsense for the hon. Member for Handsworth to talk in the terms in which he did.

Having said that, let me return to the truth which I had in me when I first came to the House this afternoon. I greatly regret that the Minister of Health decided to introduce this Bill. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Handsworth when he suggests that the Government have used the pretext of disagreement between local authorities as an excuse for taking this step. That seems to me to be a little bit of nonsense, and I think that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds), when he talked about the unanimity of local government authorities, was rather missing the point.

I start my attack by making a constructive suggestion to the Minister of Health. I would suggest to him that at all costs he refuses to disclose the names of those officials and those gentlemen engaged in carrying out his comprehensive survey of local government. The names of those gentlemen should be top secret, and on the day before they make the announcement of their proposals they should take tickets from England to the Continent and stay there, because if anyone puts forward comprehensive proposals for a reform of local government in this country he will be in danger of being torn limb from limb when some of the local authorities find how the proposals apply to them. This reaction runs across all parties. The truth is that the reform of local government in this country is really a non-party question.

In my constituency of Dudley or in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent, it is equally true that objectivity is lacking. Anyone going to Stoke-on-Trent or Newcastle-under-Lyme and talking about the re-adjustment of boundaries in North Staffordshire have a very good chance of being dirked. That has gone on for a considerable period of time and I regret it. One of the most valuable things which the Commission has done during the last four years has been to try to change the atmosphere in which discussions on boundary revision take place. Having improved the atmosphere, the Commission had the advantage of meeting not as a tribunal but by sending commissioners round from place to place to hear what local authorities had to say. The Commission made up its mind and put forward its own proposal.

My complaint is that four years have been largely wasted—I hope not completely wasted—and I hope that the Minister and his officials will build on the experience of the Commission so that those four years will not be completely lost. Dudley, for example, is more affected by the proposals now before the House than any other place in the country because it happens to be a small part of Worcestershire surrounded by Staffordshire. For Dudley local government is not solely concerned with history or academic principles but with houses, schools, playing fields and the like. We cannot build houses and schools because we are hag-ridden by the need for boundary extension. Once we put forward proposals we are involved in opposition from Staffordshire. Before we know where we are, we are concerned with proposals which affect South Staffordshire and then even North Staffordshire as the proposals widen out into broad principles. As the Commission found out, as soon as they made proposals, however limited, they were soon dealing with places situated a hundred miles away.

It is clear that the Minister himself was not unaware of the difficulties. I think it was two years ago that he said that we could not separate boundaries from functions and that clearly he saw the situation which in fact has arisen. He let the Commission carry on for another couple of years before chopping off its head. Now four years have gone by and Dudley cannot get land for schools and houses.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

I agree that North Staffordshire could learn a little by way of tolerance in discussions of this problem. It is true that the problems of Dudley and its neighbours are not discussed with the intensity and passion which disfigure the discussions which go on between Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent. The hon. Member knows as much about that as I do.

The point which I want to stress is that no proposals put forward by Dudley are ever considered on their merits. The mere fact that Dudley puts forward proposals straight away arouses opposition from Staffordshire. If I have the good fortune to serve on a committee which will subsequently consider these provisions in detail, I shall endeavour to persuade the committee to amend the Bill so that county boroughs such as Dudley can in fact proceed not by means of Private Bills but by means of provisional orders even though they are opposed. I did not altogether understand the Parliamentary Secretary when he was making his announcement about policy, although I thought he showed he was aware of this point. Section 140 of the Local Government Act, 1933, provides for the alteration of the boundaries, of county boroughs, etc., by way of provisional order. Subsection (3) of this Section provides that Where proposals are made by this Section to the Minister by the council of a county borough for a purpose involving the extension of the area of the borough, the Minister … shall not entertain the proposals if any notice of abjection to procedure by provisional order has been sent to him … I hope that the Minister of Health will agree that where objections have been made, a local inquiry should be held, and if he so decides provisional order methods shall be afforded so that places like Dudley can get a revision of boundaries by provisional order despite opposition.

I have not said half the hard things I intended to say this afternoon about what I regard as a waste of four years, and I very much wish that the Opposition had come here today and put the real case against the Bill. They have been far too niggling and fiddling; they have looked round for reasons on which to oppose; they have found faults where none exist, and have failed to make the simple point that what the Minister has now done could have been done in 1945; that he could have got on with the job so that the revisions would have been made by this time. Of course, I do not think he would still be alive to tell the tale, for reasons I have already given. Indeed, I think his life may still be in danger when his comprehensive survey is completed.

I hope the Minister will realise the very great difficulties in which county boroughs are involved. The problem must be looked at on its merits, and there must be some impartial authority—in this case himself—to force these reforms through, otherwise we shall have a standstill. I do not want to abuse this opportunity by overpleading for my constituency, but I do ask the Minister to look at the special problems of Dudley, and other places which perhaps are not quite so bad, and where somehow or other they must get access to land on which to build houses and schools. It is not possible for such authorities to proceed by Private Bill; they can proceed only if the Minister will agree to use the provisional order method, even though—as will certainly happen in the case of Dudley, whatever the proposals may be—Staffordshire and the neighbouring authorities will oppose. I hope my right hon. Friend will accept the Amendment I intend to put down for the Committee stage. Perhaps when he speaks tonight he will make it unnecessary for me to move such an Amendment by indicating that the Government themselves will put down such a proposal.

5.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Derick Heathcoat-Amory Mr Derick Heathcoat-Amory , Tiverton

I shall detain the House for only a very few minutes, and I shall not be provoked by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I think that this decision to close down the Boundary Commission entirely is regrettable. I suppose that if ex-members of a good many Government commissions were consulted, they might well say that painless liquidation was preferable to the fate of being pigeonholed. But after all, here we have a commission which had executive jobs to do and the executive powers with which to do them, and the immense amount of work they have done will be wasted. We ought also to remember that the immense amount of work which has been done by local authorities in conjunction with the Boundary Commission will also be wasted.

I am sure we all join in the tribute paid to the great ability of the Chairman of the Boundary Commission by the Parliamentary Secretary, and to the members of the Commission. They were well up to their job, but I am so afraid that the way in which they have been "tapped" down may make it a little more difficult in future to get men of that quality to serve. I realise that it was a boundary commission and not a local government commission. It found itself tangled up with the bigger issues. On that I would only say that I have been a member of a local authority for nearly 20 years—I had not realised what an old chap I was getting—and I think many other Members who are connected with local authorities will agree with me when I say that unfortunately during that time we have seen interest in the work of local authorities diminish.

I believe there are several reasons for that. First, there is the complexity of the new business they have to do, combined with the continuous growth of the power of the central government. Today local authorities find themselves more and more merely agents. Then, inevitably, even during that short period of 20 years, there have been enormous changes in the character of particular areas, due to population movements. I think we all agree that, in the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there are many deep-seated maladjustments in local government today. The problem is how it can be revitalised, and how present-day responsibilities can best be allotted.

I would observe, in parenthesis, that whatever decisions are taken and whatever policies are eventually decided upon in regard to the re-organised functions of local government, I hope the dominating principle will always be that the unit of government for any particular responsibility should be the smallest, the most local and the most intimate that can do the job properly. We want local government to be local, and also to remain government. Almost the greatest danger of all facing local government today—particularly the subordinate units—is that people may no longer find the job worth doing.

It is astonishing that during the past four years the Minister of Health and the Government should have succeeded in keeping their ideas about the future re-organisation of local government—if they have any ideas—so effectively under their hats. It seems to me that in that regard the right hon. Gentleman has been shy, modest and retiring. It may be that those are the real qualities of his character and that we have been deceived in thinking otherwise. It may also be that redistribution may involve retribution. There are rumours going about, however, one of which is that the right hon. Gentleman himself is inclined to favour regionalisation. I do not know whether that is so or not. Personally, I hope not; but if it is so I trust that he will tell us in this Debate whether that is his broad idea as to the future of local government.

Another thing I have noticed as a result of my own humble experience in local government is how extraordinarily difficult it is to get local agreement on even the smallest changes. Every local authority regards its bigger neighbour as a rapacious monster with an insatiable appetite. I should like to quote one case which I think illustrates how strong these feelings are. It concerns two parishes, where we had to try to find a site for a joint school. Negotiations went on interminably for a year or two, but somehow we felt all along that we had not succeeded in getting at the true reason for disagreement. Eventually, at a local conference, the real reason emerged when someone said: "Us can't join in with they chaps. They be Roundheads." After that all the clouds went by and we got at the real reason. I am sure the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Medland) will agree with me that down our way it is very often quite difficult to get at the real reason behind such disagreements. I am therefore the last person to underestimate the difficulties.

It seems to me that this business falls into three phases. First, there is the question of dealing with those overdue urgent and minor adjustments which, because they have not been dealt with, are causing confusion and delay: For example, where an authority ought to build a school to serve a population in an area which it knows must very shortly be taken over by another authority. The second phase, quite separate, is consideration of the reorganisation of the functions of local government. The third phase is the carrying out of major alterations to boundaries, resulting from the new policy that arises from the consideration of reorganisation. It may be that the second phase, the consideration of reorganisation of functions, should be carried out by a different body. I shall not deal with that.

Now the Minister has said that the Government do not intend to proceed with the reorganisation of local government at present because it is too contentious a subject and that we must go back to the old method of minor adjustments—Private Bill procedure. The Minister said that this procedure was no more expensive or tedious than Boundary Commission procedure. Is that really so? I believe that in the case of a contested Bill it must be more tedious and more expensive.

Parliament is grossly overworked at present, and here is a bit of business that could be hived off and passed over. It is rumoured that the Minister has implied that in future only those Private Bills which directly deal with schemes involving the housing of surplus population will be approved by the Government, and that all others will be opposed. I do not know whether that is so or not, but if it is the Minister's view, we should like to hear it from him.

What I think is significant is that in relation to the Commission being continued for certain purposes, two important associations, representing local authorities—associations which are not by any means always agreed on such matters—find themselves in complete agreement. They would like to see the Commission continued in order to deal with adjustments of the boundaries of county districts and to carry through agreed proposals in connection with the boundaries of counties and county boroughs.

Photo of Mr Hubert Medland Mr Hubert Medland , Plymouth Drake

To what associations is the hon. Member referring?

Mr. Amory:

To the County Councils' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations.

Photo of Mr Hubert Medland Mr Hubert Medland , Plymouth Drake

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is no agreement whatever, and that district and urban councils are very much against it.

Mr. Amory:

The two associations I have mentioned are among the associations which are agreed on this matter.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

Does not the hon. Gentleman know that in local government, parish councils consider themselves to be most important?

Mr. Amory:

I am a believer in parish councils, and I fully agree that their views should be taken into consideration. I repeat that it is the view of the County Councils' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations that it would be a good thing to keep the Commission in being to work in a limited field, and for the particular purposes of dealing with adjustments of county district boundaries and putting through agreed proposals for altering the boundaries of counties and country boroughs. I ask the Minister to give full weight to the views of these two associations. To continue the Commission's existence, so that it can work in a limited field, will I believe help to clear away some tiresome and frustrating handicaps to the efficient functioning of local government.

5.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Heywood and Radcliffe

I should like to begin by complimenting the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory) on the restrained way in which he has put his case today. It was, if I may say so, a great improvement on the previous speeches from the Opposition benches. I regret very much that the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) should have chosen the occasion to make this a party political issue, because I cannot believe that in any sense the future of local government in this country is a party issue. It is a question of administration, and views on administration may coincide however different may be the political complexions of those members who hold them. To attack the Minister of Health, as the hon. and learned Member did and as the hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) also did, has not contributed to the success of this Debate.

We are not here today to allocate responsibility for the present position. We are here rather to consider what is the best method of procuring the reform of local government and, perhaps by stretching the Debate a little widely, to discuss the principles on which that reform should be based when it takes place. I am, however, prepared to go along with the hon. Member for Tiverton to this extent: I am sorry that we did not, early in this Parliament, attack the problem of local government on comprehensive lines and not piecemeal, as we have done.

I would rather be speaking in support of winding up the Parliamentary Boundary Commission than in support of winding up the Local Government Boundary Commission. We are faced with the position of having altered Parliamentary boundaries to coincide with local government boundaries, and now the whole future of local government is once again in the melting pot. During the last four years we have redistributed the powers of local authorities. We have set up regional organisations of local authorities, and now we have regional organisations for health, education and town planning, which rarely, if ever, coincide.

I think it is a pity that we did not tackle the problem more boldly at the beginning of this Parliament. There is no time now to tackle it before the General Election, especially in view of the political temperature which will be generated during the next few months. Unlike Members opposite, I do not blame the Government over-much for their past reluctance to tackle this serious and delicate problem. It is all very well for Members opposite to attack the Minister, but they might remember that there has been no comprehensive attack on the problem of local government since the Act of 1888.

It is true that a number of minor changes have been made from time to time, but the last major change in the structure of local government was made in that year. In that I am at the moment expressing the view of the Boundary Commission. It is all very well for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) to criticise the Government, as he will be doing no doubt later in the Debate, but he himself was once Minister of Health and had the opportunity of embarking on comprehensive changes in the structure of local government of a kind which could have commended themselves not only to Parliament but to the people of this country as well.

Now we are asked to criticise the Government for not having embarked on this review at a quite exceptional period. During the past four years we have been living in abnormal times, and I think it is justifiable that the Government should have felt that there were other matters to absorb their attention instead of this problem which, nevertheless, is to many of us of outstanding importance.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Weston-Super-Mare

I suppose that the hon. Member does not recognise anything abnormal about the times between 1933 and 1939?

Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Heywood and Radcliffe

Yes, Sir. Those were very abnormal times, when unemployment rose to higher figures than ever before. In many industrial areas the unemployment figures in 1933 were higher than ever before in the history of the country, and considerably higher than at the present time.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Weston-Super-Mare

I was thinking much more in terms of the international situation, which a great many of us were working very hard to meet.

Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Heywood and Radcliffe

I should have thought that the less Members opposite speak about the international situation from 1933 to 1939, the better their friends in the country will be pleased.

In spite of this question of why delay may have taken place, it has been perfectly clear, since the first report of the Local Government Boundary Commission, that the members felt that their terms of reference did not enable them to embark on their work in the way that they would have liked to have done. From the time that this Parliament was elected to the present time, we have been dealing with the problem of local government in a piecemeal manner. There have been many occasions on which Members in all parts of the House have felt it necessary to express views in criticism of measures on the grounds that they have drawn a wholly illogical distinction between the borough and non-borough councils.

Those who have criticised these provisions have been justified in Appendix C of the 1947 report, which shows that 33 of the largest non-county boroughs have an average population considerably in excess of that of 33 of the smaller county boroughs. I can be perfectly impartial on this problem, because I have the honour to represent parts of two county boroughs, two non-county boroughs and two urban districts, and was for a time a member of a metropolitan borough council. I criticised these proposals because I felt the Government were tackling the problem in a piece-meal way. When we had the Fire Services Bill before the House, I made an appeal to the Home Secretary: I plead with the Government to put first things first, to decide what is to be the structure of local government in our country, and then to decide what are the proper bodies to exercise the functions which the Government allocated to them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 1503.] The same point of view was expressed on a number of occasions by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), who I hope will have an opportunity of addressing the House later. It is clear that this point of view began to receive a measure of support in Government circles, because in December the Minister of Health made his already quoted remark that Everyone who knows about local government feels that it is nonsense to talk about functions and boundaries separately. A few months later we had the Commission converted to that point of view and urging it on my right hon. Friend.

This is not a question of allocating responsibility. What we have to do is to decide whether it is right in existing circumstances that the Local Government Boundary Commission should be wound up. I do not think there is any other answer we can give to that but "Yes." It is not the fault of my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. It is very easy for ordinary back benchers to attack the Government for this state of affairs, but this state of affairs has developed under an Act which was passed by this House without a Division and under regulations which were also accepted without a Division. It was open to us or to our predecessors when those decisions were taken, to point out what would be their effect. I do not think it is very helpful to look back to four years ago and criticise the Government for a situation which has developed because of the wishes expressed by the House of Commons in those days.

All of us on these benches have an affectionate respect for the Minister of Health; no doubt Members opposite have a healthy respect for him, even if at times they show their affection in a peculiar way. All of us have a respect for the Chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission, Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, who has done extremely useful work in this connection. His public service, both during the war and since, has been of incalculable value to the country. To have had Sir Malcolm and my right hon. Friend reviewing together the whole structure of local government would have been a great step forward in the history of public administration, but it is clear that the Commission have found it impossible to proceed under the terms of reference which Members agreed to unanimously when they were placed before the House in the early days of this Parliament.

