§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is by no means the first occasion on which the Ilford Corporation have promoted a Bill in Parliament to obtain county borough status for their borough. Before the war, the Corporation were actively concerned in the preparation of their first Bill, but the war came and the Bill was laid aside until the storm was over, or until it was almost over. Then, when questions of local government reorganisation came to be debated again, the council returned to the subject, and, in 1944, they introduced a Bill into this House. The Coalition Government were then about to set up the Local Government Boundary Commission. They gave the Ilford Borough Council an assurance that Ilford would be one of the first places to which the Boundary Commissioners would direct their attention. On that assurance, and at the request of the Government of that time, the Ilford Borough Council withdrew their Bill.
In so far as Ilford was one of the first places visited by the Boundary Commissioners, the assurance that was given was made good, and we make no complaint as to that. But it has led to nothing. Now the Boundary Commission has been brought to an end, and no action can be expected or any further activity on their part. That was certainly not the result which the council had anticipated when they agreed to withdraw 901 their Bill. They had certainly expected that some conclusion would be reached as a result of the activities of the Boundary Commission.
The next step was that, in 1950, the council promoted a second Bill in this House. The then Minister advised the House to reject that Bill on the ground that changes in local government should not be made piecemeal, and that the Government had in mind at some future date to introduce a general measure for the reorganisation of local government. There has been no Measure for the general reorganisation of local government. The Government of that time has gone. The prospect of reorganisation of local government now seems as remote as ever. So tonight the council come back, for the third time, to ask Parliament to delay no longer this reform, which they believe to be urgently needed in the interests and for the good government of the people of Ilford.
In all these protracted proceedings, which extend now over a period of something like 13 years, nobody has ever contended that Ilford was not fit to be a county borough. Our most implacable opponents have never ventured to say that. They do not say it in this House tonight. It has been recognised that in point of the population of the borough, which is now 180,000 persons—Ilford is the largest non-county borough in Essex, and it is the second largest non-county borough in this country—in point of its financial resources, and, indeed, in point of the standard of efficiency of the services which it gives to its citizens, Ilford is in every way constituted to be a county borough. Three successive Ministers of Health and Housing and Local Government, the Boundary Commissioners and three county councils of different political complexions have never challenged our claim on any of these grounds. Our merits are admitted; indeed, they have never been called in question, and I should be surprised if they were called in question tonight.
That relieves me of the necessity of dealing at any length with that aspect of the matter. It leaves me free to offer some observations upon those objections which have been advanced on more general grounds against our claim. I am fortified in taking that course by the knowledge that my hon. and gallant 902 Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, at a later stage. He is well qualified to deal with that aspect of the matter, because he was himself for many years an active and energetic member of the Ilford Borough Council.
Indeed, it is not upon these grounds that this Bill is to be resisted. What is said is that Ilford ought to wait until some general reorganisation of local government is undertaken. If there was any prospect of a project of that character, we might be willing to wait, although, indeed, on a previous occasion, when we waited as we were urged to do, we got little reward for our patience. But the prospect of any general reorganisation of local government seems not to be in sight; it is, indeed, as remote as ever.
I do not blame my right hon. Friend for that state of affairs. We can all readily understand that, in a House of Commons as closely divided as we are, no Government could undertake a project such as local government reform, on which we are all swayed by loyalties which may prove more powerful than loyalty to our respective parties.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The right hon Gentleman is over-optimistic.
If the Government of the day is not able to reform local government, that, surely, is no reason for standing in the way when local government seeks to reform itself.
When the Boundary Commission was set up in 1945, the House will recall that the power of local authorities to promote Bills such as this was taken from them, as, indeed, were all the normal powers of local authorities for reorganising or rearranging themselves. That was natural enough if the Government of that day expected to produce a scheme for the rearrangement of local government which it was hoped would be final and comprehensive.
When the Boundary Commission was dissolved in 1949, the power to promote Bills such as this was expressly restored by Parliament to those boroughs the populations of which exceeded 75,000 people. Indeed, the duty of county 903 councils to re-arrange their districts within their counties was also expressly restored to them. They may start to do that at any time now and they must do it within a period of 10 years.
I do not believe that when that was enacted Parliament intended to restore to the local authorities the semblance of this power and at the same time to withhold the substance. It was never contemplated that each time a bill for county borough powers was brought to this House it was to be defeated on Second Reading on the ground that the 'time was inopportune and that it should await a general reorganisation of local government. If that had been contemplated the powers should never have been restored to the local authorities. It is wrong that Parliament, having given back these powers with one hand, should now be asked to take them away with the other.
Then it is said that Ilford is a part of Greater London and that there, at any rate, there should be comprehensive reorganisation. Of those hon. Members who advance that argument I ask, "What chance is there of any such scheme? "Hon. Members know that there is no chance at all. There is no measure of agreement among the authorities themselves, or inside or outside this House, on such a controversial topic as this. It is not reasonable to say that we should tolerate the present conditions indefinitely until at last the lion is persuaded to lie down with the lamb—or is forcibly put to rest with it.
I say this about local government in Greater London. If the present arrangements had not come into being owing to the general development of events, no one outside a madhouse would have thought of creating them. Ilford is a typical case. It is a great suburban and industrial place, one of the largest municipal authorities. It is a part of London, if you like, but it is not governed in any way from London or in relation to London.
The principal services of the town-education, the domiciliary health services, the welfare services, the care of aged persons and the new children's service, which is so important—are administered, not from Ilford, nor in- 904 deed from any part of London. They are administered from a country town 20 miles away, in the heart of Essex, by an authority whose main concern— and I make no complaint of this because it is their main concern—is the administration of what is still in the main a rural county.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
Yes. It is these conditions which the House is to be invited to impose upon these great new urban authorities, apparently indefinitely.
We in Ilford are not lacking in a sense of duty to our neighbours. But there comes a point when I confess that what I believe to be the welfare of the nearly 200,000 people whose representation I share with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South comes first in my consideration. It would be for the benefit not only of the people of Ilford tout for the people of Essex, too, that we should now part company and that Ilford should be given a life of its own.
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give specific instances of severe injury to Ilford through the area being administered from Chelms-ford?
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The hon. Gentleman must not tempt me to criticise the administration of another authority. He would do well to wait and to allow me to get on with my speech.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
No one believes that if and when local government comes to be reorganised great urban communities like Ilford and many other places around London will not be entrusted with much wider responsibilities than they discharge now. The Boundary Commission contemplated that an authority of this size and character should be the education authority, the authority for public health, and for planning, welfare and many other services.
Who can doubt that when the time comes these places will be called upon to discharge, as they are eager to do, these much wider responsibilities? What 905 is to happen in the meantime? These services, most of which have been recast since the war, are now being built up on a basis of county administration. I believe that it will be found that the administrative upheaval and disruption which will follow if these services are allowed to develop in the coming years on the basis of county administration will be infinitely greater, more serious and profound, when the time comes for these large authorities to assume wider responsibilities, than is likely to happen if Ilford and places like it are now constituted county boroughs and these new services are allowed to develop on a borough basis. That will be so even if it means that, later on, some modification in the status of these county boroughs, such as the Boundary Commission contemplated, should be considered necessary.
I turn to the effect which the Bill is likely to have upon the administrative County of Essex. When the Luton Corporation Bill was before this House two years ago, great play was made with the allegation that if Luton was withdrawn from the County of Bedfordshire the county council would be unable to discharge its responsibilities. That argument does not apply to the County of Essex. A paper was circulated to this House a few weeks ago by the county council. I searched that paper to see whether it was asserted that the same fate would overtake Essex if Ilford were separated from the county. I could find no such allegation. It is not there for the excellent reason that if it were the county council would not be able to substantiate that claim. No one alleges that Essex will be seriously embarrassed if Ilford goes.
§ Mr. Graeme Finlay (Epping)
Has my hon. and learned Friend noticed paragraph 8 of the statement on behalf of the Essex County Council, which says:The potential mutilation of the county from time to time on such a scale introduces a degree of uncertainty into the future of county administration which greatly adds to the complexity of making efficient and economical arrangements for the provision of county services. Moreover, if the size, population and resources of the administrative county were so greatly reduced the existing county administration would require complete reorganisation.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
What I said was that it was not alleged, as it was alleged on behalf of the Bedfordshire County 906 Council, that if Ilford were taken out of the Essex county administration the county council would not be able to discharge its responsibilities. If my hon. Friend will read through that document he will not find that allegation anywhere.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
Surely the point is that if llford is to get its way, then there are four or five other urban districts in the county which will follow this precedent, and then there can be no question but that the finances and the administration of the county will be completely upset.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
It is said on behalf of the county council that there are six boroughs, including the Borough of llford, and two urban districts each of which have populations sufficiently large to justify them coming to Parliament and asking for county borough powers. I do not want to pursue this case on the basis of these authorities going out, but let us see what would happen if they did.
The county would still be left with a population of over 700,000, nearly three quarters of a million. It would still be left with a rateable value exceeding £5 million, and it would in fact be bigger in population and better endowed with financial resources than 36 other counties, excluding the Welsh counties, excluding Rutland and the Soke of Peterborough, all of which are quite exceptional. Even if all these eight authorities are taken out of Essex, it is difficult to see why a county council, which still has a population of that size and a rateable value exceeding £5 million, will be embarrassed in the discharge of its functions. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having called attention to this matter.
§ Mr. Colegate
Surely with a county which has built up administrative services on a population of nearly 2 million and with a rateable value of over £11 million, to more than halve the population and to halve the rateable value must throw those administrative services into confusion.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
My hon. Friend is arguing that these authorities are to continue to be part of the county council indefinitely. That is the point that I was seeking to deal with a moment ago. Of course, some time these big towns must be taken out of the county. Some time an 907 urban authority with a population of over 100,000 persons must be taken out of county government and given responsibility of its own. No one has ever argued to the contrary. The Boundary Commission certainly did not do so. What do the county council expect to happen to these great urban authorities? It cannot seriously be suggested that they will remain for ever a part of the county. Of course they will not. Some day they will be given wider responsibilities, which the Boundary Commissioners recommend that they should undertake. It is really unrealistic to argue that the county services must be organised upon the basis that these places will remain indefinitely part of the country area.
