R v. Wandsworth London Borough Council, ex parte Beckwith

[1996] 1 ALL ER 129
Download Judgment: English

Mr. Beckwith was a 75 year old resident of the George Potter Home, which was one of the four residential care homes for the elderly in the London Borough of Wandsworth. The borough’s council (the Council) had decided to transfer the other three homes into private ownership and to close down George Potter Home altogether. The Council had a statutory duty to provide accommodation to elderly persons under ss 21(1)(4) and 26 of the National Assistance Act 1948.


Mr. Beckwith filed suit to stop the Council from shutting down the care facility, arguing that the Act required that the Council needed to provide at least some accommodation under the Council’s own management. He succeeded at trial but was overturned on appeal. Mr. Beckwith then appealed to the House of Lords.


Section 26 of the Act stated that the accommodation arrangements by which the Council could discharge its statutory duty “may include” agreements with private parties.


The House of Lords held that the Council was not obliged to maintain some accommodation for elderly persons under its own management. It rejected Mr. Beckwith’s argument that the phrase “may include” excluded situations where the accommodation arrangements would “wholly consist” of services provided by private parties. The Court considered that neither the wording of the section nor its legislative history suggested that the Act required the Council to retain some level of direct provision. It was within the policy of the Act for the Council to discharge its statutory duty entirely through agreements with private parties. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed.

“In this case, however, the draftsman has adopted a different technique. The duty of the council under s 21 is to make ‘arrangements’ for providing residential accommodation for certain classes of people. Subsection (4) says that the accommodation must be managed by the local authority or by some other local authority. But this is expressed to be subject to s 26, which says that ‘arrangements under section 21 of this Act’ (not, notice, ‘the arrangements made under section 21 of this Act’) may include arrangements with the private sector. The draftsman is therefore not saying that homes in the private sector may be included in the collective of homes which the council has to provide. He is saying that the concept of ‘arrangements’ which has been used to define the council’s duty in s 21 is to include arrangements with the private sector. This produces an altogether different result: it extends the meaning of the concept by which the council's duty is defined. Any arrangements which fall within the extended definition will satisfy the council's duty.” [1996] 1 All ER p. 131-132.

“The guidance contemplated that the move to greater private provision would take some time. It does not follow, however, that local authorities had to retain direct control of some unspecified proportion of every service. This would have been imposing a duty to make direct provision which had not existed before the amendments and which seems to me contrary to the general thrust of the government's policy.” [1996] 1 All ER p. 132.