That is the position we are facing at the present time. Under the rules we laid down the Boundary Commission found it impossible to proceed in any useful way with the task entrusted to them. I regret that, but in the circumstances I do not see how we can expect the machinery set up to continue to function efficiently. Like the Parliamentary Secretary, we must express our thanks to the Commission and regret that it should be necessary to bring their work to a conclusion.

It is regrettable that we should have to take this decision. Within the next few months or years, Parliament will be almost deluged with Bills promoted by local authorities to extend their boundaries. We need not panic unduly about that. We have been told by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) about something like 1,000 attempts being made to alter boundaries between 1929 and 1938, but all of those were not opposed changes. In the year 1937–38 there were only three Private Bills promoted by local authorities for the extension of their boundaries which had to be discussed on the Floor of the House. It is true, however, that when it is necessary for a local authority to apply to Parliament for powers to extend their boundaries it is an extremely expensive process to undertake.

The hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) has been doing a little research into Welsh history. I have been doing some research into the question under discussion today, and I find that the Minister of Health has been one of the best friends of local government in this respect. On 13th November, 1929, he moved a Motion, which was passed unanimously: That, in the opinion of this House, inquiry should be instituted into the desirability of so amending the Standing Orders relating to Private Business as to facilitate and shorten the proceedings on legislation promoted by local authorities and to lessen the heavy costs now incurred. I have no doubt that the same principle is still actuating my right hon. Friend's attitude. I am afraid we shall have a lot of Bills of this kind which will place a strain on the legislative machinery of this House. Therefore, I hope that the Government before very long will be able to announce that not only have they the question of local government reformation under consideration, but will be able to give some indication of the general lines on which their mind is working.

As I said at the beginning, this is not a party problem but a problem of administration. I hope, even though it is late in this Parliament, that it may be possible to produce a White Paper of the kind produced towards the end of the war, setting out the problems to be solved and the suggestions of the Government as to how they should be tackled. I hope too that if ever we have to take a decision in this House, it will be possible for the Whips to be taken off, so that we can reach a free and unfettered decision on a matter which vitally affects so many people.

Photo of Mr Francis Bowles Mr Francis Bowles , Nuneaton

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall) seconded the Amendment, but he can speak again if he can obtain the leave of the House.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

We consulted. Mr. Speaker and he gave his Ruling, that my hon. Friend had only spoken to the main question. Now a new question is before the House, namely the Amendment, and therefore my hon. Friend has not exceeded his right to speak because he is speaking not on the main question but on the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Francis Bowles Mr Francis Bowles , Nuneaton

Mr. Speaker's note, which I have here, shows that the hon. Member seconded the Amendment. If he can obtain the leave of the House he can speak now.

5.40 p.m.

Photo of Sir Sydney Marshall Sir Sydney Marshall , Sutton and Cheam

It was under a misapprehension that I seconded the Amendment. I rather think my name was taken in error. I should like now to speak if I have the permission of the House.

The decision of the Minister to bring this Bill in has been received by local authorities all over the country, as he is very well aware, with a great deal of dismay. We have been waiting in local government circles for a review of local government itself. Many attempts have been made, and all seem to have been abortive or to have failed in one way or another. We had great hopes when the Commission was appointed that at last we should begin to see something in regard to the review of local authorities and their duties.

First of all, we understood quite distinctly when the Commission was appointed that their terms of reference and their duties were strictly confined to the question of areas. I remember meeting them at the very commencement soon after their appointment when they discussed with me and with my colleagues some points in regard to the work which lay before them. Subsequently we saw them again, and in my own county they reviewed part of it. We understood in the conference we had with them that they were dealing only with areas, and that the suggestions which they would in due course place before the Minister as regards methods and means would enable local authorities and local districts to have their areas and their boundaries adjusted in very simple fashion. Had the Commission stuck to the original terms of their appointment, the Minister would not have been in the House today asking us to pass this Bill which will dissolve the Commission.

The real reason why the Minister is asking us today to pass this Bill is because in the course of their work the Commission exceeded their duties. There is no doubt about it that the proposals of the Commission in the 1947 report frightened the Minister. I am quite sure they frightened everybody else, because if the Minister attempted for one moment to introduce legislation on the lines suggested by the Commission, he would have been, as the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said, in the position of a man who, having attempted to do something in regard to local government, found that the only thing which he could possibly do was to hurl himself off the cliffs of Dover. I hope that the Minister of Health will not be forced into that position.

It is very obvious to me that we should not have been asked to dissolve this Commission had the 1947 report been in a different shape. Very many of the proposals cut across recent legislation, especially in regard to education. The proposals made under that heading, had they been enacted, would have undone a great deal which the 1944 Act had already accomplished, and return education again to the smaller local authorities, equal to the old Part III authority, which we have abolished, and which would be the absolute negation of the Education Act of 1944. That is only one instance, but I am sorry that today we have been allowed to go into details of the proposals made by the Commission, because it is very obvious that we could not discuss them in their proper measure unless we had a great deal of time in which to do it.

It is very natural for Members to pick out their own districts and show how the proposals would adversely affect them. I cannot imagine any Member referring to the proposals if they did not adversely affect him or his district. As I have already said, had the Commission stuck to their original orders we should not be faced with this request by the Minister to cancel out the Commission.

There are a great many in this House, especially on this side of the House but also on the other side, who know something about local government and who are experienced in it. By dissolving the Commission very many cruel anomalies which exist in regard to the adjustment of boundaries will go on until I do not know when. The Minister has told us today that he has local government again under review, but it has been under review to my knowledge for 20 years and nothing has come out of it. No one can minimise the difficulties that face any Minister who has to introduce legislation and who wants to satisfy the local authorities in the country.

It is necessary that we should deal with the conditions and methods of local government today. I am not one of those who believe that conditions obtaining in local government are as bad as is suggested by so many people. I know the position differs from county to county. It was so in regard to the Children Act. Some counties before that Act were in a very fortunate position in that they were able to do things which the poorer counties and the less happily circumstanced counties could not do. Therefore, it is very obvious that those poorer counties and those less happily circumstanced counties require the aid of the Ministry in enabling them to adjust their boundaries, and in assisting them in the work of local government.

I belong to a county where the Commissioners, after their review, declared that they could not recommend anything, because it seemed that the local authorities were at one. I am only instancing this because it is my own county. The local authorities certainly were at one in relation to the county council itself. Where I think review is very urgently necessary is in the duties which have been laid on local authorities by this Government during the last four years. Those duties have immensely increased in importance, and where the county councils have been charged with functions under various Acts, and where they have carried out their duties so that they could have the fullest assistance by delegation, I think the counties cannot be blamed for keeping in their hand the major portion of the local government of a county. By means of delegation the minor local authorities can have a full share in the administrative measures which today this Government have put upon county councils.

There are many things in the 1947 report which certainly would raise very great controversial issues if any Minister of Health attempted to put them into legislative form. That has evidently frightened the Minister into his present position in playing for safety and dissolving the Commission, whereas it would have been a far, far better thing had the Commission been kept alive and enabled to retain their original duties. In that way they would have given great satisfaction, particularly to counties and county districts all over the country who are needing assistance in the adjustment of their boundaries. I much regret that the Minister has not been courageous enough to keep the commission in being, in spite of the fact that in their 1947 report they went outside their plain duty and made recommendations with some of which I, personally, violently disagree. They produced a situation which the Minister finds too difficult to face at this juncture.

In supporting the proposal in the Amendment I express the hope that the Minister will indicate at an early date measures by which these alterations can be made between one authority and another, without the cumbrous method which had to be followed under a previous Act, to which he is now going to return us, the Act of 1933. If he can do that he will give great satisfaction to local authorities, even without indicating that anything which the Commission reported in 1947 is likely to receive his attention for some time.

The only other point on which I should like the Minister to say something in his reply was mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary who, when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill, said that local government was under review now. The Parliamentary Secretary did not indicate who is making that review. Here is a Local Government Commission which was set up and which, I thought, was charged primarily with adjustment of boundaries as its first duty. Later on they were to be asked, I thought, to make other suggestions in regard to the adaptation of functions, but to deal slowly at first with boundaries. However, that is not to be the case, because that Commission is being abolished and the question of boundaries goes back to where it was seven or eight years ago. We are no better off, and in regard to functions we are still in the air. Unless the Minister can give us some assurance that the matter will be dealt with at an early stage, we are still in a state of suspension in regard to functions.

I have mentioned the new function which the Government have placed in the hands of local authorities, thus proving that the Government have faith to a very large extent in the present system of local government and its set-up. I hope that is so, and that when the Minister replies he will bear in mind the two or three points which I have raised and will try to answer them. It is difficult for the House to discuss anything in the 1947 report. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some information about what he is going to do when the Commission is abolished in regard to an early and easy method of adjusting local government boundaries between district and district.

Photo of Mr Richard Sargood Mr Richard Sargood , Bermondsey West Bermondsey

In the statements made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall) he said repeatedly that the Government were placing upon the shoulders of local authorities more and more onerous and responsible duties. Is not that statement at variance with the election statements put out by the hon. Member and other members of his party at the recent county council election, charging the Government with trying to take away duties and responsibilities from local authorities?

Photo of Sir Sydney Marshall Sir Sydney Marshall , Sutton and Cheam

In no way at all. If the hon. Member, who lives in my district, had read the election literature he would have seen that it commended the Government in regard to the duties and responsibilities which had been placed upon the county councils. He would have seen that full recognition was given by this party to the fact that the functions placed upon local authorities were very commendable.

5.55 p.m.

Photo of Sir Frederick Messer Sir Frederick Messer , Tottenham South

Perhaps I might first add my tribute to those already paid by many Members to Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve and to his Commission. As one who was at the time vice-chairman of the County Councils' Association and chairman of a county council, I was brought into close contact with him and I formed a very high opinion of his ability. I can understand how the situation came about in regard to the Commission. When this House was debating the Act which is now to be repealed, we were concerned with boundaries and paid little attention, I am sure, to what was involved in the rectification of boundaries. I regret that the Bill is necessary, but I quite understand that it is necessary, for the Commission was faced with the necessity of rectifying boundaries which affected services. It was very difficult for the Commission to rectify a boundary affecting a service and then to say that they could do nothing in regard to function.

The position is that we are responsible for giving the Commission a job which could not be carried out, because we had not looked at the consequences. We have to share the responsibility. It was one of the Measures that passed this House when we had a Coalition Government. We were not divided. We dealt with local government matters not from the party standpoint. I repeat that I can understand the reason for what happened while I regret its necessity.

The Commission has shown the very urgent need for the rectification of boundaries. Not many miles from this House it is possible to go along a main road and to go out of the county of Middlesex into the county of Hertfordshire and then into the county of Middlesex again. It is impossible for that kind of thing to continue for ever. We must look at this matter in the light of what is happening when we hear criticism of powers being taken away from some authorities. We must look at the matter in the light of the fact that there is an expanding social service.

The function of local government is the administration of social service. If we expand that social service we must devise some instrument by which that service can be managed. To attempt to do it within the present framework provides all sorts of hybrids such as the administration of the Education Act, 1944, with its excepted districts, divisional executives and nominal responsibility placed upon the county council and the county borough. We cannot escape it. We do not leave to an authority power to do a thing because it has got a name. The county council is the responsible authority for secondary education, primary education, nursery education, and further education, because it is a county council, but Canterbury is a county borough and it has exactly the same powers with a population of 25,000. That is absurd. Rutland is a county council with yet a smaller population. It is clear, therefore, that notwithstanding the repeal of the Measure it will be necessary for urgent attention to be given to the reform of local government in a comprehensive way.

Although I am a local authority man, I am not afraid, unlike some of my hon. Friends, of some services being taken away from local authorities. As I have said in this House before, broadly speaking there are two types of social service. There is the social service which affects the people in the mass but not as individuals. That is a mechanistic social service, such as the provision of gas, water, electricity and things of that description. The service does not matter very much so long as it is economic, cheap, pure and in good supply. It is not a thing which affects the individual. That type of service can well be done by a regional authority. It does not matter how highly centralised it is, for from that centre the function can be decentralised in accordance with the building-up of the machine.

There is another type of social service which does not depend upon mere mechanical efficiency. It is the type of social service which affects the individual and the feelings of the individual. It is a type of service which is individual and personal, such as health, education and the welfare services. By some means we must reconcile the very difficult job of getting a big enough unit to ensure that there will be a high standard in policy, with the devolving of administration on the smallest unit to ensure that the job is done in the best possible way.

Human life is not measured by any mathematical formula. We do not live merely by eating and drinking but by feeling as well, and it is that part of us which is very important in regard to these social services. When reform is discussed, we shall be faced with the problem of having a large enough unit to ensure efficiency and within that machine a means whereby we can devolve on to the smallest unit of government the responsibility for the actual day-to-day work in that field, for that is important. It is not merely what is done that matters; it is the way in which it is done; but we cannot for a moment support the idea of improvement of these social services without recognising that there must be a change in the administration. In that change there is no reason why we should lose that personal and individual contact.

6.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I always listen to the speeches of the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) with great interest, although I do not always agree with him. He has a wide experience of the problems of local government, but I believe he has made in some of his remarks an error into which other hon. Members on both sides of the House have also fallen during the Debate.

I believe that two problems are worrying local government in this country at present. There is the major problem of function and the area which is connected with function, and there is the minor problem of boundary rectification. The hon. Member put it very clearly when he instanced his motor drive from one county to another. I should have thought that that was the type of boundary rectification which it would be the proper duty of a Boundary Commission such as we are today dissolving to correct, as it is one which could not raise the whole question of function.

Hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will probably remember that when the Boundary Commission was set up, it was generally agreed by members of all parties that the bigger question of function and structure should be dealt with, as it should properly be, by the Government and that minor rectification should be remitted to the Commission. The hon. Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) described this as a machinery Bill which merely altered the administration. Mr. Arthur Jenkins, who was a very respected Member of this House and was then acting as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, made that quite clear when introducing the original Measure. He said that it was purely a machinery Measure. Somehow, since 1945, the purpose of the Commission has become changed and I believe that the man responsible for that is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. I believe that the great mistake made in the last five years—a mistake which has cost the country a great deal of money and time—was his outburst in the Committee stage of the Local Government Bill when he said: Everyone who knows about local government feels it is nonsense to talk about functions and boundaries separately. They have to be taken together."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 16th December, 1947; col. 1705.] If that is right—I admit that it is right on any major question of boundary and function, any detailed examination of a one-tier or two-tier structure—clearly that will have with it alterations of boundaries, and that is a matter which only the Minister of Health can determine. However, the Minister then made the Boundary Commission think that because he had used those remarks in that Committee they had for that reason a duty to examine the question of function. That is made quite clear in their second report.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mislead the House and the country in that respect. When I made my statement in Committee, I had already had a conversation with the Boundary Commission, who brought to my notice at the time the fact that they were having very great difficulty in their investigations because they were not concerned with functions. I am now taxing my memory on the spur of the moment and cannot be exactly correct as to date, but I believe that before I made my statement we had already agreed that in their reports they could make reference to functions.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt accurate in his description of what he thought when he made the statement, but if he will again read the Report of the Local Government Boundary Commission for 1947, he will see that they attached to his words an importance which he is now trying to disavow.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

The hon. Member must not falsify history in order to make me a whipping boy. If he will read the last paragraph of the introduction to the 1947 report, he will see: Our experience amply confirms the statement made recently in Parliament. In other words, the report was in process of compilation before my statement was made in Committee, and therefore the report is not the result of a statement made in Committee.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

That was exactly the point I was putting. In their report the Boundary Commission attached an importance to the statement of the Minister which I cannot believe he intended at the time he delivered it. If he did intend it to have that meaning, there was only one possible action he could take and that was to wind up the Boundary Commission at that date. Why I say that he has wasted time and money is that if he really believes that we could not alter boundaries without altering functions, the honourable course was to have come to this House in December, 1947, and to have dissolved the Boundary Commission on that date. Since then something like 677 conferences of local authorities have been held on the assumption that some good would come from the deliberations of the Boundary Commission.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

Does the hon. Member confirm that those consultations have been a waste of time and will not guide the Minister or another Government in the future?

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

If the hon. Gentleman will have patience, I will come to the question of those conferences later in my speech, I am dealing at the moment with the action which I believe the Minister should have taken if he believed that no minor adjustment could take place without any consideration of the question of function. I disagree with that statement which he made in Committee because I believe it to be only an imperfect appreciation of the problem and that we can rectify small boundary questions today without having to go into the question of function. Yet, as a result of this, we have had to wait for two valuable years while nothing has been done.