There is another matter in this memorandum to which reference has been made and to which I desire to refer. It has been said—my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay) said it a moment ago—that if Ilford were to become a county borough there would be immediate and serious dislocation of many major county services. Let me deal with that point. There has not been located in Ilford one single county institution. There is not an aged persons' home, a welfare institution, a children's home, a residential nursery, or, indeed, an institution of that character. There is not, so far as I know, even a welfare officer's office in the Borough of Ilford. People have to walk five miles to Rom-ford for that. All these county institutions have, in fact, been located outside the Borough of Ilford. Ilford may have brought much into the county of Essex, but it is certain that it will take little out.
I have endeavoured to avoid detaining the House with the details of this business. This is not the place, nor is it the time, to enter into such matters. They are proper matters to be considered in the Committee upstairs. No doubt, there are many matters of detail which have to be investigated. As I say, that is the task of the Committee upstairs, to which I now ask that this Bill may be sent.
This House is tonight concerned with a major question of policy. Local government, if it is to be maintained in a lively, healthy condition, must retain its flexible, organic character, adapting 908 itself readily to the needs of changing generations. That is the way in which our system of local government was framed and was intended to operate.
During these last 10 years we have sought to imprison local government and to take from it that flexibility which those who originally designed the system intended that it should have. We have, indeed, sacrificed the flexibility of local government to an ideal which may one day be realised. It has not been realised yet. Hitherto it has proved incapable of realisation.
Some time we have got to unfreeze local government. Some time we have got to allow the local authorities, if we cannot reorganise them, at least to reorganise themselves. I ask the House tonight to take the first step in this direction and agree to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)
I beg to second the Motion.
I am bound to say that to one who has taken part in a number of similar debates, the faces of those present begin to assume a certain familiarity, though I notice that on this occasion my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) have apparently paired and gone home.
I noticed on the last occasion when I spoke in one of these debates, when I was moving the Second Reading of the Ealing Corporation Bill, that the hon. Members for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) and Tottenham (Mr. Messer) were the two leading opponents of the Measure which I was proposing, and I notice that their hostility to the upgrading of non-county boroughs extends from their own county of Middlesex even into Essex. I hope they will not press this hostility too far because, as I shall try to convince the House, the arguments which applied against the Ealing Bill do not apply against this Bill.
When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government spoke in the debate on the Ealing Corporation Bill, in the course of what everybody, whether they were supporters or opponents of the Bill, agreed to be a most fair and judicial summing-up of the argument, he concluded by saying that he himself proposed to vote against that Bill, 909 as indeed he subsequently did. The main burden of his argument was that the granting of county borough status to Ealing would mean a rush of similar applications, which, if complied with, would mean that Middlesex would virtually disappear and would become an authority concerned simply with sewage and county cricket. That, one has to admit in the case of Middlesex, is an argument with a certain amount of obvious truth in it, but in this instance, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate) has said, I cannot conceive that the argument is anything like so strong.
It is true of course, that there are other authorities in Essex which would consider Ilford as a precedent and which might make application for county borough status. Their case is nothing like as strong as that of llford, but, in any case, the effect on Essex would be immeasurably smaller than the effect on Middlesex if all the large non-county boroughs and urban districts elected to seek county borough status.
But, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, the case of local government reform is now urgent and serious. No new county borough has been created in this country, I believe I am right in saying, since 1926, since when changes in population have been immense. More important still, the changes in the functions which various kinds of local government authorities are called upon to perform have been even greater. We have had not merely an immense extension of health and welfare services of all kinds, but we have had services on such a scale that in the case of a large and populous county authority the detailed administration of those services has become immensely difficult owing to the lack of direct contact between the authority at the centre and the citizens whose welfare is being served.
It is clear that sooner or later Parliament will have to do something about this problem. The question is whether year after year and Parliamentary Session after Parliamentary Session we are to be fobbed off with the contention that this is too large a problem to be dealt with piecemeal. Over and over again, very large authorities such as Ilford have been told that they cannot have county borough status because we cannot afford to do 910 the job piecemeal. The result is that the job is not done at all.
I shall be extremely surprised if, when my right hon. Friend replies, he is able to tell the House that there is even a likelihood of a measure of local government reform being agreed upon and a Bill introduced in the next Session of Parliament. How long are we to wait, and how great would be the disadvantages of allowing this first experimental step to take place in the direction of a more realistic distribution of functions between the local authorities of this country?
I cannot help feeling that the encouragement which would be given to the people of llford, and the immense benefits which would accrue to students of local government and experts in local government were they given the chance to experiment on this scale with the redistribution of functions, would be very great. I earnestly hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading and thus take a great and historic step forward in the cause of local government reform.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Messer (Tottenham)
I have listened very carefully and attentively to what both the hon. and learned Member for llford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) and the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) have had to say because I wanted to hear in what way Ilford was suffering at the present time through not being a county borough. I was waiting to hear what the effect on Essex was going to be when, as is obvious if this Bill goes through, that county will be truncated to an extent that will leave it as an authority dealing merely with rural matters.
§ Mr. Messer
When an hon. Member says that that is quite right, it is clear that he has not given much study to the problem of local government as such. I am by no means in favour of an indefinite continuation of the existence—
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that even if Ilford becomes a county borough, the county of Essex will still have a population of 1,400,000.
§ Mr. Messer
Yes, for a short time, but would it be possible for us to grant county borough status to Ilford and refuse it to Walthamstow, with a population of 121,000, to Dagenham, with 114,000, to Hornchurch, with 104,000, to Leyton, with 105,000 or to Romford, with 87,000? It is clear that what the House is deciding this evening is whether or not county government is to continue not merely in Essex, but in the rest of the country.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
Even if all these things happen, Essex will still be larger than Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Gloucestershire and larger than more than 30 other existing county councils.
§ Mr. Messer
What the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying is that because anomalies exist we must make them worse. I should have thought that one with such an experience of the law as he has would have presented his case in a rather more convincing way than that. That because evil is done it can continue to be done is not the type of argument that will convince waverers in this House on the course that should be taken when dealing with what everybody agrees is at the present time a very vexed question.
I hope it will not be considered, as the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North seemed to think, that those of us who opposed a similar Bill on a previous occasion are wedded to county government as it is. Who for one moment is going to support the continued existence of a county such as Rutland or the Soke of Peterborough? Who is going to support the continued existence of a county borough like Canterbury, with a population of 24,000? No one, of course.
§ Colonel J, H. Harrison
Canterbury was specifically excluded from the 1888 Act because of its historic position.
§ Mr. Messer
I do not know what that is supposed to prove, except that for historical reasons we should continue to have that which cannot function in the way it should. Very clearly we have to see in what way the services which should be administered by local government can be the more efficiently administered. That is the question we have to decide, and it cannot be decided in just one of the two ways suggested in some quarters, that of leaving things alone or of having a complete revolution in local government.
912 There is a third possibility. I should be the first to admit, and to argue as strongly as reason will allow, that there are many functions which are the responsibility of local government and which should be administered as close to the people as possible. It can be argued there are some services which are better because they are administered by a large authority: the engineering services— drainage, highways and bridges—the provision of gas, water and electricity.
I would not put them under nationalised boards. I am beginning to suspect nationalised boards. It is difficult to make any impression on a board. They are so unresponsive to the people, and local government must be responsive to the people it serves. Local government must be local. Remoteness of control of the human services is not a bad thing because it is remote, but because it cannot possibly have the required susceptibility. It can have the efficiency, but in these great human services of health, welfare and education there is something more wanted than just mechanical efficiency.
It is not what we do that matters but the way in which we do it. That which is done by those closer to the people can be calculated to give the greatest degree of satisfaction. If that appears to be contradictory to the stand that I am taking, let me hasten to make myself plain. There are services for which we have worked long years to improve. We have wanted social services to be expanded, but when we have expanded them we have recognised that the unit of administration has not been of a character which would enable the work to be done efficiently.
We could not have had the 1944 Education Act unless we had provided the governing body with a population big enough to divide up the sections of the child population into groups of sufficient size to enable the specialities which were required to be provided. Modern secondary education, technical education and further education require administrative units large enough to be able to provide the necessary facilities. The consequence of having to adapt the machinery of local government to the functions it had to perform compelled us to do things which we felt to be not entirely good.
913 I shall not be misunderstood it I claim my own constituency to be the most progressive local authority in the country. The borough council did the work which the county council should have done in providing special schools. In my local authority area we have a school for the deaf wherein we take pupils from other parts of the county. But it was put up by the borough and not by the county. The borough was able to recognise a need and to meet it.
What can we do if, as is suggested, any revolutionary change is impossible? Is there nothing we can do? I think there is. I think we can do it without the complications which will result from giving county borough status. Both the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North and the hon. Member for Ealing, South skated very lightly over the additional complications which will result from giving county status to one non-county borough. Shall we have Ilford County Borough and nothing more?
Shall we not be creating a new set of officials entirely outside local government? For so soon as we create Ilford County Borough we shall have Ilford Executive Council to administer the general practitioner section of the National Health Service. We are not just giving a higher status to Ilford; we shall be creating Ilford Executive Council.
Under the National Health Service Act, if Ilford becomes a county borough it will become a local health authority and the North-East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board will have an additional authority with which it will have to negotiate. At the moment it negotiates with the Essex County Council for the whole of the administrative county of Essex. If Ilford becomes a county borough it will have to negotiate—
§ Mr. Messer
The hon. and learned Member tries by his interruptions to repair his omissions, but all he does is to show up his case in a worse light. At the present time the North-East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board negotiates separately with Southend, with East Ham and with West Ham and separately with the Essex County Council. Now the 914 hon. and learned Member says, "Well, Ilford is only one more." I repeat, it will not be one more, for others will follow, and we shall find that administration will be concerned with the various county boroughs within the geographical county of Essex.
These negotiations are important. A principle exists in the National Health Service which I think is very bad. It is the principle of the division of responsibility from authority. I try to do my thinking on the basis of seeking a principle and building my policy upon it. When we divide responsibility from authority we create confusion.
Let me illustrate what I mean. The regional hospital board is the authority for dealing with patients who go into hospitals. The local health authority is the body which deals with the ambulances used to take them there. The local health authority provides and pays for the ambulances. One body provides and pays for the service and another body uses it. That is a bad thing, for those who provide the service cannot control it, and those who use it have no incentive to economise. It is for those reasons a bad thing. If Ilford becomes a county borough it will add to the problem, because Ilford will have its own ambulances, which are now centralised in the county. There will be another wheel to the coach.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford. South)
But we always did have them until you took them away from us.
