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Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1960 Apr 13 We
Margaret Thatcher

HC Standing Committee [Public Bodies (Admission of Press to Meetings) Bill]

Document type:speeches
Document kind:House of Commons Committee
Venue:House of Commons
Source:Hansard HC Standing Committee C [219-272]
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:1030-1312. Fifth Sitting reproduced in its entirety. MT spoke at cc.234, 238, 242, 245, 252, 255, 267, 269, and 270.
Importance ranking:Minor
Word count:19140
Themes:Local government, Local government, Local government, Local government, Local government, Media, Media, Media, Media, Media
219

PUBLIC BODIES (ADMISSION OF THE PRESS TO MEETINGS) BILL

Standing Committee C

Official Report

Wednesday, 13th April, 1960

[Mr. H. Hynd in the Chair]

Clause 1.—(Admission of Press to meetings of local authorities and other bodies.)

10.32 a.m.

Mr. Victor Yates

I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, to leave out from "whenever" to "by" in line 12 and to insert:

"in the opinion of the body publicity would be undesirable".

The Chairman

I suggest that for the convenience of the Committee we should take along with this Amendment the following Amendments:

In page 1, line 11, after "whenever", insert "in their opinion".

In page 1, line 12, after "interest", insert "or to private interest".

In page 1, line 12, after "interest", insert:

"or to the interest of the body".

In page 1, line 12, after "interest", insert "or to private interests".

In page 1, line 13, after "transacted", insert:

"or of the need for the giving of private advice to the body by any of its officers".

In page 1, line 14, leave out:

"stated in the resolution and".

In page 1, line 14, leave out "and" and insert "or".

In page 1, line 18, at end insert:

(3) Without prejudice to the generality of the last foregoing subsection it shall be deemed to be prejudicial to the public interest for any matter involving the consideration of the status, means, health, conduct, or personal circumstances or relationships of any individual to be discussed in the presence of the Press.

Mr. Yates

That would be for the general convenience of the Committee Mr. Hynd. I shall make only a slight reference to some of those Amendments.

Having passed from Clause 1 (1), I must assume for the purpose of my argument that the Press may be excluded from all committees of all local 220authorities which exercise delegated powers. Subsection (2) gives local authorities permission to exclude the Press during the whole or part of the proceedings of any meeting exercising delegated powers. When I tabled the Amendment I had in mind a large authority like Birmingham, which has 33 standing committees, all exercising delegated powers.

The Amendment seeks to delete:

"whenever publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest".

That is to say, that the Press may be excluded whenever publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest. I seek to delete those words and say:

"whenever in the opinion of these bodies publicity would be undesirable"

leaving the following words:

"for other special reasons stated in the resolution …"

Some of my hon. Friends have tabled Amendments which seek not only to put in the words "in the opinion of the authority" but also to include "private interest as well as public interest". I think that it would be better for us to be clear what is meant by "public interest" before we start to include private interest as well. Perhaps the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) or the Minister will say what they mean by "prejudicial to the public interest".

Surely that is a matter of opinion. What is a vice to one man is a virtue to another. What is meat to one man is poison to another. Therefore, what the Press may regard as prejudicial to the public interest may not be regarded as prejudicial by a local authority. It is ambiguous to say that the Press may be excluded whenever publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest. It is easy to think of cases where it may be undesirable that publicity should be given to a particular matter, but whether one would say that it was definitely not in the public interest to do so is a different matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart ) seeks by a later Amendment to define public interest. The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins ) seeks to qualify that further by saying that any matters including the privacy or status of individuals should not be regarded as matters which should be discussed in the presence of the Press. 221

One could think of matters which affect individuals as such but which it would be in the public interest to discuss. I therefore suggest that it is better that we should say, in the words which I seek to put in, that we should have the power to exclude the Press whenever publicity is considered by the authority to be undesirable. It would be extremely difficult for local Government officials, not only before a meeting was held, but perhaps during the course of the meeting, to advise on the spur of the moment whether a matter ought not to be discussed in the presence of the Press.

There should be no ambiguity about this, for this reason. Any exclusion of the Press would be subject to an application to the courts if the Press were dissatisfied. The onus placed on local authority officers would therefore be extremely heavy. The hon. Lady made this clear in her speech during the Second Reading debate when she said:

"Where a public right is infringed, as it would be in the event of the Bill becoming law and local authorities wrongfully excluding the Press, any person can apply to either the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General for what is known as a relator action."—[Official Report, 5th February, 1960; Vol. 616, c. 1356.]

It is important that there should be no ambiguity about this because it would be undesirable if in a large number of cases the Press challenged in the courts the right of the authority to propose the exclusion of the Press.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dulwich is not here. The Amendment in his name says:

"Without prejudice to the generality of the large foregoing subsection it shall be deemed to be prejudicial to the public interest for any matter involving the consideration of the status, means, health, conduct, or personal circumstances or relationships of any individual to be discussed in the presence of the Press."

The proposed new Clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham says:

"The words ‘public interest’ … shall, without prejudice to the generality of their meaning, be interpreted to include respect for privacy concerning the personal affairs of any person."

Those Amendments are concerned with individuals, and one can see at once that if one is discussing the personal conduct or qualifications of a local government officer that would clearly be 222understood to be private, but what would happen in the case of a company, which is not an individual partnership firm, whose interest could be seriously prejudiced by publicity in certain circumstances?

I will give the Committee five examples where, because of the existing doubt about whether these questions would be prejudicial to the public interest, the doubts would not be removed even if we wrote in the words "prejudicial to the private or public interest". First, when tenders are being considered, questions often arise about the ability of the lowest tenderer to perform the contract, and the financial standing of the company. It would be very difficult to discuss those matters in the presence of the Press although there would be no certainty that the public interest would be involved.

Secondly, an informal application for planning permission should not be considered with the Press present because premature information of developers' intentions would be contrary to private interest. Whether they would be contrary to public interest, is again another matter.

Thirdly, in regard to trading committees, or those with allied functions, more serious developments would be likely to take place. Let us consider, for instance, the Birmingham catering committee, which is the equivalent of a board of directors, managing a number of catering establishments in the City. Would it be fair and right that that committee should have to expose the whole of its business methods to its competitors, while those who were competing against the authority through their boards of directors could keep secret their business and advertising methods? The same may be said about other committees. The Birmingham Municipal Bank is a wonderful example of efficiency and public enterprise. It would be undesirable, as well as inefficient, to have the press present whilst matters were being discussed by such a committee. It would be monstrous if great trading committees were obliged to open all their discussions to the Press and to their competitors who are seeking more or less to destroy their power.

Fourthly, there is the consideration of questions about the prosecution of persons. I am thinking, for example, of 223a breach of the food byelaws. At present it is not customary for publicity to be given when prosecutions are not to be made. It would be undesirable if in such cases publicity was given to matters about which the authority had decided not to prosecute and the details were brought out even when the individuals concerned were not to be taken to a court of law.

10.45 a.m.

It will be readily agreed that advance publicity of such financial matters as the issue of stock, the rate and time of borrowing, investment of capital funds, superannuation and so on is undesirable, but I do not think that by this Clause one could exclude the Press on the ground that the public interest was prejudiced. I believe that the phrase "publicity undesirable" is more important than such words as:

"publicity prejudicial to the public interest."

The County Councils Association has, I think, forwarded memoranda to all members of this Committee giving the views of the Parliamentary Committee of its Executive Council. The Association says:

"The question whether publicity would be prejudicial to public or private interest should be clearly stated to be a matter of the opinion of the authority."

The Association of County Councils in Scotland says:

"The matter should be one to be decided according to the opinion of the body and should not be open to challenge as to whether a particular matter is prejudicial to public or private interest."

I support that view. The Association of Municipal Corporations has expressed a view similar to that which will no doubt be expressed by the hon. Member for Dulwich when he deals with his later Amendment, but that view refers only to individuals and not to the matters to which I have drawn attention.

If the Press were to be admitted to all the meetings of local authorities and to meetings of their main committees—I will not say sub-committees, but main committees—exercising delegated powers, it would mean that on innumerable occasions doubt would exist as to whether the matters to be discussed, or the matters that were being discussed at the time, should be discussed without the Press being present because it would not 224be in the public interest. For the avoidance of ambiguity, I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke )

The hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates ) asked one or two questions, and if I rise now it is with the intention not of curtailing the debate but, if possible, of clarifying the issues. I think that that would be the hon. Gentleman's desire.

There are really two main questions in this Amendment and the Amendments that we are discussing with it. On the first point, I hope that the Committee will not agree to write into the Bill some such words as:

"in the opinion of the body."

If we are legislating on this subject at all we should be doing so in such a way as to give the courts a reasonable chance of pronouncing, in the last resort, if there is a dispute, on whether the body concerned has been acting in accordance with the views expressed by Parliament.

If the words:

"in the opinion of the body"

are inserted, I think that it will make it extremely difficult to avoid a situation in which the body will be virtually judge in its own cause. To my mind, at any rate, the fact that Parliament has given this Bill a Second Reading suggests that the House of Commons would wish there to be an opportunity for the courts to review a matter in dispute, and to reach a decision on it.

The hon. Member, however, said that he did not attach so much importance to that as to the second point to which these Amendments refer. In particular, I think that he is concerned about the words:

"prejudicial to the public interest,"

which he thinks might have too narrow a connotation. I am advised that in appropriate circumstances those words would certainly cover the discussion of affairs which were private to individuals or, indeed, to firms.

It is quite clear that an authority cannot do its job properly unless, in certain circumstances, it can discuss the affairs of private individuals, and discuss them in a manner that will not be quite 225unfair [sic] to the private interests under discussion. Perhaps I may put it this way. Local authorities and other public bodies have entrusted to them by Parliament functions that frequently require the consideration of what might be called private affairs. It might be a question of whether any action is to be taken against some tenant who is in arrears for rent. I take that as a very simple case, but one can obviously think of much more complex ones, and at a higher level. That is something that must be discussed, and it is inherent in the nature of the work of local authorities that they are primarily executive rather than legislative bodies. Therefore, they have to consider the application of their action to private citizens.