Now let me come to the question of what will happen to these small boundary alterations. As my interrupter said a minute ago, there have been 1,377 conferences in 80 groups. What will be the result of those conferences? In a number of cases throughout the country there are agreed proposals in the air or on paper. I listened with care to what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary in opening this Debate, and I understood that if it is a proposal which will require a county revision, it cannot take place until 1952. If I am incorrect, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will say so.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

The hon. Member is right.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

Then it means that any proposal which includes a proposal for a county revision has to be delayed for three years. I gathered from what the hon. Gentleman said about other proposals that, unless they had a degree of urgency connected with housing, the Minister of Health would do all he could to prevent them from being put forward. That seems to be a serious state of affairs in the year 1949, four years after the end of the war, when many of the blitzed towns have not yet received the alteration of boundaries that they anticipated they would receive three years ago. What will happen to the proposals of Sunderland, Coventry and Southampton which have made a great deal of progress and to which they have nearly agreed solutions. Are they not to come forward at all? Let me give the House two other examples. I understand that at Bootle and Oldham agreed proposals have been put forward. The Oldham proposal involves some alteration of a county district; is it to be kept back until after 1952, because it has in it a proposal for the absorption of a rural district?

I ask the Government to reconsider this question of the the minor adjustments of boundaries. I believe it is wrong to place a straitjacket on local authorities while the Government are making up their minds on the wider question of function. There is no reason today why we should have the abnormalities of local government, which one finds here and there in Britain. of a non-county borough with a population of 877 and a penny rate raising only £12, or of the urban district councils where there is a council with a population of 840 and a penny rate raising £16. I cannot believe that there is any great division either in this Chamber or throughout the country against rectifying these abnormalities. It is quite true that both the illustrations I have given came from the Principality of Wales, and perhaps for that reason the Minister of Health wishes a straitjacket to continue in order to have those abnormalities at which he can jeer when he is trying to show the weaknesses of local government. I hope that the small adjustments which are so necessary to get good local government will be allowed to go forward now.

We have had from the Parliamentary Secretary no inkling of what would be the idea of the Government on the wider questions of function and structure, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will give some idea of his plans for local government. It is important, because there are most curious ideas going round the country. The "Hereford Times" of 5th October had a report which I hope the Minister has read and which, in case he has not, I will read to him. It said: that the right hon. Gentleman had stated to a deputation which had waited on him that it was his intention that all the small authorities should go out of existence, that a population of something round about 100,000 was the minimum that would be considered, and that the government of the localities concerned would in future be vested in Regional Councils. That report appeared in a paper which has a wide circulation and it connected those views with the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I daresay. There is no limit to the capacity of the British newspaper to invent stories. What is the authority for the statement?

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

This authority was given by a leading officer of a local authority, and this is a report of what he said as a result of his deputation to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Does he refer to the deputation?

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I should have thought that the Press officers of the right hon. Gentleman would have noticed—

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

Surely I am allowed to finish a sentence, even by the right hon. Gentleman? The Minister may not have read this report in the "Hereford Times" of 5th October. Furthermore, I understand that it was in other papers as well, though I have only seen the "Hereford Times," and neither the right hon. Gentleman nor anyone on his behalf has contradicted it.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

The hon. Member gave me no notice that he would make this statement. With his usual recklessness he has not stated which is the local authority concerned, what was the deputation, and who was the official of the local authority who made the statement. It really is mischievous to set these things going without any sense of responsibility.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

Since it is important that these matters should be checked, the local authority in question is the Hereford City Council, it is in the minutes of the finance and general purposes committee, it was a report by the mayor, who attended the meeting, and that was reported in "Berrow's Worcester Journal" on 7th October, 1949 It could not be more categorical.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I am glad that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given me those particulars. All I can say is that that report is absolutely and utterly untrue.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

That was why I drew it to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. It is valuable that at this time he should make quite clear on what lines the Government are thinking—we do not want the details at the moment—because there is going round the country a mass of suggestion that the form of government would be in this direction. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has a publicity service that does not draw his attention to what the weekly papers are saying about deputations.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I cannot follow up every lie.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

It is not a question of a lie or of the Minister's favourite whipping boy, the Press. This is a statement by the mayor of a local authority.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

And I am saying that if I cannot rely on members of local authority deputations to make accurate statements, I will have shorthand writers present in future.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

In the case of the right hon. Gentleman, that would be a very good innovation and I recommend him to do it. Some time he may find it very odd to read the recording of the shorthand writer at the end of a rather turgid speech.

The position is that a very valuable method of adjusting boundaries—which in 1945, if I remember aright, the Minister of Health said was an inexpensive and speedy way of doing so—is being done away with. In its place we are to have a situation in which it will be very difficult for any local authority to alter its boundaries for the next three years. Not only that; if they are able to bring forward their proposals, they will be expensive. The Private Bill procedure is a costly one. I recall the case of a corporation which had to spend some £20,000 a few years ago in getting its boundaries altered. That corporation today is anxious to extend its boundaries.

I ask the Government to consider this matter of small adjustments, especially agreed adjustments. If the present Local Government Boundary Commission is to be dissolved, cannot there be set up in its place another similar small body which will do this work? The hon. Member for South Tottenham, in discussing the Bill in 1945, said it was far better that the task should be undertaken by a commission of independent persons than to rely on people who were themselves in local government. I have never liked the system which is laid down in Section 146 of the Local Government Act, 1933. I have profound respect for county councils, but they are not the best bodies to review their own county districts. Rural and urban district councils have the feeling that county councils must to some extent be biased when considering adjustments of rural districts within their area.

Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve has done a very good job as Chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission, but he has not been well treated. If I were to write to the Minister, by whom I had been appointed on 24th November, asking for an indication of his views on a report which I had made, and if I had no reply for four months and then received one signed by the Permanent Secretary merely drawing my attention to a Question which had been asked in Parliament four days previously, I should feel that I had received scant courtesy from the Minister.

There has been collected for the Boundary Commission a very good team of personnel, both from local government, from Government Departments and from other sources. What is to be the future of these men? I find in the Bill no provision for compensation to them for loss of office. They are suddenly to be dismissed, and I ask the Minister to refer to this question when he replies. Whoever is responsible for the dissolution of the Commission, it would be wrong if Parliament did not treat these men with generosity and justice, and I regret that no mention of them has been made. I hope that the Minister will make the appropriate amendment.

It is my view that the Minister is responsible for the failure of the Commission. He gave them most ambiguous terms of reference in 1945 when he talked of individually and collectively to make effective and convenient units. That was something quite different from what was planned in the 1945 Measure. He has failed to give any answer to the reports which the Commission have consistently given him and now, when he comes to dissolve them, he does not himself explain the Measure he is introducing.

6.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough

Of all the speeches which have been made on behalf of the Opposition, I should say that that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was easily the most potent and logical. We are accustomed, after four years, for the credit of Parliament to be maintained by hon. Members on this side of the House undertaking the functions of opposition in addition to the functions of Government, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has sustained that patriotic duty today.

The nadir of Opposition speeches, however, was surely reached by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) who resorted to retailing allegations and imputations whose accuracy he does not appear even to have bothered to check and whose authorship he was not, apparently, even prepared to disclose until his own leader extricated him from the unpleasant situation by revealing the facts and inviting from the Minister a blunt refutation.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

Will the hon. Member say where I have been inaccurate?

Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough

I did not say that the hon. Gentleman had been inaccurate in his statement. What I said was that he had quoted inaccurate allegations and had apparently taken no trouble to confirm their accuracy and was not even disposed to disclose their authorship. That is a standard of debate which is not very desirable.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

Surely, the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) is doing himself an injustice. Chapter and verse of the most categorical kind were given and the Minister was grateful for it. Nothing could be more categorical than the statement of a mayor to his own city council.

Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough

If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had been listening instead of talking to his neighbour when I was speaking on this point, he would have noticed that I said, not that chapter and verse were never divulged, but that it was left to him to divulge them.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

The hon. Member cannot get away with that. He said that my hon. Friend had quoted inaccurate information and made reckless statements. Nothing more definite could be made than the statement by the mayor, Alderman Piggott, who had attended a meeting with the Minister of Health, relating that they had received certain information and reported publicly in the local Press.

Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough

I must return the words of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself—he cannot get away with that. He is really quite acute enough to make the distinction, which is apparent to every other Member in the House, that I did not accuse the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton of being inaccurate. I accused him of quoting an inaccurate statement. The distinction was perfectly plain.

Hon. Members:

He will do it all night.

Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough

The hon. and gallant Gentleman will have an opportunity, no doubt, of refuting me later.

What is clear from the Debate is that the Opposition speeches have by-passed, either deliberately or by a convenient accident, two very simple, self-evident facts and their consequences. One is that the time for a radical reconstruction of local government is due. That, as a matter of fact, was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) when he quoted a right hon. Friend of mine during his speech; he did not, however, pursue the consequences of that suggestion.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

The hon. Member himself is now a little inaccurate: I am not "right hon."

Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough

I am sorry: I anticipated. The other point on which the Opposition speeches have been strangely silent is that admittedly the Boundary Commission is not an instrument adequate to the purpose of radical reconstruction. That point was made very clear by a quotation from the report of the Boundary Commission itself by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds). If those two things are true, surely it is logical and sensible to wind up the Commission until such time as there shall be a review and definite specific radical proposals for reconstruction; because it would be idle, wasteful and inconvenient to have simultaneously going on two investigating bodies both with their recommendations, and it will also obviously be undesirable to have reconstructions and changes put into effect and then perhaps revised subsequently a very short time later.

I wish to say a word or two about the nine or ten non-county boroughs already mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge. I understand that my right hon. Friend has already received a deputation on behalf of those non-county boroughs, an all-party deputation, and they were received by the Minister in a mood of characteristic amenability which I trust will not have evaporated by this evening. My right hon. Friend realises that for these non-county boroughs this Bill represents a set-back to their hopes—I do not say a demolition of their hopes, but a set-back. They were hoping for an enhanced status. I realise that in local government particularly there is such a thing as the disease of imperial expansion and there are often local ambitions which are hard to justify in the general interest; but there are also ambitions which are perfectly justifiable and are in the interest of local government.

It is on those grounds that I want to bring this point to the attention of the Minister. There is, after all, an optimum size for the carrying out of given functions in local government and indeed an optimum size was set down in one of the reports of the Boundary Commission for what they called "most purposes" boroughs. That size was fixed at between 60,000 and 200,000. What we are discussing is not so much a piece of legislation but a hiatus in legislation, a lacuna prior to legislation. I have no objection to that, but there is an exception contained in paragraph 1 of the Schedule to the Bill which specifies an alteration from the pre-1945 position and inserts the figure of 100,000 instead of 75,000. What is alarming about the present Bill is that, although it is a Bill generally for restoring the status quo before 1945, there is this one exception.

That is the fact which has caused alarm to these nine or ten non-county boroughs and I ask the Minister to give certain assurances when he replies to the Debate. We are putting down no Amendment, but I ask for a general assurance. Will he tell us that in his view the figure of 100,000 is not a magical or sacrosanct figure? I do not know what reasons there have been for changing the figure from 75,000 to 100,000. There may be reasons and we may hear them tonight, but if my right hon. Friend will assure us that they are not irrevocable reasons, that assurance would be worth having.

The second assurance I should like is this. After all, the Commission is a respectable, able body. Its abolition is not a reflection on its capacity in any sense, and therefore the recommendations already made ought still to carry force whatever reconstruction is undertaken. I ask my right hon. Friend to tell us that those recommendations, particularly in respect of the nine or ten non-county boroughs, for enhanced status will carry with him or, if by that time he is occupying some other office, will carry with his successor at least the weight which should properly be attached to the recommendations of this Commission.

6.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Weston-Super-Mare

I feel alarm at the way in which this matter has been brought before us today. I should have thought that the Minister, having made recommendations to the Commission, the Commission having found those recommendations to their liking—although it may have been that they used the recommendations to produce something to the Minister's dislike—and the Minister having given them an indication which encouraged them up the garden path, would have taken steps to see that they walked up the right path. But I cannot help thinking the Minister was rather responsible for seeing that they walked up the wrong path. That being the case, it may be that the course he first attempted to encourage is one that he should have continued to maintain.

I have very great sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman. He is faced, in a matter of a few weeks, by a General Election in which he will have to fight very hard, and no doubt he wishes to make a great name for himself. Nothing could be more fatal than that he should give the slightest indication of his personal views, or the views of His Majesty's Government, on what sort of suggestions should be made, what guidance should be given or proposals framed for a body which is about to review the question of local government.

It is significant that today we are debating an issue which immediately raises the identical issue which we had to discuss only two days ago on the question of the Parliament Bill. There we had to discuss the relation of structure and function. Here again we are thinking in terms of the very great difficulty of taking a decision as to whether we can separate the problem of structure from that of function. On the former occasion, we had to listen to profound statements as to the possibility of considering structure or whether we had to consider function first. I wonder which line the Minister is taking on this issue. Which does he put first? Does he put function first, or structure first? Can he give an indication in that respect?

It is that sort of question which is holding up any sort of hope on the part of smaller local government bodies that anything will be done to put them in a position in which they can see ahead at all. It is all very well for those who take part in the deliberations of vast local government bodies not to feel very worried about it, but they need not feel anything like as worried as smaller bodies. I am not saying that the smaller rural district councils were happy with the recommendations of the Commission. I assure the Minister, though I am sure he is perfectly well aware of it, that the rural district councils are profoundly dissatisfied with their present position. They face the future with dismay. They are not the only dissatisfied people. All the smaller local government bodies are completely dissatisfied. They are completely without knowledge of where they will stand in a few months' or years' time. They have no guidance, no hope, no comfort from the Minister, who is destroying a body which, while it may have been right or wrong in the past, at least held out some hope that the problem was to be under continuous and strenuous examination. That is all to go. We are asked to agree to that body being removed, and nothing else is to happen.

The Minister told the House not long ago that the whole matter is under review. When the results of that review will fructify, we do not know. They will not fructify or even germinate, I suppose, before the General Election. Germination would be far too dangerous a stage of development so near a General Election. When they will fructify, goodness knows. I ask the Minister whether he cannot at least give some guidance as to what this reviewing body is, what it is looking into and what it is reviewing? Is it reviewing the question of structure in the wider sense or only in the narrower sense, or is it to review the question of function whatever the structure may be? Can we not have some sort of information about it? It would help the House in its consideration of this problem today.

I feel sure that the Minister wishes to be kind, although it is almost impossible for us on this side of the House to believe it, so in all kindness let him say something soon which has some meaning for the smaller local government bodies; that is only fair and right. Never will the Minister be able to claim that he has helped local government in any sense, if he leaves the position in the purgatory in which it is in respect of these bodies. How can he expect the best candidates to come forward and serve on these local government bodies when their whole future is indeterminate? The Minister descended with great rapidity from the Welsh mountains down a Welsh valley. Has he lost his impetus? Is he now no longer capable of anything constructive in thought or action? Here is an opportunity. Let him get on with the job.

6.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Reid Mr Thomas Reid , Swindon

I strongly support the Bill, because I think it is absolutely necessary. We were told by the Parliamentary Secretary that there is to be a review of local government. I have no doubt that that review will refer not merely to boundaries but will go to the heart of the whole matter and review the whole construction and set-up of local government in this country. Comparing it with other countries and local government there, with which I have been associated, my opinion is that this review is overdue. The simplification and reconstruction of local government in this country is greatly overdue.

The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said that the Minister will keep these local government bodies in a straitjacket for a long time to come. They have been in a straitjacket for a long time in the past and they have managed to survive. It would be wise for them to continue as they are until the new system of local government is evolved. If we now go on tinkering with boundaries and keeping distinguished men at work on the question of boundaries and evolving solutions in regard to boundaries which may all be swept away as soon as the new system of local government is introduced, it seems to me it would be a futile proceeding. If, on the other hand, there are desperate cases of the straitjacket, the procedure of private legislation can be followed as in the past. Accordingly I cannot understand the opposition to this Bill, having listened to most of the speeches.

I wish to make a few remarks about the town which I have the honour to represent. The population of Swindon is about 70,000. Swindon is in a very peculiar position. It is the only big town in Wiltshire. It has probably one of the most progressive and advanced systems of local government of any town or city in the country. That has always been so whichever party has been in power. It is remarkable that Swindon has had from both parties men with the most progressive ideas, and the administration of the town is a credit to the whole South-West of England. Swindon, which is a non-county borough, wishes to extend its boundaries and become a county borough. But if the Schedule to the Bill is retained, the figure of 100,000 will be stipulated as a dividing line between the county and non-county boroughs. When the new system of local government is devised there may be county boroughs or non-county boroughs —we do not know what there may be and what the functions of all the various bodies may be.

So I do not press for a change in the figure of 100,000 which is laid down in the Schedule but I ask the Minister to state, so far as this Government is concerned, that when the new set-up is brought before the House and the country the fact that this figure of 100,000 is mentioned in the Schedule will not in any way prejudice the case of towns such as Swindon, which are now on the verge of county borough status. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that this figure will in no way prejudice the decision of the Government in drawing up a new system of local government.

