§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State, I want to tell the House that I am in a serious difficulty today because many right hon. and hon. Members have written to me asking whether they can be called in the debate. No doubt many other hon. Members who wish to speak have not written to me. I have a list of between 50 and 60 hon. Members who wish to speak. I am sure that they all have strong cases on constituency grounds, for the most part, for being called. I have the disagreeable task of selection. I shall do my best to be fair. The real help the House can give me is if hon. Members will see that their speeches are short. In my view, ten minutes is ample time in which to put the kind of points mentioned in many of the letters which have been written to me. The Chair has no sanctions, but it has a memory.
I also hope that in a debate on a Motion to take note of a White Paper which has been available for some time the Front Bench speakers will try to regulate the length of their speeches so as to give the maximum opportunity for back benchers to make their points.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the White Paper on Local Government in England (Command Paper No. 4584).This is the first debate on such a White Paper initiated by a Government who are at the beginning of their term of office and who have fixed a specific timetable within a Parliament to achieve that reform. It is the first such reform this century and will be one of major impact.
I want to start by saying how much hon. Members on both sides have appreciated the manner in which both elected representatives and officers in local government have endeavoured to operate our local government system over the course of the century. It is a remarkable record of thousands of our countrymen giving up their time and effort to serve their fellow citizens.
I can well understand the anxieties of those engaged in local government when 1279 a massive reform of this nature takes place. As regards the elected members we in this House as elected representatives can appreciate how great our anxieties would be if there were a suggestion for the reform of the House of Commons which would substantially change our functions and substantially reduce our numbers.
As for those employed in local government, it is certainly the Government's intention to ensure that a proper and very respectable Staff Commission should be set up on the advice of the local authority associations with the objectives of ensuring that the position and the anxieties of the staff are fully met and that the reform of local government takes place on a basis such that the interests of those who have served local government for so long are fully considered.
There is in any system which has operated for so many years a great deal of pride in the past. In looking at the problem of local government reform, I could not have a more ideal constituency in this respect, because I represent a county borough, I have in my constituency an old and ancient borough which will disappear under my proposals, and I also have in my constituency the headquarters of a county which will be merged with another. So if I was able to make a constituency speech this afternoon it could be quite a powerful one.
The reform of local government is vital to our total approach to the modern problems facing our various communities. We have already reformed the system of central government by creating the new Department of the Environment, a reform which was acceptable to both sides. Indeed, the previous Government had similar proposals to bring in had they been returned to power. This reform of the machinery of government as affecting the local communities was correct and sensible.
Likewise, if we are to have the right machinery to implement proper policies within our communities it is vital that the machinery of local government comes up to date.
I pay tribute to the work of the very distinguished members of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission on Local Government in England for the very thorough analysis they made of the problems. The Report 1280 was a very good and thorough one and formed the basis upon which the previous Government decided that they wished to legislate and take action.
I am therefore pleased that the distinguished people who sat on this Commission, including the Chairman, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and Baroness Sharp, have paid a tribute to the proposals we are now bringing forward. Both of them have stated that these proposals are, in their view, sensible, radical and good. In their speeches in the House of Lords both these distinguished people gave support to our proposals and wished them every possible success.
Likewise, I draw the attention of the House to the manner in which my party has approached the problem of local government reform. Right hon. Members opposite will know that when the Maud Report was published nationwide it was certainly anything but a popular Report. All the local authority associations were against it. Almost every individual local authority was opposed to it in some way or other. It would have been easy for me, then the Shadow Minister concerned, to conduct a lively nation-wide campaign against the Maud proposals, and it would. I think, have been a popular campaign with large sections of the public, certainly with most local authorities.
We did not do that. I considered it vital, whichever party was in power, that one should look objectively at the need for local government reform and come forward with sensible suggestions. Therefore, instead of conducting such a campaign, we proceeded as a party to hold conferences in every region, we consulted our own people in local government, we consulted other experts outside our party, and we came to our conclusions not upon what we disliked about the Maud Report but upon what we as a party would wish to do.
Following those conferences and soundings in every region, in March 1970, at a Conservative Party conference on local government, I announced that our conclusion was that, while we wanted a radical reform of local government, we considered it right to proceed on the basis of two tiers, not one. I am sure that this decision will prove to be correct. A one-tier system of local government would have many advantages—I see those 1281 advantages, in terms of efficiency and so forth—but for many of the services vital to local communities it would be too remote. I think it vital to try to ascertain those functions which of necessity have to be organised over a wider area and those functions which can be left with the more local community.
I was pleased to note that in the debate on the White Paper which has already taken place in the other House, the noble Lord summing up for the Opposition expressed the view that there were considerable advantages in the two-tier system, which, on reflection, he now supported.
This was the basis upon which we fought the last election. We put in our manifesto that we should reform local government on the basis of a two-tier system.
I do not believe that there is a party difference on this matter in the sense of a particular doctrine which separates the parties. I respect the comments already expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), but I think that he will agree that those comments are based not upon a doctrinaire difference between the parties but upon a difference as to the most efficient and best way of reforming local government.