It follows from that, I think, that the proper execution of the functions entrusted to them by Parliament would really be impossible unless there was complete disclosure of private circumstances to the local authorities on appropriate occasions but, of course, there never would be that disclosure if disclosure of one's private affairs to the local authority meant that they could be discussed in public without any breach of the law and with no possible restraint at all.

All of us who have experience of local government are well aware that there are certain matters of a private nature—because they refer to private individuals or certain organisations—that have to be discussed in private. I am advised that the words "public interest" cover that position. Those words are, I believe, in the 1908 Act, and they have never been interpreted by any court as not extending to the type of case that the hon. Member has in mind.

Further questions, of course, arise out of another Amendment, in page 1, line 12, which refers to the "interest of the body." There are certain cases where the interest of the body is such that it is also the public interest. The most obvious instance that at I can think of is staffing. A local authority must recruit and retain competent staff. To do that, it must discuss staffing and salary questions and, maybe, the salaries of individual members of the staff.

It is generally accepted, I think, that there may be occasions when such 226matters should not be discussed in public. Indeed, my experience in local government is that, normally, a council which has to take a decision about the salary of an individual member of its staff will, if there is any dispute about it, so arrange its affairs that the subject is not discussed in public. The council simply announces its final decision.

I do not think that anyone could possibly object to that, and I am advised that matters of that sort, which might be described as being

"to the interests of the body"

would be covered by the words in the Bill. In fact, I find it impossible to imagine a situation in which it would be legitimate to claim privacy for the proceedings in the interests of the body unless that claim was also based on public interest.

If it was argued that it was in the interests of the body that something should be discussed in private because the decision was likely to be unpopular and that, therefore, it would be nicer for the body not to expose its discussion to the public, that is certainly not a loophole that Parliament should provide for the body. If one were to write into the Bill some such words as:

"to the interest of the body"

one might very well be opening the door to procedure of that kind. As I say, I am advised that there can be no question that matters of staffing and so on would be effectively covered by the Bill as it stands.

The final point is that concerned with the giving of advice to the body by any of its officers. That is touched on in the Amendment in page 1, line 13, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart ). It might, of course, not only be officers. The advice might be given by outside people—consultants and so forth—and should be given in private. I have always felt very strongly that it would be extremely damaging to local government if one were to create a position in which the chief officers of the council had no opportunity to express their views without fear or favour except in the presence of the Press, who might easily give trouble.

I take the obvious case. There are certain circumstances in which a treasurer must express his unqualified 227view of the dangerous financial implications of some course of action, and it would be virtually impossible for him to do so if the Press were present and that official's view was clearly distasteful to his own chairman, the leader of the council, or whoever it was. Local government will not work unless officials are enabled to give advice without fear or favour, just as, if I may say so, Parliamentary Government would not work if Permanent Secretaries did not have the opportunity to give their views in private to Ministers without any qualification. If all that were to be exposed to public view, any Government would find it extremely hard to carry on. I can certainly say from my own experience that the work of Parliament would not benefit.

I am advised here that the importance of receiving advice in private from a chief officer of a council or some other person whose advice was proper to be heard would be covered by the words in lines 14 and 15,

"special reasons …   . arising from the nature of the business or of the proceedings".

There is no question at all that it would be possible for a body to go into private session in order to hear advice from its officers under the provision here relating to special reasons.

11.0 a.m.

My part in this debate is really to inform the Committee of the advice I have on these Amendments. It is for the Committee to make up its mind. It is a little difficult for me to discuss the matter in detail because there are various Amendments down to Clause 2 which would somewhat alter the scope of the Bill. I confess that I have been speaking with those Amendments in mind. If I understand aright what the hon. Member for Ladywood said, I certainly can advise him that the dangers which he fears would not be likely to arise if subsection (2) went through as it is, and it is not necessary to import into the Bill the words "private interest" in order to protect the private affairs of individuals from discussion in public. The Bill as it is drafted requires no further Amendment to make it possible for the body to proceed in private session if it wishes to hear the advice of its officers without the Press or the public being present.

228

Mr. Robert Jenkins

In order to save time, I should like to hear my right hon. Friend's comment on my Amendment which is being discussed at the same time. Does what he has said in regard to the Amendment put down by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates ) apply to my Amendment in page 1, line 18? Is he able to say that what he has said about the other Amendment applies equally to what I suggest in regard to

"any matter involving the consideration of the status, means, health, conduct, or personal circumstances or relationships of any individual to be discussed in the presence of the Press"?

Mr. H. Brooke

Yes, I had in mind also my hon. Friend's Amendment. I advise the Committee that it is not necessary to accept his Amendment in order to achieve the result which I think he has in mind.

Mr. Robert Jenkins

In those circumstances, I do not propose to proceed with my Amendment.

Mr. G. W. Reynolds

I am glad that the Minister has explained his position to us this morning, although I feel that if he had made a great deal of his speech to us this morning during the Second Reading debate we might not have been sitting here this morning dealing with the Bill at all. Indeed, much of what he said was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell ) and myself on that occasion, including even the example the Minister himself gave this morning.

In the light of other Amendments which have been set down, particularly in Clause 2, page 2, line 37, I now look at these Amendments bearing in mind that, in all probability, if the Committee should agree to the later Amendments, we should all the time be talking about meetings of the whole council and committees which include members of the whole council.

In my view, the part of Clause 1 to which these Amendments refer is, having regard to the explanation the Minister has given, quite satisfactory as regards meetings of the full body or of committees of the full body. On the understanding that we shall come to the Amendments which have appeared on the Order Paper this morning, I hope that the Committee will accept this subsection as it stands.

229

Mr. Michael Stewart

I wish to say a word or two about the Amendment in page 1, line 13, after "transacted", insert:

"or of the need for the giving of private advice to the body by any of its officers".

in the name of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins ) and myself. I listened carefully to the advice the Minister gave us on that point, but, looking narrowly at the text of the Bill, it seems to me that a body wishing to exclude the Press would have to move and pass a resolution to that effect more or less in these terms, "That in view of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted, it is desirable to exclude the Press". If the body does not feel that that general phrase applies, it has then to state special reasons in the resolution.

Let us suppose that a body wishes to sit in private in order to hear the advice of the borough treasurer. As the Bill now stands, would it have to pass a resolution stating as a special reason that it wished to hear the advice of the borough treasurer? If our Amendment were carried, such a body would be able to move a sort of blanket resolution covering any of the officers of the council, simply saying that, in view of the desirability of receiving private advice from the officers of the council, it was desirable to exclude the public. The danger of the Bill as it now stands is that the very fact of having to state a special reason might focus public attention on a particular officer, whereas the whole object is to avoid that being done.

My own view is that the Bill would be a little better with our Amendment and it could not possibly damage the effectiveness of the Bill to have it incorporated. No council, by virtue of our Amendment, would be able to exclude the Press on any occasion when it would not be proper for it to do so. I urge the Committee to consider the Amendment favourably. Perhaps the Minister or the hon. Lady promoting the Bill would be willing to look at it further and, if necessary, introduce an Amendment on these lines on Report.

Mr. Robert Jenkins

I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart ). I hope that it will be found possible to incorporate something of this kind in the Bill. The 230Minister has said that it is covered by lines 14 and 15 of subsection (2), but, after having had rather long experience in local government, I feel that it would clarify the issue greatly if the matter were set out in the Bill. The position would then be quite clear to local authorities.

The very fact that we are discussing the matter as it is and my right hon. Friend comes here to tell us this morning that it is covered shows that very many of us have doubts about it. If there is any possibility of doubt, I think it would be better to accept our Amendment, and I do not believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) should have any difficulty in doing so.

My right hon. Friend has been very frank and forthcoming this morning about the effect of what we are doing but on 5th February he made a speech—I have an extract from it here—in which he indicated his desire to have this kind of Amendment incorporated in the Bill. I do not want to make the speech which I have prepared to advocate the need for having it in the Bill, since it is agreed by the Minister—indeed, he advocated it in the most forceful way—that officers of councils must have the right to advise their authorities on private matters and it is essential that such advice should be given and the matter discussed in private. Will not my right hon. Friend agree that it would help local authorities in reading the Bill to have the Amendment put down by the hon. Member for Fulham and myself included within it in order to save trouble and difficulty in cases where a council does desire to have private advice given in camera?

Lord Balniel

This is a very important matter. As my right hon. Friend said, it is essential that officers of a local authority should have the right to give their advice impartially and without any fear of public favour or disfavour on that account. I quite accept that this is covered by lines 14 and 15 of subsection (2), but my right hon. Friend's advice to us, although, of course, based upon very good legal advice, is his personal opinion.

On the other hand, the matter is open to doubt. It is quite possible that the law courts might take a rather different 231view. Since there is, I believe, universal agreement within the Committee that we wish local government officers to be protected from the Press, if necessary, I support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins ) and the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart ), and I feel that some such words as they suggest should be included within the Bill itself.

Mr. G. A. Pargiter

I should like to know why the words of the Local Authorities (Admission of the Press to Meetings) Act, 1908, which appears to have worked very satisfactorily over the years without any undue quarrel, should not be incorporated. The words of the proviso to Section 1 of that Act are:

"Provided that a local authority may temporarily exclude such representatives from a meeting as often as may be desirable at any meeting when, in the opinion of a majority of the members of the local authority present at such meeting"——

and so on. This brings it quite definitely down to the opinion of the authority. As far as I know, that is satisfactory. Why cannot what has been regarded as a satisfactory procedure continue, without importing any degree of uncertainty as to whether an authority has the right in its opinion to exclude?

I imagine that anyone who wished to quarrel with the decision of a council and take the matter to legal proceedings would find such a course abortive because the issues involved, by the time people got round to thinking about them, would just not be worth the candle anyway. I do not imagine that there would be much litigation arising if no further words are inserted, but I think the matter would be made more certain if they were put in. We must accept that local government bodies behave responsibly in these matters and, if they express the opinion that it is desirable to do something in this respect, it is surely better to leave it there rather than have the possibility of litigation arising from what is a very simple issue. I suggest that the words of the 1908 Act might well be incorporated without any loss or difficulty at all and it is quite likely that the Clause would be improved thereby.