§ Mr. Messer
I always disagreed about the separation of the ambulance service from the hospital service. It has always seemed to me a clear case that ambulances should constitute a hospital service based upon, provided by and used by the hospitals. Indeed, I spend a lot of my time, perhaps too much, speaking up and down the country on the unification of the health services. I believe in that unification. I do not believe in fragmentation, but that is what will happen.
Hon. Members will be saying that I started with a reference to a third possibility but that I have not told the House what it is. The fact that they have not 915 interrupted me so far to ask me about that possibility must be a tribute to my ability to face the consequences of my own rashness. There is an alternative. I think that local government should be close to the people, so I have an obligation to reconcile that belief, with my claim that there should be an authority large enough to administer the services for a very large number of people. I want to meet that obligation.
I would give to the county council a particular authority for services that require to be administered by the large authority, and I would give to the minor authority the right of claiming complete delegation of those services which they consider they are capable of administering. If that were not granted I would give to the Minister the right to determine whether or not it should be granted.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
Does complete delegation in this case also give complete financial responsibility, because that is the crux of the problem?
§ Mr. Messer
The one already goes with the other in many cases. That is by no means a difficult problem to overcome. It has been said that if county borough status were granted to IIford it would make no difference to Word's finances. Will IIford have a lower rate than those of other districts in Essex because of this? If it will not, there is not very much justification, on the grounds of economy, for Ilford becoming a county borough. But if Ilford will have a lower rate—and incidentally at present its rate is the lowest but one of all authorities of over 100,000 population in Essex— then, if the equalisation grant is to compensate Essex, as it is supposed to do, who will pay it? It must come from somewhere.
This Bill means that Ilford has recognised itself as a grown-up son in the family. It believes itself strong enough to be able to pay for all it wants itself, so it wants to leave the home and set up on its own account and is no longer willing to share the overheads which must be shared by those who are left. It means that those who, by virtue of the joint financial responsibility of all, have managed to share the burden in the past, will now have an unfair burden placed upon them. A succession of grown-up 916 members of the family will leave, making the position of Essex worse and worse. I am so much in earnest about the reorganisation of local government that I am tempted to vote for this Bill, because I am certain that if this Bill goes through that reorganisation must come about.
§ Mr. Messer
It would be a good idea if I were the type of politician who went in for expediency, but I am of the type who has a principle. Being an honest politician I am bound to vote against the Bill, because I consider that it proposes the wrong way to do the job.
We have had many debates in this House on the reorganisation of local government. It seems to me that it must come, or else a dread alternative awaits us. We can see it happening. Because we have not had the courage to deal with the problem, we have seen services that ought to have been administered by local authorities going to the central Government. I do not like that. I do not think that Whitehall knows enough about the people to be able to administer those services as well as the people on the spot can administer them. I do not like this drift from local administration to Whitehall with all its good intentions. Whitehall is not the machine for the carrying out of that administration. It was never intended to do it. It is a job for the local authorities.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government made a speech at the end of last year to the Association of Municipal Corporations, in which he talked about the reform of local government. Was it thought that local government was like a drunkard or a criminal who needed reform, he asked; was it inefficient? I ask that. Has county government in Essex been efficient? We should look at the wonderful technical college that they have at Walthamstow and some of the examples of the work that they have done in secondary education. Essex County Council have nothing to be ashamed of in the services which they have rendered to the people. I hope that the Bill will be overwhelmingly rejected.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. C. J. M. Alport (Colchester)
I and all other hon. Members of this House admire, and have always admired, the integrity of the hon. Member for 917 Tottenham (Mr. Messer). But I do not think that we can admire the logic of his argument tonight. He started off by saying that local government should be local, that it ought to be in intimate contact with the people with which it had to deal and be as close as possible to those living in the area—with this we agree.
But then his argument led him to conclude that the whole pattern of local government reform should be hitched to the existing pattern of a great national organisation such as the Health Service system as it exists at present. He asked, on the other hand, how one could have a county borough in Ilford with an additional health committee there, when in fact the total number of health committees attached to county boroughs at the present moment was too large. Would not the right conclusion be perhaps that the Health Service itself requires reform?
I propose to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) on this Bill for two reasons. The first is because in 1950 I voted for the Ilford Bill. I do not suppose for one moment that there is any virtue in political consistency, but the reason which led me to support it then still obtains. That reason is that I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that local government reform is very long overdue. On that occasion I voted as a protest against the fact that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) had at that time recently abolished the Local Boundary Commission and had done nothing to carry the matter further. I have been dismayed that, in spite of the immense difficulties which I realise exist, no step towards tackling this problem has been taken during the last 18 months. I may be wrong about that, and am open to correction.
I feel it is most important that if we are to get the economical administration of our local authorities this reform should be undertaken. We can talk in county councils, borough councils or rural district councils about economy, but at root economy depends upon producing a more efficient and more sensible and logical pattern of local government for the country as a whole. That is one of the reasons why I shall support this Bill. I do so— 918 if I may put it this way—as a gentle nudge to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, so that not only will he go down in history as a great Minister of Housing, but also as a great Minister of Local Government by tackling this task within the immediate future.
The second reason why I support the Bill is perhaps a more local reason. I do not know whether you have ever been to Essex, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but as far as I am concerned you start at Liverpool Street. For the first 15 or 20 miles you go through a town which is very similar to any borough of London going out of this City of London in any other direction. There are cemeteries, greyhound racing stadiums, great railway sidings and factories, and street after street after street of houses. In fact, until you get somewhere near Brentwood Rise you would never know that you had left London at all.
The folk who live in those streets are honest, honourable hard-working folk, but their eyes and their interests are all directed towards this great City of London. They are different from the interests, ideas and points of view of those who live beyond Brentwood Rise out in the country districts of Eastern Essex. If you get past that point you quickly realise that you are in a different county.
In a month or two's time the fields on either side of the railway line will be a most beautiful sight. They always remind me of a rainbow, with great splashes of colour—vermilion, orange, mauve and blue. In those June and July months it is as if the rainbow ended in those fields of Essex. If only my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture would give us a decent price for our seed there might even be a crock of gold at the bottom of those rainbows. Going further, the country rolls up from the sea; country which is old and quiet and very remote from this great city.
This city is not only the City of Westminster and the City of London, but also a great conglomeration of population and activity, like Ilford and Romford. The hon. Member for Tottenham asked, "What does Ilford suffer from being in the county of Essex?" We have a different point of view. We ask, "What does the County of Essex suffer from having Ilford in it?" because we feel— 919 and we have great justification for it— that the centre of gravity of our county council is not really at Chelmsford, which is in the country district of Essex, but is in that great urban population of Ilford, Romford, Dagenham, Leyton, and all the others. That is the direction in which the county council looks. That is the part of the county from which the majority of Members, quite rightly, come. They are Members whose interests, work and outlook are different from those who come from the country districts.
What we want, and what we have sought of for many years, is the opportunity to get our county split in half. We have tried, but it is not easy. After all, the county next door, Suffolk, is divided in two. Why not, therefore, a division of Essex between urban Essex on the one side and rural Essex on the other?
§ Mr. Alport
It may be shocking to the hon. Gentleman, but I am thinking of it from the point of view of our part of Essex. Surely we are entitled to a point of view as much as anybody else. The hon. Gentleman who says it is shocking represents the urban part of Essex. They do not want to lose anything, but we want to go. Why should we not have our point of view and our interests supported?
The interesting thing is that it has not been Essex Members who have been speaking against this but Middlesex Members. Cannot we in our county have our point of view? Cannot we, who agree entirely with our urban friends on this matter, be allowed to have our way? I agree that if Ilford obtains county borough status Romford, Walthamstow, Dagenham, Hornchurch and Leyton will follow. They will all be able to look after their own interests in their own way, leaving us, away in our remote rural end of Essex, to look after ourselves. We may not be quite as rich as we were, but I gather that through the equalisation fund we may be able to make up for some of the disadvantages, and we will find our interests better served.
I have nothing against the county council. The county council does its best. But if the great bias of opinion is towards a part of the county which has 920 so little relationship with us, the folk from which so often only pass through our county at high speed along the London road to get to Clacton as quickly as they can, how can they understand the difficulties of the little villages and hamlets in the valleys that lie up from the sea? They do not even live in the same climate as we do. We have this east wind which comes in from the coast —they say from the steppes of Russia. They talk about a "cold war." Well, Russia has been fighting a cold war against us with the east wind for many centuries past. Yes, we have rather a different point of view. We want the great urban areas to get what they want, and we want to see Romford, Walthamstow, Dagenham, Hornchurch, Leyton and Ilford get county borough status. And good riddance to the lot of them.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubert Ashton (Chelmsford)
My hon. Friend the Member for the very ancient Borough of Colchester (Mr. Alport) has made a speech in which he has given his general views on local government reform. I am glad he has no basic complaint against the county council as such. I must confess that as an ex-vice-chairman of the county I used to enjoy very much visiting rural areas and the great Borough of Chelmsford.
Perhaps we can get back to the Bill. This Bill has as its sole object the constitution of the Borough of Ilford as a county borough. I should like to return to the fairly detailed arguments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson). We all listen with much interest to what he has to say on matters concerned with local government. At this time we all get a great many papers attempting to persuade us to vote this way or the other. Among the many papers I have received, on 3rd March I had a document signed by my hon. and learned Friend and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper), which contained this rather remarkable sentence:The Bill will not in any way affect any adjoining authority.The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North has suggested that it obviously will affect the county council, but that it will be able to exist even though it is truncated in this way. Let me 921 point out to him that these county councils have been growing in different ways since 1888. It is perfectly true that the administrative County of Essex is one of the largest today, and that others have not grown so fast. Take from that human body, if I may so describe it, what I am sure I am right in describing as unquestionably the biggest, brightest jewel of our crown, Ilford, have this ripped widely from our very vitals, then I ask my hon, and learned Friend, is that to have no effect on our constitution? Of course it is.
I think it is just as well to remember the problem with which we are trying to deal. What is the Essex administrative county today? It consists of some 960,000 acres, a population of 1,600,000 people, and a rateable value of approximately £11,700,000. There are 43 authorities on whom the county council precepts. It is true that Ilford is the largest and has the greatest rateable value. We shall agree about that. It has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House already that there are seven other authorities who would be entitled to press by Private Bill for county borough powers, and unquestionably they will do so. My hon. Friends here hope they will. That will happen not only in the County of Essex but all over the country. Is that the way we wish to see local government reformed? I agree with my hon. Friends, and with my hon. Friends on the other side of the House, too. that local government reform is badly needed, but I suggest that this is not the way to proceed.