It was interesting to see the comments on the White Paper in the New Statesman, comments drafted, perhaps, by someone with previous experience as a Minister of Housing and Local Government. Comment was made on howthe Labour Government had already eroded the unitary principle on which the Maud report was based by extending the area which two-tier metropolitan authorities covered. Moreover, the Maud report itself recommended an unsatisfactory and insubstantial second tier of community councils with virtually no powers at all. So there is no ideological principle which separates the two parties here".The writer of those comments said further:Nor should the critics suspect that the whole thing is a put-up job, a gerrymander designed to subordinate the left-wing county boroughs to right-wing gentry. However true this may prove to be in particular areas, it is a silly allegation to make, especially since Labour unitary authorities would have had very much the same effect, and were put forward with reckless altruistic disregard for local political consequences. Indeed, one crumb of political comfort to be garnered from the re-emergence of the second tier is that it will 1282 give the Labour Party a number of substantial toeholds in what would otherwise be large authorities totally dominated by the Conservatives.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I accept the truth of that, but will the right hon. Gentleman allay any suspicion there may be that there has been, or may have been, some gerrymandering in relation to future parliamentary constituencies?
§ Mr. Walker
I assure the hon. Gentleman at once that there has not, but I shall, if I may, deal with the total approach to this matter and touch on boundaries in a few minutes. Our first decision in approaching this matter was, as I have said, that there should be two tiers. We then had to consider the functions which would be within the two tiers and the basic boundaries. I think that there is agreement among practically all right hon. and hon. Members that there is a real need for the reform of local government. The areas at present are out-dated. I do not believe that anyone can defend the manner in which county and county borough boundaries have prevented proper planning strategies and transportation strategies developing. We have too many local authorities which are too small to employ the calibre of staff and resources needed to provide the necessary services. Moreover, a system under which we have rural districts, urban districts, boroughs, county boroughs and counties is confusing and in many ways illogical.
§ Mr. Walker
In view of the shortage of time, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to get on. I hope that he will have his opportunity in due course.
Most people, I believe, agree that it is right to remove the uncertainty as quickly as possible and to move over to the new system of local government with the maximum possible speed. This is why I published in the White Paper a timetable. It will create a great number of pressures both for my Department and for local government, but I am delighted to see that all the local authority associations have welcomed the timetable and support the speed with which we are tackling this problem. The Labour Party 1283 intended to legislate in 1971–72, if it was returned to power. I am anxious to see that the minimum of momentum is lost in this important reform.
§ Mr. Norman Pentland (Chester-le-Street)
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish the House to be under any misapprehension. Although it is true that the associations have accepted it, many individual county councillors and other councillors have protested against the timetable and hope that, even at this stage, the Minister has not closed his mind about it.
§ Mr. Walker
That intervention, which has taken up time, did not contradict what I said. I said that the local authority associations have approved the timetable. I do not say the same for all individual members—obviously not—but all the local authority associations have. I believe that it it would be a great disservice to local government to delay action any longer. It can hardly be right to say that local authorities have not had time to consider their views on this topic. They have done nothing else for five years but think of their views on this topic. If they cannot provide them by now, it is a remarkable state of affairs.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. The Minister must not be allowed to put matters wrongly to the House. The county boroughs were in favour of the Maud Report.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must ask hon. Members to allow the Minister to proceed. This is a debate, and it will seriously restrict the number of hon. Members to speak if there are constant interruptions.
§ Mr. Walker
The White Paper was widely approved—with the exception of The Guardian— by the national Press, and I think that the summary of the attitude towards it was best expressed by the Local Government Chronicle, a week following its publication, in an editorial concluding with these words:No reorganisation can be universally acceptable, but the need is urgent and unchallengable. The Government's proposals are sufficiently radical. Could they not now be accepted—give or take a number of modifications—by all the 'contestants'?I believe that that is the spirit with which local government has accepted these pro- 1284 posals. Three of the four local authority associations have approved the proposals. Here, I compliment the Association of Municipal Corporations, which, although it put forward an alternative scheme of its own and, therefore, obviously did not approve of mine, adopted a most constructive approach in entering into negotiations upon the particular matters of functions and boundaries which we are discussing with it at the present time.
As regards the negotiations themselves, there has been some criticism that a number of the Circulars which we have sent to the local authority associations have been marked "Confidential", and this has somewhat limited the debate upon certain topics. I apologise for that having been done. It was not done at any particular direction from me. It was done on the basis of the custom that, when discussions with the associations are going on about legislation, such documents are marked "Confidential" before the legislation is published. I have informed the local authorities concerned that I am very happy that all the documents which we have so far sent should be provided to any local authorities, members, Members of Parliament or anyone else interested who wishes to see them. There is no desire on my part that the contents of these documents should remain confidential. It may be that when we discuss in confidence the approach to certain detailed problems there will be a need for confidential documents, but in the main I welcome the maximum exposure on that type of detail.
I turn to the problem of boundaries. We have proposed in the White Paper the creation of six metropolitan counties and 38 new counties. We have asked local authorities to give us their views upon those boundaries by the end of the month. The views have been coming into the Department, and they will be analysed and examined. We shall carefully study the case made for changes of boundaries and shall make alterations that we consider appropriate in the light of the proposals made by the various local authorities concerned.
In drawing the boundaries, I sought wherever possible to conserve existing county boundaries. If we can keep the loyalties that exist in counties, that may be an overall advantage. It has not been possible in many cases, and many fine 1285 county councils, particularly the West Riding of Yorkshire, will change their form under my proposals. Others, such as my own county, will have to be merged to make a reasonable and feasible size of operation. But wherever possible I have taken note of existing and historic boundaries, and I have changed them only where there appeared to be, subject to the consulations we are having, very good valid planning reasons for altering them.
