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Sixth Schedule—(Enactments For The Purpose Of Which Money May Be Borrowed By Local Authorities Repayable Within Periods Other Than Thirty Years)

Volume 441: debated on Tuesday 29 July 1947

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I beg to move, in page 279, line 30, at the end to add:

'28. The Fire Services Act 1947.
Such period not exceeding sixty years as the Secretary of State may fix.
29. The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1947.
Such period as the Secretary of State may fix."
This Amendment is consequential upon the Fire Services Act, 1947, and the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1947.

May I ask a question purely for information? This Amendment is to add the Fire Services Act, 1947, and the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1947, to the Schedule. Neither of these are yet Acts of Parliament, and I should like to be in formed what will be the state of affairs if neither of these Bills becomes an Act of Parliament when they are already included in this. Bill.

It we do not accept this Amendment now, there would really be two codes in operation when the two Bills become Acts, and this is simply looking ahead arid avoiding creating real difficulties in having two codes.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I was asking him what would happen in the eventuality I described. I do not think he is quite certain himself.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. Westwood."

11.34 p.m.

I think it would be churlish if the House dismissed this Bill without a single sentence. I think the Committee has acted with wisdom and discretion tonight. It is true that, as you ruled, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the Commitee has had the power to amend this Measure. Yet it is clear to all hon. Members that a Bill of between 300 and 400 Clauses and many Schedules could not have reached the Statute Book if the Committee had exercised its rights. The Committee, in its discretion, has not insisted on those rights, which it certainly has, but that does not in any way prejudice the position of any hon. Member. In any consolidation Measure there are items to which objection is taken by one side of the House or the other. The Bill incorporates many Measures over which acute controversy took place at an earlier stage in this same Session. On this side of the House we have not taken any opportunity which, undoubtedly we could have done, to raise these matters. I am sure that this is a novel procedure. There is a certain difficulty. Pure consolidation, of course, is a simple matter. The draftsman lays his hand on his heart and swears he does not alter the law in one jot or in one tittle; and in that respect, of course, no amendment is made. In this instance, Members have exercised their discretion, and have handled a Bill in which amendment is possible, and to which a certain amount of amendment has been made. It was not, therefore, possible for anyone to give an assurance that powers of amendment are drastically limited in the case of a consolidating Bill. I think that in this case and in other cases it will be very desirable for the consolidation of the law of Scotland to proceed, as a platform from which departure can be made in future. Undoubtedly, as the Secretary of State has said, Measures affecting the local government law of Scotland will be brought in, and there will be matters of fierce controversy. On those, it will be possible for argument for and against, to be brought up and voted upon.

But the House and all Scotland will benefit greatly by having before them a clear statement of the law of the land, extending back in some cases over 100 years, when this Measure is on the Statute Book. I am, however, glad the Bill is reaching the Statute Book tonight, and I think we should be sorry not to pay a tribute to that great public servant, Sir John Jeffrey, chairman of the committee which worked on this Measure and framed it. He has not lived to see the conclusion of his work, but it is a great and solid piece of work, and it is by virtue of such work and such enactments that the dignity and power of our Statutes in Scotland and elsewhere will be maintained and extended. I think it is a good piece of draftsman's work that the House is passing now.

11.38 p.m.

I quite agree that the local government officers, and those who are administering local government in Scotland, will welcome this Measure, because it gives them a great number of Measures in a limited compass; but I am pretty certain that if local authorities in Scotland had understood that they could have amended this Measure, they would have preferred, as I should have preferred, to spend the whole of next year going through the Bill and amending it in accordance with the wishes of the people of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State knows and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) knows, that ever since the Local Government Act of 1929 was placed on the Statute Book there has been trouble with the local authorities in Scotland. This Bill does not touch that in the slightest degree. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, if it had touched any of the provisions of the 1929 Act, they would have opposed it. It would not have been an agreed Measure, and it would not have been before this House tonight. The small burghs, of which we have heard something in the course of this discussion, were stripped of many of their powers. The district councils, which used to be really effective bodies and did the real work of local government, were reduced to mere shadows of what they were under previous Acts of Parliament, practically with no powers at all.

Had the local authorities in Scotland known that this Measure could have been amended, they would have desired an overhauling of the whole of the local government system that is embodied in this Measure. It concerns not only the provisions that are laid down in the Act of 1929, but the provisions which were laid down in the Education Act, which was a compromise in order to get for Scottish education the conditions that had been provided for England by the English Act. The administrative Clauses were not touched. These are matters of considerable importance and they would certainly have presented material for a very interesting discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee. I ask my colleagues, especially my English colleagues, to remember that in this Measure there are whole sections upon which not a word of discussion took place in this House. The Government of the day did not send that Measure to the Scottish Grand Committee, but had it taken on the Floor of the House. It was driven through against the wishes not only of the Scottish Members but of the Scottish people. The Secretary of State for Scotland himself has admitted already that there are provisions in this Bill that he would like to see altered. These provisions would have been altered if the Scottish Members had had an opportunity of discussing them in Scottish Grand Committee.

The Secretary of State for Scotland has got his Measure. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the Scottish Universifies says that the whole of Scotland will benefit. No; not the whole of Scotland at all. It does not make any difference. These are simply consolidated Acts of Parliament and so far as Scotland is concerned there is no change. I agree that those who administer local government in Scotland will benefit to the extent of having these provisions in a handy form for those departments which are dealing with local government in Scotland. I would have been prepared to spend the whole of next year in Scottish Grand Committee and so that we could have a proper Scottish Local Government Bill The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) laid down a very interesting dictum when we were discussing another Bill. He made observations on codification which ought to be followed in this case instead of passing a Measure which is distasteful in many respects. We should have had in this Measure provisions which would have been acceptable at any rate to those who sent us here from Scotland.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.