If the seven other authorities left us they would take only a tenth of our acreage; they would, however, take more than half our population, and more than half our rateable value. There would be quite a fair part left. To suggest that an entity which has gradually built itself up since 1888 should be treated in this way, to suggest that this body which has grown to stand firmly on its own legs should thus be so mutilated, is ruthless indeed. The trunk of the body, perhaps, would be left, but part of the body, and the life blood, would be taken away. Further the county would be bereft of the advice of Ilford Councillors at County Hall.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The life blood has not been there since 1888, but it has all 922 grown up in the last 20 or 30 years, since the end of the First World War.
§ Mr. Ashton
I quite agree that that development has taken place in the last 20 or 30 years. My hon. and learned Friend and I have grown up to about very much the same age during the same time. My hon. and learned Friend may have grown a bit bigger than I in one way, and I may have grown bigger than he in another, but to lop off from the major, larger body half its soul and substance must reduce it. A dwarf or a pygmy remain entities. I suggest that there is no substance in my hon. and learned Friend's arguments in that direction.
Now I come to certain details. One always listens with great interest to what the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) says on matters of health. He has spent a lifetime in that particular public work, and I am sure that we should pay tribute to what he has done. I do not want to go into the details that he did in this matter, but I am certain that, as he said, these new methods for health and so on have been built up on a county basis. Even in the case of health administration, which, I think myself, should have a more local atmosphere, there would be some effect in the County of Essex as a whole
As to education, my hon. Friends know perfectly well that, as a result of the 1944 Education Act, the whole of the administration of education in our county has been built up on a county basis. There are thousands of children in Ilford who go to schools outside Ilford. There are, conversely, thousands of children outside Ilford who go into Ilford for their education. All that would require reorganisation. These proposals must have some effect on that, although I believe that in the case of education and health, as, indeed, the Boundary Commission suggested, the powers should go back more locally.
I come now to planning. That is another thing. My hon. and learned Friend said that at no time had anybody said Ilford should not have county borough status. County borough status includes control of the fire brigade, the children, everything. I agree with the Local Boundary Commission and others that planning should be on a wider basis 923 than that of a county borough of small acreage. I would remind my hon. Friend that since the war and in recent years there has been a great expansion of Essex. The population has increased enormously, and the increase is still going on. I seriously submit that this certainly is a function of local government that should remain in the hands of the county council authorities.
Mention has been made of the fire brigade. This service also has been built up over the same years. My hon. and learned Friend said there was no single major county function in Ilford.
§ Mr. Ashton
Yes, institution. I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend regards the fire brigade divisional headquarters as an institution, but whatever it may be it is quite an important thing in Ilford, because it deals there with no fewer than eight other districts with a population of more than 900,000 people. Here, obviously, is a service in which some major reorganisation would be necessary were these proposals agreed to. Then there are the ambulance services, which are controlled by wireless. No doubt, some arrangement could be made about them, but I am suggesting to the House that they should not be made just as a ship passes in the night.
I believe the value of the services controlled by the county has been underlined during the time of the floods. I pay full tribute to what was done by all the local authorities, but the fact that some of these major functions were in the hands of the county council was proved to be of great advantage at that time. Naturally, we do not always have or want to have floods and wars with us. In my lifetime we have had far too many of those things. However, the advantage of having services controlled at county level has been proved lately, I submit.
Then there is another matter of vital importance which was touched on by my hon. and learned Friend. He referred to the Local Boundary Commission's Report of 1947. He said that, so far as Ilford was concerned, it led to nothing. Those were the words he used. I think, however, he will agree that there was a specific recom- 924 mendation in that Report that Ilford was a part of the huge London area. Everybody agrees with that. My hon. and learned Friend agrees with that. It was recommended in the Report that Ilford should not be dealt with except in conjunction with the area of which it is a part. In Essex, Ilford is facile princeps. In the huge conurbation of London I do not know that it would be quite the same.
My hon. and learned Friend said there was no possibility whatever of agreement among the local authorities. It is an extremely difficult problem. I should like at this juncture to quote a speech made by my right hon. Friend, oddly enough, exactly a year ago, on 26th March, 1952. He then said:Why, then, it is argued, take this premature action? Why introduce new and unnecessary difficulties, and why do so—although this argument has not been deployed tonight, it has certainly been present in my mind—at this present time, when it is believed that negotiations are taking place, and not altogether without prospect of success, between the various groups of local authority interests with a view to reaching some agreed solution?" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 518.]It is in the knowledge of the House as a whole that a quite considerable measure of agreement has been reached in this matter after long negotiations by the County Councils Association, the Urban District Councils Association, the Rural District Councils Association, and the National Association of Parish Councils. My hon. Friend smiles. I know it is very difficult to get agreement, but, after all, here are what may be serious proposals, and should we at this juncture give to a Bill of this nature a Second Reading which would seem to imply that there was a prima facie case and justification for the reform of local government on this basis?
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the whole series of local government associations. Will he tell us what is the view of the Association of Municipal Corporations?
§ Mr. Ashton
My association has been with the County Councils' Association. The A.M.C. have, I think, been sitting on the side lines. I remember when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South was dealing with the Ealing Corporation Bill. On 26th March, 1952, he said that the County Councils' Association were not going to come to an agree- 925 ment with anybody. I might suggest now that they have come to such an agreement with three other authorities, and the other people, the A.M.C., as always, are rather like mother's darling boy who was the only one in step.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
It is true that the County Councils' Association have come to some agreement with all these smaller organisations but have failed to come to any agreement whatsoever with the boroughs, who are the people that really matter.
§ Mr. Ashton
This is a very vexed problem, and I wonder whether it was advisable to bring it forward at such short notice. The last thing that I want to stir up are differences between the boroughs and the other authorities. I am sincere in saying that. I am sure that we realise that Members on both sides of the House are getting a little restive on this matter. I believe, in looking at the voting records, that it may be that they have changed their minds. It may be that they will vote today against their better judgment.
May I go back to quote from a speech made by my right hon. Friend on 26th March, 1952, when he said that if this Bill was passed he could not really pretend that a large number of other Bills would not rapidly follow? I think that may be so. I think that is accepted on both sides of the House. I myself have very considerable sympathy with the aspirations of the Borough of Ilford. I fully appreciate the disappointment which they have had over a number of years.
I have had some experience of two-tier Government in the huge administrative county of Essex, and I agree with the remark made—I am not sure by whom— that it is very difficult in such matters because of the distance and geography to have real personal contacts. I tried for three years when I was vice-chairman of the county council, and I found it very difficult to make personal contacts with the mayors and chairmen of the 43 councils in our area. I speak only for myself in expressing these views.
I am sure that there would be grave difficulties in regard to finance, and I think that it is quite untrue to suggest, as it has been suggested, that if these changes took place it does not matter 926 what happens to the rateable value because the Exchequer equalisation grant is going to take care of that. It has been in operation for five years, its existence is extremely uncertain and its future is under urgent investigation. I think that to argue on that basis is quite wrong. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take up the same line as he did in his earlier speech. I think that the proposals to which I have referred— this agreement between four of the authorities which will be published on the 28th March—in 48 hours' time—are worthy of the fullest consideration.
First and last, however, every single thing depends on finance. Local government finance is much in the eye at the present time. Any alterations of functions or boundaries depend eventually on this matter of finance. In the meantime, in asking hon. Members to agree that the arguments against this piece-meal reform of local government are quite overwhelming, I feel that it is essential that we should have some measure of local government reform as soon as possible, and in that direction I would urge, with what strength I can, that a committee to examine the whole of local government finance should be set up forthwith.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
I wish to support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton). I call him my hon. Friend in this respect because we are thinking alike on a very important problem. This is a very much wider problem than the Ilford Corporation Bill. Everyone recognises that if this Bill is accepted it must be the forerunner of other similar Bills. Reference has been made to Essex, but what about the other authorities elsewhere which have a population of more than 75,000. After all, 75,000 is the figure in the Act at the present time. If we are going to accede the case, taking this as a precedent, that all those towns of more than 75,000 population can bring forward a Bill, what would be the end of it?
Perhaps we should leave the Minister to deal with that as his problem but it is obviously one which he would not require to have on his plate at this particular moment. This is a matter of very wide public importance outside the boundaries of Ilford or Essex.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. Gentleman quotes the figure of 75,000 and indicates that a lot of authorities will come forward. It was the Labour Government which inserted the provision of 75,000 in the Act itself in order to promote this very idea among local authorities.
§ Mr. Pargiter
That was not the intention at all. The figure of 75,000 was put in as an alternative and purely as a temporary expedient because it was thought that the reform of local government would proceed more rapidly than it has done. In fact the figure of 75,000 may well have had the tendency of taking more services away from local government rather than of providing them with a greater number of services for a number of smaller authorities.
I want to return to the argument about the general application of this figure and the importance of it; and why, if we are concerned with the future of local government as a whole, we should reject this Bill this evening. I repeat that what it seeks cannot possibly be limited to Ilford or the local authorities in Essex; it is bound to spread and widen. And notwithstanding the resolution passed in this House with regard to Middlesex, a number of authorities in Middlesex may seek the opportunity to become county boroughs, as they would be justified in doing.
The argument which has been deployed is that if we accept the Second Reading of the Bill it will hurry the Minister to do something about local government reform. I might be tempted to support the argument, but that is not necessarily the best way to get local government reform. It has been generally accepted that if we can get local government reorganisation largely by agreement, so that it does not become a political issue, that is the obvious thing to do. We ought to try to avoid party politics and to be concerned with determining the proper structure for local government throughout the country. To accept the Bill on the basis that it will prod the Minister to do something will not help.
As a representative of the County Councils' Association, I have been a member of the body which has been considering local government reform, and its signatories are the parties to the agreement between the four associations to 928 which the hon. Member for Chelmsford has referred. The A.M.C. are not parties to it. At the appropriate time—this is not the appropriate time—I shall have some strictures to pass in respect of the activities of the A.M.C.
§ Mr. Pargiter
The A.M.C. have not been prepared seriously to come to terms to get agreement on local government, and they have also done their best to obstruct anyone else seeking to get agreement.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The hon. Member is making a serious charge against a responsible body. Surely he is aware that the reason they are not parties to the agreement is that they profoundly disagree with everything the agreement contains.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Without prejudicing what has been taking place, I cannot very well reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I merely say that at the appropriate time I shall have some strictures to pass on their activities; I have been closely associated with this matter and have been able to watch their manœuvres.