I have been criticised for the way in which I have drawn the boundaries of the metropolitan areas. The right hon. Member for Grimsby has criticised me, and a number of distinguished planners join the right hon. Gentleman in that criticism. I assure him that I did this out of a desire to see that we did not draw metropolitan areas that would encourage a massive urban sprawl from the existing urban areas. I considered it right to deal with the growth problem of some of our conurbations very much more by developing our regional planning strategies, and deciding where new growth points should take place, rather than just drawing wide boundaries around the metropolitan areas, which could well have resulted in an unnecessary urban sprawl from those areas. It was an attitude of planning that made me come to that decision to draw the boundaries rather closer than they would otherwise have been.
I hope that we shall discover from the local people of the new metropolitan areas some reasonable names for them, and that names such as Selnec do not develop as a method of naming them.
We shall listen to all the proposals made to us about the boundaries, and we shall publish our legislation, which will contain the boundaries that the Government will recommend to the House on the metropolitan areas, the metropolitan district and the new counties.
We shall be setting up an independent Boundary Commission to examine the creation of the new districts within the new counties. The guidance we shall give to the Commission, which we shall discuss with the local authority associations, will be to create new districts where in the most rural areas the population will be about 40,000, while we hope that in the more urban areas it will go for a higher figure, because there are advan- 1286 tages in having a sizeable population and rateable value in running the functions contained within the new districts. Some districts will be very much bigger than 100,000, in that we are retaining some of the major cities, and they will remain as entities with substantial populations.
Therefore, the range of new districts where we are not conserving existing sizeable cities and towns will be in the 40,000–100,000 bracket, varying in accordance with the rural nature of the district concerned.
We shall appoint members of the Boundary Commission who will be respected by all the authorities concerned, and we shall seek power in our legislation to make the Commission a permanent feature of local government, so that there is a machinery constantly to revise districts as population trends change in the decades ahead.
In accordance with our consideration of the views expressed to us by local authorities throughout the country, we will decide upon the boundaries of the new country metropolitan areas and the metropolitan districts, and the boundary commission will recommend to Parliament the boundaries for the districts. There will be an opportunity for Parliament to debate them before the Government finally make an order on what the districts should be when local government reform comes to fruition.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Is it my right hon. Friend's intention that the boundary commission should also have the power to make quite minor adjustments of county boundaries?
§ Mr. Walker
No, Sir. The county boundaries will be fixed after the representations that have already been made to us by the existing authorities.
The Government looked at the existing functions of local government and asked which functions need to be organised over a sizeable area with an appropriate catchment area of both population and rateable value? Where there is a necessity for such functions to be organised over a wider area, those are the functions that have been given to the new counties—education, the personal social services, highways, traffic and transportation, and —a function that I consider to be very important in terms of organising matters 1287 much better in the future—refuse disposal. There are distinct and real advantages in having the larger wider area to deal with those functions.
In the metropolitan areas we have seen that education goes to the districts. There are differences of opinion on this topic. The Maud Report originally suggested that it should be with the district; the last Government suggested that it should go to the metropolitan areas; and we have agreed with the Maud proposal that it should go to the districts. The reason is that the districts are of a sufficient size to provide an adequate education service. That being so, we consider it important to bring it as close to the people concerned as possible. I realise the anxieties on certain forms of education that can be organised over the wider metropolitan area. There is nothing to stop that taking place under our proposals.
We have endeavoured to see that the district authorities have powers that genuinely affect the local community. One matter of dispute among those discussing the topic is where the power of housing should be. I and the Government believe it to be right to have housing at the district level, for a number of reasons. I know the argument, with the Seebohm Report and so on, that it is a good thing to have housing and social services at the same level. There are elements of housing—housing of the handicapped and the aged, and other elements—where there is a very close link between the social services and housing. But a great deal of housing is the relationship between the local authority and the tenants of its housing estates, the provision of improvement grants, the local analysis of the housing problem, and the provision of things like housing advisory centres. In the few months that I have had responsibilities for housing, I have come very much to the view that the closer we can get a community to be really anxious about the detail of its housing problem, the more progress we are likely to make. Moreover, all the experience in housing has been at district level. The former county council administration had nothing to do with housing, and had no experience of the matter. Therefore, on balance, having carefully considered the social service aspects, I considered it cor- 1288 rect to have housing at the district council level.
Likewise, I wanted to have genuine local planning. All planning applications will go in through the district council, which will control development in its local area. I am discussing with the local authority associations the way to achieve a sensible co-ordination between the new county and the new district council. For far too long in local government if the district council has not possessed planning powers it has just resented all the decisions taken by the county; and if it has possessed those powers, it has been in constant dispute with the county view of the strategy. I hope to achieve by local government reform, by having a co-ordinated staff side in planning, to see that while local people have control over the local planning elements they will also participate genuinely in a co-operative way in the total strategy of the new county concerned.
§ Mr. Walker
We are discussing the question of building regulations with the local authorities. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the quick jibe, "Fancy having housing away from building regulations", does not bear examination. I suggest that before the hon. Gentleman pursues that line too enthusiastically he should inquire from those who have to impose building regulations how it can be organised. But, like all the other functions, we are discussing this in great detail with the local authority associations.
Added to the proposals for districts are all the amenity functions of the localities —the swimming pools, the museums and art galleries. These will continue to be local. Landscaping and the provision of entertainment and recreation will be organised by the district councils. Therefore, we can say to all of the district councils, "You will have a considerable volume of power, and all those powers which affect the character of your district." But, added to this, they will be participating with full representation in the new counties that will be created.
I also decided, afer consultation, that the district councils will continue to be 1289 the rating authorities after local government reform. We intend to see that they obtain the rates from their local people and that the new counties will precept on the districts. I wish to discuss with them ways in which, in terms of providing rating assessments, it can be made even clearer than now for which authorities the rating has been obtained, because there is frequently confusion on this at present.