6.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Challen Mr Charles Challen , Hampstead

I rise merely to echo some remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and also I think by one or two other speakers on the subject of the work done not only by Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve whom many of us know and admire and value his work, but by the staff of the Boundary Commission. I do not propose to enter into the lists in relation to the general argument but I ask the Minister for some assurance as to the treatment to be accorded to the very experienced and expert staff who have been engaged on this work for a long time. Whatever reviews of machinery the Minister proposes to set up the work this staff has been doing must continue.

Are they to be dismissed at a moment's notice without any kind of compensation or provision being made? Cannot we have an assurance from the Minister, when he addresses the House on this subject, that not only fair and just treatment will be meted out to all those who have been engaged on this work, but that they will continue in this important work and be treated in the way in which this House and the Country would wish. Here is a body set up by Act of Parliament and the Minister comes down and destroys it. He cannot do so without giving a proper undertaking to the House that those who have been engaged on the work shall be properly protected.

6.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Enfield

The Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary have both stressed the fact that if this Boundary Commission is dissolved, we return to the status quo as regards the changes to be brought about either in the boundaries or status of local authorities. I wish to make a plea this evening for one class of local authority which are, in effect, in a worse position because the Boundary Commission was appointed and because its dissolution is now proposed. I am speaking, of course, of the position of those urban district councils which, because of their growth in size and importance, wish to present petitions to become municipal boroughs, that is, to be granted charters of incorporation as municipal boroughs.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the war caused a postponement of any presentation of petitions to raise the status of urban district councils, and immediately the Boundary Commission was appointed, in effect a stand-still was reached. The position was such that petitions were not presented by any urban district, because it knew that if one was presented there was no possibility of it being granted. The reasons were that there was no wish to embarrass the Commission in the event of its being called upon to deal with the areas which had only recently been incorporated; that is to say, if a petition were presented, the Commission would have to accept the fact that that was considered to be a suitable area; and also, presumably, because it was desired to avoid the same problem of determination of the area being dealt with both through a petition and by the Commission itself.

There are, further, certain technical difficulties as regards a change of boundaries of a municipal borough as opposed to an urban district. This advice not to seek petitions given to the urban district councils which had been intending to do so was given informally to the local councils and they acted upon that advice. What I wish to point out to the Minister is that, in my view, the repeal of the Act we are now debating ought to remove these difficulties, and the position ought to revert to the 1933 Act. Under the 1933 Act any urban district council could seek to petition for a grant of incorporation as a municipal borough and that was considered by the King in Council. In practice, it was considered by a Committee of the Council, on which the Minister of Health served, and the King, in the exercise of his prerogative, decided whether or not to grant the petition. But it has been made clear by the Lord President of the Council, in reply to a Parliamentary Question which I put to him earlier this Session, that whereas the position in theory was that these petitions could now be presented, in practice he stated: … I cannot hold out any hope that His Majesty would be advised to grant a charter save in very exceptional circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1949; Vol. 467, c. 22.] These local councils who have been seeking to ascertain what would be considered as exceptional circumstances have ascertained that it would not be considered an exceptional circumstance if these urban districts had grown in size and importance and were seeking a change of status purely on these lines. Those were the normal reasons for seeking a change of status. As a consequence it is not possible for an urban district council, however large it is today, to have any hope that a petition to improve its status to become a municipal borough will be granted.

I should like to give an instance by referring to the town which I have the honour to represent in this House. The town of Enfield has been prevented from obtaining recognition of its importance as a local government unit by a grant of incorporation, which, in my view and in the view of the citizens of Enfield, its size and importance merit. Enfield was considering presenting a petition as early as 1936. At that time its population was in excess of 70,000. Since then its population has grown to 110,000 and it is continuing to increase. Enfield is an urban district twice the size of an average urban district, and if it is compared in population and in rateable value it is the second largest urban district in the country. Harrow is the only urban district which exceeds Enfield in population.

Here is an urban district which is larger than 90 per cent. of the existing boroughs. This has been recognised by the redistribution under the Representation of the People Act, as it is to have two Members of Parliament to represent it after that Act comes into force. So it may be well understood that where there is an urban district of this size and importance it is not just to the citizens to ask them to refrain any longer from seeking to improve their status. I therefore urge the Minister to consider whether it is possible to reverse his decision, and whether he can hold out any hope of any urban district changing its status at the present time. Where there are reasonable or sound reasons for doing so, that should be done.

I know that there is not a great deal of difference in functions and powers between a municipal borough and an urban district in these days, but I know that he will understand how strongly the citizens of these large urban districts, of which Enfield is one, feel in this matter. I ask whether he can give us an assurance that he will take this matter into consideration when he is considering the effect of this Bill; and whether he will change his decision and enable such towns as Enfield to present their petitions in the hope that they will be granted.

6.56 p.m.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

The point which really divides those who support the original Motion today and those who support the Amendment is a fairly simple one, although extremely important. As I see it, those who are in favour of the repeal of this Local Government Act are those who say that, because the Boundary Commission found that in order to do what it was originally requested to do, it would be necessary to consider things outside its terms of reference, therefore it is better to wind up the Boundary Commission altogether. We, on the other hand, say that there were some powers of the Boundary Commission contained in that Local Government Act which might well continue in being, although none of us would disagree with those who say that there is a very considerable field for reform in local government.

The hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) has made in the main a constituency speech, and I do not blame him for so doing as he was on very sound ground. But there is no reason on earth why he should want to wind up the Boundary Commission and repeal this Act in order to achieve what he desires. If the Minister is prepared to tell us what he proposes to do as far as the form of local government is concerned, many of the points made by the hon. Gentleman might be met, and he might find himself able to support the Amendment.

I am a little disturbed about this particular Act being repealed, because I have been looking at the Act. I do not think anybody has mentioned the contents of the Act since this Debate bean. It seems to me that the only thing for which this Act is being repealed is that the Minister, in agreement with the Boundary Commission, has come to the conclusion that one paragraph of one Section is no longer possible of implementation by the Commission. That paragraph is Section 2, subsection (1 b), where is states: The Commission shall have power to unite a county with another county, or a county borough with another county borough, or to unite a non-county borough with another non-county borough, or an urban or rural district with another district, whether urban or rural, or to include an urban or rural district in a non-county borough or any county district in a county borough. If we read the reports of the Boundary Commission, it is fairly clear that that particular provision was the real stumbling block. They found they could not do it only on the basis of altering boundaries but that they had to consider functions as well. Surely just because we find that one Section, or a part of one Section, in an Act is not workable in the present circumstances, we do not want to repeal the whole Act? It seems to be madness. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) pointed out, there are local authorities which are most anxious for some of the recommendations of the Boundary Commission which involve only alterations of boundaries to be put into effect. In Section 2 there are other powers given to the Boundary Commission which I think would cover the very point in question.

There was some dispute during my hon. Friend's speech between him and the Minister about whether or not the Minister had aimed at confining local authorities to an area with a population of 100,000. My hon. Friend quoted from the "Hereford Times." If that quotation is compared with what is said in the 1946 Report, I do not think there is very much difference. The report said: One of the general principles laid down for our guidance … I presume that was laid down by the Minister— … is that, without limiting our discretion by reference to population figures, an order uniting a county with another county should not, in the absence of substantial agreement, ordinarily be made unless the population of the smaller county is less than 100,000. The same figure is mentioned. That is not so very different from the quotation given by my hon. Friend which said that it was the Minister's intention that all the small authorities should go out of existence and that a population of round about 100,000 was the minimum to be considered.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

There is all the difference in the world between the extinction of a small local authority and the proposals referred to there.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

The Parliamentary Secretary thinks so. It appears to me that the quotation from the "Hereford Times" is but an intensified way of saying what is in this report. That is a matter of opinion, I agree.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Luton

The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the union of counties. He has said nothing whatever about county districts, for example.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

I agree. The figure of 100,000 for a local authority is mentioned and there is a definite impression in the country that the Minister is aiming at setting up regional organisations with 100,000 as the basic population. If hon. Members disagree, I will point out that the Minister could easily say what he intends to do. That is what we ask him to do now.

My own constituency is very much interested because in the 1947 Report there was a recommendation that the Isle of Ely should be combined with the Soke of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdon. Some hon. Members have said that they want the recommendations given by the Commission so far, still to have some force. I would say that I hope that they will not have very much force. In the area I have mentioned, that is the general desire. It has been established beyond doubt that the Boundary Commission found itself compelled to consider matters which were beyond the original terms of reference, but I do not consider that that could be said to be a good reason for repealing the Act.

That is the fundamental issue today. That is what we shall vote about— whether or not, just because the Boundary Commission found that it was limited by its terms of reference from really effectively dealing with this problem which was a pressing one, we ought to wind up the Commission and repeal the Act. I submit that the case has not been made today, but that a case has been made for the Amendment which suggests that we should keep this Act in being and use all the parts which are still good. We shall then press the Minister and his successor to let us know what proposals they have for local government in order to bring them into operation as soon as possible, so long as we are satisfied that they are the right ones.

7.6 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Luton

I rather regret that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), like many other hon. Members opposite, has imported into this Debate a degree of personal and political prejudice which is not appropriate to a discussion on a subject of an essentially non-party character and which ought to be conducted on a rational level. We have had speech after speech in which hon. Members opposite, out of their known dislike and fear of the Minister of Health, have sought to load upon him the blame for everything that has gone wrong in the sphere of local government during the past five or 10 years. He is blamed by some hon. Members opposite for not having been the sole dissenting voice when this House unanimously passed the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act in 1945.

He is blamed for what one hon. Member opposite described as leading the Boundary Commission up the garden path. I think it is clear from the Boundary Commission Report of 1947 that the Commission was going up that path long before the Minister had anything to say in the Committee to which reference has been made. The right hon. Gentleman has been blamed because the Boundary Commission has not felt able to do the job which this House decided to give it under the terms of reference which this House gave it. Moreover, he is blamed for not issuing immediate contradictions of every cheap rumour and sensational story which has spread throughout the columns of the hundreds of Tory newspapers in this country.

Finally, we have the hon. and gallant Member who tries to drag in again this already twice and thrice contradicted assertion that my right hon. Friend is in favour of the extinction of the smaller local authorities. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is completely confused about the matter, because the reference which he quoted referred only to the union of counties, and to try to extend that conception to cover all the smaller local authorities throughout the country, and to suggest that my right hon. Friend is in favour of extinguishing them, is a complete distortion of the issue.

I must add my regrets to those expressed by other hon. Members that so much work put in during the last four years by the Boundary Commission has led to so little action—in fact, to no action at all. We have had some extremely valuable reports, excellent surveys and some conferences which will produce valuable matter for future reference. Above all, in the Report of 1947, we have had some really remarkable and courageous suggestions regarding the whole structure and functions of local government. But we have had no orders. The Boundary Commission has not done the job for which it was set up. I certainly do not think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health can be blamed in any sense for that. The Local Government Boundary Commission found that for various reasons it could not do the job which it was asked to do. In fact, it made clear in its final Report of 1948 that it would only continue to do the work for which it was set up if it was allowed to assume that it could do its work on the basis of the Report which it had submitted the previous year and which had not even been considered by this House. If hon. Members will look at paragraph 8 of the 1948 Report, they will find what I think is a rather remarkable statement. The Boundary Commission begins by saying: … it is now our duty to proceed with our work on the basis of the existing statute law and of the General Principles laid down for our guidance. Nevertheless, at the end of the paragraph, we find this: Accordingly we now intend to select those cases in which the Order would be both appropriate under the existing statute law and General Principles, and also, so far as we can judge, appropriate if either the law or the General Principles were amended on the lines recommended in our Reports or in some similar manner. It is rather a remarkable thing that a Commission set up by an Act of Parliament and under regulations approved by this House should, first of all, exceed its terms of reference and present a very valuable Report, and then go on to say that it intends to vary these terms of reference in accordance with its own Report which has not been considered by this House. I agree entirely with the tribute that has been paid to Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve and the other members of the Boundary Commission, but surely it comes very near to pointing a pistol at the head of the Minister and saying: "Either you and the House of Commons agree to what we are intending to do in regard to changes in structure and functions and all the rest, or we cannot go on with the job which we have been appointed to do." Under those conditions, what else could the Minister do but advise the dissolution of the Boundary Commission and a thorough review of the whole question of local government?

I do not want to say any more on the general question now, nor, indeed, about matters particularly affecting my own constituency. As far as Luton is concerned, I hope that it may not be necessary for me to say anything at all in this House when the matter is brought up by my local authority by way of a Private Bill. I do not see why anybody should feel inclined or called upon to oppose Luton in her just claim to county borough status, and therefore I hope that no opposition or discussion on the floor of this House will be necessary, but, should it be, I shall be ready to state the case on that occasion.

I conclude by putting two questions to the Minister in regard to the Schedule. The first is in regard to paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Schedule, in which county councils are forbidden to taken certain action in regard to a change of boundaries until after the end of 1951. I wonder if my right hon. Friend could tell us what is the virtue of this particular date, and whether it means that it is the firm intention of this Government, so far as it is within their power—and I am sure it will be within their power—that a complete review and reorganisation of local government shall have been completed and carried into effect by the end of 1951.

Secondly, in regard to the first paragraph of the Schedule, I would merely say that, as I understand it, Section 139 of the Local Government Act of 1933 will be in force when this Bill is passed in a form which will permit local authorities with a population of more than 100,000 to promote Private Bills for the constitution of boroughs as county boroughs. It is clear from the introduction of this Section into the Schedule that, while in other cases the Minister is suspending the power of the local authorities to make changes, in this case he is leaving the door open to make these changes by way of Private Bills.

7.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Porter Mr George Porter , Leeds Central

I hope the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) and the House will not expect me to deal with the Bill in general, for that is not my intention in intervening in this Debate. I want to raise only one point with the Minister for the purpose of elucidation or interpretation.

I am given to understand that this matter is disturbing the minds of quite a number of local authorities in the country, and the local authority of which I had the honour to be a member for a number of years has written to me and asked that I should raise this particular point. On looking at the Bill before us and the Act of 1945, I find that the matter which I am about to raise is not mentioned—the question of the granting of charters of incorporation. This particular matter is covered by Section 129 of the 1933 Act, which has reference entirely to applications for or the granting of charters of incorporation. I am given to understand that, while that Section still remains in operation and will continue to remain in operation, there have been interpretations of it or instructions given about it enabling Departments to determine the relationship in regard to particular claims that may be made by local authorities up and down the country.

In this intervention, which I make purely because the point has been submitted to me by my local authority, it would perhaps be as well if I used the phraseology of the letter which has been sent to me, and if I leave it there for the comment which may be made by the Minister. In the letter which I received from the Huyton-with-Roby District Council, the clerk wrote: Ordinarily, it is customary for a district, before sending in a formal petition, to make a preliminary inquiry through the Clerk of the Privy Council as to whether the claim is sufficiently strong to justify the trouble of going through with the formalities. Since the Government's announcement of their decision to abolish the Boundary Commision and restore Sections 129–138 of the Local Government Act 1933, which permits an urban or a rural district to seek a Charter, a whole crowd of the larger districts, who have been waiting for 10 years owing to the war and the period of the Boundary Commission, have sounded the Privy Council, or have had questions raised in Parliament, and the answer in all cases has been most unsatisfactory from the point of view of the local authorities, viz.—that, in the present uncertainty of local government, caused by the dissolution of the Boundary Commission, Charters are likely to be considered only in exceptional circumstances, and, since Harrow, with a population of 215,000 and three Members of Parliament, have been told that it is not a sufficiently acceptable case to justify what has already been possessed for centuries by Montgomery with a population of 877, it can safely be assumed that the civil servants who deal with these matters have looked up the word 'exceptional' in a dictionary which is not possessed by me. There are local authorities which want to enhance their reputation in regard to local government, not just from a spectacular point of view but for the purpose of increasing their use as a local authority. I hope the Minister will remove any doubts which may exist as to the treatment which these authorities who make application for a charter will receive at the hands of his Department.

7.21 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

I am sure that the Minister, whether the Boundary Commission be reprieved or liquidated, will agree that this Debate has been of considerable value in enabling him to ascertain the feeling which exists in the House on the matter of the drawing and re-drawing of local government boundaries. I think it has emerged so far that there is a good deal of agreement between the two sides of the House on the general principles. I felt, for instance, that the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. G. Porter) made a point of considerable importance which I, at any rate, would endorse.