It is unfortunate that we are discussing the Bill at this juncture; the nature of the recommendations coming to the associations will be made public on 28th March, and this is now 26th March. This week-end the recommendations will be in the hands of every Member of Parliament, who will then be able to see what a very large measure of agreement upon a two-tier structure of local government has been reached by the associations concerned. Not only has general agreement been reached, but also very considerable thought has been given to the means by which the proposals can be carried out.
The Minister will to some extent be aware of the nature of the negotiations which have been going on, and I hope he will be able to say that this matter has gone so far that this is certainly not the time at which to adopt this Private Bill, and that there is a hope that, because a number of associations have come together and reached agreement, another body may think it desirable at last to come to some sort of terms, on the basis of a reasonable compromise, on 929 an effective and efficient form of local government. If we can do that, we shall achieve some progress towards the objective that we all have in mind.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to the agreement and drawing inferences from it. He really should not do that unless he is prepared to state its contents.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Knowing the activities to which I have referred, and which I shall be happy to divulge at the appropriate time, I can understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman is suffering from some undue sensitivity about this.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper rose—
§ Mr. Pargiter
We cannot go on like this. I cannot give way again. It is a fact that a very large measure of agreement has been reached between very important bodies representing local government, and because of the nature of that agreement, it is highly undesirable that any precipitate step should be taken with regard to one authority at present.
Nothing has been said tonight to show that Essex, as a county authority, has failed to fulfil its duties towards Ilford, and that Ilford has not had a full share of the services provided by the county authority. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) made the extraordinary statement that there is a greater affinity between rural Essex and Russia than there is between that part and Ilford. If that is the best argument that he can put forward for Ilford to receive county borough powers, it is not a very strong argument at this stage.
I hope that the House will reject the Bill by a very large majority, and I hope the Minister will do his best to encourage the associations in their endeavours to secure agreement upon local government reorganisation. It is highly desirable that, if possible, reform should come by agreement. The only way to achieve it is to keep it free from party politics, and it is remarkable how many people of different views can come to an agreement about the structure of local government if politics are not allowed to intervene. I urge the Minister to pursue the matter in that way and to say that, from the Government's point of view, the present proposal is a most inconvenient one. 930 I should very much prefer the associations to reach agreement, because this might give the right hon. Gentleman a lead about the future of our local government legislation.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
I must say at the outset that I shall not be able to vote in favour of this Bill tonight. Lest any hon. Member thinks that I am not persuaded of the justice of Ilford's case, let me hasten to add that before I expected that we should have a debate on this Bill tonight, I took the precaution of pairing with the hon. Member for Abertillery (Rev. L1. Williams), who has disappeared to South Wales, and unfortunately I shall be unable to go into the Lobby in favour of this Bill. But if any words of mine help any hon. Members to vote for the Bill, I shall be delighted.
This is an interesting subject which we have been debating today, and I was amused to hear that it was exactly a year ago that we had a similar debate upon the proposal to make Ealing a county borough. I think hon. Members enjoy debates of this kind because one finds oneself with the most unlikely adversaries. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) and others on this side of the House usually get on very well with me, but now we find ourselves in complete disagreement. On the other hand hon. Members opposite, such as the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones), are those with whom it would be most unlikely for me to agree on any political subject, but we are together on this particular subject. Therefore, this debate is interesting and most stimulating.
I approach this subject from only one standpoint, which is quite a simple one —what is really best for the particular situation which is before us? What is really best for good government in the County of Essex and the Borough of Ilford. I disagreed with one hon. Member who spoke to me earlier tonight and said that because one represented one particular kind of constituency in this House then one's loyalty should automatically be tied. One ought to visualise the situation, listen to the arguments produced on the information provided, and come to a conclusion. I repeat that the 931 only standpoint should be what is the best in the circumstances.
My own feeling is that on to such an extremely complicated subject we should make a realistic approach if we can. The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer), to whom we listen with the greatest attention on these subjects, came nearest to it when he emphasised the necessity of individual local government. Although the hon. Gentleman prayed that argument in aid of his general case against the Bill, I must say that listening to him I felt in great sympathy with what he said.
It is precisely what he asked us to consider that Ilford is asking for, just as Ealing did and as Luton did, namely, the right to run their own local government close to the people whom they represent and divorced from remote control— whether it be good control or bad control I do not argue—of others. We must realise that local government, if it is to be local, must move with the times and that this is not a static organism. The people will not wait indefinitely for Ministers and Governments to make up their minds. There is some likelihood that a very wide measure of agreement has been reached between certain of the local government associations.
§ Mr. Hay
As my hon. Friend says, all except one. But there cannot be agreement between a number of parties if one of them does not agree. We are told by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) their proposals will be brought forward and published in a couple of days' time, but one important group will be standing out, not prepared to agree with the others. That, I think, makes nonsense of the argument that we should defer this decision and shuffle it off for another period until some nebulous agreement is reached in the future.
Local government ought not to be fossilised into a permanent pattern. Parliament has provided machinery for adjustment from time to time in local government. Why should it not be used? There is a very good case for its use. The objection is raised that the time is not ripe, and that we should deal with the whole subject of local government under one umbrella and at one time 932 because to deal with it piecemeal is unwise. It is often said also that if we give an opportunity to Ilford to be a county borough other authorities from all over the country will come here, too. That is a legitimate objection, but does it not show that urgent action is needed to deal with the structure of local government? If that situation is feared by hon. Members, is not that a very compelling argument for the matter receiving the most urgent attention of the Government?
The second argument, put forward but not developed at any great length, is that the services which Essex provides for the whole county will be grievously disrupted if Ilford is given county borough status. We are told that we shall "truncate" the County of Essex if we take Ilford out of it. There may be two opinions about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) expressed a very entertaining opinion just now. That is not the sole factor upon which we should decide this matter. There may be disturbance and that is not to be denied, but which is better? Are we to leave Ilford, for example, to go on indefinitely becoming more and more unhappy at its inability to control its own affairs locally, for fear of some temporary dislocation—I am certain that it would be only temporary—in the county services?
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) pointed out that if we take Ilford from the county there will still be a very large county left, quite capable of providing services for its people. It would certainly be a county much larger than the county, part of which I have the pleasure and honour to represent, the County of Oxford.
Hon. Members should think carefully about this subject before they decide what they will do tonight. They should look at it divorced from loyalties to constituencies, the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations. Let us try to decide the matter according to what is best not only for Ilford and the County of Essex but for local government in this country. We can take a decisive step tonight in creating an entirely new pattern of local government, which the country needs. I hope that we can come 933 to a decision by a realistic approach to something that we need and will serve the country best. The hon. Member for Tottenham said that Uford had grown up. That is true. Ilford is a big boy now. It ought to have the key to the front door, and that is what the promoters of the Bill are asking for. I shall certainly support the Second Reading, although, as I have said, I cannot cast a vote for it.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
I shall not detain the House for long, because anything I say or other hon. Members may say will be largely repetition. I express my regret that a kind of class war has broken out on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) said that he wished to rouse the rural populations to a massive attack against urban populations. I trust that hon. Members opposite will do their utmost to bring about a wiser conception of the relationship between the urban and rural population of this country.
I am the first to speak from this side of the House tonight as an Essex man, representing the constituency of Leyton—
§ Mr. Sorensen
I said from this side. I appreciate the motives which animate the hon. Gentlemen who are pressing for this Bill. I understand that they want to add to the status and dignity of the town they represent, and I bear no ill will towards them, neither does my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton), I am sure. So it is in no sense of chagrin or pique that I oppose the Bill.
I recognise that a substantial case can be made out for Ilford, but it is unfair to infer that the services now being given in Ilford from Chelmsford or from the county council are in any sense inefficient. That is not the case. That is why I ask specifically for any serious evidence of lack of service or of inefficiency on the part of the county services. Although the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) said he would not criticise another municipal body, he did so by implication only a short time before. It is legitimate to ask, therefore, whether Ilford has suffered materially by having certain services provided by the county council.
934 I agree with those hon. Members who have urged that local government should be truly local, but we need balance in this matter. County councillors are as much local government as parish councillors, and instead of getting this absurd and inconsistent position of trying to score off different kinds of local government, we should appreciate that just as the parish council has a certain function which cannot be performed by the municipal borough or county council, equally the county council has certain functions that cannot be performed by others.
I agree that there must be a realignment of those bodies, but it does not mean that we must attempt to do it by inferring that some of those bodies are useless or obstructive. We must have a survey at an early date to see what kind of adaptations and adjustments can be effected. It would be unfair for anyone to suggest that the municipal boroughs in Essex which have some of their services provided by the county council have suffered. For instance, I cannot see how they have suffered as regards the ambulance service. On the contrary, anyone who knows these municipal boroughs will agree that, as far as the ambulance and fire services are concerned, they have excellent ones which would not be improved by transfer from county control to local control in this narrow sense.
That does not mean to say, however, that I do not believe there should be county borough status for Ilford or for other boroughs. On the grounds of psychology and of local dignity much can be said for it, but one does not want to overstate the case. Equally we must appreciate that if Ilford were to withdraw at this juncture from the county, with the inevitable consequence that other boroughs would seek to do the same thing, we should have an Essex left which might correspond to the vision of the hon. Member for Chelmsford, but which would have a dire effect on the people in that rural part of Essex.
I do not want this division between urban and rural minds. I want to bring them together. We urban people need a great deal of the thought and experience of our rural brothers and sisters. But the reverse is true also, and any 935 attempt to try to divide two sections of our population in that way is a disservice to the country as well as to any form of local government.
Of this I am certain. If prematurely and without proper thought in regard to both the material and the administrative sides, we were to promote any Measure which left Essex merely a rural entity, it would indeed suffer. For that reason alone, I suggest that in any consideration of the reorganisation of local government we should not lose sight of the fact that we do not want to leave a reconstructed form of local government in such a way as would leave great rural areas completely dissociated from urban areas.
I agree with all other hon. Members who have spoken that local government reorganisation is long overdue. The Minister may be able to make some observations tonight, but if the Bill were passed with the probability of scores of others being presented in the very near future, I am sure he would be horrified at that particular method of getting what everybody feels is urgently necessary.