On the financing of local government, the right hon. Member for Grimsby has suggested that I was hostile to him because he did not publish a Green Paper prior to his proposals and that I might have provided a Green Paper prior to my own. That is a valid criticism—and the criticism I made of him was wrong. We will be publishing, within a few weeks, a Green Paper on the financing of local government. It will set out all the various alternatives of local government financing. It will look at such obvious candidates as petrol tax, motor vehicle licensing and other taxation, including the many forms of local taxation suggested in the past. It will try and set out the advantages and disadvantages of the various proposals. We will have full discussion with all concerned—doubtless there will also be debates in Parliament—and then we shall reach our conclusions as to the right mode of financing for the new authorities when they begin in April, 1974.
If we need legislation for this, we will have the 1972–73 Session in which it can be introduced, and therefore there is no need to delay our total proposals before coming to conclusions on this matter. What I have made clear is that the financing of each function shall be clearly with the districts or the new counties. One of the merits, I believe, of my proposal is that it will not be a case of top tier and bottom tier authorities, with the bottom tier pursuing policies with the permission and consent of the top tier. The functions will be clearly defined as being either with the district council or with the new county.
If the new counties wish to delegate some of their administration to some or all of the districts within their areas, they will be free to do so, but the responsibility in such cases will be with the new counties and we will not be dealing with delegated departments or organisa- 1290 tions. The responsibility will clearly lie either with the districts or with the new counties.
There are a number of matters of great importance that we have yet to decide, and I will listen and take note of the views expressed in the debate. They are matters that we are discussing with the local authorities. They include such subjects as the frequency with which we should have elections in districts and counties and whether or not we should retain aldermen—a matter on which arguments have been put on both sides. We must also consider the nature of the complaints machinery to be operated for the public. There is need to have a better machinery for people who wish to complain about actions of their local authorities. The parliamentary machinery is not necessarily correct for local government, and we must discuss how to get an appropriate complaints system into the new machinery of local government.
There is also the difficult problem of whether councillors should have more generous allowances or be paid for the duties they perform. If we are not careful we shall find ourselves again with a system of local government in which many able people are unable to become chairmen of important committees and of important local authorities because of the financial difficulties involved. On the other hand, the voluntary system of local government has its merits. These are all matters that we must decide before legislation is published.
I want to make it clear that we are going to retain parish councils, which have provided an important function in rural areas in the past. We are open to an examination of ways in which the parish council type of system can participate in communities in more urban areas.
I want to make it clear also that we have no intention of altering in any way the provisions for London—not even after last Thursday's local election results. I make it clear that the boundaries of the Greater London area and the present position of local government in the area, which are of relatively recent creation, are not intended to be the subject of any new proposals.
There are three important features of local government reform that I want to bring to the attention of the House. First, 1291 it is vital for both counties and county boroughs clearly to understand that these are not proposals for the old counties to take over the county boroughs. The old counties will disappear, perhaps taking many of the present county councillors with them, and we will be creating new county councils in which the existing county boroughs will for the first time have their own composite representation and will in many cases form a very considerable part of the new counties. The majority of county boroughs in the country much prefer proposals that leave them as county boroughs with very considerable powers to the proposals made by the last Government, under which most of the county boroughs would have disappeared altogether, being left with no councils and no functions. The important thing to remember is that there will be new counties.
It may interest hon. Members to know that the urban population of the new counties outside my proposed metropolitan areas and the Greater London area will be 66 per cent. of the total population. Anyone who believes, therefore, that these new counties will be dominated by the countryside will realise that we have at last achieved what all Governments have tried to bring about—much closer collaboration and co-operation between county and countryside than we have ever managed in the past.
Secondly, I want to emphasise the importance of management in these new authorities. It would be possible to reform local government and then find that the new authorities were not operating on a sensible managerial basis. I am pleased to announce to the House that agreement has been reached with the local authority associations on the terms of reference, timing and handling of the setting-up of a committee to advise new authorities upon the best management structure. The preparation of advice will be under the supervision of a steering committee consisting of people drawn from the local authority associations and my Department. They will be assisted by a working group of local government officers serviced by my Department. The cost of the study will be shared equally by local government and central Government. I am anxious to see that when the new local authorities are elected in 1292 1973 and take over their powers in 1974 they have received the best possible advice upon the management structure of those new authorities both in terms of elected members and officials. This is a unique opportunity to carry out that exercise.
One of the objectives of local government reform is to see that the new authorities are able to carry out their functions with less interference from Whitehall. We discovered that over the years Parliament has given the central Government many sanctions and powers over local authorities. Some of these, although they exist as legal powers, have not been used for many a decade; some of them will have to continue. In total there are over a thousand sanctions that central Government has taken over local government. Many are operated, some of them creating a good deal of work and bureaucracy.
I have therefore asked all Departments in Whitehall, to whom I have sent a list of the sanctions affecting them, to examine which of them will continue to be necessary after the reform of local government. I hope that we will be able to remove from our legislation many of those sanctions and powers of central Government over local government with the result that there will be less interference from Whitehall in local affairs than has been the case previously.