Mr. H. Brooke

I apologise to the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart ) and to other hon. Members 232who had put their names to Amendments for rising before they had spoken, but I thought that it would be convenient for the Committee if I made a general statement before we went on to discuss the individual Amendments in greater detail.

Taking, first, the point made by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter ), I think that the Bill as it stands makes a substantial and valuable change from the 1908 Act. It is quite true that the 1908 Act uses the words

"in the opinion of a majority of the members present"

but the effect of those words is to make it extremely difficult for anybody to challenge a local authority in the courts afterwards. I want local authorities to be independent and autonomous bodies running their own affairs. At the same time, I and others who are very devoted to local government know that local authorities must carry on their business within a framework laid down by Parliament. There is no question at all of the right of the House of Commons to pass legislation which will define the powers, duties and responsibilities of local authorities. It seems to me that, just as we do in other legislation generally, we should legislate and so define the powers, duties and responsibilities that it is possible for a private citizen who thinks that the will of Parliament has not been carried out to test the matter in the courts. Quite frankly, I think that, if the words

"in the opinion of a majority of the members present"

were retained on the Statute Book, it would be extremely hard to challenge in the courts whatever was done. For my part, having been in local government for twenty years, I think that it is right that there should be a possibility of challenge, though I hope that the opportunity will never have to be taken advantage of.

11.15 a.m.

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Fulham and my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins ), I do not think that there is any doubt that the words now in the subsection

"special reasons stated in the resolution and arising from the nature … of the proceedings"

233would enable a resolution to be passed in effect providing that the body would go into private session to receive advice from its officers, and it would not be necessary to identify the particular officer who was to give advice.

I do not know the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) about this. I do not know whether it would be practicable to frame an Amendment for Report stage which would fulfil the wishes of my hon. Friends the Members for Dulwich and Hertford (Lord Balniel ) and of the hon. Member for Fulham. It might be better, if the Committee thought that it would be more acceptable to Parliament, local government and the public generally, to put it beyond doubt that a body could go into private session to hear the advice of its officers.

I certainly cannot see that there would be anything wrong in seeking to amend the Bill in that way, but I cannot at the moment say whether a suitable Amendment could be framed which would be any improvement on what we have in the Bill as it stands. I advise the Committee not to pass the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Fulham, because it might worsen the proceedings rather than better them. For example, it would cover the giving of private advice by an officer, but I am advised that it would not cover the reading out of a written statement of advice by an officer who was not present. Yet it might be very desirable that that also should be read in private. As I mentioned before, there might be occasions when the advice of a private consultant was no less important than the advice of an officer. If we embodied the Amendment in the Bill, it might very well be read as excluding the possibility of going into private session to hear the advice of a consultant, because it would only be the officers of the body and not any other consultant who would be mentioned.

If I may therefore advise the Committee on this, the Bill is all right as it stands. I would not presume to advise my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley on whether she should try to find a form of words which would put it absolutely beyond doubt that a body could go into private session to hear the advice 234of its officers. If an Amendment of that kind was practicable, I do not think that it would do more than is in the Bill as at present drafted. However, it is for my hon. Friend and for the House on Report to consider whether such an Amendment would improve the Bill.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher

May I make two points? First, I bear in mind the starred Amendment in my name to Clause 2 (2). Secondly, in reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart ) about the words "in their opinion," he will appreciate that the 1908 Act has already been weakened in respect of the voting conditions attached to that Clause, which were altered last week. The 1908 Act insists that the resolution is passed by a majority of the members present. Last week, we accepted an Amendment to the effect that it should be the majority of the members present and voting.

The chances are that those who do not vote for or against a resolution but abstain are in fact against the resolution. If we included the words

"in the opinion of the body"

it would mean that if five members out of a meeting of fifteen voted for the resolution, four against it and the rest abstained, the opinion of the body would be taken as final on the opinions of five of its members, disregarding the ten, some of whom voted against the resolution and some of whom abstained. That is an additional reason for not accepting the Amendment to insert the words

"in the opinion of the body".

Mr. Yates

The Minister has been very reasonable in the case which he has advanced this morning. As I am a reasonable man, I listened with great interest and care to what he said. When I proposed the Amendment, I had in mind that the Press was likely to be admitted to all meetings of a local authority, not merely the full meetings of the council. If the Committee is later likely to change that position, that alters my attitude very much.

I appreciate that the Minister does not want to put words into the Clause saying

"in the opinion of the body"

because that would make the authority a judge in its own cause. I have much sympathy with that view. 235

I do not like the words "public interest". I would much prefer to say in the Clause, "Whenever publicity is undesirable by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted, or for other special reasons". However, the Minister has implied that the points which I put forward are likely to be covered by the words "public interest". If, as in the 1908 Act, those words appear, are they likely to apply merely to the whole council and not to every committee of the council? In my own authority in Birmingham there has been only one instance in the last ten years on which the Press was excluded. That was when the Council discussed the appointment of the medical officer of health for the City. Clearly, that was acceptable under the 1908 Act and would be acceptable within the meaning of these words.

With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart ), I cannot think that circumstances would arise where the private advice of private individuals to the whole council, or to a committee consisting of all members of the council, would not be allowed or where there would be any doubt about it being considered in private.

In all the circumstances, therefore, and bearing in mind that, if the Clause goes through, because of later alterations which are likely to be made it will not mean that the Press are to be admitted to all the catering committees and trading committees, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins

On a point of order, Mr. Hynd. If you refer to columns 211 and 212 of the Official Report of the proceedings last Wednesday, you will notice that in Division No. 5 it would appear that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater ) has changed her sex. Can an alteration be made in the Division list?

The Chairman

That will be done.

Amendments made: In page 1, line 17, leave out "press" and insert "public".

In line 20, leave out "press" and insert "public".—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Mr. Yates

I beg to move, in page 2, to leave out lines 6 to 16. 236

The same considerations are likely to apply. Clause 1 (3, b) says:

"there shall, on request and on payment of postage or other necessary charge for transmission, be supplied for the benefit of any newspaper a copy of the agenda …"

If that means that the agendas for the meetings of all committees are to be sent out three days in advance, it will place a local authority in an almost impossible position. If it refers only to the whole council, it would mean that the local authority would have to send, as it usually does at present, its agenda out three days in advance. If that has to be done for committees——

Mr. Charles Pannell

It would not. It is not committees now.

Mr. Yates

If that had to be done for committees, it would put the authority in an impossible position.

Lord Balniel

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates ) bases his remarks on the very gross assumption that the Committee will accept the starred Amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). What we must do is deal with the Bill as it stands at present. We should not assume that those Amendments will be carried. After all, they are extremely controversial in their application to smaller local authorities, such as rural districts and urban districts.

Mr. C. Pannell

Though we are not entitled formally to assume anything about the starred Amendments, there is no question that it will be in the mind of the promoter of the Bill that we are proceeding on the assumption that they will be carried, otherwise there is not likely to be a Bill at all.

Mr. Pargiter

I thought that we were proceeding on the lines of certain ideas which would be acceptable to the Committee as a whole. That would certainly apply to this Clause. If, having discussed and debated the later Amendments, we negative them we might find it desirable to put this Amendment down again. I do not know, Mr. Hynd, whether you can devise ways and means by which we can get an expression of opinion on the later Amendments and leave this question in abeyance to see what comes out of the mill.

237

The Chairman

All that is before the Committee at the moment is the Amendment being proposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates ).

Mr. Yates

I do not want to waste the time of the Committee with a long discussion. However, if Clause 1 (3, b), is included, my assumption must be this. The Public Works Committee of the City of Birmingham Corporation meets twice a month. It may have 250 items on the agenda for each meeting. Before the meeting is summoned, the town clerk or another official will have to go through all those items and decide which items should be excluded from discussion when the Press is present. There will have to be two agendas, one for public, and one for private, consideration.

11.30 a.m.

This would be impossible if it should be multiplied by a number of committees, and we have large committees in a big authority. Frankly, I did not realise that this Amendment would be reached today, but I would like the Committee to see some of the main committee agendas we have to consider in a local authority. If we expected them to be delivered in advance, it would be an impossible task to place upon local government officers. While I agree that it is reasonable to give notice of the committee meeting and of the agenda in the case of a full meeting of the local authority, it is unreasonable that this should be done in the case of all committees. For that reason my Amendment has been proposed with the object of getting the opinion of the Minister or the hon. Lady on this point.

Mr. C. Pannell

My hon. Friend's case would be a sound and valid one on the assumption that this Bill would apply to all the committees first envisaged. For instance, the preliminary estimates of standing committees have to be received before the borough treasurer and the chairman of the finance committee look at them. The promoter of the Bill appears by her Amendments to recognise the facts of life in this matter, and we want a Bill of some kind. Indeed I made it clear during my Second Reading speech that I did not object in the case of full meetings of the council or of committees where all the members of the council are members. The further 238Amendments appear to suit me, but they colour all our discussion of the Bill.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates ) has made a good case for the Bill as it stands, on the assumption that when it is passed it will refer only to council meetings or meetings of the council in committee, I do not think that the task laid upon chief officers will be too heavy. After all, they now communicate with all members of the public, and probably only one meeting of the council committee, not more, would be comprised of all members of the council. Education committees already have delegated functions. Under the 1944 Act their meetings are far more open than are the meetings of the council. Therefore it is not worth while proceeding with this Amendment.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I attempt to clarify one point while we are discussing this Amendment? I have a later Amendment in mind and I know that a number of my fellow members have as well. I also have been under considerable difficulty in that had the local authority associations all had the same views on the Bill which I ought to have introduced my life would have been a great deal easier. At the moment there are apparently four Bills I ought to have introduced, all different. Bearing that in mind, if this Amendment were accepted it would mean that no one would be entitled to any documents of any meetings of the local authority, and that would be contrary to the spirit of the rest of the Bill in my view.