It was mentioned earlier that no new county borough has been created since 1926. That is a long interval. Certainly, we do not want to break that long period of inactivity by this method. I hope the Minister and the Government are left with the very real impression that, although local government reorganisation is an urgent necessity, this is not the way to get it, and that, therefore, the psychological demand being made tonight by Ilford, whilst we must respect it, is one that my own borough, which is quite as important as Ilford, could also make. Neighbouring Walthamstow and other boroughs could well do the same. If, therefore, Ilford is to have this concession, it is certain that other nearby boroughs, just as important as Ilford, would make the same demand.
For those reasons. I ask the House to reject the Bill and to accept the assurance of the hon. and learned Member who brought it forward that he did so in the interests of the town which he has the honour to represent, but at the same time pointing out that the honour he wants is one that other boroughs want also and that the way to get it is not the way that he proposes.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)
One is at a disadvantage in speaking at this stage because of not knowing what the Minister is going to say. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us that the Government have decided that this long overdue reform of local government is to take place within a definite time limit. If the Minister says that the Government will undertake this reorganisation within the lifetime of the present Parliament, I for one should be prepared to let the Bill drop. If, on the other hand, my right hon. Friend can make no such specific statement and says that it is difficult to say when this can take place, I think that we should give the Bill a Second Reading and send it upstairs to a Committee, when the full aspects of Ilford's case can be examined.
So far as we know, there is nothing definite in view. The last Government were unable to find time for this reform—I do not blame them for that—and equally the present Government up to now have not made any statement of their intentions. But it seems to me that if this long overdue reform of local government is still not in sight, local government must put its house in order piecemeal.
If the status of local authorities was now to be altered, there is not the slightest doubt that Ilford, with its population of 184,000, would be given county borough status. For that reason, if we do not receive a clear statement of the Government's intentions, I shall certainly be glad to support the Bill and to give it my vote tonight. I am satisfied that Ilford's administration would be much simpler if the status of a county borough were given it, and that the upheaval which would arise later, if the major services are for some time to continue on a county basis, would be much greater. I cannot see any objections to the Bill, and for that reason, when we have heard the Minister's statement, I shall take the line that I have indicated.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I want to make it quite clear that in this matter I speak for myself alone and I am not to be taken as voicing the views of any organisation or party. But I have taken a very great interest in this subject of local government for a great many years 937 and I regret that so far this evening we have not heard any new argument, either on one side of the other, as to what should take place.
§ Mr. Ede
My hon. Friend should not be too sure of that. It seemed to me that supporters of the Bill this evening were relying on the 19th century conception of local government. That came in very soon after the Reform Act, 1832, and was that what we wanted to establish for a local government unit was what was called "community of interest," and that the people should be grouped together so that we got isolated groups with particular interests that would enable them to deal with their own matters without too much concern for their neighbours on either side. I believe that is outmoded.
What we want now in a local government unit is diversity of interest. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) put to us tonight the idea that we have this great urban area near London and this widely scattered rural area immediately adjoining it, and these two must be regarded, in Kipling's lines, as,East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.That idea is completely outmoded. What we want to get is a conception that to make up a sound community we want more than one interest, and that diversity is a very good thing.
When I come to the proposals for Ilford, again speaking for myself alone, I cannot see that we could pluck out from the great conurbation east of London this particular piece in the middle of it and turn that into a county borough, leaving the remainder, without giving any thought at the same time as to what the proper boundaries of that particular bit are. One of the astounding things about these great conurbations is the way in which communities have been obliterated when all boundary marks have been submerged by the growth of the population.
As the hon. Member for Colchester suggested, anyone going east from Liverpool Street would be very well acquainted with local government administration and practice if he could say when he was in one borough rather than the other. There is no break between the communi- 938 ties, but merely some dots which, we understand, were placed on the map by Alfred the Great. That they should determine the boundaries between local government units in these days in present circumstances is quite fantastic.
I hold the view for myself that we would be ill-advised to pass this Measure tonight, but I think that the time has come when there should be a comprehensive review of the organisation of local government in the light of modern conditions. I do not think that the fact that there is a small majority on one side or the other of the House need of necessity preclude us from undertaking that, because in one way the existence of a small majority might compel both the Government and the Opposition to take more reasonable views than they would do if one side felt that it could steam-roller the other.
I suggest that one of the things to which this Parliament might give its attention is the reorganisation, rather than the reform, of local government. I share the view expressed a few months ago by the right hon. Gentleman that local government is not a drunkard or a bigamist, or somebody in need of corrective training, or even of preventive detention. Local government is a system of organisation to serve the needs of the community as a whole, and I do not think it needs reform. It may need reorganisation in certain areas, and I think that we could probably do it better if we approached it from the point of view of reorganisation rather than by talking of it as if it was something completely antiquated. It is not.
What it needs is that, in the light of the great developments that have taken place in the spread of population since 1888 and 1894, when the present organisation was really built up, we should have some regard to the way in which the present population and its distribution could be better served were the organisation itself overhauled, and, in some cases, the boundaries revised.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said that he spoke for himself alone. Great as is the importance of South Shields, it does not on this occasion appear to extend 939 its boundaries to cover Bishop Auckland. This is not a party matter, and there will be a completely free vote, as far as the Government are concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with great authority and a life-long service in local government work, and I find myself in almost complete agreement with everything he said. As always in these debates which cut across party lines and do not arouse party divisions, we have had an interesting, lively and agreeable discussion, revealing, as one of my hon. Friends has said, rather amusing and unexpected divisions between hon. Members who ordinarily find themselves agreeing. I only rise to do what I think it is right to do, though not at any length, which is to state the view which I have to take as the Minister responsible for these matters in the broad sense.
Last year, on a similar Bill, I made an attempt to summarise the arguments on both sides, and, in a rather more comprehensive way, I made a statement on the position of the Government. I do not intend to repeat that in any detail, because I do not think it is necessary. We really know the arguments on both sides. Nevertheless, there are one or two points which have been made in the debate to which it would be discourteous of me not to refer. The very excellent speeches to which we have listened included one from the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer), who, apart from some rather heretical observations about national boards, gave us the value of his very long experience, and, I thought, spoke with great fairness, although he came down in the end quite clearly on one side.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) gave us a rather refreshing view of the situation. It was perhaps rather too radical and revolutionary for my taste. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton), on the other hand, apart from setting us a problem of how one would rip a crown from one's vitals, which must be a rather painful operation, put forward the suggestion which I think many hon. Members have in mind. He suggested that somehow or other we must try some day to get an agreed solution of the problem.
How are we to get it? That is the practical problem. I think it right to say 940 again quite frankly that it was not possible in 1952 to introduce a Bill to deal with the reorganisation of local government I stress the word, "reorganisation." I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields used it. I think that the word "reform" is derogatory to a system of government which, though it has some faults and maladjustments to modern conditions, is the pride of the country and which has given, and is giving, most admirable service.
Outside this House a great deal is said about what Governments can do and what Parliament can do. But we who have been here for a good many years know quite well what are the limitations of Parliamentary time. We know the number of legislative days that any Government have at their disposal upon the Floor of the House and in the Standing Committees. It was not possible to deal with this matter in 1952. In that year I had to introduce into the House the Housing Bill, the Town Development Bill and the New Towns Bill.
§ Mr. Macmillan
We know that there are 30 or 40 legislative days, and each Measure takes a day or a day and a half. This year we have had the Town and Country Planning Bill and the Local Government Superannuation Bill, which I thank my colleagues for carrying through the Standing Committee today, and we may have some other Measures in this Session. It is clear, therefore, that there will be no Bill in this Session. I want to be frank so that hon. Members are fully aware of the situation.
In 1954 we have to introduce a Rating Bill, because we introduced a Bill to put off a system which was found to be unworkable and we have now to find a system which will work. That is a most urgent Measure. We have also to introduce a Town and Country Planning Bill which is a complicated affair, and there are one or two other matters which I need not discuss now but with which we may have to deal. Members who have been in Government know the fight between Departments to get a place for their legislation. In my Department we have had a fair place.
941 I am saying this not to put a defeatist view but merely to show what the facts are. In 1953 we shall not introduce a Bill to deal with the reorganisation of local government. We shall not do so in 1954. That leads one to the prospect which the right hon. Gentleman held out, that on a non-party and agreed basis, balancing our small majority, and even exploiting it for the very purpose of getting agreement which otherwise might not be so easy, we might introduce a local government reorganisation Measure in 1955.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I think that it was suggested that that would be an agreeable hors d'œuvre or apéritif to the election which might follow. It will be one of those agreed Measures of which I have now had a certain experience, but I must say that the discussion on both sides of the House does not lead me to suppose that a great measure of agreement is likely to be forthcoming. It is in that atmosphere and in the light of the picture I have painted that the House must decide.
But I wish to give both aspects as fairly as possible, and so I will admit that the argument against this Bill is not so strong as was the case last year regarding the Ealing Bill. While any large-scale change in the county borough system would result in the virtual destruction of the County of Middlesex, that could not be argued so strongly regarding the County of Essex. Middlesex would be practically destroyed, whereas Essex would be left with substantial power, acreage and even rateable value.
The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), who spoke against the Bill, said that if this Bill were to be passed his own borough would probably be in the field for similar powers. I still feel that any major reorganisation of local government ought, if possible, to be done as a whole. I have not given up hope that it may be possible by some method to obtain a measure of agreement, so long as we are not too ambitious about what we try to do. There are discussions going on now of which I should like to see the final stages. I think we might get a measure of agreement, possibly in this Parliament if it lasts for a sufficiently long 942 period, or at any rate an agreement between the parties about a first attempt to be taken in another Parliament; taken out of party discussion and agreed as a result of the thought and work now going on.
I have every sympathy with boroughs such as Ilford and Ealing and for the case put so admirably by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson). But I still feel it would be far better to wait a little longer and try to get this reorganisation on a comprehensive and, if possible, an agreed basis; at any rate on a comprehensive basis. Although this is a free vote, I would advise the House to be patient for a little longer and to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill and record the view that when this reorganisation comes it should be part of a general and a comprehensive plan.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
The Minister has said he hopes to see the result of discussions now going on. Will he tell us to what discussions he refers?
§ Mr. Macmillan
They have been referred to already by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), who said they would be published in a few days' time.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
As the Minister said, this subject has been discussed ad nauseam. Everyone in the House knows the arguments for and against. I wish to occupy a few moments in dealing with some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and by the Minister. The Minister has told us that although this is a free vote he would like to give guidance to the House. I listened for that guidance.