This is a radical and important programme of reform. We intend to see that the reform is brought in after the fullest consultation with all involved and after listening to the arguments, from wherever they may come. But we will reform on the basis of the two tier system of local government and we will adhere completely to the timetable in the White Paper. Legislation will be introduced later this year; the new authorities will be elected in 1973 and will take over their powers in the spring of 1974. When this is done it will bring in a new, important and exciting era for all those in local government.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)
I start on an important point about consultation. Since the White Paper was issued in February certain events have occurred. Labour has gained control of 14 county boroughs, 10 non-county 1293 boroughs and 30 urban district councils. In many other places there has been a large gain of seats which has made the control very much more even than it was. I mention these facts not from any desire to gloat or to make partisan propaganda but because they are directly relevant to the White Paper and Circular 8/71 which was issued with it. Paragraph 9 of Circular 8/71 asks councils for their detailed views on boundaries, 10 copies, and three copies of any maps which they may wish to produce, by the end of May, 1971.
It is now 19th May. Where control has changed, the new councils typically —as in my constituency, where it has nearly changed—have not yet met and it would be impossible for those new councils to give their considered views by the end of May. I must, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman formally and as an act of good faith—and I am sure that he will do this—to extend the deadline for comments. If the Government do not do this, then the whole notion of consultation over boundaries will turn out to be pure farce.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I will certainly do that. It is a perfectly valid and fair point but I must ask that where there has been a change of control they should examine this matter very quickly and get their comments to me.
§ Mr. Crosland
That is a very reasonable compromise.
I will not comment on the three new points the right hon. Gentleman mentioned but will ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) to do that when he replies. As for the White Paper, the sensible thing is to start by asking: "What is not in question between the two sides of the House?" It is not in question that we need a radical reform of local government. The last Government accepted that, it is accepted by this Government, by almost all hon. Members and outside commentators, so I do not argue the point this afternoon. I merely congratulate the Government on bringing forward firm proposals.
Secondly, it is not in question that the matter is urgent. We used to hear a 1294 great deal about waiting for Crowther or for the Green Paper on finance. I had prepared certain effective quotations from what the right hon. Gentleman has said in the past, but in view of his handsome statement today on the subject I shall tear up these quotations and merely congratulate him on a very intelligent conversion to what we were saying last year.
Thirdly, it is not in question what are the basic weaknesses in the present system, the removal of which should be the main objective of reform. The Royal Commission, the Labour White Paper and the present White Paper all make basically the same analysis of what is wrong with local government today. The weaknesses are the artificial and damaging separation of town and country, the fact that too many authorities are too small and weak to provide the full range of local authority services, and the confusing and illogical division of functions between, at the moment, no fewer than five different types of authority.
At this point agreement ends. For, when the White Paper, which incidentally is a poor and ill-written document for so important a reform, comes to apply these principles in practice it produces in some parts of the country a disastrously wrong solution. This is not an accident, it is not due to laziness, incompetence or fuzziness on the part of Ministers or officials. It is due to a deliberate political decision, and that decision is reached by saying, "When in doubt, come down on the side of the rural counties against the urban towns and cities".
This is not only my opinion, it is shared by most informed commentators in the Press and almost unanimously by the planning profession. I always enjoy Government spokesmen when they are quoting from the New Statesman—favourite reading these days with all Ministers in the Department of the Environment. The trouble is that such quotations have a somewhat capricious and unpredictable quality. They all tend to have in common a firm desire on the part of someone to dissociate himself from what he assented to when in government.
I would like to give one or two rather more representative quotations to show that what I am now saying is widely believed by the Press. First the 1295 Evening Standard of 18th February which said:A Chance Missed.Since reforms of local government come less than once in a lifetime this is particularly sad. …One must presume that the purpose behind sacrificing this great opportunity for rational reform is largely political.The Economist on 20th February said that the White Paper:… is in certain key respects a disaster of political prejudice … the (version) they have chosen must surpass the wildest dreams of the conservative clubs of Worcestershire and Wilmslow.New Society of 18th February said:Here, in the English reform, a suspicion of a pure political carve-up, devoid of all justification in terms of social geography or of good planning.I could quote other examples. Why is it that there is this strong feeling that, in certain critical parts of the country, the Government solution fails to meet the essential problem? I believe the reason is that we have had a growing consensus —and this is why the Royal Commission was set up—that the existing boundaries do not match the pattern of life in the 1970s. They do not match the housing or planning needs, the pattern of employment, commuting, shopping and activity generally.
There was also widespread agreement that what was needed was a pattern based on urban centres, with an urban and rural hinterland, a pattern that would fit the pattern of work and leisure in a motorised society. It is true that this argument does not apply to large rural parts of the country where there is no particular housing or planning problem, and where it is perfectly right and proper that the boundaries should be a matter of historic sentiment and tradition. It does apply to the essential urban areas of the country in which 80 per cent. of our population lives.
The argument is explicitly accepted in the White Paper which says:The areas of many existing authorities are outdated and no longer reflect the pattern of life and work in a modern society. The division between counties and county boroughs has prolonged an artificial separation of big towns from their surrounding hinterlands for functions whose planning and administration need to embrace both town and country.Those are excellent sentiments, but what have we got? We have something quite 1296 different. In certain crucial urban areas we have a pattern which ignores all these arguments and all the facts of social geography. We have large county boroughs sunk in rural counties, whose boundaries have been unchanged since the pre-industrial and pre-motor age. We have the big conurbations hemmed in by tight boundaries which ignore all the realities of planning, transport and overspill needs.