I feel that one of the most valuable contributions that we have had so far came from the hon. Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). I am sure that the House was pleased to hear him speak on the subject of local government, if only on hereditary grounds. We recall that his respected father was Minister of Health in a previous administration. The hon. Gentleman also spoke to us from some municipal experience of his own, interrupted I understand for the time being through the action of the electors in the Borough of Hampstead last May. The hon. Gentleman is young, and I have no doubt that he will find his way back to some local authority before long.

I find myself in strong agreement with two points which the hon. Gentleman put to us. The first was his regret that this subject of local government boundary redistribution had not been tackled much earlier in the lifetime of this Parliament. I understood him to say that in his view the cart had been placed with considerable firmness in front of the horse, and that he would have liked to see this matter cleared up and new alignments firmly drawn before the question of redistribution of the Parliamentary seats had been tackled. I think there is a great deal to be said for that point of view. It is, after all, a difficult and confusing situation where there is a difference between a municipal and Parliamentary electoral boundary. I have come across it myself more than once. There is confusion in the minds of the electors and it also throws no small spanner into the electoral machinery. There is no doubt that when we have got accustomed to the present redistribution—a rather painful process—we shall be confronted with a redistribution of local boundaries which will in its turn demand a further Parliamentary redistribution with all the upheaval that it causes. I am, therefore, in agreement with the hon. Member for Heywood and Radcliffe on that point.

I would also support the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members on both sides of the House who have spoken on the subject of the non-county boroughs. A number of speeches have been made from Members with local experience on the subject. Mine will be no exception because it so happens that in my constituency there are two of the oldest non-county boroughs in the country, one of them receiving its charter in the 13th century. It is now a small non-county borough. That is the Borough of Hedon, which existed long before the City of Hull and the ancient borough of Beverley, which is, so to speak, the capital of the Holderness Division.

I urge the right hon. Gentleman, when he considers this matter, to pay the most urgent attention to an element in our life which, I think, can never be exaggerated. That is the feeling of local patriotism—awkward, I know, to national administrators, but none the less firmly embedded. I have no doubt that he will recall, as I do, the attempt which was made immediately after the First World War to extend the boundaries of the London County Council to embrace certain areas in urban district councils lying outside, going as far north, I think, as Barnet. There was immediately an uprising by people with all kinds of political views in those areas at the idea of being brought into this huge organisation. I remember very well a phrase used at the time—I forget by whom, but it gained some currency—that the whale never swallows the sardine to the benefit of the sardine. I thought it was sound then, and I think it is sound now.

I think there is in the small local authorities a very strong feeling of local patriotism and unity, sometimes, I have no doubt, carried to an extent which can be criticised. I was reading only the other day in the local paper of the town in which I was born how two urban district councils which were amalgamated under the 1933 Act, which is a long time ago, were still engaged in bitter controversy as to which of them should have a new public clock erected. In fact, the controversy is now on the level of Debates when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health speaks in winding up. Great controversy seems to have arisen, with hard feelings.

It is of the highest importance that the non-county boroughs should retain their identity and, indeed, their powers of local government. It has been said by hon. Members on both sides that this is not a party question. I do not think it is. For that reason I am going to give an instance of something which happened under the Education Act, 1944, so that I cannot be accused on this occasion of making an attack upon the right hon. Gentleman. I felt, and I still feel, that the handling of the non-county boroughs under that Act was unfortunate. I was unable to be here at the time, but I did make the strongest representations to the then Minister of Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler). I still feel, and I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman before he embarks on any reorganisation of local government, that delegation is no substitute for direct government by the local authority. What so often happens is that the larger unit, a county, absorbs the little non-county borough and says, "You will be quite all right; do not worry. You will still be able to administer your own schools, but you will do it by the method of delegation." It is a very different matter, as many of these small authorities have learnt to their cost.

It is a pity that the Minister of Health has decided to wind up this Boundary Commission. I see no reason why they should not have continued their labours, difficult as they are and difficult as they would be. After all, the sooner the job is begun the sooner it will be finished, and I think the undoubted effect of this Bill is to create in the country a feeling that this is some kind of standstill order which is likely to operate for an extremely long time. It is most uncharacteristic of the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever else may be said for or against him, we on these benches do not associate him with standstill orders. We regard him as a man of action running, generally, in the wrong direction; we are unaccustomed to seeing him standing still. By winding up this Boundary Commission, he has, in effect, done what is well expressed in the words of Omar Khayyam slightly adapted: "come out by the same door where in he went."

7.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

As the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) has just said, we have had an extremely interesting Debate in which the Minister has had tendered to him certain advice and recommendations from both sides of the House. We have also had from the hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) a look back on history. He referred to the part played by parish councils, but he forgot that perhaps the most eminent Tory statesman of that generation, when told of the Parish Councils Bill, growled, "Parish councils! Give them circuses." That was, of course, the kind of interest taken in local government by Conservative circles in those days. Everyone will agree with the tribute paid by the Parliamentary Secretary to the work of the Boundary Commission so brilliantly led, I think one can say, by its chairman, Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. With regard to its work, however, there are rightly differences of opinion as to the validity of some of its recommendations.

One thing is obviously quite certain, that all types of local authorities have not agreed with its recommendations. That point has repeatedly been made, although I expect that there are some local authorities that would never agree to any recommendation except one which would enhance their own prestige at the expense of some other authority. I submit that it would be something approaching a scandal if the long and arduous labours of the Local Government Boundary Commission were simply thrown into the waste-paper basket, especially if that were followed by changes in the structure and functions of local authorities formulated on preconceived lines which have not been subjected to rigorous and detailed examination by those experienced in the practical working of local government.

Before the House agrees to the dissolution of the Local Government Boundary Commission, I think it is only right for those of us who believe it to say that, in our judgment, the 1947 Report of the Commission, published in April last year, is the most important and the most realistic official report on the problems of local government that we have had during the present century. It is true that the Commission travelled outside its terms of reference, and that it did not minimise or disguise the weaknesses of local government today. But—and this is the crux of the problem with which we are confronted—the Commission appreciated that it could not, within its terms of reference, carry out the Government's injunction "to make, as far as is practicable, all local government authorities, both individually and collectively, effective and convenient units."

The Commission faced the facts of the situation. They could play around within very strict limits with the existing pattern of areas—they could only tinker with existing areas—and they realised that to do so would probably be to do more harm than good. Therefore, they brought this House, the local authorities and the Minister right up against the fundamental problems in two short paragraphs. I will quote one of them. It says: The failure of the local government system to keep pace with the changing patterns of modern industrial England is seen most strongly in the huge concentrations of population living in neighbouring towns, which are closely knit as economic and industrial units, but have little or no connection or cohesion as local government units. Most of these concentrations have grown up without regard to ancient boundaries or to those fixed subsequently. In addition to this, the Commission has boldly challenged us and the Minister in regard to the relation of central departments to local governing authorities. It deliberately calls attention to the haphazard allocation of functions, and points out that there has been a development of local administrative units connected with the central Government. It says that, as a consequence, the allocation of functions to different types of authorities, has been unsystematic, and that the process has gone on without much reference to local government as a balanced organism.

Everyone actively engaged in local government knows that to be true. They know that as the result of this haphazard allocation of functions—and this Government are not the only Government who have been involved in that haphazard allocation of functions; it has been a feature of Government action ever since 1919—many local authorities are experiencing a very deep sense of frustration in their daily work. I know that despite these difficulties, many are efficiently and loyally trying to carry out their manifold responsibilities. I make no apology for saying that local self-government is the cornerstone of British democracy. Unless the problems of local government areas and functions are comprehensively tackled in the very near future, the result will be, what everyone having the interest of local government at heart would deplore, namely, an ever-increasing direction of local authorities from the centre by means of circulars, orders, regulations, and so on, and, what perhaps is more important, the bypassing of local government for other types of administration. I agree that we cannot deal with these problems in the few months that remain to the present Parliament.

I would say to the Minister that local government has its roots deep in our national life. Local government preceded central government. If we must dissolve the Local Government Boundary Commission, I beg the Minister to take immediate steps to see that local government—which is one of the contributions which this country has made to an advancing civilisation—is allowed to develop with a genuine sense of responsibility, with a new partnership between central government and local government—a partnership inspired by the spirit of co-operation—and, equally important, with a realisation that all administrative experience is not in Whitehall nor in the central department, but that local authorities, given the opportunity, can make their own distinctive and vital contribution to the public services and the wellbeing of the country.

7.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I approve of the Government's decision to dissolve the Local Government Boundary Commission. We have had several arguments today which go to prove that we need some radical reorganisation of our local government structure and I was very glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary announce that the Government are surveying the whole field. We assume, naturally, that at a later date a report will be published and that that report will be implemented through legislation which, I trust, will be put into operation by a second Labour Government after 1950.

I think we can all agree that some major reform is necessary. I have always thought that this Boundary Commission was only tinkering with the problem and I said so in this House in 1946 when, on the occasion of the Gracious Speech, I pleaded for a major reform of local government and, then, the setting up of a Royal Commission to investigate the functions of local government along with the structure, in all its aspects. Later, I addressed Questions to my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Health, who then, perhaps rightly, thought that the time was not ripe for a major reform. I also remember a Question to the Prime Minister, and he said he felt that there was no unanimity on this question. Since then, through the experience of national legislation imposing further functions and duties upon local authorities, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot tinker with this problem but that we must have a major reform.

Hon. Members opposite have asked the Minister to state his proposals. I should like hon. Members opposite to state their proposals. I wish the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) had stated the views of the Opposition about local government reform and I hope that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), when he winds up this evening, will give us some indication of what a Tory administration would do if they were in power. In fact, they did precious little about local government reform when they were in power.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

Has the hon. Member never heard of the Act of 1929?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

The Act of 1929 is not a major comprehensive scheme of reform. I think it was only tinkering with the problem. Even before a Labour Government came into power in 1945, and before 1939, the functions and structure of local government needed to be tackled boldly and courageously. In my own experience of a local authority, there was great need for drastic reform in the 1930s. But I should like to know what a Tory Government would do now and what the Tory Opposition propose. They attacked the Minister for not being definite about his proposals. Obviously, when the Minister is conducting a survey he cannot be dogmatic. He must assess evidence just as a Royal Commission would assess it. He must certainly take into consideration the valuable contribution which the Boundary Commission has already made. He must, too, bear in mind the views of hon. Members on this side of the House. After all, we cannot be dogmatic about this matter, but I should like to hear some contribution on the subject from hon. Members opposite.

There are some people who put forward the view that there should be a measure of regionalisation, with a large authority and a small area authority, both authorities democratically elected. That view, I know, is held by many hon. Members on this side of the House. I hold it myself. Then there is the viewpoint expressed by responsible organisations like the National Association of Local Government Officers. In their interim report, which was published in 1941, and I think confirmed by a subsequent report, they seemed to stress the all-purpose authority. Then we have the interesting views of various individuals. I can think of one in passing—that of a former clerk to the Denbighshire County Council, Mr. William Jones, who advocated that the county council should be an all-purposes authority, with a main authority above, the main authority to consist of an area comprised of six county councils, the members nominated by the county councils.

We have, therefore, numerous viewpoints on this question of local government reform, and I stress once more that I trust the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities will give us some indication of his view instead of trying to gain some small debating point by attacking the Minister of Health, who is quite capable of looking after himself. I hope all hon. Members will agree with the Minister that we must cast aside this Commission, not because we condemn the work which has been done but because we must tackle this problem boldly. I remember the case of the authority, of which I was a member before the war—a rural district council catering for a population of 90,000. Inside that rural district council we had large mining towns which were for administrative purposes only parts of parish councils. There is one example, and it could be multiplied up and down the country.

We had, also, the experience of the Minister of Health himself when he had to sponsor his Bill dealing with the Health Service. He had to create virtually a new authority, and declared that the old local government structure could not possibly administer the new Health Service efficiently. I entirely agree with him. We have also the experience of the new development areas. I happen to represent a development area—West Cumberland—and in that area we have had to build up a new economy, through the implementation of the Distribution of Industry Act, passed during the war. New industries and new factories need new basic services. In the sphere of industrial planning we had to face the problem of how could numerous local authorities provide efficiently the basic services new industries required.

We have, also, the case which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) and my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). We passed a major Bill—the Representation of the People Bill. The Commission responsible for the alteration of Parliamentary boundaries had to take into consideration local government boundaries. New Parliamentary constituencies were created. I believe, now, that some of those local government boundaries are completely out of date. As a result, some of the new Parliamentary constituencies which we have set up under the Representation of the People Act are out of date, too. So we can have numerous instances to prove that we must somehow settle this fundamental question of structure and functions, and the only way we can do it is to have a major survey, and in the end, I hope, comprehensive legislation dealing with the radical re-organisation of local government.

Whatever system may be adopted all hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that, whatever bodies emerge out of the survey which has been suggested, they must be democratically elected. They must have power to meet the needs of particular localities—Geography, civic consciousness, history, will have to be taken into consideration. If we improve local government it will mean that we are improving the processes of democracy. We must remove old traditions, sometimes, if those old traditions create archaic structures that impede proficient administration. In the interests of efficiency, and in the desire to improve the processes of democracy we must necessarily have a major survey. I am certain that this is not a party matter, but that hon. Members on all sides of the House will agree with the Minister that we must dissolve this Boundary Commission, and have a comprehensive survey, and that, in the end, the Government of the day must assume the responsibility for introducing legislation.

7.52 p.m.

Photo of Brigadier Sir Otho Prior-Palmer Brigadier Sir Otho Prior-Palmer , Worthing

I am very much in agreement with much of what the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) have said. I particularly agree with the hope that for ever local government will be democratically elected. I, as a Conservative, entirely agree with the hon. Gentlemen in this respect, that I believe in doing away with that which is out of date in any system and in retaining the good. But, in order to arrive at a decision in that matter, it is necessary that there should be some sort of body—a Royal Commission, if necessary—to deal with the problem, and to go into it in all its details. I should like to associate myself also with what has been said about the work of the Boundary Commission and of its very able chairman. They have worked very hard; and in my view their 1947 report, as has already been said, was a most excellent document. Let us hope and pray that what is in that report will not be wasted.

Many of the local authorities, particularly the smaller ones, are profoundly disturbed by the winding-up of the Commission. One of the chief reasons, so far as I can see, is that they have no assurance that anything is to be put in its place. We have heard from the Minister that the whole matter is under review. Well, I hope that the Minister tonight will give us a much clearer indication than he has given so far of what that means, and of who is carrying out the review, and whether any conclusion has been arrived at so far. Admittedly, he made the statement only in June this year, and there has not been a great deal of time, but I ask what is proposed to be done between now and the General Election? I am certain from what we know of the Minister that he is not going to stand still, but it will alleviate the anxiety of a large number of people if, when he winds up the Debate, he will give us a clear statement of what it is the Government are going to do in the ensuing months.

We on this side of the House have been accused of not producing a policy. We are asking the Government, as the Government of this country, to say what they are going to do because they are in a position to do it. We as yet are not in that position. When we are we shall tell the people of this country what it is we intend to do.

There is one thing which is quite clear as a result of the winding-up of this Commission, and it is that the main reform of local government has now been indefinitely postponed. It has been agreed on both sides of the House that the time is ripe for the whole structure to be reviewed. Now that, in my view, has been put back a very long time by the introduction of this Bill, and it is for that reason, if for no other reason, that I shall oppose the Bill tonight. It is no excuse or pretext to say that the matter can be dealt with by Private Bill. That is too cumbersome and expensive a process.

We should like to know whether the Government really believe as a whole in regionalisation. The Prime Minister wrote in his "Problems of Socialist Government" in 1933 that, in his view, it was the Socialist policy that there should be Regional Commissioners—and, incidentally, good Socialists at that. Is that what this Labour Government of today still believe? Is that the direction in which we are going? Heaven help this country if it is. The local government which has been built up is the backbone of the central Government of this country, in the same way as the N.C.O.s are the backbone of the British Army, and it will be a very tragic day for England if, as has continually been the trend since this Government came to office, the powers of the small local authorities are gradually whittled away or centralised in a county authority, or even in an authority centred in London.

I am a believer—and an unrepentant believer—in the parish council and the borough council and the rural council. I believe that the man on the spot knows what his neighbour wants far better than any authority sitting in an office in Whitehall or even in a county town, and I think we should demand tonight a very clear statement from the Government of the direction in which they intend to go, and of the methods they intend to adopt in this matter of local government.

From both sides of the House we have had pleas for the non-county boroughs that are desirous of acquiring county borough status. I wish to add my voice to those pleas. The Minister received a deputation on this subject. There is no need in the least for me or any other hon. Member to go into the details of their claim, because the right hon. Gentleman is fully aware of them. I understand he received the deputation with sympathy. I was, unfortunately, in Germany at the time, or I should have been with it.