He started by giving us a well-balanced list of the hon. Members who had spoken and proceeded to refer to what is one of the old arguments, which we certainly have had ad nauseam, that this matter should be left over until a comprehensive reform of local government is undertaken. His only spark of advice was when he said that there was at least a stronger argument for this Bill than was the case regarding the Ealing Bill last year, and that this proposal would not have such a detrimental effect 943 on Essex as would have 'been the effect upon Middlesex.
That is precisely the point which makes me and a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that it is no argument to say that if this application were granted it would be followed by other applications. There is a strength of argument in each case, greater or less according to the individual case. It seems to us fairly clear that the House should be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading in order that it can go to a Committee upstairs where the precise strength of the arguments can be determined.
§ Mr. Hynd
It does not necessarily follow that when one agrees to examine a case one agrees to the whole of it. When the Bill for the extension of Sheffield came forward last year, the House as a whole agreed to a Second Reading. The Bill was passed in the Committee upstairs but was rejected in another place. But the detailed argument of the individual case was carefully examined. Other applications for extension of borough boundaries had previously been rejected, but again on their merits. All I suggest is that this Bill should be given a Second Reading so that it can be thoroughly examined in Committee.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields poured scorn on suggestions that one can divide these conurbations of populations which may overlap. He said that it was absurd to suggest that because King Alfred had placed a few dots on the map we should be tied to them as the basis of our local government administration. But it happens to be the case that those dots are established units of local administration. It is because there is an Ilford Borough Council, responsible for the administration of that area, recognised for a long period as being Ilford, that they have responsibilities to the community and have ser- 944 vices to maintain there. Indeed, in population and in other terms they are as important as a large number of other towns throughout the country. Therefore, there is a case for agreeing that, at least until we are prepared to face the reform of local government, that fact should be recognised.
The Minister has again brought forward the argument that whatever the merits of this case or other cases that might follow—which I suggest should be examined on their merits—we should wait until there is this general review of local government. The point is that there is no apparent prospect of that happening in our time. That argument has been brought forward on every occasion that this problem has been raised. The Minister said that there was no prospect of a review of local government in 1953. There will be none in 1954. There was none in 1952, or during the whole period of the Labour Government. There might be a possibility of talks in 1955, but who knows what the general situation will be then? What if there is no real solution? We shall have a division of opinion—a division of counties and boroughs—as we have on all these occasions, and it will be a very long time before we reach a decision. Perhaps it never will be reached.
In the view of a large number of supporters of this Bill, it is not good enough that Governments year by year, and possibly decade by decade in the future, should be able to prevent these great units of population, which have been built up under an established authority, from having all the facilities of such an authority in order to carry on responsible administration. I submit to those who are hesitant that so long as we continue to accept that argument, so long as we continue to reject all these Bills as they come forward because of that argument, we are giving every successive Government the excuse they need to shelve the general question of local government reform.
Those of us who are in favour of the Bill are as enthusiastic for local government reform as the Minister or any other hon. or right hon. Member who is against the Bill. But we submit that until a general reform of local government can be agreed by all parties, maybe in the dim and distant future, it is no excuse for any existing Government simply to 945 shelve all these urgent applications and to appeal for the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I strongly urge those who are keen on local government reform to support this Bill in order to let the Government see that something has got to be done.
So long as we accept the present arrangements for the organisation of local government, so long as we are prepared to shelve the general question of reform, we shall have to face up to our responsibility as a Parliament in the existing framework and, when all the arguments have been examined, in Committee, when the proposal has been through the other place, and the case thoroughly weighed up and put through the sieve that Parliament provides, applications should be granted after the merits of the case have been considered and it has been decided that in present circumstances it is justified.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
I have listened with great interest to this debate because my sympathies are somewhat widely scattered. I represent a constituency which has in it a county borough, an urban district council and two rural district councils; and I am president of the Rural District Councils' Association which, as has already been said, has come to an agreement, for the first time in the history of local government, with the County Councils' Association, the Urban District Councils' Association and the Association of Parish Councils.
It is true that the Association of Municipal Corporations has so far not agreed, but I would not put it beyond the bounds of possibility, if we get informed discussion, as we shall in the next few months after these proposals are published on Saturday, that the A.M.C. may alter its point of view. That, I think the House will agree, will immediately place a totally different aspect on the whole question, because then we shall get, as I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) say, a step taken towards reorganisation, because we do not want a complete revolution in local government. We have a system which in most of its aspects has worked admirably since it was founded in 1888, but adjustments are required owing to the growth of population, changes in methods of living, and so on, and it is remarkable that these four local authority associations 946 have, after much hard discussion, been able to agree on what is now required to bring the system up to date.
If that be so—and I do not think anybody can deny it—surely this is a very odd time to bring forward a Bill taking out one piece of this great conurbation in London and making a county borough of it. One of my hon. Friends talked about a new pattern being formed if this Bill were passed. New pattern! Nonsense. That is the old pattern which has done so much harm in the past by dealing with propositions piecemeal, taking well-to-do industrial urban areas out of the county and making county administration more difficult.
It cannot convince Members of the House of Commons, if they think about it, to argue that one could take away half the population of Essex and half the rateable value and not injure the county administration. Even the salaries of their county officers, the amount they spend on technical schools, and other services must be based largely on the resources at their disposal. How can we use those resources and not injure the administration built up over the years? Somebody else suggested this would help local government to put its house in order. How can it help to put that house in order, to take a piece out of a county?
I hope that the House will agree decisively to reject this Bill. It was rejected in 1950. No good new reasons have been given for it. I remember the debate before very well. There has been just one new argument tonight. I have heard tonight from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) that there was not a house for the aged poor in the middle of Ilford. A more unsuitable place to accommodate them I cannot imagine.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
I said more than that. I said there was not a single county institution in the Borough of Ilford. That is true.
§ Mr. Colegate
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) has referred to the fire brigade.
§ Mr. Colegate
One knows, of course, that many of these things were built up 947 when local government was in a different position from that in which it is today, but that does not mean that there is not a most efficient fire service in Ilford.
Here we have an opportunity of demonstrating not only to Ilford but to all other possible applicants for county boroughship in this country that we do not propose to grant their requests. Before that is done we must have reform, or, as I prefer to call it, reorganisation of local government. Only then shall we deal with local government as an organic whole, instead of piecemeal, assisting one local authority at the expense of another.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
If I needed one reason to vote for the Bill tonight it would be the speech of the Minister, and second only to that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). It seems to me that we have had again the whole pattern of the arguments that we have had year after year. The person I feel sorry for tonight is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, who is sitting there on the Treasury Bench almost bursting with indignation because he sought similar powers for Luton as are now asked for Ilford.
We have been told tonight, as on other occasions, that negotiations are taking place. We have been told that the Parish Councils' Association has agreed with the Municipal Councils' Association. Talk about the lion lying down with the lamb. We have heard of the comradeship of the Municipal Councils' Association. It seems to me that the solidarity is far more solid amongst some hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House than any I have known in one party against another in the Division Lobbies.
I can remember being in on the negotiations for the reform of local government. Since Lord Jowitt started them as Paymaster-General in 1940 we have had these sorts of arguments. I can only say that the Government, like previous Governments, in the Prime Minister's own words, have "resolved to be only irresolute." We are told now that we have to wait until 1955 before the Government will consider the matter at all.
§ Mr. Colegate
The hon. Gentleman may have been in on all sorts of negotiations, but this is the first time that four 948 local authority associations have agreed on a solution, which will be published about Eastertide.
§ Mr. Pannell
I can only assume that the disturbing element was the fact that the hon. Gentleman was not in on the other negotiations.
I can only say of the Minister's speech today that it might just as well have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), when winding up the Boundary Commission. He said in effect: "We scrap the Boundary Commission; go back and promote your Private Bills." He said, "Bring your Bills forward." What happens? When Private Bills are brought forward, the mixture is as before; the same arguments are brought up. We have had two speeches from the County Councils' Association. Middlesex branch, here tonight, by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) and the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter).
§ Mr. Messer
Will my hon. Friend permit me to say that I am not a member of the County Councils' Association, I am not a member of any county council and I do not live in Middlesex?
§ Mr. Pannell
My hon. Friend is a refugee from Middlesex. He cannot get out of it in that way. He represents a Middlesex constituency and is the distinguished ex-vice-chairman of the County Councils' Association. His old loves do not die as quickly as that. In any case, Middlesex never was a county. It is a metropolitan county which, he agrees himself, ought to be a county borough. It resembles nothing like any other county at all. The same sort of problem that we have in Essex is the problem that we have in Kent.
The Boundary Commission were in favour of a metropolitan county of West Kent. I do not want to argue their case here tonight. The same applies to the constituency which my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Attlee) represents. There is no question that this aspiration for county borough status was in Walthamstow when I was on the council there in 1929. There is an argument in this matter of county borough status that London is quite big enough, and that a ring of county places around London would prevent it getting 949 any bigger. That might be a reasonable solution of the difficulty.
I shall give a vote tonight because I think that this House should express dissatisfaction from time to time with the way in which local government is always relegated to second place. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, as the hon. Member for Luton, puts up a case for Luton. The Minister of Transport, representing Mid-Bedfordshire, put up a case against Luton, not because he knew anything about local government, but merely because he had received a brief from the Mid-Bedfordshire County Council.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
What does the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food know about local government?
§ Mr. Pannell
I am not saying that he knows anything about it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) knows nothing about local government either. He is only the ex-spokesman of that monstrosity, the London County Council. He is a believer in local imperialism. He is taking all the powers off Metropolitan boroughs.
Broadly speaking, we have to set up a local government which has some power and receives some sort of respect. I was always in favour of the Boundary Commission, and I hope that very soon some Government will set up a Boundary Commission which alters and remoulds local government as the years go by, subject to periodical report to this House. Then the people who know something about local government will have some sort of charge over it. It will not be left to the indiscriminate pressure of Private Bills, and local government may then receive the treatment that it deserves. Local government is not the junior partner of government. We have never treated it with proper respect, and I shall vote for the Ilford Bill tonight.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
We are now nearing the conclusion of the debate. I thank the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) for his strong support for the Bill. Whether he gets into trouble with his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) is 950 a matter which will have to be worked out between them.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The most serious point is that raised by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate), who have referred to the agreement entered into between the County Councils' Association and various smaller associations concerned with local government. It is grossly unfair that the agreement should have been referred to when the House has not had any opportunity of discussing its details or of knowing what is in the agreement. If my hon. Friend wants to be fair to the House, he should state that what the agreement says is that the status quo between the county councils and the smaller organisations is to be maintained.