Mr. Yates

I appreciate fully the position explained by the hon. Lady and I feel that the later Amendments change the position to some extent. Therefore, on the understanding that if later the position is not covered I shall have the right to put down an Amendment on the Report stage, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 2, line 11, leave out "press" and insert "public".—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 2, line 16, at the end to insert:

Provided that want of any agenda or other statement to any representative of the Press shall not affect the validity of a meeting.

239

The Chairman

Perhaps it would be desirable to discuss with this Amendment the hon. Gentleman's proposed new Clause,

"Proceedings of local authorities and other bodies not to be invalidated where powers of exclusion are bona fide exercised."

Mr. Reynolds

Thank you, Mr. Hynd. There are at present provisions in statutes to the effect that where people have voted illegally because individual members of the council were not provided with a notice of the meeting or had no knowledge of it, nevertheless the meeting shall be considered convened and the business undertaken there shall be considered properly undertaken. Without this Amendment there is nothing in the Bill to say that if something goes wrong and the newspapers do not receive copies of the documents, the meeting will still be considered valid. If the Minister can assure us that if something went wrong, through oversight or for any other reason, whereby the documents were not provided for the Press, this would in no way affect the validity of the meeting, I shall be happy to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. H. Brooke

I hope that when the hon. Gentleman has heard what I have to say he will feel able to withdraw his Amendment. It appears against an elaborate background of local government law relating to the validity of meetings, and the bodies covered by this Bill will meet in accordance with arrangements and with requirements which are laid down elsewhere. An obvious example is that the requirements as to meetings of local authorities in England and Wales are laid down in the Third Schedule to the Local Government Act, 1933. It may well be that non-compliance with those requirements in the 1933 Act would invalidate proceedings. That is not in issue here, but I am making the point so that it is quite clear that all I am saying is just on the narrow point of this Amendment.

The obligations imposed by this Bill are additional to those requirements of the 1933 Act and elsewhere, and I am advised that non-compliance with the various parts of Clause 1 (3, a, b, and c) would not by themselves affect the validity of the meeting. Of course that does not say that the meeting would necessarily be valid on other grounds, 240because clearly the position would have to be viewed against the background of the whole of the corpus of the statutes affecting its authority.

Mr. Reynolds

In view of that explanation I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 2, line 16, at the end to insert:

(c) The minutes of the proceedings of a body to which this Act applies shall be open to the inspection of any representatives of the Press on payment of a fee not exceeding one shilling and any such representative of the Press may make a copy thereof or an extract therefrom.

We are making provision in the Bill for certain documents to be made available to the Press. As far as I can understand, under the Acts of 1933 and 1908 and also under this Bill, representatives of the Press would have no right either to receive or to see a copy of the minutes of the meeting, or to make any extract. Neither would they have any right to a copy of the abstract of accounts of the local authority, with which my next Amendment is concerned, namely in line 16, at end insert:

(c) The abstract of accounts of a body to which this Act applies shall be delivered by the clerk to the body to any representative of the Press on payment of a reasonable sum for each copy.

Yet this right exists as regards local government electors in the area of the authority, according to the Fourth Schedule to the Local Government Act, 1933. I think it is the Fourth Schedule but I have not had time to confirm that. As we are endeavouring to put the Press and the public on the same footing, I would like to have the views of the Minister or of the sponsor of the Bill on this point.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I look into this point? Representatives of the Press have access if they are local government electors, but not otherwise. The only doubt I have at the moment is whether it is wise for this Bill to embark upon a rather wider intent by giving the Press a right to documents other than those laid down. However, I will look into this point, and, if necessary, I will bring forward an Amendment on the Report stage.

241

Mr. Reynolds

I am prepared to accept that undertaking and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: In page 2, line 17, leave out "press" and insert "public".

In line 18, after "exclude", insert "members of the public".

In line 18, after "meeting", insert "and".—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 2, line 18, to leave out "duly accredited".

The Chairman

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee to discuss with this Amendment the following Amendments:

In line 19, leave out "newspapers" and insert "the press".

In line 30, at end add:

(5) The expression "representatives of the Press" means representatives of newspapers and representatives of news agencies or other organisations which systematically carry on the business of selling and supplying reports and impressions to newspapers or other organisations publishing news and information:

Provided that their names have been supplied to the clerk of the body the proceedings of which they desire to attend and that the newspaper or news agency or other organisation has given an undertaking that they and their servants or agents will observe the code of good practice.

In line 32, at end add:

(6) For the purpose of this section the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Scotland shall, after consultation with the appropriate representatives of bodies exercising public functions and with organisations representing the bodies mentioned in subsection (5) of this section prepare a code of good practice to regulate the standard of news reporting and the information and facilities to be provided for representatives of the Press.

(7) Any representative of the Press who disregards or whose newspaper, news agency or other organisation disregards an undertaking given under subsection (5) of this section may be excluded from the meetings of the body concerned.

(8) If any representative of the Press is aggrieved by such an exclusion or by the refusal of proper information and facilities within the terms of the code of good practice, he may appeal to the Minister of Housing and Local Government or to the Secretary of State for Scotland as the case may be.

(9) Where the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Secretary of State for 242Scotland had allowed an appeal under subsection (8) of this section it shall be a defence in any legal proceedings arising out of any exclusion or refusal of proper facilities that the code of good practice had not been observed.

Mr. Reynolds

There is now only one point I want to make on these Amendments in view of others on the Notice Paper. In the Bill and in the 1908 Act there is a reference to duly accredited representatives of newspapers and news agencies. In 1908 these were all there were in existence for the distribution of news, but for many years now we have had the activities of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Television Authority. Also television newsreels and film newsreels have been operating for many years. If we are to give these facilities to representatives of the Press and of new agencies, I see no reason why we should not give the same facilities to representatives of the I.T.A., the B.B.C. or the various film news units. In the Bill as drafted there appears to be no specific provision made for them, but I should like to hear the views of the hon. Lady or the Minister about whether bodies of that nature will be given a guarantee that their accredited representatives will, to all intents and purposes, be considered to be representatives of the Press.

11.45 a.m.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Bill as now amended has proceeded rather differently with regard to the Press than was originally intended. The Press are given special rights only insofar as it is their job to report to the public. Otherwise, they are given rights only as members of the public. I am not certain at the moment whether B.B.C. or I.T.A. reporters would automatically have access as members of the public. I am prepared to look into that, and if necessary bring forward an Amendment on Report.

If the Amendments to lines 30 and 32 were inserted, accredited representatives would be able to have the facilities afforded by the Bill only if their names had been supplied to the body in advance, and if their employing newspaper or agency had given guarantees that they and their servants would observe the code of good practice.

That brings in very much wider considerations than the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds ) has 243indicated at the moment. I do not know whether he would wish to proceed, but it would be for the [ Henry Brooke ] Minister to say what he wishes the code of good practice referred to in the later of these Amendments to be.

Mr. H. Brooke

I appreciate the intention of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds ), but, whatever party he happened to belong to, I doubt whether any Minister of Housing and Local Government would relish the task of preparing the code for newspaper reporting mentioned in the proposed Amendment to line 32.

Mr. Reynolds

The Amendments are being discussed together and I deliberately did not say anything about this in view of the other Amendments on the Order Paper. The only Amendment to which I referred was the Amendment in line 30. I endeavoured to widen what is at present included in the Bill in Clause 1 (5) which refers to newspapers and news agencies. I was concerned to make sure that, if they required it, reporters, newsreel and television companies could claim the same rights. That is the only point of these Amendments.

Mr. H. Brooke

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) answered that when she said that she would like to examine the matter further. I was saying, and I hope that I carry the Committee with me, that if the second of the hon. Gentleman's Amendments were pressed, which I gather it is not going to be, in the interests of any other Minister of Housing and Local Government, of whatever party he happened to be, I would deprecate the idea that a Minister of the Crown should prepare such a code. Still more would I deprecate the responsibility laid on him on deciding appeals under it.

Mr. Reynolds

On the undertaking which has been given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 2, line 21, leave out "and they".—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

The Chairman

The Question is, "That the Clause, as amended"——

244

Mr. Pargiter

On a point of order, Mr. Hynd, do you propose to call the Amendment, in page 2, line 32, at end add:

(6) The publication of agenda, statements, particulars, reports and other documents referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of this section shall be privileged unless the publication is proved to be made with malice.

It is an important Amendment, and has not been discussed at all.

The Chairman

That point will be discussed on the Amendment to Clause 2, page 3, line 43, after "press", insert:

"or in an agenda, further statement, report, or other document supplied for the benefit of a newspaper under this Act".

I think that it will come in better then.

Mr. Wilkins

On a point of order, Mr. Hynd. The former Chairman, Sir Norman Hulbert , gave me the impression that the Amendment in my name to page 2, line 21, after "practicable", insert:

"and providing there is no interruption in the normal production of newspapers or periodicals"

would be called.

The Chairman

That was discussed with the Amendment to page 1, line 8.

Mr. Wilkins

Further to that point of order. I am not going to open discussions on this, and, I may advise you, Mr. Hynd, I do not propose to repeat all the things I said at our previous meeting. If, however, you examine the Official Report, you will find that I suggested to Sir Norman that it would be appropriate for me to move the Amendment at this stage of the Bill, as it then became unrelated when the word "Press" was altered to "public". Sir Norman agreed that I could move it at this point.

The Chairman

The hon. Member will realise that I was not in the Chair then, but I am advised that he is right. Would he care to move the Amendment now?

Mr. Wilkins

The Committee seems to be in a reasonable frame of mind this morning. Therefore, I beg formally to move, in page 2, line 21, after "practicable", to insert:

"and providing there is no interruption in the normal production of newspapers or periodicals".
245-246

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 17.

Division No. 6.]

Ayes

Hall , Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)

Pannell , Charles (Leeds, W.)

Pargiter , G. A.

Reynolds , G. W.

Slater , Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)

Small , William

Wilkins , W. A.

Yates , Victor (Ladywood)

Noes

Balniel , Lord

Bishop , F. P.

Brooke , Rt. Hon. Henry

Bullard , Denys

Cleaver , Leonard

Corfield , F. V.

Gammans , Lady

Glyn , Dr. Alan (Clapham)

Grimston , Sir Robert

Hocking , Philip N.