I hope the Minister makes a pronouncement that the population figure of 100,000 will not be left in the Bill, because if it is, it will become a statutory figure, and, whether he is in power or whether he is not, it will be almost beyond anybody's ability to do very much about it. It must be, in our view, a fluid figure. I think in a way it was a pity that any figure was quoted at all, because I do not believe that this is just a matter of population. There are many other considerations. It may be that there is a borough with more than 100,000 people that is not fitted to become a county borough, and it may be that there is one with fewer than 50,000 which is fitted to become a county borough. My own borough is very much on the borderline, if this population figure is to be the measure. It has got to the 70,000 mark. It is a very progressive and excellent borough, indeed.

Finally, I should like to agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite), who pointed out the defects of delegated legislation, and of direction from the county. It is not working happily in the case of the Education Act, as probably the Minister knows only too well. I could tell him—not now, for it would take too long a time—of the difficulties which are occurring between boroughs and the county authorities. They are on an amicable basis, but there are a great number of difficulties which should not exist. For the reasons which I have given, I wholeheartedly support the Amendment tabled by this side of the House.

8.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Kinley Mr John Kinley , Bootle

I begin by expressing my regret at the introduction of this Bill. As one who has been for a long time deeply and actively interested in local government, and who has a knowledge of the difficulties which confront not all but many of the local authorities today, I regret its introduction. Similar difficulties confronted them 50 years ago under the old order to which we shall be reverting on the pasisng of this Bill. When this Bill becomes an Act, local authorities will go back to that old order which was extremely unsatisfactory.

Naturally, I am not pleased at that prospect. I would have preferred the Local Government Boundary Commission to have remained in existence and to have continued to examine every local authority in the country from time to time to discover on the spot and on the basis of actual experience what was required, not from the point of view of local ambition but in the national interest and from the point of view of the Ministry of Health, which is responsible for providing for all those pockets of citizens scattered throughout the country the conditions necessary to give them a healthy and decent life in healthy and decent surroundings. I would have preferred it if the Boundary Commission, with their experienced officers, had continued their work, and if there could have been an amending Bill which would empower the Minister to accept the reports presented by the Boundary Commission and, by order, implement them, unless he was convinced that contrary action was desirable in the national interest.

I have no knowledge of local government work outside my own county of Lancashire. My town has been mentioned this afternoon by a member of the Opposition. I am not, however, speaking tonight for Bootle. I understand that this year there is a possibility that the people of Bootle will get a few more acres on which houses can be built. That is being done by agreement. I want to speak of those authorities placed similarly to Bootle in the county of Lancashire.

I want the Minister to understand in putting forward this Bill tonight that many hundreds of thousands of decent citizens in Lancashire will be thrown back to the position which they occupied before the Boundary Commission was brought into existence, in which a local authority in need of additional land in order to provide decent housing accommodation for its citizens, was compelled to engage expensive legal advisers to bring forward a Bill either in a Committee upstairs or in a Committee in another place, which led to expensive contests of legal wit rather than to a consideration of the needs of the citizens. In those circumstances the decision is arrived at, not by people like the boundary officers who examine conditions on the spot, but by a Committee in a room upstairs whose decision is frequently entirely wrong and unjust.

I want the Minister to understand that there is an urgent need in many of our industrial towns for more space. Their boundaries need to be extended because they have not at the present time, and they cannot secure under the old order to which they are now reverting, the space that is required if they are to provide for their citizens open spaces, playing fields, houses and schools. From my knowledge of Lancashire, I know that there are many towns in which large sections of the population are today living in conditions that are a disgrace to the country of which they are so proud. They are managed by experienced councillors and aldermen who are cribbed, cabined and confined because there is not the space within their own boundaries to provide the decent housing conditions to which their citizens are entitled and which so far, they have failed to secure.

The time has come when the Minister of Health must decide that it is his responsibility on behalf of the Government to see that provision is made for the decent housing of all those people who have not been able to secure decent housing conditions because a town's boundaries have been too small, and because the county have up to now regarded their town cousins as if they were foreigners who had to be resisted. The failure of a Bill promoted by a small county borough costs a great amount of money and many hundreds of broken hearts, and condemns those people to remain overcrowded.

That is why I would have preferred the Boundary Commission and their officers to continue to survey the whole of the country periodically and make their technical recommendations, and to have a Minister here with the power and the will to make an order wherever it was shown by the Boundary Commission that a town needed 100, 150 or 200 acres in order to provide decent housing accommodation for its citizens and that space was being denied by the county. That land should be included in the boundary of the county borough, not because the county borough ought to have a larger boundary but because the citizen is entitled to a decent house in which to live and bring up his family. We should accept responsibility for seeing that those citizens are not prevented from securing decent housing conditions because of any boundary, whether it be the county boundary, the county borough boundary, or any other boundary.

8.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Chetwynd Mr George Chetwynd , Stockton-on-Tees

I am afraid I cannot accept the validity of my hon. Friend's argument on the housing position, because as far as I am aware there is nothing to prevent any authority from building outside its boundary. As the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, if they need easement for that purpose they will receive every encouragement from the Government when they seek it constitutionally.

At the beginning of the Debate I was in some doubt as to the wisdom of the step the Government had taken, but after listening to every speech, of which there have been about 15, I think there are 15 very good reasons why the Government are right in taking this action Every hon. Member who has spoken has revealed a fundamental divergence of view on the work of this Commission Every spokesman from county councils, county boroughs, non-county boroughs, urban districts, rural districts, and even parish councils, revealed that where there was a specific instance either of boundary improvement, or the taking in of territory, or the establishment of a new county, he would disagree and fight tooth and nail to prevent it from going through. I consider that one very good reason why my right hon. Friend should proceed in this matter.

I want to raise one or two points on the effect this Bill will have in my constituency and the surrounding area, not because that is important in itself—although it is to us—but because from that I can draw a certain general principle and, I hope, implant certain ideas in the Minister's mind when the comprehensive review of local government takes place. The first point concerns the establishment of new counties. It is obvious from the Debate that there are great disparities between the existing counties. They have been in existence for many years, for no economic or social reasons, but purely traditionally and historically. When there is this review, I want the Minister to bear in mind the wise proposal of the 1947 report concerning the Tees-side area as a whole. Living there at the moment is a population of 300,000 governed by the councils of two counties, one county borough and seven county districts: it is a homogeneous whole; its economic problems are the same; the river does not divide it, but rather knits it together. For the purpose of government half of my constituency looks to Durham, over 20 miles away, and the other half looks to Northallerton, nearly 30 miles away, which is a preposterous position to be in today.

I hope my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the statement of the Commission that the present arrangement is unsound for an area which has many common problems, and that when this review takes place he will be thinking boldly in terms of the creation of a county of North Yorkshire. But we could not possibly proceed with that suggestion now, although the Boundary Commission recommends it, because each one of the counties, county districts, and county boroughs would be fighting tooth and nail to prevent it from taking place. We therefore need a breathing space of two or three years to educate authorities on this problem, so that the idea can sink in, and then when my right hon. Friend brings forward his comprehensive report the ground will be fertile and it will go through with the minimum disturbance.

The problem of the non-county borough has already been stressed. Indeed, we have had a very good lobby for it in the House today, and I hope the efforts that hon. Members have made have impressed my right hon. Friend. Tremendous difficulties will arise out of the insertion of the figure of 100,000 in the Schedule, because it means that it will be a barrier to the future advancement of these nine non-county boroughs without a major addition of territory, which is frankly impossible at present.

If the figure were 75,000, then in almost every case by local agreement these nine non-county boroughs would reach that figure and could go ahead with their plans for attaining county borough status.

There is serious perturbation at the loss of functions by non-county boroughs which has been going on in the past four years, both to nationalised industries and through the different Acts passed, to a more remote authority. Our complaint is not about the Acts, but that the non-county boroughs as such have been excluded from a full share in the organisation. In my view, there is no earthly reason why a non-county borough such as Stockton should be in a worse position than many county boroughs less important either in numbers or in economic contribution to the nation. The views of the Boundary Commission on this are clearly that each one of these nine non-county boroughs is as capable as the other county boroughs of carrying on most of the functions they recommend. Nevertheless, I say that it is most difficult to proceed by agreement at the present time without a very great disturbance in local government areas.

I hope my right hon. Friend will also bear in mind that the unsettled relationships between the county councils and the non-county boroughs—and we could all give evidence of it—is very bad for the health of local government; every question of delegation under exsting Acts, in which powers have been transferred to the county councils, now becomes an issue of real importance in these towns, and most towns feel that they have had a raw deal.

I hope my right hon. Friend will announce as soon as he can his intentions regarding both the structure and the functions of local government, so that we know where we stand. The hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) expressed some surprise that my right hon. Friend was standing still in this matter. The point he omitted was that my right hon. Friend is only standing still in order to jump further later on. He has got the background of this report, which will give him a firm jumping-off ground, and will enable him to get a much better result in the future than if he went ahead now and were faced with all the disagreements and disturbance I have mentioned.

8.19 p.m.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

In view of the long discussion we have already had I propose to detain the House for only a few moments before the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) winds up for the Opposition. I should like to begin by congratulating the Minister on having had both the courage and the wisdom to introduce this Bill. I think that he has taken the only step that could have been taken having regard to the three reports of the Boundary Commission, and in having decided, once and for all, to sweep it away no one is belittling the very valuable reports that have been produced. What does surprise me is the Amendment which has been put down by the Opposition, in suport of which we have heard very little this evening. I regard the Opposition's Amendment as a typical obstructionist Amendment, pettifogging and disingenuous in spirit. What does the Amendment suggest? It suggests that the Boundary Commission, which is now being abolished, should be kept in being because it would permit of the … making of minor and urgent adjustments by a simple and inexpensive machinery originally set up by Parliament for the purpose. There is nothing very simple or inexpensive about the machinery under the Boundary Commission. Apart from that and I am not complaining, to date the Commission itself has cost the country £140,000. Perhaps Members had not noticed that one incidental result of the Bill is to save £59,000 per annum—a moderate amount but, nevertheless, a contribution towards the economies we are always being urged to make. It is not right for the Opposition to suggest that the object of the Commission was to enable minor and urgent adjustments to be made. The White Paper of 1945 said: It may be said that to entrust powers of so wide and important a character to a body of Commissioners not directly responsible for Parliament is a drastic proposal. When the Bill which embodied the Local Government Boundary Commission was introduced what did the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) say about it? He knew it was not to be a simple Measure, intending to permit of minor adjustments; he knew it was intended to have far-reaching effects. Although welcoming the Bill he said: This Bill is to deal with a very large problem, and it leaves a doubt in the minds of some of us whether the machinery suggested is really sufficient to deal with a problem of this size."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1945; Vol. 410, c. 1968.] It is obvious that the well-founded doubts of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman were justified. The machinery which was then set up by Parliament has proved inadequate to deal with the problem. How, therefore, can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman complain that the Commission ought to be retained when he himself doubted whether it would be adequate to fulfil its functions and when, in each report, the Commissioners themselves have pointed out that their powers are insufficient, that they cannot deal with boundaries without dealing with the powers of local authorities, and they want further legislative Measures to be passed by this House? I have never seen an Amendment with less justification proposed to this House from the Opposition benches.

It has been said that certain criticisms have been made from these benches. Quite right; it has always been the case in this Parliament that Members on these benches have had to do the duty of the Opposition of providing honest constructive criticism of the Government, a duty which, over and over again, as the country well knows, has been neglected by the official Opposition. That is as true in matters of local government as it is in national matters. If Members opposite had any real concern for the future welfare of local government a number of constructive suggestions could have been made. I wish to mention only one, and for the reason that it has not yet been mentioned. One of the Commission's reports refers, accurately, to the fact that in local government today there is a sense of frustration. It is quite true that the central Government is over loaded and that local government is frustrated.

I welcome the Bill because it wipes the slate clean; it enables the Government to bring forward fresh proposals for dealing with local government. But this sense of frustration, to which the Commission has referred, is not merely a sense of frustration that arises over the boundaries of a particular municipality or county council, or because of their powers. It arises equally, and, I think, much more, because of the unsatisfactory arrangements in the present relationship between the central Government and the local authorities. That relationship is necessarily in a state of flux, because of the large measures of reform in the social services which the Government have been introducing. Therefore, when the time comes to see what the pattern of our future society will be, in the light of the social services that are being administered, one of the essential things for the Government to consider in relation to powers and functions of local authorities is the relationship between the central Departments of the Government at Westminster and local authorities of all types.

This is the cause of much of the existing frustration. Today, local authorities are spending £540 million a year, of which the central Government provide 40 per cent., or £234 million, so that there is inevitably—because there must be some control—a great deal of wasteful and unnecessary duplication of effort on the part of administrative staff between the central Government and local governments. This is a matter which will, no doubt, be the concern of the Minister of Health when having regard to the future pattern of local government. I will not go into details now, because most of us know the tedious steps which have to be taken by every municipality today in obtaining permission for this, a loan sanction for that, and approval of plans for a site and then for buildings, with highly paid technical officers of local authorities very often having to submit their plans and proposals to a relatively less senior staff in the central Departments.

We know that a Treasury Committee has been sitting to work out the whole question of the best and most economic use of local government manpower. Undoubtedly, considerable economies could be made in this field. I noticed from an answer given recently by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to one of my right hon. Friends that that committee is about to produce an interim report. I very much hope that the Minister will tell us tonight that that report will be published, so that it can be publicly discussed and the whole question of relationship between the central Government and local government authorities examined in connection with the future pattern of local government. I agree with what other hon. Members have said, and I hope it will not be unduly long before the promised review takes place. It would, however, be a mistake to undertake this review prematurely. After all, local government is not an end in itself; it simply exists to serve the community. For these reasons I am very glad that the Minister has, in abolishing the Boundary Commission, cleared the decks for a complete overhaul of our local government arrangements.

8.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

I am sure that the House has given long and careful consideration to this Measure, and to a considerable extent from a non-party and a well-informed point of view, from both of which categories I exclude the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher). It is interesting to note that the Government have had a rather poor day. Their supporters have been amongst the foremost of those who have regretted the decision which has been taken. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) both frankly regretted the decision to do away with the Commission, and both frankly advocated its retention, a point of view I commend to the hon. Member for East Islington as worthy of his explanation on some future occasion.

The hon. Member for East Islington carefully skated around that fact, being too anxious to get on to his particular remedy, which was that the Minister should publish the report of a Treasury Committee on staffing; he trusted very much that the Minister would publish it and consider the problem of local government, but not prematurely. The hon. Member was very anxious that nothing premature should be done, but I think he can take it that nothing will be done this side of the General Election. Other hon. Members pointed out the difficulty in which this was going to place them; they were not so anxious as the hon. Member for East Islington that delay should take place.

A most strong and vigorous description of the awkward position in which this was going to leave local government came from many Members in all parts of the House. It is true that some hon. Members thought it would give a breathing space during which local authorities could become reconciled to each other, and this naive optimism was very obvious in the speech of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), who said that if they were given a little breathing space they would become so reconciled. I have been in local government a good many years, and I can say that Tees-side has been breathing about this for a good long time, and the longer it breathes the fiercer it gets. I do not think Tees-side is likely to come to any sort of love feast as a result of the abolition of the Commission. The real difficulty is that this does not leave us with a clean slate at all. It leaves us with the position for which the Government of the day thought some remedial action of some kind or another was necessary, a view shared by Members in all parts of the House.

For my part, when the Commission was announced and when the Bill was under consideration, I did my best to warn the House that this was a very thorny problem and would take a good deal of consideration. But that does not mean that the objects for which the Parliamentary Secretary commended the Bill to the House at the time might not be carried through. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning said that the Bill merely sets up machinery for the purpose of dealing rapidly, efficiently and as inexpensively as possible with boundaries that ought to be adjusted, and sometimes urgently."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1945; Vol. 410, c. 1981.] Members in all parts of the House have said that the Commission can, in fact, carry out these adjustments, the boundary adjustments which will have to be tackled by some machinery or another, and with a cumbersome and expensive machinery as a result of the decision of the Minister.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

indicated dissent

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

I do not think the Minister can wave it aside as lightly as that. The hon. Member for East Islington came forward with a happy suggestion that it was really an economy measure, that as a result of this a certain sum of money was to be saved. He first said the Commission had cost £140,000, but I do not suppose that even he would suggest the whole of that money has been wasted, because that was not the view of other Members, or that its continuing activity, which he put at £59,000, would be wasted. Two or three contested pieces of private legislation in Parliament would eat up all that money and more.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

And a contested order by the Commission.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

That may be, but I think the Minister exaggerates. It may be, but let us take one or two cases in point. The case of Bootle and Oldham were mentioned earlier. There was an Oldham Extension Bill 18 years ago, and it was opposed by the urban district of Chadderton. The expenses of the urban district came to £10,000, and a conservative estimate of the whole thing was that it cost between £25,000 and £30,000. Does the Minister suggest that the procedure before the Boundary Commission is going to cost as much as that?