I am informed that the County Councils' Association have not given up one whit of their power over the smaller local authority organisations. It is important to note that the authorities which really matter, the boroughs, have not been consulted, not are they parties to the agreement. It is a most nonsensical agreement to enter into, and it is nonsensical to claim that it does something of great importance which will be of benefit in remoulding our future local government.
§ Mr. Colegate
I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend does not wish to be unfair. The mention of the agreement by myself and other hon. Members had no connection with its details. It was merely emphasised that, as an agreement had been reached and was to be published in two or three days' time, this was a bad moment to bring forward a Bill of this kind.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
My hon. Friend will appreciate that it depends on what is in the agreement. The impression has been created in the House that an agreement of considerable consequence has been reached between the associations concerned. My advice is that no such agreement has been reached and that what has been determined is simply the maintenance of the status quo. When 951 the agreement is published at the weekend, we shall see whether that is so.
My hon. Friend said that he had heard no fresh argument this year as compared with the year before. Surely it is a new argument that three years have passed? In the last three years we have had over and over again the same arguments why first the Ilford scheme, then Luton's, and then Ealing's again should be deferred. Surely the fact that various Ministers have said that reform will take place and it has not taken place is a very powerful reason why the law of the land as it exists at present should be operated for the benefit of boroughs such as Ilford which seek an improvement of their status.
I have very great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton), who has done a very great deal for local government within the county of Essex, but I am not aware that at any time since 1944 he has raised his voice in protest as a result of our local government being reorganised by various Acts of Parliament put upon the Statute Book by the Socialist Government, as the result of which the county authorities have been given responsibility for education, town planning, health and fire services. All those things went one after another from the boroughs, and the county councils secured those greater powers. The county councils never protested about this; they were very glad to have the powers. As regards Essex, Ilford has had a great deal of difficulty about a proper scheme of delegation for certain of those services.
§ Mr. Ashton
My hon. and gallant Friend must be clear about the distinction between legislation in this House and the administration of the legislation, which is a matter for the county councils. I was not in the House of Commons when the legislation was passed, but, as an administrator, it was my duty to administer those great Acts as best I could in the county of Essex.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
That is not the argument I am making. The argument I am making is that under various Acts of Parliament dealing with education, town and country planning, the fire 952 services and so on, the structure of local government was modified very much, and many of the powers which boroughs had had for many years were taken from them and given to county councils. There was no criticism of the county councils when they got those powers. There was no voice raised in this House in defence of the boroughs or to state that the time was not opportune. We were doing it year by year.
Then there was the Boundary Commission, which was supposed to give us a proper overhaul of local government. I remember that when I first spoke in this House for the Ilford Corporation the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who was then the Minister of Health and in charge of local government, gave as his reason for asking the House to reject the Corporation's Bill the fact that there was a second review going on at that time. In fact, there was no second review going on. The following year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) was the Minister in charge, and he used the argument that Parliament was so constituted, and the majorities were so slender, that nothing could be done at the time.
Ilford, Ealing, Luton and the other authorities are entitled to ask the House when there will be a Government so constituted that this problem of local government can be dealt with. The next General Election may resolve itself into a Parliament with the parties evenly balanced again. That is the argument advanced for our difficulties today and one can see that this problem, so vital and so urgent, will again not be dealt with.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford made some reference to the efficiency of the Essex County Council in connection with the recent floods. It was not the intention of either my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) or myself to make any reference to the Essex County Council in this connection. Since it has been brought in as an argument in favour of the rejection of this Bill, I must tell the House that the Essex County Council did not conduct themselves in an efficient manner in this matter. I propose to state the facts.
In connection with the fire appliances, the Home Office put into operation the 953 war-time arrangements through the fire officers who had been designated for emergency purposes. It was they and not the county officers who decided which authority should render assistance. In accordance with these arrangements it was decided that East Ham should not be called upon, and that only the larger fire authorities should be asked to render assistance. Southend were informed of the floods at 7.30 on the Sunday morning and immediately contacted other chief officers. Southend and the whole of the Southend services helped in the work. The Southend service was operating at Canvey Island before any of the services were sent from the county of Essex.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
Southend County Borough supplied the ambulances, 'buses and other effects to assist in the rescue work. It is quite untrue to say that if Southend had been a county district it would have co-ordinated the services more effectively. The reverse, in fact, is true. Southend is a county borough, with all the services under its immediate control, and it was in a position to mobilise those services much quicker than Essex. The county was not, in fact, able to contrive any sort of organisation until quite late in the day after the floods.
That is a very powerful argument in favour of the smaller authority having control of its own affairs. That was proved in time of emergency. One other fact is that the first Civil Defence corps on Canvey Island came from Middlesex, and not from the corps under the control of Essex County Council.
§ Mr. Ashton
Is it not a fact that the efforts of the Essex County Council were of a very high order?
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The debate has proceeded upon clearly defined lines. There are three specific arguments for us to answer. The first is that the time is not ripe because reform is pending. The second is that if Ilford secures county borough status the County of Essex will suffer, and the third is that other local authorities will want a similar status. No real argument has been adduced against 954 the merits of Ilford being given county borough status.
Let me deal with the first argument. We have heard from my right hon. Friend that there will be no Measure of reform in 1953 or in 1954. We cannot possibly get one until 1955. There is no guarantee that there will be reform during the life of this Parliament. The Labour Government altered or repealed the Boundary Commission legislation and put local authorities back where they always were, namely, that when they want an improvement in their status, they have to resort to the Private Bill method. That is the law today. We have to consider the Bill within the limits of the present law and not on the basis of what may happen in five, 10 or 15 years' time.
Secondly, is there any truth in the argument that the county will suffer? The first consideration would be one of finance. I think it could be pointed out that the operation of the equalisation Act will mean that the county will not suffer at all.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. Member made a similar observation during the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North who pointed out that it was the hon. Gentleman's party that put the Local Government Act, 1948, on the Statute Book and allowed local authorities to apply for equalisation without the liability of the heavy compensation payment to which they were subject in days gone by. That charge has to be borne, and is operating in the county. The Socialist Act of 1948 means that the County of Essex will not suffer financially if Ilford is taken away.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman mean, in plain English, that Ilford will pay less and that Essex will not suffer because they will get more money from the Exchequer?
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
That is perfectly true. That is, in fact, the purpose of the Local Government Act, 1948. That is what hon. Members opposite put it there for. It is under that Act that Ilford seeks to attain this improvement in its status. The argument is that the Essex County Council will not suffer the 955 loss of one penny piece by the severance of the Ilford Borough Council, and no real argument has been adduced from any part of the House to the contrary.
The third and general argument, which Che hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) dealt with adequately, was that, if Ilford is granted county borough status, many other authorities will follow suit. What is wrong with that? If they are sufficiently large and can operate their services efficiently, surely that is what we should encourage? What we seek to have in this country is the most efficient form of government, whether national or local, that we can devise.
Many other local authorities, not quite as big as Ilford, but sizeable authorities, such as the ones represented by the hon. Members for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) and Tottenham (Mr. Messer), must bring forward their cases. Simply to promote a Bill does not get one anywhere. One must have facts to support the argument brought forward. It is not admitted that all the places which want county borough status can justify their claim. Nevertheless, supposing they could, I do not believe that is an argument why Ilford should not be given the status it now desires.
The effect of the present position of the law, the attitude of this Government and of the previous Government, is to stifle local initiative and to destroy the local character of government. Democracy, if it means anything at all, is based on the effort of the people sharing in their own government. The transfer of services from local to county authorities did not arouse any hostility from the counties, although the effect of those transfers was to emasculate local government and to destroy its local character.
I earnestly hope that the House will give a Second Reading to this important
§ Bill tonight. We do not claim that it cannot be improved in Committee. We claim, however, that on the facts as put forward to the House, both tonight and in previous years, we can justify the case which we make. We cannot look forward to local government remaining hamstrung in perpetuity as it is at present, and so I earnestly hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
I do not propose to detain the House for more than two minutes. I am in favour of the reorganisation of local government because I think the need for it is urgent. Yet I have a good deal of sympathy with the point of view expressed that the Metropolitan boroughs have lost practically all their powers of initiative. However, that is another issue.
I listened to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman and found it unsatisfactory. There seemed to be a hint that Ilford might receive exceptional treatment, but those who are sponsoring this Bill are quite satisfied that nothing of the kind is intended. There is no indication that the Government intend to deal with this problem. I do not criticise them because I think they have made it quite clear that they will not hold this baby; they think the previous Government deserted or would not touch it. So these local authorities are in the position that they have to promote Private Bills.
It is fair to say that no case has been made against Ilford so far as this Private Bill is concerned. I represent Walthamstow, East. Walthamstow desires county borough status and so do many similar areas, and on this occasion I intend to support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 55; Noes, 75.957
|Division No. 124.]||AYES||[9.55 p.m.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Doughty, C. J. A.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Drayson, G. B.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Barber, Anthony||Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Janner, B.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Johnoon, Eric (Blackley)|
|Bowden, H. W.||Hargreaves, A.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Jones, David (Hartlepool)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Keenan, W.|
|Channon, H.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Kerr, H. W.|
|Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Lindsay, Martin|
|Maclean, Fitzroy||Raikes, Sir Victor||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas||Wallace, H. W.|
|Maude, Angus||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)||Wigg, George|
|Morley, R.||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Moyle, A.||Storey, S.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Summers, G. S|
|Oakshott, H. D.||Thompson, Ll.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W.D.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson and|
|Pannell, Charles||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.||Squadron Leader Cooper.|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Wakefield Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Hayman, F. H.||Parker, J.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Herbison, Miss M||Redmayne, M.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Sing, G. H. C.||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Panoras. N.)|
|Black, C. W.||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Blackburn, F.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Hynd, H.(Accrington)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||King, Dr. H. M.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Steele, T.|
|Colegate, W. A.||Lindgren, G. S.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Llewellyn, D. T.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Longden, Gilbert||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Deer, G.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Turton, R. H.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Marples, A. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA||Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S.L.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Medlicott, Brig. F.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Mellor, Sir John||Wellwood, W.|
|Fort, R.||Messer, F.||Whitley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Gooch, E. G.||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Hale, Leslie||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Harman, W.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hastings, S.||Palmer, A.M. F.||Mr. Pargiter and Mr. Ashton|
Question put, and agreed to.