Iremonger , T. L.

Jenkins , Robert (Dulwich)

Renton , David

Smith , Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)

Stewart , Michael (Fulham)

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret

Thomas , Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2.—(Application of Act, and consequential provisions.)

Mrs. Thatcher

I beg to move, in page 2, line 36, at the end, to insert:,

"and where this Act applies to a body, the foregoing section shall apply in relation to any committee of the body whose members consist of or include all members of the body, as that section applies in relation to the body itself, but so that for the purposes of paragraph (c) of subsection (3) of that section premises belonging to the body shall be treated as belonging to the committee."

I take it, Mr. Hynd, that I may also refer to Amendments consequential on this one?

The Chairman

Yes.

Mrs. Thatcher

The effect of the Amendment is radically to alter the number of committees to which the Bill extends. The discussion has centred round these committees with regard to the machinery of the Bill, and if the Amendment is passed it will mean that subsection (2) will be deleted and at the end of subsection (1) there will be inserted a provision which relates the Bill to the bodies and to such committees of the body:

"whose members consist of or include all members of the body …   ."

Other committees will be deleted from the operation of the Bill. There are certain consequential Amendments to the Schedule so that committees of bodies in the Schedule which exercise delegated powers will not now be included.

I trust that the Committee will see fit to accept the Amendment. It will mean that the Bill will not extend as far as it was meant to previously, but it will nevertheless be a considerable advance upon the Measure which it is meant to replace. Coupled with other provisions, it will mean that the public will now have rights which they did not have under the 1908 Act, and that the abuse of the 1908 Act where a body resolved itself into a committee to exclude the Press will be stopped. Also, the other abuse of the spirit of the 1908 Act, where the body, meeting as a general purposes committee before the council meeting discussed all relevant matters, and then discussed them merely formally at the council meeting itself, would be precluded if the Amendment were accepted.

Mr. Reynolds

I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment. It is completely in accordance with what I said on Second Reading, when I said that it was very often the practice of these committees to resolve themselves into general purposes committees and discuss all the relevant matters and then go back into the formal council meeting afterwards. As I see it, the Amendment will preclude that practice. It will considerably improve the Bill and make Clause 1 workable. As we have agreed it, Clause 1 will not work unless we have these major alterations in Clause 2. I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment.

Lord Balniel

I am sure that the hon. Lady will appreciate that as this is a starred Amendment this is the first occasion on which hon. Members have had a chance of looking at it. We appreciate the reason why she has put it down. Clearly, some change in the Bill was necessary, and I think that all hon. Members of the Committee wish to see the Bill go through with general agreement. 247

In making this alteration, my hon. Friend has caused considerable concern to those who have at heart the interests of small local authorities like urban and rural district councils. When one brings into the Bill any committee of a body whose members consist of or include all members of the body, if a large authority used that as a device to exclude the Press one would find that objectionable, but that is the normal method of working in rural and small urban district councils. It is respected, accepted, and, indeed, the usual method of conducting business in many of the smaller local authorities.

I wish to further the Bill and see it on the Statute Book, but I should like to ask my hon. Friend if, between now and Report, she would look at this Amendment to see whether the difficulties of the smaller local authorities could not be met. If she was prepared to give an undertaking to look at the Amendment to see if she can meet the difficulties of smaller local authorities I should be prepared to support the Amendment.

12 noon.

Mr. C. Pannell

I very much appreciate the difficulties mentioned by the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel ). What he says has been very much in my own mind ever since we began on this Bill. The local authority on which at one time I served had 24 members—not an inordinate number—and it was found convenient to constitute them all as the finance and general purposes committee.

One of the difficulties is that when the first estimates are put in they tend to be very much inflated. They then become the subject of much strain between the various officials and the members of the council, and also between the chairman of the finance committee and the borough treasurer. It would be very bad if the immediate figures of the spending Committee were made public, and the alterations made, stage by stage, until final figures were arrived at and accepted were to be made in public. Publication at that stage would make normal relations impossible, not only between the members of the council but between its chief officers.

It is perfectly true that the larger authorities could not have a finance committee consisting of all council members. 248In many boroughs, the mayor, the deputy mayor and the chairman of the finance committee are ex officio members of all committees. One could very well not make the mayor an ex officio member, and then, if a member of the committee was absent, the procedure would be out-with the Bill.

I do not seek to evade the purpose of the hon. Lady's Bill, but the experience of some of us makes us anxious. We know that in a great variety of cases this practice is undesirable. I appreciate that the hon. Lady has met as far as she can what she considers to be a public need. It is a question of balance.

I do not reveal anything when I say that I would have preferred to have had no Bill at all—and the hon. Lady will understand that. However, having got to this stage, and bearing in mind what the Bill was and what it now is it should not be beyond the wit of local authorities themselves to meet the difficulties mentioned by the hon. Member for Hertford in regard to public interest and secrecy—and even, for one or two committees, of double agendas.

The intention now is to give members of the Press and of the public a statutory right to attend public meetings of the council and to give the Press the fullest possible access to documents normally circulated to all members of a council. I understand the hon. Gentleman's difficulty, but I also see the hon. Lady's dilemma, which is to determine the demarcation line between small, medium-sized and large authorities. Is demarcation to be based on the population controlled by the local authority—10,000, 20,000, 30,000—or on the size of the body itself—12 members, 18 members, 24 members? I think that such difficulties will be for the local authorities themselves to solve.

Sir Robert Grimston

As the Committee is in a very reasonable frame of mind this morning it will, perhaps, appreciate my own personal difficulty. I have the honour to be President of the Urban District Councils' Association and I am also a backer of the Bill. As my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel ) has said, some of the smaller local authorities will face a difficulty here. Many of the smaller urban district councils, because of their size, have 249followed the practice of forming a general purposes committee of all their members.

Many people wish to see this legislation put on the Statute Book, and I would, therefore, like to support my noble Friend's request that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) should further discuss this matter between now and Report. We are just entering on the Easter Recess, so there will be plenty of time. There is a problem here but, having regard to what has been said by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell ), there should not be much difficulty in getting over it. It would help if my hon. Friend could indicate that between now and Report she would be ready to have discussions.

Mrs. Thatcher

Perhaps I may remind hon. Members that to any committee to which this Clause would apply the execution machinery of Clause 1 (2) would also apply. Therefore, if members of the Press and public were admitted to these committees, they could still be excluded on the grounds given in the subsection. Further, the machinery in the Bill itself may well go a long way to meeting the difficulties of those smaller authorities. The undertaking I would be prepared to give—and I hope that it would meet with approval—would be to delay for a few months the date when the Bill came into operation, so that the authorities affected might have a chance to find some way out of their difficulties.

Mr. Reynolds

I can appreciate what has been said by hon. Members opposite, but I think that when they look at the Amendment further they will see that it will not unduly affect the smaller authorities. In any case, they will probably realise that it will affect the smaller authorities, if at all, for only a year or two, because once the Local Government Boundary Commission has done its job, has presented its Report and the Minister of Housing and Local Government has put his name to that Report, the smaller authorities will not be there any more.

Mr. Yates

I do not know what changes could be made here to make this fair to all concerned, although, of course, 250one does not know what will arise out of the discussions that may take place. I welcome this Amendment because, whether the authority is large or small, if the whole council goes into committee I think it unreasonable that members of the Press should not be included——

Mrs. Thatcher

And the public, now.

Mr. Yates

Yes. It is unreasonable that members of the Press and the public should not be included in that case. In fact, if authorities could go even further and admit the Press to some of the larger committees such as the Watch Committee or the Education Committee, that would be quite reasonable. It should certainly apply when the whole council goes into committee. I have never had any doubt about that from the very beginning. What has disturbed me has been the idea that every single committee had to accommodate Press and public.

I should very much deprecate any alteration to this Amendment that would cause doubt on the main points with which we are concerned. I welcome the Amendment because it means that we can now proceed speedily with the Bill. While there may be some difficulties for the smaller authorities, I hope that nothing will be done to alter the main principle that where a council meeting with all its members present decides to go into committee it is reasonable that the public and the Press should be admitted.

Mr. Leonard Cleaver

The Committee is in a very affable frame of mind, but I must say that I do not believe in the divine right of the Press or in the divine right of city councillors—and I certainly do not believe in the divine right of local authorities. It is the ordinary people who really matter.

Birmingham has a total rate bill of about £33 million, all of which comes from the pockets of the ratepayers, who have a right to know as much as possible about the affairs of their local authority. I quite agree that such private matters as litigation and valuations should not necessarily be disclosed, but I hope that in her further discussions on the Amendment my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) will remember the rights of the ordinary people.

Mrs. Harriet Slater

The practice of most local authorities—certainly of the 251very large ones—is to have submitted to a full meeting of the council the rate estimates that have been approved by the finance committee. The public and the Press then have an adequate chance of taking note of those estimates. In my own local authority, the chairman of the finance committee submits a very detailed statement of the various expenses that have to be undertaken, details of the work, collection of rates, and the reasons for increases or decreases.

I have to except our last council meeting, which took place on our jubilee day. In 28 years of local authority work I have never before known the minutes of the finance committee to be accepted without question, but because the Tories and Independents were mixed up together on that day, no questions were then asked. On the other hand, I have known times when, the finance committee having reported to the full council, there have been full, frank, and sometimes very bitter discussions on the estimates.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: In page 2, line 37, line out from beginning to end of line 33 on page 3.

In page 3, line 43, leave out "press" and insert "public".—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Mr. Robert Jenkins

I beg to move, in page 3, line 43, after "press" to insert:

"or in an agenda, further statement, report, or other document supplied for the benefit of a newspaper under this Act".

The Chairman

I suggest that with this Amendment we discuss that in page 3, line 45, after "admitted" to insert:

"to the meeting or receiving the agenda, further statement, report, or other document"

and that in line 47, after "attending" to insert:

"the meeting or receiving the agenda, further statement, report, or other document".

Mr. Jenkins

Yes, Mr. Hynd. I have moved this Amendment, but if I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) or by my right hon. Friend that this point is already covered by the Bill I shall be only too happy to withdraw it.