I start by saying a few words about the non-metropolitan boroughs. In some cases—Bristol, Bath, Tees-side, Hull—the solution runs along the same lines as the Royal Commission's Report and the previous Government's White Paper. The same is true of many non-county boroughs in large rural counties. In these cases there is no dispute between us. But in a number of large county boroughs the solution is critically different and infinitely worse. I mention Plymouth, Bournemouth, Southampton, Portsmouth, Brighton, Southend, Peterborough, my own area of Grimsby and South Humberside, Stoke-on-Trent, Blackburn, Burnley and Preston. Most of them, incidentally, are Tory-controlled boroughs and most of them protested loudly. Two of them—Southend and Bournemouth—have even given their Tory Members of Parliament some "little local difficulties."
I do not agree with all the alternative proposals put forward by these boroughs, but I salute their courage. If the whole of the Tory A.M.C. had had the courage of Alderman Harris of Southend, we might have had much better proposals from the Government.
I sympathise with the basic feeling behind the protest. Basically it is a protest against the final disappearance of the tradition of the all-purpose borough authority, the all-purpose authority which has pioneered almost all the great reforms in English local government. In addition, it is a protest against the fact that these large, powerful, self-confident towns and cities are being submerged by rural interests and swallowed up in much larger rural counties than the Labour unitary areas ever suggested for them.
There was a lot of talk 18 months ago about "R. E. Mote", although we do not see so many car stickers on the subject today. But the position is far worse under the Government's proposals. 1297 Labour's 51 unitary authorities have given way to 38 Tory counties. In consequence, both the size and population of the counties are substantially greater than was the case under our proposals and their headquarters are normally further away from the bulk of the population.
If I had to pick out the borough which I thought had had the worst deal under the present proposals, I would pick Plymouth. However, I wish to deal not with Plymouth—the most scandalous of the proposals—but with the area which I know best, my own constituency of Grimsby. Like Plymouth, Grimsby and South Humberside constitute a major industrial growth point—based on chemicals, ports, steel at Scunthorpe, food processing and fishing. We look seawards, north across the Humber and westwards for our communications. South Humberside forms a coherent industrial growth area recognised as such by Redcliffe-Maud and the Labour Government. But the one direction in which we in Grimsby and South Humberside do not look is southwards towards the rest of Lincolnshire. Yet we are to become part of the huge county of Lincolnshire with probably eight out of 80 seats on the county council. The result will be that we on South Humberside will be governed by an essentially rural body consisting mainly of farming and land-owning interests who know nothing of our urban problems and are totally ignorant of industrial development problems.
In terms of remoteness every decision which affects our schools in Grimsby, our college of further education, social services, plan-making, highways, traffic, clean air and refuse disposal will be taken 30 miles away in the cathedral city of Lincoln. This is much further from the people, to use what was a favourite phrase one and a half years ago, than was proposed by the Labour Government. To be precise, it is further by 30 miles of sparsely populated countryside served by totally inadequate roads.
It is impossible to reconcile this situation with some of the words in the White Paper. Paragraph 8 states:Local authority areas should be related to the areas within which people have a common interest—through living in a recognisable community, through the links of employment, shopping or social activities, or through history 1298 and tradition. Local boundaries, the allocation of responsibilities and the system as a whole should be understood and accepted as sensible by electors, by members and by officers. And, above all else, a genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken—and should be seen to be taken—as locally as possible".Not one of those sentences describes the solution propounded for my area or for any of the large boroughs I have mentioned.
I think that these powerful boroughs have strong reasons for protest—in terms of remoteness, of planning and of the total lack of cohesion of their areas. I do not support all their alternative proposals, but they have shown up a basic flaw in the White Paper.
I turn to the metropolitan counties. With regard to the number, the Government have a strong case for adding South Yorkshire and Tyneside. We considered and rejected this, but it may very well be that the Government's solution is better than the solution in the Labour Government's White Paper. But the present Government were quite wrong to reject a metropolitan area for South Hampshire. There have been protests from Portsmouth and Southampton councils and, as I understand it, they both incline to the notion of a metropolitan county. I am sure that in this major growth point which must be planned as a whole a metropolitan county makes the only sensible solution.
My main concern is not the numbers of the metropolitan counties on which, with the one exception of South Hampshire, the Government have a strong case, but their boundaries. In the case of South Yorkshire, certainly the southern boundary looks wrong. Sheffield is cut off from a large part of its commuter area. In the case of Tyneside, the new metropolitan area raises the question whether Northumberland as it will stand will be a viable county, as to which I have grave doubts. In the case of the West Midlands, the boundaries are totally incomprehensible unless one understands them in political terms. Birmingham is cut off completely from parts of Worcestershire and Staffordshire which it desperately needs for its housing. On the other hand, it is incredibly joined with Coventry, with which it has no substantial work or commuting links. This poses a threat to the green belt between Birmingham 1299 and Coventry without doing anything significant to solve Birmingham's housing problem.
This raises in the most acute form the general problem, to which the Secretary of State referred, of the right boundaries for these great conurbations. He has been universally criticised on this point, even by The Times, which otherwise gave a rather tepid welcome to the White Paper, and even by Lord Redcliffe-Maud himself, whose exquisite courtesy and diplomacy in commenting on the White Paper has been one of the marvels of the recent public debate. The crux of the problem in these areas—
§ Mr. Crosland
I have a vast folder of quotations, but in order to save time I do not propose to read them. The criticisms appeared in the Observer and were repeated in the House of Lords. Lord Redcliffe-Maud made it clear, although I agree that he generally welcomed the White Paper, that he had grave reservations about the boundaries of the metropolitan areas, particularly the West Midlands, Merseyside and Manchester.