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I do not want to go into this in the course of my statement, but what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has forgotten all the time is that under the procedure laid down in the 1945 Act, an order proposed by the Boundary Commission, which was opposed in the House, would go through a most expensive, lengthy and frustrating machinery.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

It is not so lengthy, and I do not think it is so frustrating and expensive as the procedure to which the Minister is condemning local authorities in this Bill.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

Oh, yes. The Minister is going back to the previous procedure, and he cannot ride off on that. He must produce facts and figures to prove it. He will agree with me that the procedure he proposes is an extremely expensive procedure.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I am not proposing any procedure.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

The Minister is. His Bill says so in terms. It reverts to a certain procedure. That is the procedure which the Minister proposes, and he cannot get away from it. When the Minister brings forward a proposal here to be sanctioned by King, Lords and Commons, I would say it was a proposal by the Minister, and this is the proposal under which he is asking the local authorities to operate. That is the first reason why there is general regret in the House that this step, admittedly a step backward, has had to be taken.

One hon. Member suggested that the Minister was standing still in order to leap forward, a new athletic conception which is not usual, for a position of complete immobility is a most disadvantageous position for a vigorous impulse forward. The Minister is in a difficult position and cannot be blamed. He has had a report which he can neither accept nor refuse, and he has taken the somewhat drastic method of cutting off the head of the councillor who gave him this counsel. He cannot feel aggrieved if it has caused a certain amount of alarm and despondency amongst other people who are giving him counsel, and amongst those about whom this counsel was given.

I hope the Minister will deal with the point about the staff. It was raised by one or two hon. Members. I trust that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that the skilled technical staffs, who were invited into the new organisation on the understanding that it was a permanent part of our Civil Service machinery will not simply be thrown overboard and told to make their way home as best they can by swimming. I am sure the Minister will be able to give the necessary assurance, because if he is unable to do so, he will hear about it on further stages of the Bill as it passes through the House.

The real uneasiness, however, was because the House is not happy about the position in which local government is left as a result of this decision. An attempt, admittedly a bold attempt, to deal with it by an outside authority has failed. The outside authority brought forward some far-reaching suggestions, and many hon. Members have said that it was good that those far-reaching suggestions should be brought forward by an outside authority. It will be intensely difficult for the local authorities themselves to come to conclusions regarding these matters.

Two great groups of local authorities are supporting our Amendment. The hon. Member for East Islington probably has not heard of either the Association of Municipal Corporations or the County Councils Association, but they are im- portant bodies. They are supporting our views. It is only fair to say that the urban districts and the parish councils do not; but that is proof of how difficult the problem is. It is certainly not proof of either the inadvisability or the impossibility of the course which we suggest, that the Commission should be retained while the review by the Government is carried out. At the end of the day it will certainly come to a review by the Government.

The Parliamentary Secretary gave the assurance that such a review was in progress. He confirmed the earlier statement of the Minister that a sort of running review was going on. The Minister could not say when it would fructify. The Parliamentary Secretary was a little more categorical and said that very few of those changes would go through before the Government came to announce its proposals, that is to say the emergency changes which the Minister himself said were urgently necessary. That must mean that the process is in a fairly advanced state and that the announcement of the decision must be made fairly soon. Are we wrong? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary has gone beyond the permission of the Minister, and the process of fructification is still proceeding in that secret ingemination which always precedes a Government's programme shortly before a very critical General Election.

We would ask the Minister a question. Can he say when the results of this review may be expected? Maybe they can be expected this year or next year. May they be expected before or after the dissolution of Parliament? I do not suppose that the Minister would wish to hide himself behind the possibility of a change of Government. No doubt, if a change of Government came about, the Minister of Health would then feel himself relieved of those many bonds which he places upon himself just now, and would find it possible to give advice from this side of the House much more freely than he is sometimes able to do it from that side.

The difficulty in which the Minister is placed is patent to us all. He is supported in one respect by all of us on this side of the House and only by a minority by that side. The Minister of Health says that Parliament should be dissolved and that there should be a General Elec- tion. So do we all, on this side. Only a minority on that side say so. The Minister is in a minority on that side of the House. If he would join with us I think that we could get that General Election quite soon. Then we could have a refreshed Parliament able to deal and grapple with the subject. Obviously, over all these discussions there has come the aura of approaching dissolution. This Parliament is devoid of the power, vigour and authority necessary to bring forward great constructive proposals such as are necessary to deal with a problem—[Interruption.] Well, if it is not devoid of those qualities, why does it not bring them forward? If it is possible for it to bring forward such proposals, let it do so. I am excusing hon. Members opposite for their supineness and apathy, but if they wish to take it upon themselves, well, if the cap fits, let them wear it.

The review of local government is an extraordinarily difficult task and requires the full weight of authority of a government in the flush of its power. The reform of local government has always been almost the prerogative of Conservative Governments. The great original Act setting up the county councils was the Act of the Salisbury Government, and the next great review, the review of 1929, was the Act of Mr. Chamberlain. These reviews, believe me, are done with great difficulty. It is quite true that all the opposition which has been suggested tonight comes actively to the forefront when actual concrete proposals are tabled. It is not difficult to enunciate general principles; the real difficulty comes in their application.

The Minister knows well how difficult it is to bring about such reorganisations. He has carried out the reorganisation of the Health Service, and some of his colleagues have carried out the reorganisation of such services as gas and electricity. They do not square with the simple statement of one hon. Member opposite that all the new reforms should be carried out by democratically elected local authorities. These are new types of local authorities which are not democratically elected but come into being as the result of an election carried out under the Minister's hat. For all that they are very important and difficult reorganisations to carry through. I have carried through many of them at one time or another.

I have this to say to the Minister. When he says that function and boundary are so closely bound up together, he must not believe that that is mathematically true and true in every case. There are ancient units of government in this country which simply cannot be swept away. There are certain functions which transcend the boundaries of local authorities but that does not mean that for that reason we must abolish local authorities. I had to do with the reorganisation of areas under the Milk Marketing Scheme and some of the health services, the reorganisation of London medical areas for the blitz and the reorganisation of Britain into evacuation areas, all areas of different sizes and some of them truly gigantic. The evacuation area of London far transcended all the boundaries of the greatest London that even the most vehement reformers could possibly bring forward. But at the end of the day there is still such a thing as London, there is still such a place as Norfolk and there are still such places as the county boroughs which have made their voices heard time and again throughout our discussions.

I do not think there is an ideal solution for this, and that is why the Opposition feel that the continuous adjustment which it would have been possible to make by means of the wise use of the Commission would have avoided the freeze and then the explosion which is what we fear will take place if, as the Minister suggests, all movements are held up and everything awaits some enormous and far-swept review, reform and reorganisation of local authorities put together. The Minister has said that he has chosen the end of this Debate solely for the purpose of allaying anxiety. He has a great opportunity before him. The anxiety has spread far. I gave him earlier on the case of the Hereford authority, upon which he seemed to cast some doubt—

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

No, Sir. No doubt at all. Complete certainty.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

The right hon. Gentleman seemed to cast some doubt upon the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and he seemed to cast some doubt on the originator of those remarks. That is a little harsh, because the gentleman who made those remarks is not merely the mayor of an important local authority but the Socialist mayor of that authority. He is a political supporter of the right hon. Gentleman. It is a little harsh of the right hon. Gentleman to cast upon one of his own supporters those furious vilifications which, on lungeing from his seat, he hurled across the Floor of the House with such vehemence only an hour or two ago.

The right hon. Gentleman succeeded somehow or other in arousing in the breast of the Socialist mayor of Hereford the statement that the deputation which had attended on the Minister had obtained information which was alarming to those who believed in the democratic principle in local government. A deputation had waited on the Minister of Health the day before the representatives met, and the Minister had said that it was his intention that all the small authorities should go out of existence, and that government of localities with a population of fewer than 100,000 would in future be vested in regional councils.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

What was the date of that?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

The date was 7th October, 1949. I will give the report to the Minister if he wishes; he might like to see it, and I am sure it will be of the greatest interest to him. That is part of the alarm which the Minister will have an opportunity of allaying, and I am sure he will grasp it with both hands because, in this new and unaccustomed rôle, he ought to lose no opportunity of rehearsing as often as he can.

The real difficulty in which we are placed still remains that of the reform of local government. We have been attacking the question piecemeal. The hon. Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) made that abundantly clear, and it has been made clear by other hon. Members throughout this Debate. Perhaps it was inevitable under the circumstances, but it has left in the minds of local authorities the fear that somehow or other powers and duties are being whittled away, in some cases almost without due consideration, accidentally, and by their own friends. An hon. Member opposite said, "Ours was the party of local government, it grew up in it; who can suppose that we should attack local government?" That is what alarms the representatives of the local authorities so much. Time after time they see great services removed from their purview, great areas in which they learn the secrets of modern administration taken away, and they do not regard the opportunity to run a concert or a cinema as entirely making up for the loss of those great services.

The electricity departments or the gas departments of great local authorities have been the administrative workshops where people have learned their skill, and the deprivation of them has certainly given rise in the minds of local authorities to a profound uneasiness. This is not felt simply by one section or another in the country. Some of them fear an extended regionalism. That fear may not be justified, but there are proposals still going forward which make the local authorities fear that this is the end which will be attained, though it may not be the desire of those who are travelling along that road.

Hon. Members have asked us what are our views upon local government, Our views are very much those of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds), that it should be local and that it should be government. For instance, we do not believe that the removal of the water undertakings from local authorities would be an advantage. The Minister has made some general statements about the nationalisation of water, as he calls it. What does he mean by that? Does he mean a further removal of such undertakings from the great local authorities?

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Or from the water companies.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

Or from the water companies? Yet there are many local authorities, such as the great local authority of Glasgow, which does not suffer from anything like a water company; neither did it suffer from anything like a gas company. However, that did not stop the Government—which is not concerned with democracy or even with popular election but merely, as the Minister said on a famous occasion, with power—taking these things away from the democratically-elected local authorities and putting them under nominated boards.

The uneasiness of the local authorities is certainly a thing which the Minister will have to dispel. In former views on geology there were two schools, the evolutionary and the cataclysmic—those who believed that changes had come about gradually, and those who believed that things had been brought about by a series of volcanic explosions. The Minister, if I may say so, belongs to the cataclysmic school. He is all for bringing things about by a series of violent explosions. In fact, he said as much to the representatives of one of the many American deputations who visited him. He explained that he had brought the Health Service into existence all at one time because, of course, that greatly reduced the opposition which could be put up against it.

That is the argument of the volcano when it blows up, and the Minister might, in the terms of a modern popular novel, take as his badge "Flames Coming Out at the Top," that being the way in which people most readily recognise it. Local government was not brought about by people with flames coming out at the top. They fear very much the impact of a fiery reformer such as is suggested, and that fear will continue until the Minister is able to table his proposals.

We are asked what we would do. Certainly, we would call the local authorities into consultation. We would do our best to meet those authorities themselves. There are many things which we think should be done now: that municipal transportation, for instance, should be returned to the municipality. These are things which we should need to discuss with the local authorities themselves. I do not think that the Minister so far is noted for long and careful consultation previously with those whom he is about to reform. His reforms have been described by one of the greatest soldiers of our time—Field-Marshal Montgomery—as partaking of the nature of military operations rather than reforms. The local authorities rather fear that this is the smokescreen preliminary to the bursting forth of the armoured squadrons of the Minister which may take place now at almost any time.

Those are the reasons why we say that the retention of a body which was able to continue the slow fitting of the structure of local government to the needs of the citizen would have been an advantage; that it is not necessary to despise small changes because they are not great; that some of the reforms which have been advocated, even this afternoon by hon. Members, would have been of the greatest advantage to the crowded cities or urban districts concerned, and that the prospect of a hold-up until 1952 is a prospect which some of them greet with the utmost uneasiness. We are more than justified in tabling our Amendment. We certainly shall divide upon it, and I trust that some of those hon. Members from the other side who have expressed their sympathy with the objects of the Amendment will find the courage to prove what they said—that this is not a party matter—by following us into the Lobby.

8.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I have had the pleasure of debating with the right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) almost since he was elected to the House of Commons after the 1945 Election and I know very well that whenever he uses a speech rich in metaphor and adorned with allusion, it is because he is particularly unhappy and not quite sure about his facts. When he he was accusing me just now of being supine because I did not at once come forward with a whole scheme for the reorganisation of local government, it was a characteristic use of false antithesis.

If I might be blasphemous—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]—if I might border on being blasphemous, I would say that if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had preceded the Creator he would have continued to argue with the Creator that he had been supine on the ground that he did not bring the whole world into operation on one day.

If I may introduce a purely personal note, I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) for being kind enough to recall the fact that one of my first activities in the House was to move a Resolution, as far back as 1929, calling for the establishment of a Select Committee for the simplification and cheapening of Private Bill procedure by local authorities. As a matter of fact, the Select Committee was appointed. My proposal was not received with any enthusiasm by the Opposition at that time, indeed it was not received with any enthusiasm in some Parliamentary legal circles. But a Select Committee was established and presided over by Sir Dennis Herbert, then the Chairman of Ways and Means, and we had a very useful report and cut down the expenses by something like 50 per cent. That I think, should establish my personal credentials as being anxious to enable local authorities to obtain powers from this House without having to pass the gauntlet of extortioners in the process.

Furthermore, if we are to speak about the vitality of local government and the achievements of the Government since 1945 in this respect, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will probably recall that in 1948 we passed the Local Government Act, which dealt with the equalisation of rates and enables a very large number of local authorities in Great Britain to discharge their functions which very many years of Conservative administration had denied them. It does not lie in the mouths of right hon. and hon. Members opposite to speak of their concern for local government. Indeed, many of the services which had grown up in our local authorities had been established by long years of struggle against Conservative-inspired ratepayers' associations, property protection associations and all the various alibis under which the Tories masqueraded until Lord Woolton simplified them.

It does not really lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to speak of their love for local government, because they did their very best to starve it, both by denying central funds and at the same time always fighting on behalf of local rate payers against municipal activities. I make this confession at once that when local Conservatives were absorbed in local government activity many of them became good local government men—very many of them. I will be quite frank and say that I think the late Neville Chamberlain did local government in this country a great disservice by derating. It is too difficult to put the eggs back into the shells now, but it is perfectly obvious to many of us that by those derating proposals he withdrew from local government activity a whole milieu of personalities that had enriched it. So that if hon. Members wish to aggravate me into reminiscences, I can produce a good many shot and shell for them because until I came to the House of Commons and for some time afterwards I spent most of my life in local government activity in almost all the branches of local government.

I say furthermore that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his colleagues are labouring under a delusion if they think that the procedure of the Boundary Commission is simple and inexpensive. It is no such thing. In the case of unopposed proposals the old procedure was simple and inexpensive: Parliamentary sanction was obtained for them with very little expenditure indeed. That applies to the Boundary Commission's orders. When those orders are unopposed, when agreement has been established by local inquiry, the procedure is inexpensive and simple, but when objection is taken to the orders of the Boundary Commission the whole paraphernalia of Parliamentary counsel is invoked.

In fact, one of the difficulties facing us about the procedure of the Boundary Commission is that what has been done in the case of opposed orders has been to superimpose Parliamentary procedure upon the Boundary Commission's own procedure. So what has been done has not been to set up "simple and inexpensive machinery" such as is referred to in the Amendment. It is of no such character. This must always be the case whenever an expedient is adopted which appears to by-pass the House of Commons. Immediately we try to do that then hon. Members in all parts of the House will rise and say "How are you to protect the objector?"

In other words, if we have an extra-Parliamentary machine in order to try to simplify matters and the only way of simplifying is to by-pass Parliamentary procedure there will always be the person in the House of Commons who will ask "What appeal has an objector against a decision by this tribunal?" This argument when invoked is always so potent that an appeal is always allowed against the tribunal to Parliament itself. When that happens the very expensive machinery we try to drive out is readmitted by the back door. That is exactly what has happened in the case of the Boundary Commission. Indeed before I came to my decision about the Boundary Commission, I took out sample cases of where the local authority was having a Bill opposed and where the Boundary Commission was having an order opposed, and the amount of time it would take to get them through was about the same.

I do not wish to overstress my case, and there is still the fact that if a proposal came to this House supported by the Boundary Commission it would be much less likely to meet with obstructive opposition. That is quite right, and that residual advantage was left—I make a present of that—but it was not of sufficient advantage to compensate for this expensive procedure.