Subsection (6) purports to give protection to members and officers of a local authority in respect of statements made 252in the presence of the Press at meetings of the body or its committees. Statements which are defamatory may be made not only at meetings at which the Press is present but in documents to which the Press is entitled to have access under Clause 1 (3, b) which would not be published to the Press or outside the membership of the body but for that provision. The protection afforded by subsection (6) should, therefore, be extended to include not only words spoken but statements written in agenda, minutes, reports, and so on which have to be made available under the Bill.

This is an important matter affecting all local authorities. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley consider incorporating this Amendment or something similar to give that necessary protection or give us an assurance that the Bill already covers the point?

12.15 p.m.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am happy to undertake that I will look into the matter of qualified privilege with regard to documents. I shall in addition look into the question raised by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter ) relating to qualified privilege with regard to the spoken word. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins ). I am advised that it would be better to have something drafted in terms slightly different from those in his Amendment.

Mr. Robert Jenkins

In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 3, line 45, leave out from beginning to "as" in line 46 and insert:

"attending as members of the public".—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3.—(Short title, repeal, extent and commencement.)

Amendments made: In page 4, line 13, leave out "of the Press".

In line 15, after "1908", insert:

"sub-paragraph (4) of paragraph 1 of Part IV of the Third Schedule to the Local Government Act, 1933".—[Mrs. Thatcher.]
253

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. H. Brooke

I think that it will be desirable during the next stage of the Bill to consider the date when it should come into effect. Indeed, from something which my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said a few moments ago, I gather that she has in mind that it would be wiser not to seek to bring in the Bill on 1st September.

In my ministerial position, I have general responsibility for the proper conduct of local government, and the point in my mind is that if the Bill were to receive the Royal Assent in company with many other Bills at the end of July—we cannot be sure that it will be before that time—there would be very little interval between the end of July and 1st September for local authorities to make their arrangements. I imagine that every local authority would need to review its standing orders, although it might not need to make any changes. I am sure, however, that it would be only fair to local authorities to give them an opportunity.

In my experience, a great many local authorities, except those in holiday resorts, do not hold meetings in August. The chief officers go on their holidays, and so forth. If I may throw out a suggestion, I think that the date might conveniently be postponed until, let us say, 1st January, 1961.

Mr. C. Pannell

Quite seriously, I put it to both the Minister and the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) that the date should come after the next municipal elections, whenever that may be. It would not be later than next May. Members of councils usually have printed a lot of memoranda. New standing orders could be printed for the new councils coming in. I do not want to make a long speech, and I am prepared to talk to the hon. Lady or the Minister in private about it. The right hon. Gentleman will know that a great mass of agenda, directives to officers and many other such things affect people right throughout any local authority, and it seems to me that a freshly elected council after May next year should inherit this business. 254

I am not sure whether there is much variation in date. I believe that the month of May applies very generally. The Minister can deal with that drafting point so that the Bill dates from the time the new councils are elected at the next municipal elections. That would, I think, be better than having a broken period. The rates would be out of the way. It would be the new financial year, and, generally speaking, it would be the tidiest arrangement.

Mr. H. Brooke

I do not wish to stipulate now that there would be only one date acceptable to the Government. I think it is a matter for further discussion. I wished merely to indicate that, in my view, as Minister, we should not be taken as confirming 1st September, 1960, but we should, in line with what my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley said a few minutes ago, examine the matter and see what the most convenient date would be.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). On the other hand, the date for the municipal elections does not seem to have any particular application to, let us say, the work of a regional hospital board which, also, is covered in the Schedule. I have little doubt that one could work out a suitable date. It was in my mind to suggest 1st January, 1961, because that is the date when many of our diaries start afresh, if not our municipal diaries, and it is a good, clean date. Surely, the wisest thing would be to consider the matter further. My hon. Friend has said that she would be prepared to do so between now and the next stage, and I think that we should pass the Clause on that understanding.

Mr. Robert Jenkins

The Committee will have noted that I deliberately did not move my Amendment in page 4, line 18, with regard to the date for the commencement of the Bill. I did that because I did not wish to delay matters, but it was my intention to speak on the Question now before us. I add my support to what has been said by my right hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) in asking my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) to give an assurance that between now and the Report stage she will reconsider the date for the commencement in view of the 255difficulties which could undoubtedly be created. I have been asked to press my Amendment but I have not done so because I feel that something arranged by her and brought up on Report would meet everyone's feelings in the matter.

Mr. Stewart

There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) says. However, in view of what the Minister pointed out when he spoke of the wide range of different bodies to which the Bill applies, I think my hon. Friend will agree that it would probably be best to do it by means of some definite date in the calendar rather than by reference to elections which would cover local authorities but not other bodies.

Mr. C. Pannell

I do not accept that point about a definite date in the calendar because I regard it as outweighed by all the other considerations. I do not at the moment see why we should have the same date for all sorts of bodies. I do not suggest that there should be a great variety of dates, but, bearing in mind that the majority of bodies affected by the Bill are local government bodies, it seems to me that 1st May next would be an appropriate date. That might very well be fixed as the date for them, with 1st January or some other date for the others.

Mr. Stewart

I thought that the point of my hon. Friend's suggestion was that we should aim at fixing a date falling after the next elections for most of the bodies concerned. If we try to relate it in every case to the elections, the Bill would not come into force in respect of the Metropolitan Boroughs until 1962. I think that it would be a rather messy arrangement to have a different date for different bodies. I think it is right to pick a date after the next elections of most bodies referred to in the Bill. Without being dogmatic about it, I suggest that 1st January is too early and that July of next year would be better. It ought to be after May next because a good many elections occur in May. I mention 1st July simply as the first convenient beginning of a new quarter. Perhaps the hon. Lady will consider all the suggestions which have been made to her.

Mrs. Thatcher

I undertake to reconsider the commencement date in the light 256of the comments which have been made. This undertaking was implicit in my earlier remarks to my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) in regard to another Clause.

Perhaps I may just say that I am reluctant to put together two comments made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). Earlier, he said that local authorities were "hag-ridden" over the Bill. Later, he said that he would be prepared to consider the commencement date with me. I trust that there is no connection between the two.

Mr. Wilkins

Will the Minister, in addition to considering further the commencement date, try to negotiate also the code of conduct which he has spoken to us about so that it comes into operation simultaneously with the Bill?

Mr. H. Brooke

I really think that I had better say nothing about the code of conduct until the Bill is on the Statute Book. The Committee has been addressing itself with great vigour and expedition to the Bill. I had no idea that proceedings would go so fast this morning, and I really could not here and now say anything about the code of conduct, although I have not forgotten what I said on Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Stewart

I do not wish to proceed with my new Clause, "Definition of ‘public interest’", Mr. Hynd, but I do wish to proceed with the next one, "Disorderly Conduct."

The Chairman

The next one is not selected.

Mr. Stewart

In that case, Mr. Hynd, will you give me a moment to reconsider my attitude to this new Clause? It might, after all, be possible to get in some of the arguments on this one which would have been relevant to the next one. However, on looking at it, I see that that would be extremely difficult.

The next new Clause, which is not selected, raises a point which we have not previously discussed but which has been once mentioned in our debates in a tone which suggested that it was a valid and important one. Could you, 257Mr. Hynd, give us some indication of why that new Clause, which I had rather cherished, has not been selected?

The Chairman

Although the Committee has been very speedy this morning, I should hate to prolong the proceedings by attempting to give any reasons which might open another discussion.

Schedule.—(Bodies to which this Act Applies.)

Amendments made: In page 5, line 18, at beginning insert:

"education committees (including joint education committees) constituted under Part II, and".

In line 24, leave out from "1946" to end of line 26.

In line 29, leave out from "functions" to end of line 31.—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 5, line 31, at the end to insert:

(i) hospital management committees constituted under section eleven of the said Act of 1946.

The Chairman

Perhaps it would be convenient to discuss at the same time the next Amendment, that in page 5, line 31, at end insert:

(i) boards of governors constituted under section eleven of the said Act of 1946.

Mr. Reynolds

Certainly, Mr. Hynd. I had intended to ask your permission to discuss that.

I cannot understand why hospital management committees have been omitted, but I am at even greater loss to understand why boards of governors of teaching hospitals have been omitted. Regional hospital boards are included under sub-paragraph (g) of the Schedule. That covers the whole of England and Wales. Yet boards of governors of large teaching hospitals, which are on a par with regional hospital boards, are, for some reason completely unknown to me, not included. In Scotland there are no boards of governors of teaching hospitals. They managed to get over it by incorporating them all in regional hospital boards.

There can be no objection to boards of governors of teaching hospitals being included for England and Wales, 258because as the Bill stands they will be included in Scotland, as there they are part of the regional hospital board machinery. I cannot for the life of me see why the Press should not have the same facility as regards teaching hospitals in England and Wales as it will get in Scotland under the Bill at present. As the Press is to be allowed to attend meetings of regional hospital boards, I cannot see why it should not be allowed to attend the meetings of boards of governors of teaching hospitals.

Hospital management committees are not merely local bodies. They are probably of more interest to ratepayers than are regional hospital boards themselves, which deal with matters affecting a very much wider area. Hospital management committees deal with many delegated powers from regional hospital boards. They deal with all the matters of day-to-day administration affecting the particular hospital.

Their position is almost exactly the same as that of the divisional executive for education, to which under the provisions of the Bill the Press will be allowed admission. Hospital management committees deal with the day-to-day running of a little group of hospitals under the overall policy control of the regional hospital board, in the same way as the divisional executive for education deals with the day-to-day running of schools in its area under the overall policy control of the county council as the education authority.

Mr. C. Pannell

The position of the divisional executive for education was put right under the 1944 Act. All my experience is that divisional executives are covered. Generally speaking, the Press has a right of admission, but I do not say that it has a right to documents.

Mr. Reynolds

I accept that, but we are now incorporating in the Bill powers to provide for the Press to attend meetings of divisional executives for education. I am in complete agreement with that. My point is that a hospital management committee is in roughly the same position as a divisional executive for education. A divisional executive for education looks after the day-to-day administration of schools in an area, while the county council decides the policy. A hospital management committee looks after the 259day-to-day administration of a number of hospitals in an area, while the regional hospital board controls the policy.