The crux of the problem is familiar to hon. Members. None of these three areas can solve its housing or planning problems within its own area because it lacks the land. The areas must therefore rely on overspill arrangements, which involve endless arguments with the surrounding counties. This leads not only to a permanent cold war, like that between Birmingham and Worcestershire, but also, since the conurbations usually lose the argument, to additional pressure on housing space and amenities in their areas. For that reason, the Royal Commission and the Labour Government proposed that the big cities should be given land in which they could solve their problems and bring to an end the cold war between the cities and the counties.
The Government's White Paper drastically narrows those boundaries and confines the cities to the existing built up areas. Once again, we have bottled up the cities. Once again they are in a position in which they cannot solve their housing problems within their own 1300 borders, and there will be a resumption of the cold war between urban and rural areas and between metropolitan counties and the neighbouring councils. What we have—and this is the political fact—is a huge victory for Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, and, to a lesser extent, for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The irony of this position—
§ Mr. Crosland
I am told that Mr. Speaker has said that 60 right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. This is a particularly crowded Chamber and people never come in these numbers unless they wish to speak. I deduce that it would be in the general interest if I proceeded as rapidly as I can.
The irony of this position is that, since none of these metropolitan counties is large enough to solve its regional problems itself, the Government will have to step in far more than would otherwise be the case. The White Paper refers, quite rightly, to the need for regional strategies, and joint bodies of standing joint conferences, regional economic planning councils and the rest. I strongly agree with everything the White Paper says about that. But, since we shall not have any implementing agency with a regional outlook and regional coverage, the Government will itself have to force the solutions which come from these regional plans on the rural counties. In other words, if we are to have in practice any regional planning that makes sense, the Government will have to take more power, and use more intervention and more enforcement than if the conurbations had wider boundaries than they have been given. This is the ironic result of the Government's determination to draw these boundaries so narrowly.
I turn briefly to the question of functions, first in the metropolitan counties. Obviously, the division of functions there is quite popular with the large and powerful boroughs in these areas, since they lose very little to the metropolitan councils—only overall planning and transport—whereas we have no new metropolitan counties yet in existence to make the case the other way.
The metropolitan counties have too few powers in one or two important respects. The first is education, to which 1301 the right hon. Gentleman referred. The Labour White Paper, contrary to the Royal Commission, took the view that education should be in the top tier. I believe that still to be the right solution. I shall not argue the point now, as I argued it in our corresponding debate last year. I will merely say that a number of metropolitan districts are too small to provide a full range of educational services, particularly in further education. This view is still supported by the bulk of educational opinion and has recently been reiterated by the National Union of Teachers. I have no hope of overturning the decision on where education is to be, so I will confine myself to stressing the vital importance of encouraging the districts to come together to provide those central services which were provided by the counties—for example, by the West Riding—and which the districts by themselves are not strong enough to provide. It is a pity that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is not here.
My other main anxiety relates to housing, which was also referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. The districts are the primary housing authorities, which obviously is right, but the metropolitan counties should surely have more than "certain reserve powers, for example, for overspill". They have even less power in housing than has the G.L.C., and many people think that the G.L.C. has too little power and not too much. Many of these districts will be unable to solve their housing problems within their own borders, and will be able to do so only with the help of other districts in the same city. This establishes a strong case not for taking housing away from the districts but for giving the metropolitan county more specific powers in overall housing strategy.
I have one other point on the metropolitan counties, and this point was made in an article by Mr. Boynton, the well-known Clerk to the Cheshire County Council, with whom I have disagreed in most arguments in the last few years, although I happen to agree with him on this one important point. The metropolitan county will lack all the glamorous services which have obvious member appeal. They will not have housing, education or the social services, and the question is whether they will attract councillors of high calibre. People may want to go on to the district councils which 1302 have the services to which councillors are mainly accustomed. This is a danger which should be borne in mind.
As to the functions outside metropolitan areas I shall be brief. I still believe in the unitary system being better for these areas. I prefer it to the two-tier system; it is less confusing in every way. Nevertheless, this is water under the bridge. The Government will not change their minds on this so I will not waste time arguing the point.
Any two-tier system must produce a certain element of confusion, as this one does. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, if there are two tiers, housing must go to the district tier, otherwise the districts would have no credibility. This means that, contrary to all the Seebohm Report says, housing management is separated from the personal social services. Planning is split right down the middle, with the overall responsibility with the county and development control with the district. True, there is to be a joint planning staff, but how this staff will reconcile its loyalty to its two masters is hard to see, and it may be particularly difficult when, as will often be the case, the county is Conservative and the district is Labour.
The personal social services, contrary to the Seebohm Report, are divorced from housing management. Considerable problems will arise in dealing with the homeless, for instance, if these two services are run by authorities on two different levels. The importance of cooperation between these authorities, and of bringing the administration, at any rate, down to a very local level, cannot be exaggerated.
So we have two problems outside the metropolitan areas in the rest of the country, and to some extent they pull in different directions. One is the division of services which should be administered together. The other is whether the districts constitute a viable and credible level of local government capable of attracting able councillors and able officials. They have fewer powers and functions than most people expected them to have and they are certainly smaller in terms of population than most people expected. The Secretary of State has said that he is in consultation with local authority associations about functions, and the A.M.C. has put forward 1303 detailed proposals about what functions should be transferred and about so-called first-class and second-class citizens. I cannot go all the way along with the proposals, but I hope that a better division of functions will emerge from these discussions.