I have been asked by some of my hon. Friends about the position of non-county boroughs which aspire to county status. Here I must protest against the interpolation into the Debate of the quotation which was used by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). We had a fairly urbane discussion apart from his intervention.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

And the right hon. Gentleman's.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

But, with his usual bad manners, he thought it was necessary to introduce into this Debate a more stringent note. I do not object. I am prepared to give several Rolands for his Oliver. He said, and the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) repeated the statement that the Mayor of Hereford had made a statement which was reproduced in a local newspaper. I at once say that I am not prepared, without further investigation, to admit that the mayor did say this, because we all know how some of those local newspapers report local council meetings. So I am not prepared to admit that he did say it. All I can say is that assuming that he did say it, I cannot understand it, because I do not remember meeting a representative of Hereford City on any deputation.

I have met representatives from a number of places, Luton, and other representatives of non-county boroughs. But Hereford was not there, and I am quite sure that those who were present on the deputation that day, including hon. Members of this House, would not now say I said that. I challenge them. But, of course, we know what happens. I have here a report of the "Sunday Express." This is the kind of thing which is being reproduced day by day by some of our national newspapers and which does the very greatest amount of harm.

The heading is "Bevan 'terrified.'" Councillors are wondering why Mr. Bevan decided to drop the Commission. Said Mr. Harold Bedale, Town Clerk of Hornsey, yesterday, 'We believe Mr. Bevan intends to take the "local" out of local government. He was, we know, terrified by the local election results. We understand he wants to divide the country into the old Civil Defence regions and have inside these a small number of all purpose authorities.' All this is in quotation marks. The gentleman who is referred to, Mr. Bedale, who is secretary of a non-county borough's committee, wrote a letter to the editor of the "Sunday Express." In a letter addressed to my private secretary he states: I have this morning read the Minister's speech at Tredegar and feel sure I shall have his sympathy. He goes on to say in a copy of a letter addressed to the editor of the "Sunday Express" and dated 31st October: On Thursday last a representative of your paper was in touch with me to ask whether I could verify a Press report of a statement made by the Mayor of a provincial town"— Hereford, of course. We see how one newspaper takes up the nonsense another newspaper prints.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

—that at a meeting of the non-county boroughs recently held in London, a statement had been made that the Minister of Health proposed the abolition of all local authorities of lower than 100,000 population. He also asked what was the purpose of the meeting of which he understood I was the secretary. I informed him I was present at the meeting, but I had no knowledge of the statement referred to, and was sure it had not been made.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

This is very interesting but it has nothing to do—

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

There was some rather insulting language used by the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary. I do not ask him to repeat it, but he might in the future keep a closer guard upon his tongue. I was saying that we are interested to find that the Minister reads the "Sunday Express." Nobody on this side of the House referred to the "Sunday Express" at all. Let him get on with it.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Really, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot ride off like that. This is the same deputation and the same conference at which I was alleged to have made the statement referred to, and this person who has written this letter to the "Sunday Express" is the secretary of the local authority side of the deputation. Really, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must take it: he has asked for it.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

The letter continues: I informed him that I was present at the meeting. … I also told him that the purpose of the meeting was to consider the future of local government in its relation to the proposed abolition of the Boundary Commission and the centralisation by successive Governments of what the non-county boroughs believed to be local functions. Your representative made some observations about recent elections and regionalisation but I told him I knew nothing more and he thanked me for my assistance. These are the facts, but I regret to say that the report contained in yesterday's issue of the 'Sunday Express' conveys quite a different impression and is a complete misrepresentation. The report has caused me great embarrassment and may cause me injury in my profession. I was really making that quotation in order to try to show to the Opposition that they ought to have the same distrust of newspaper reports that I have got. Therefore, they should not waste the time of the House in basing an argument upon a quotation from an obscure provincial paper.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I referred to the statement reported in the "Hereford Times." I never quoted the "Sunday Express" or the Town Clerk of Hornsey. Do I gather from what the Minister is now saying that he did not make any of the remarks quoted in the "Hereford Times"?

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

It is not even necessary for me to say so. The secretary of the local authorities present has said in this letter that in fact no such statement was made.

Photo of Brigadier Robert Thorp Brigadier Robert Thorp , Berwick-upon-Tweed

I must say that I would rather believe him than you.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

On a point of Order. The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Thorp) distinctly imputed that what the right hon. Gentleman was saying was untrue.

Photo of Mr Francis Bowles Mr Francis Bowles , Nuneaton

I think I heard the remark. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, "I would rather believe the secretary than the Minister." That is not out of Order.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

The right hon. Gentleman was referring just now to newspaper reports. Perhaps he will explain why the "Daily Herald" today makes no comment on Messrs. Cooper Brothers' examination of the groundnut scheme.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

This is the queerest form of reasoning that I have ever heard. In one case, a lie is justified because in another case something is not said. As I understand it, however, it is not correct. I understand that the "Daily Herald" has reported it.

What I have said I have said in that regard because it enables me to make a statement which is a consequence of the deputation which I received. I said that I would consider very carefully their representations and the fears expressed by the representatives of the non-county boroughs on this deputation. What they said was that it was not that they felt that they were prevented from coming to Parliament for a rise in their status, but because, by retaining the 100,000 rather than the old 75,000, I would be giving the impression that I attached some sacrosanctity to the figure of 100,000, and that it would serve as a guide to future administration as to the kind of limit below which populations ought not to be given county borough status They also said that if I could find it possible to recommend the Government to alter the figure, they would give an undertaking that they would not, in fact, promote Bills while the review of local government was under way. In view of what they say and in view of the fear they expressed, I am prepared to consider, in Committee, the substitution of 75,000 for 100,000.

The discussion which we have had this evening upon the future of local government has been extremely interesting. It would be quite wrong for me at this stage to give any idea at all to the House of the nature of the proposals that the Government have in mind. All it would do would be to give rise to general speculation and unrest. It is far better that the proposals of the Government should be made known as a whole, because if we let the country know only a part of them and give an incomplete picture, at once there will be all kinds of speculation as to what the complete picture will be like.

But I do beg the House to realise that here we are in a field where there are no party divisions at all, and that is why I deplore the Amendment on the Order Paper. All it really does is to try to snatch up a few "unconsidered trifles" of discontent and mobilise them in the service of the Opposition vote, but, if the Opposition think that the local authorities will thank them for this, they are very much mistaken, because there is no common body of opinion in local government circles in this nation as to what local government reorganisation should be like. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted counties and boroughs as being in favour of his Amendment. There is no unanimity amongst these, either; not by any means. There is very great disquiet amongst them, while the rural and urban authorities are in favour of the abolition of the Commission.

It was suggested that I had been responsible for misleading the Commission, which is one of the amiable suggestions made by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. What actually happened was this. Members of the Commission discovered in their investigations that, every time they considered boundaries, functions came up all over the country, no matter where it was, and they told me that they found that this was embarrassing and that it would be difficult for them to make a report on boundaries alone. After some discussion, I agreed that they could go outside the terms of reference and make a report which would call attention to the necessity of an alteration of functions and boundaries and make some tentative adumbrations on the reform of local government.

I did that because, as I expressed to Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve and Sir John Maude at the time, I hoped that, knowing very well that there was no party feeling about this, I could start discussions going in local government circles throughout the country which might eventually crystallise into a common body of opinion which might form the basis of legislation. It must always be the hope of this House that, whenever we try to reform local government, we should carry local government opinion with us. After all, we have to live with these people, who are an important part of our constitution, and we must try to get the highest common measure of agreement. It was not, therefore, seeking an alibi; it was in order to try and promote an argument about it, to try to get away from the old county borough versus county council—I do not know what the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton is smirking at. There is nothing to smirk at. I should have thought that it ought to be a part of the function of any Minister of Health to try and get discussions going in local government circles in order to get a common body of opinion. Is there anything wrong about that?

What happened after the 1947 report was issued was that discussions did take place, but no common body of opinion has emerged. Therefore, there are no proposals which can form the basis of the reorganisation of the local government of Great Britain. We then considered what further steps we should take because we were, and are, conscious of the fact—a fact that is not only a postwar fact, but was a pre-war fact—that the local government of Great Britain badly needed reorganisation. Most of its structure is ill-suited to the nature of our society, and some alterations are required.

We thought it might be a wise thing first to establish a Royal Commission, but the difficulty of a Royal Commission is that if we had on it all the elements forming local government they would disagree on the Commission, and all we would have from the Commission would be a series of minority reports representing various currents of local authority opinion. If, on the other hand, we had a Royal Commission which did not contain any of the elements of local government, it would carry no authority in local government circles. Therefore, we came to the conclusion that the correct procedure was for the Government themselves to accept the responsibility of examining the whole position, and of ultimately bringing forward their own proposals. That examination is now in being.

The reason why we are postponing the use of certain powers until the end of 1951 is because we are hoping that our proposals will have matured, and that, therefore, any attempts on the part of local authorities to change either their functions or the boundaries in the meantime will be assimilated and overtaken by the proposals of the Government. That is the position as it stands at the present time. Where local authorities urgently need to alter their boundaries—that is, where they require to have land in order to build houses—then we have said that, as far as the Government are concerned, we are prepared to support proposals of that kind. But we are not prepared to support proposals which are so far-reaching in their character as to make changes that might obviously have to be assimilated in the changes that the Government themselves will propose.

I wish to say just one more thing before I sit down. Obviously, local government, if it is to be local government, must be local, and I entirely agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds)—that efficiency is not the only test to apply to local government. There are some things to which that test is not entirely applicable. The citizens of any of our great communities require an emotional identification with something which is smaller and more immediate than that of the nation itself. Local government is a part of the emotional, spiritual and aesthetic equipment of modern society, and, therefore, it is something to which we cannot only apply the test of efficiency, because if we apply that test to the ends of life as well as to the means of life, then we have a soulless and stereotyped community.

One does not apply the test of efficiency to laughter, and one does not apply it to any of the appetites. One does not apply the test of efficiency, or one ought not to apply it, to any of the biologically pre-conditioned inheritances. Therefore, it does not seem to me to be a good idea always to apply the slide-rule to all one's activities, and especially to local government. A reform of local government that may be justified on the ground that it can produce the most efficient machine is not necessarily the same kind of reform that will satisfy all the other imponderables we need from local government.

It is in the mind of the Government that, whatever reforms are made, they should preserve the vitality of local government and local government administration. I hope, although perhaps I am an idealist, that when they are produced they will receive universal approbation. Although I am not a person who tries to minimise the acerbities of political controversy, I hope that when we do make these proposals they will be examined objectively, and that we shall not try to make party capital out of them, because if that happens, if reform of local government becomes a football of party controversy, we can say goodbye to any local government in Great Britain.

In the last few years many changes have taken place in the functions of local government. It has been a part of the difficulty of the Commission that, at the moment when it was making its reports, functions were being transferred from local authorities to the central authority and from one local authority to another. The Commission were having to consider the problem at a time when the foundations were continually changing, as it were. That may be the reason why this machinery that was established in 1945 proved to be so inadequate. Parliament at that time had no conception of the spate of legislation that was to be produced by the post-war Parliament. What they were really devising was a machine for pre-war conditions which eventually had to be applied to a post-war set of circumstances.

It has therefore been found necessary to wind up the Commission. I am grateful to the Commission for the work it has done. Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve is an extraordinarily able man, and so is Sir John Maude, the Vice-Chairman. They have done a great deal of valuable work which is very helpful to the Government. We have no need to regret the Commission having been set up, but it is now necessary to have it dissolved in order to make way for major proposals.

Question put "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes. 229; Noes, 89.

Division No. 270.]AYES[9.35 p.m.
Adams, Richard (Balham)Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
Albu, A. H.Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)Paton, J. (Norwich)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Haire, John E. (Wycombe)Pearson, A.
Alpass, J. H.Hale, LesliePeart, T. F.
Anderson, A. (Motherwell)Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)
Attewell, H. C.Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Popplewell, E.
Austin, H. LewisHardy, E. A.Porter, E. (Warrington)
Awbery, S. S.Hastings, Dr. SomervillePorter, G. (Leeds)
Ayles, W. H.Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Pritt, D. N.
Baird, J.Herbison, Miss M.Proctor, W. T.
Balfour, A.Hobson, C. R.Pryde, D. J.
Barstow, P. G.Holman, P.Ranger, J.
Barton, C.Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Rankin, J.
Bechervaise, A. E.Houghton, DouglasReid, T. (Swindon)
Berry, H.Hoy, J.Richards, R.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Hubbard, T.Ridealgh, Mrs. M.
Bing, G. H. C.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Binns, J.Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Blenkinsop, A.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Royle, C.
Blyton, W. R.Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Sargood, R.
Boardman, H.Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)Scollan, T.
Bowden, H. W.Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Segal, Dr. S.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Jeger, G. (Winchester)Shackleton, E. A. A.
Brook, D. (Halifax)Jenkins, R. H.Sharp, Granville
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)Simmons, C. J.
Brown, George (Belper)Keenan, W.Skinnard, F. W.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.Smith, C. (Colchester)
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Kinley, J.Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Burden, T. W.Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D.Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)
Burke, W. A.Lee, F. (Hulme)Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Carmichael, JamesLeslie, J. R.Sparks, J. A.
Chetwynd, G. R.Levy, B. W.Steele, T.
Cobb, F. A.Logan, D. G.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Cocks, F. S.Longden, F.Stubbs, A. E.
Collindridge, F.Lyne, A. W.Swingler, S.
Cooper, G.McAdam, W.Sylvester, G. O.
Corlett, Dr. J.McEntee, V. La. T.Symonds, A. L.
Cove, W. G.McGhee, H. G.Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Crawley, A.McGovern, J.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Cullen, Mrs.McKay, J. (Wallsend)Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Daines, P.McKinlay, A. S.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Davies, Edward (Burslem)Maclean, N. (Govan)Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield)McLeavy, F.Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Davies, Harold (Leek)MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Tiffany, S.
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)Macpherson, T. (Romford)Tolley, L.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Mainwaring, W. H.Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Deer, G.Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)
Delargy, H. J.Mann, Mrs. J.Viant, S. P.
Diamond, J.Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Dobbie, W.Mathers, Rt. Hon. GeorgeWarbey, W. N.
Driberg, T. E. N.Medland, H. M.Watson, W. M.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Mellish, R. J.Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)Messer, F.Weitzman, D.
Edwards, John (Blackburn)Middleton, Mrs. L.Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)Mitchison, G. R.Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Edwards, W. J. (Whiteshapel)Moody, A. S.West, D. G.
Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)Morgan, Dr. H. B.Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)
Evans, John (Ogmore)Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Fairhurst, F.Moyle, A.Wilkins, W. A.
Farthing, W. J.Murray, J. D.Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Fernyhough, E.Nally, W.Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Field, Capt. W. J.Neal, H. (Claycross)Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Forman, J. C.Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Fraser, T. (Hamilton)Noel-Buxton, LadyWilliams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Ganley, Mrs. C. S.O'Brien, T.Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Gibbins, J.Oldfield, W. H.Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Gibson, C. W.Oliver, G. H.Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Gilzean, A.Orbach, M.Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)Yates, V. F.
Gooch, E. G.Palmer, A. M. F.Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Gordon-Walker, P. C.Pannell, T. C.
Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)Pargiter, G. A.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grey, C. F.Parker, J.Mr. Snow and Mr. George Wallace.
Grierson, E.Parkin, B. T.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Glyn, Sir R.Nicholson, G.
Amory, D. HeathcoatGomme-Duncan, Col. A.Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Baldwin, A. E.Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Peake, Rt. Hon. O.
Bennett, Sir P.Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.Raikes, H. V.
Bower, N.Henderson, John (Cathcart)Roberts, H. (Handsworth)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Hinchingbrooke, ViscountRobinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Cmdr. J. G.Hogg, Hon. Q.Ropner, Col. L.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.Howard, Hon. A.Sanderson, Sir F.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Hurd, A.Savory, Prof. D. L.
Butcher, H. W.Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Carson, E.Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)Spearman, A. C. M.
Challen, C.Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Kerr, Sir J. GrahamStuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Lambert, Hon. G.Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
Crowder, Capt. John E.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Cuthbert, W. N.Lennox-Boyd, A. T.Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Davidson, ViscountessLloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.
Dodds-Parker, A. D.Lucas, Major Sir J.Turton, R. H.
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)McFarlane, C. S.Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Drayson, G. B.Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Walker-Smith, D.
Drewe, C.Maclay, Hon. J. S.Ward, Hon. G. R.
Eden, Rt. Hon. A.Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie
Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. WalterManningham-Buller, R. E.White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Erroll, F. J.Marples, A. E.Williams, C. (Torquay)
Foster, J. G. (Northwich)Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)York, C.
Fox, Sir G.Mellor, Sir J.
Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)Molson, A. H. E.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.Mr. Studholme and
Gage, C.Neven-Spence, Sir B.Colonel Wheatley.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tomorrow.