Therefore I put forward the Amendment in my name to include hospital management committees. In due course, I shall seek to move the Amendment to include boards of governors of teaching hospitals. I see no reason why these two bodies should not be included, because they so closely resemble other bodies already in the Schedule.

Mr. H. Brooke

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) has said in moving the Amendment in page 5, line 31. I realise that we are discussing with it the next Amendment.

I have consulted my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health on the two Amendments, because these bodies are outside my departmental responsibilities. The comparison which the hon. Member expressed to the Committee is not valid. It is regional hospital boards which do the planning and administration of the hospital service. The functions of hospital management committees, likewise the functions of boards of governors of teaching hospitals, are rather the detailed control and management of a hospital or a group of hospitals.

The hospital management committee performs those functions on behalf of the regional hospital board. The control remains with the regional hospital board. Likewise, the board of governors of a teaching hospital performs those functions in respect of particular hospitals which have been designated by my right hon. and learned Friend as teaching hospitals for under-graduate or post-graduate clinical teaching.

The Bill applies to regional hospital boards, as it should, but the bodies to which the hon. Member seeks to extend it differ from regional hospital boards. Neither hospital management committees nor boards of governors of teaching hospitals are concerned primarily with the planning and administration of hospital services over an area. The business of both these bodies is necessarily to a very large extent concerned with domestic matters relating to the day-to-day management of the hospital or group of hospitals under their control, including 260matters concerning hospital staff, patients and their relatives and so on.

It must have been for reasons such as these that the 1908 Act was never applied to them.

Mr. Wilkins

It was not needed then. They were private, voluntary hospitals.

Mr. H. Brooke

It could have been done when the National Health Service Act was passed.

Mr. Wilkins

That was in 1948, forty years later.

Mr. H. Brooke

It was not done. If the Bill is to go through in its present form, with the committees of local authorities excluded, a fortiori hospital management committees and boards of governors of teaching hospitals should not be included. There is a distinction. The Bill was rightly drawn, despite what it originally contained about committees of local authorities, to exclude these bodies.

I advise the Committee that it is right to include regional hospital boards, but that these other bodies perform more domestic functions, and it would not be right that they should meet in public.

Mr. C. Pannell

The main point made by the Minister was that the Bill is now somewhat emasculated compared with its original form. It is undoubtedly true that, had the Bill been left alone, the Minister would not have had a single argument for excluding these bodies. I could have pointed to all sorts of matters in local administration just as intimate and delicate which the Bill might have reached in its original form.

The only real point the Minister made was that the Bill now applies only to those committees of a council at which all council members are present. I appreciate that because of that the Amendment loses much of its original validity. It is rather beside the point for the Minister to drag in what was done fifteen years ago. The Conservatives stated in their last Election manifesto that they would do something of this sort. Apparently, the Bill springs from that. The business of always looking back some years to what was done under the Labour Government is wearing a trifle thin.

261

Mr. Yates

I must be very careful what I say, because I have been so much against smaller committees admitting the Press. I do not agree with the Minister that regional hospital boards do the planning and not the hospital management committees. It is true that hospital management committees do much day-to-day administrative work, but my experience is that very often the hospital management committee prepares all the plans and the regional hospital board holds them up. If that body does not hold them up, the Ministry of Health does.

Mr. Wilkins

Usually the Ministry of Health.

Mr. Yates

Or the Minister. One management committee in Birmingham is responsible for the management of five hospitals. Many of us have been asking for years that consideration should be given to plans which the committee has been considering and putting forward for new out-patients' departments, which are absolutely vital to the public interest, and for casualty departments. All the plans are prepared. I have seen them. I have tabled Questions in the House to the Minister of Health.

It is unfortunate that I seem to be going against much of what I have said previously. I wish the public to hear what hospital management committees say, how they are preparing plans and what are the matters which distress them because of lack of facilities. I am sure this applies to other bodies. It might be as important to admit the Press to some of those meetings as to regional hospital board meetings.

Mrs. Slater

There is much in the point which has been made about hospital management committees. Perhaps one of the mistakes of the National Health Service Act was that it was that it removed some functions, which concerned the people very intimately in their areas, from hospitals to regional boards.

I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) that if hospital management planning was considered in public, Birmingham might not get as much from the Birmingham Regional Board and Stoke-on-Trent might get a little more. We have a feeling that sometimes the 262bottom end gets more than the top end in the regional board area. In matters of planning, the hospital management committee takes very considerable trouble to make recommendations, at any rate, to the regional hospital board. The recommendations are of particular concern to the people in the area. Therefore, there is a point in the Amendment.

Mr. Reynolds

I listened with interest to what the Minister said. I still feel that hospital management committees are in just the same position as divisional executives for education. The position is absolutely the same in both cases. Yet divisional executives for education are to be included and hospital management committees are not.

In view of what the Minister said, I will not proceed with this Amendment but I must seek your permission, Mr. Hynd, to move the next Amendment, which deals with regional hospital boards.

The Chairman

Let us dispose of this Amendment first.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 5, line 31, at the end to insert:

"(i) boards of governors constituted under section eleven of the said Act of 1946."

Teaching hospitals appoint boards of governors. They rank at exactly the same level as regional hospital boards. They cover not just one or two hospitals, but ten or a dozen linked hospitals under the one board of governors of a teaching hospital.

As I said earlier, in Scotland they are included in regional hospital boards, so the Press will be able to hear what is going on in this respect in Scotland. These boards do more than day-to-day administration. They are responsible for vast areas, particularly in London, where there are about sixteen boards of governors of teaching hospitals. Most of the large hospitals in London are under boards of governors.

Whereas in most other parts of the country the Press and the public can have admittance and will be able to discover what is going on in almost all hospitals, with the exception of one or two university towns, in London a very large proportion of hospital accommodation is under the control of boards of governors. 263This would apply only to meetings of the governors, and I cannot see any objection to the Press and the public being entitled to attend the governors' meetings any more than there is any objection to them attending the meeting of the county health executive, which is provided for in the Bill. I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Yates

Surely the Minister will say something?

Mr. C. Pannell

The right hon. Gentleman said something.

Mr. Yates

But, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, this is rather a different situation. Boards of governors do not come within the purview of public consideration. In the Midlands we have the regional hospital board which brings within its purview all the hospital management committees, but the boards of teaching hospitals—such as the Queen Elizabeth and also the General Hospital—are outside. Yet the casualty department of the General Hospital of Birmingham is the largest in the country. It is positively disgraceful——

Mr. C. Pannell

May I seek your guidance, Mr. Hynd? Bearing in mind the stage we have reached, could you indicate whether we might have the normal extension to dispose of our proceedings this morning?

The Chairman

I was hoping that would be possible. If we can make enough progress by 1 o'clock, perhaps we could try to finish the Bill by 1.15 under standing Order No. 63.

Mr. Yates

We have made a lot of progress. I do not see why we should unduly rush our proceedings.

Mr. C. Pannell

I think we shall have been rather leisurely if we finish at 1.15.

Mr. Yates

But it could also have its inconveniences.

Mr. Wilkins

That would depend on whether my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) is talkative.

Mr. C. Pannell

I have not been as talkative as some hon. Members.

Mr. Yates

I would not impose an obligation on my hon. Friend the 264Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) because I should probably suffer as a result. I am seeking to put before the Committee a much more serious point for consideration than we had previously. The previous Amendment dealt with hospital management committees, of which there are a considerable number. These committees will come within the purview of public consideration through the regional hospital board under this Bill. I do not see why the teaching hospitals that come under private boards of governors should be excluded, especially as I have pointed out the condition in the General Hospital at Birmingham, which is a positive disgrace and should be brought to the light of public consideration. It does not even come within the hospital board. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to ask that boards of governors constituted under Section 11 of the 1946 Act should be included amongst those which at least have the public and Press present during their discussions, which are in the main the final discussions concerning that group of teaching hospitals.

Mr. H. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) asked me to say a word. I must advise the Committee to reject this Amendment. Indeed, it would be inappropriate, when we have reached happy agreement in this Committee to get the Bill through by the method of eliminating a considerable number of bodies included in the Bill when it received its Second Reading, if we were now to seek to include a board which was not within the scope of the original Bill.

If a teaching hospital is a disgrace, that is a matter for Questions in the House of Commons to the Minister of Health, who has a general responsibility for them. The ordinary day by day work of hospital administration is not of the same character as the normal work of a council. We have been applying this Bill in the main to the elected local authorities and to other bodies, such as the metropolitan water board. It would be a complete change from everything we have known hitherto if suddenly not only the Press but also the public were to be given statutory right of admission to the meetings of boards of governors of teaching hospitals. 265-266

If that were to be done it would need far greater consideration than can be given in this Committee. I am sure that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) would agree that such a change in the law should not be made without thorough discussion. I am opposed to the change. The Government are opposed to the change. If the reasons I have adduced with regard to the medical and the hospital side do not carry weight with the Committee, I hope the Committee will accede to my argument that when we are seeking to get this Bill through as an agreed measure, by omitting a number of committees to which my hon. Friend originally wished the Bill to apply, it would be somewhat out of accord if hon. Members were now to press that a completely new set of bodies should be brought within the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Reynolds

I am surprised at the line the Minister has taken because Clause 2 (7), which remains in the Bill, allows the right hon. Gentleman without any discussion, even by a Committee of the House of Commons, to make an order adding a body to the Schedule or taking it off. Yet we are told that even after twenty minutes' discussion it is wrong for us to consider adding a body to the Schedule. I cannot understand that argument. Since, once the Bill becomes an Act, the Minister could add regional hospital boards without any discussion in the House of Commons, it is a little off to say that we have not long enough to discuss the matter at this stage. Nothing the Minister has said convinces me that boards of governors or teaching hospital boards should not be treated as they are in Scotland.

Mr. Stewart

I have no hospital within my constituency but there is one on its border. This hospital ministers to my constituents and was until recently under the control of the regional hospital board. By an extremely ill-advised decision of the Ministry of Health, and against the wishes of nearly all the local inhabitants, it has now been made, in effect, part of Charing Cross teaching hospital, and administratively it will be a teaching hospital.

In Fulham we are far from satisfied that this is a change for the better, and the public in Fulham are more likely to want to know what happens in the way the hospital is governed now that it is a teaching hospital than they did when it was under the regional hospital board. We therefore find odd the idea that the Press will have access to regional hospital board meetings but not to meetings of the governors of our Fulham hospital under its new management. I am not in the least convinced by what the Minister has said, and in my view the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) were unanswerable and unanswered.

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 11.

Division No. 7.]

Ayes

Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)

Iremonger, T. L.

Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)

Reynolds, G. W.

Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)

Small, William

Stewart, Michael (Fulham)

Wilkins, W. A.

Yates, Victor (Ladywood)

Noes

Balniel, Lord

Bishop, F. P.

Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry

Bullard, Denys

Cleaver, Leonard

Gammans, Lady

Grimston, Sir Robert

Hocking, Philip N.

Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)

Renton, David

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret

Mr. Stewart

I beg to move, in page 5, to leave out lines 32 and 33.

This is of great importance. Probation committees are committees of magistrates concerned with the recruitment and organisation of the probation service. Some of their work involves the interviewing of candidates for that service. A great deal of it is concerned with the arrangements for that work, with the allocation of the total amount of work amongst the people in the service, and all the time it involves discussion of the fitness of individuals for particular responsibilities.

Such work cannot properly be done before the Press and before the public if it is to be well done. The functions 267of the London Probation Committee are somewhat different, since it is pretty well an advisory committee of the Home Office. One might as well invite the members of the public into Whitehall to hear Ministers discussing matters of policy directly with their senior civil servants as have them attend the London Probation Committee.

Some of my hon. Friends think that might possibly have something to be said for it. Certain later Amendments have a slightly fantastic ring about them, but I assure the Committee seriously that the inclusion of probation committees in this Schedule would be no less fantastic than are some of those Amendments. Therefore I hope earnestly that the Committee will agree to their exclusion.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

My advice to the Committee is to accept the Amendment for the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart).

Mrs. Thatcher

I am happy to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 5, line 35, at the end to insert:

(k) commission for the new towns constituted under section two of the New Towns Act, 1959.

As hon. Members will remember, this is a fairly recent piece of legislation which altered the expectations of quite a number of new town local authorities about what was to be the eventual size of the new town corporations. Had the New Towns Act been followed through as most of us thought it would be, the assets of the development corporations would have been handed over to an elected local authority when the town was completed—

It being one o'clock, The Chairman, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Meetings of Standing Committees), deferred adjourning the Committee.

Mr. Reynolds

Had the New Towns Act been followed through as we thought it would be, the assets would have gone to a locally elected authority to which the Press and public would have had the right of admission. Instead, they are being transferred to a national commission dealing with the new towns, which 268will appoint committees to look after administration in one or two of the new towns. They will not be under the control of the elected body. Instead of responsibility being local, it will be national. It would be of use to the elected local authorities in the new towns and to the inhabitants of new towns, who will be controlled by these rather remote bodies, if the Press and the public had rights of admission under the 1959 Act.

Mr. H. Brooke

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said but I do not think that he has drawn the distinction between this body which he seeks to incorporate in the Bill and the other bodies which are there already. He appreciates that this body is not in existence. It is a body that will have to be set up under the Act of 1959.

It differs from the bodies that we are incorporating in the Bill in this respect. It is not governing anybody, as one might say that a local council was. It is not providing a local public service as one might say that the Metropolitan Water Board was. It will be essentially a property management body. It is on those grounds that it is distinctive and it would not be appropriate to include it in the Bill.

It is a body for which the Minister of Housing and Local Government is responsible. It is his agency. He is open to questions in Parliament about its action. I do not think that it would be suitable to the general idea of the Bill if we were now to bring in this body which is so different from all the bodies for which we have decided to legislate here.

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: In page 5, line 42, at end insert:

(c) education committees constituted as provided in section one hundred and eight of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947.

In line 44, leave out from "1947" to end of line 46.

In page 6, line 3, leave out from "functions" to end of line 5.

In line 8, leave out from "1949" to end of line 10.—[Mrs. Thatcher.] 269

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Schedule, as amended, be the Schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Stewart

Before we agree that this Schedule shall be the Schedule to the Bill, there is one point I want to raise. In the Schedule we list a number of bodies to which the Press and the public can be admitted. What happens if, the members of the Press and public having got in to these bodies—some of which have not been in the habit of admitting them before—they behave in a disorderly manner? This is not a frivolous point. It is unlikely to happen, but it is not inconceivable. Unless we have a legal reassurance on this point there is a danger that Parliament might produce the following ludicrous situation.

At present the public get into these bodies, if they get in at all, by permission. If they misbehave, they can be turned out. We are now proposing, by including these bodies in the Schedule, to give the public a right to go in. Does it follow automatically that they can be turned out if they behave in a disorderly manner? We do not want to create a situation where Parliament has given the public an indefeasible right to go in if the people responsible for carrying the meeting have no right to turn them out if they behave in a manner that obstructs the purpose of the Bill. That is why I put down an Amendment which, if I may say so, I am surprised and aggrieved was not called.

The Chairman

The hon. Member has got his speech in just the same.

Mr. Stewart

Before I can bring myself to assent to the Schedule I should like the views of the hon. Lady or of the Minister on this point.

Mrs. Thatcher

At our sitting on 30th March, 1960, my hon. and learned Friend the [Sir Jocelyn Simon ] Solicitor-General dealt briefly with this point, and his remarks will be found in column 162 of the Official Report. I am also advised that all bodies to which the Bill will apply have an inherent right to exclude any person, whether a reporter, a member of the public or a member of the body itself, whose behaviour impedes the work of the body. I trust that the hon. Member will accept that assurance.

270

Mr. Wilkins

I know that I should be out of order, Mr. Hynd, if I were to ask for the reasons for your Ruling that we could not move the Amendment that would have brought the General Council of the Press into the spotlight of the public gaze, but could I ask for your guidance as to whether or not we could move such an Amendment on Report?

The Chairman

That is not for me to decide, but for Mr. Speaker when the Bill comes before the House.

Mr. Reynolds

I am glad that as a result of our progress this morning the Committee will not have to sit again. That, however, also has its disadvantages because I have a list of 25 other bodies whose inclusion in the Schedule the Committee might well have discussed. Perhaps I could pass the list to the Minister. While we have gone so far as to include many other bodies in the Schedule, and so have given the Press and public the right of admittance to their proceedings, it is a pity that the members of the General Council of the Press cannot decide, among themselves, that it would be a good idea to admit the public to their proceedings also.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Title

Amendment made: In line 2, after "press", insert:

"and other members of the public".

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Sir R. Grimston

At this point, Mr. Hynd, I should like to say how grateful we are to you for the way in which you have conducted our proceedings, and for your dispatch in doing so—and this in spite of the fact that you were brought into our proceedings at a very late stage. We must also thank Sir Norman Hulbert for his great courtesy and patience in conducting our earlier proceedings.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should like to be associated with those remarks, Mr. Hynd. We all realise how excessively difficult it must be to come into Committee proceedings at this late stage. You must be very thankful that the 271-272Committee has been so very affable this morning. Unfortunately, your [Sir Norman Hulbert ] predecessor did not always enjoy the same affability, and I should like to thank him, too, for his patience and courtesy in the Chair.

Mr. Stewart

I and my hon. Friends would like to be associated with the thanks expressed to you, Mr. Hynd, and associated, too, with the hope that, through you, we can thank your predecessor in the Chair. Mention has been made of the affability of the Committee, and the speed with which we have got through our business today. You, Mr. Hynd, came to the Committee at a point when our general ideas on what the Bill should look like were undergoing very rapid and profound change. Otherwise, more than one change of Chairman might have occurred before we finally parted with the Bill. With general goodwill, and with your help, Mr. Hynd, that has not happened, and we express our thanks to you and to your predecessor.

Mr. H. Brooke

On behalf of the members of the Government who have attended the meetings of the Committee, I associate myself with what has been said. There was a moment when I felt that, if I were in charge of any Bill which was getting bogged down, all I need do would be to send for you, Mr. Hynd. But I appreciate that it is not wholly the result of any change of Chairman that the pace has been different today. We are most grateful to you, just as we are most grateful to your predecessor.

Mr. C. Pannell

I missed the first two meetings of the Committee, Mr. Hynd, because I was abroad—the sort of situation with which you will have sympathy because you are often abroad. You, too, were brought in late, just as I came in late, to witness the despatch of the Bill. I congratulate you upon your conduct of our proceedings.

I referred earlier to local authorities being "hag-ridden". Nobody apart from the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) herself could possibly have thought that she was the person I was speaking about in such a connection. If one considers for a moment the remarkable change in the Bill that there has been, one realises that the hon. Lady has had a terrible experience with her Bill in her first Session. Now that we have agreement, we must express sympathy with her and hope that she will have fewer sleepless nights than she has had hitherto.

The Chairman

When I read through the previous proceedings of the Committee I was not surprised to learn that the Chairman had gone off to Australia. I thank the Committee very much for its co-operation this morning, and I thank the officials, who have been so helpful.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at twelve minutes past One o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:

Hynd, Mr. H. (Chairman)

Balniel, Lord

Bishop, Mr.

Bowen, Mr.

Brooke, Mr. H.

Bullard, Mr.

Butler, Mrs.

Cleaver, Mr.

Corfield, Mr.

Gammans, Lady

Glyn, Dr. A.

Grimston, Sir R.

Hall, Mr. Glenvil

Harris, Mr. R.

Hocking, Mr.

Iremonger, Mr.

Jenkins, Mr. Robert

Pannell, Mr. C.

Pargiter, Mr.

Renton, Mr.

Reynolds, Mr.

Slater, Mrs.

Small, Mr.

Smith, Mr. D.

Stewart, Mr. M.

Symonds, Mr.

Thatcher, Mrs.

Thomas, Mr. I.

Wilkins, Mr.

Yates, Mr. V.