The right hon. Gentleman said that one of the objectives of reform—one which was eloquently extolled by him both last year and this year, and frequently is by Tory speakers—is to give to local authorities greater freedom from Government control. He used constantly to criticise the Labour Government for not giving local authorities sufficient freedom. I do not doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that many hundreds of detailed controls will be swept away, as they would have been under the Labour proposals. Incidentally, I must point out what he already knows, that circular 2/70 is raising considerable difficulties in connection with derelict land and industrial estates.
The detailed controls will go, but I am interested in what extra freedom will be given in areas of major policy. Are the Government genuinely sincere in this matter, or is this simply a lot of words? On rents, the right hon. Gentleman said in the corresponding debate of last year:Local authorities may wish to pursue a particular type of policy towards the sale of council houses. or towards council house rents … But the Government …"—that is the Labour Government—… have said that in all these matters they no longer want democratically elected councils to make the decisions … This is a great discouragement to those in local government … The first criticism is of the Government in that respect." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1970; Vol. 796, c. 447.]That is the Labour Government—a particular type of policy … towards Council house rents"!Am I imagining that the Government have announced that they propose to legislate to compel local authorities to move to fair rents? Since I am not imagining that, what is left of this suggestion that local authorities should have freedom to pursue a particular attitude towards rents? It is a preposterous statement. We read with great admiration numerous flattering articles in the Press about the right hon. Gentle- 1304 man in which, with boyish charm, he modestly claims credit for things most of which the Labour Government initiated. But on these local authority issues the right hon. Gentleman has rather harder questions to answer than any put to him by Miss Scott-James in the Evening Standard.
I turn from council house rents, on which the right hon. Gentleman will find it hard to repeat his words of last year, to education. What about comprehensive reorganisation? Where do we stand on Circular 10/70 and the famous local option put forward by the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Education and Science. We would like some assurances about that matter. We should like to know that when the newly-elected Labour councils submit comprehensive reorganisation schemes they will be accepted by the right hon. Lady. And when the new Labour-controlled Bexley Council withdraws, as it certainly will, the scandalous proposal of its Tory predecessor to establish the first new grammar school since the end of the war, I hope that the Secretary of State the right hon. Lady will stick to what she said about local option and that there will be no question of forcing her educational ideas down the throats of Labour councillors.
An even more striking example of the unbridgeable gulf between the Tory words about freedom and Tory deeds relates to free school milk for children between seven and 11. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he proposes to withdraw this provision, but at the moment it is legally possible for a local authority to provide free milk and pay for it out of rates. Two Labour-controlled authorities, Merthyr Tydfil and Manchester, wish to do this. However, we are told, despite all that is said about Tory freedom for local authorities, that if Manchester and Merthyr Tydfil proceed, the Secretary of State for Education and Science will introduce a Bill forbidding them to do so. In the light of that, what are we to make of the right hon. Gentleman's words last year about democratically elected councillors making their own decisions, about how interference is a great discouragement, and so on and so forth? Never have so many words been eaten so quickly after a General Election. Never has the hypocrisy of 1305 Tory freedom been so dramatically manifest.
I turn to certain constitutional and other matters in Chapter III of the White Paper. I wish to deal with the point about the secrecy with which these matters have been discussed. The right hon. Gentleman quite rightly took up this point in his speech and admitted that there had been criticism. He is providing some modification of the procedure. I am grateful for what he said, but I must stress the importance of this matter. The consultation documents, which no doubt have been seen by many Members of Parliament but not by the general public, involve matters of great democratic interest. So far as Grimsby is concerned, these documents will determine the size of the council, the nature of the elections and the area which the council covers. These are matters which are not only of interest to M.P.s and individual authorities, but also to ratepayers, electors, local government employees and the rest. Therefore, I hope that we can go further than the right hon. Gentleman has gone today and make sure that these consultation documents are published in local newspapers so that the electors will be able to comment upon them.
I turn to a few individual points in the White Paper—first of all, aldermen. The Labour Government said that we would abolish the office of alderman, but it is now being reprieved. I believe this to be a retrograde step, particularly at a time when a number of councils remain in Tory control only because of the aldermanic system.
Secondly, in regard to the local ombudsman, it is not clear from the White Paper what the Government have in mind, but it appears that they are withdrawing from the proposal we made and are searching for some compromise solution. I hope that that compromise will be at least as effective as we were proposing. I believe that this matter is crucial in local government. And, if I did not believe it before, I am firm in my belief now that I know the Tory-controlled Greater London Council yesterday came out against the idea.
One important matter which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention was the rule on disqualification. He will remember that we in our White Paper last year proposed a definite and positive 1306 liberalisation of the rule which now prevents dozens of local government employees—for example, teachers—from serving as elected members of councils. The present White Paper appears to go back significantly on what we said last year. I would ask the Under-Secretary when he replies to say something about this matter. If this is the case, then the disfranshisement of thousands of teachers will continue. Teachers will virtually never be able to serve on the new non-metropolitan county councils. This seems to be a serious denial of civic rights.
I will say a little now about parishes and grass roots councils. In our White Paper last year we tried to give this matter a strong impetus, though not, I admit, with unanimous agreement in my own party. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has the same thing in mind. The necessities are two. First of all, to maintain rural parishes where they now exist, which I believe the right hon. Gentleman intends to do; secondly, to encourage the establishment of urban parishes or neighbourhood councils—partly because authorities are becoming larger and larger, and partly because we are seeing a huge growth of one-purpose pressure groups which are normally middle class in composition and do not always influence their local council in the right direction [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Gentleman laughs. He has only to go to Barnsbury to see this happening. Such groups tend to influence local councillors in a way that is not always in the interest of the majority of inhabitants. The election of the Golborne Council in North Kensington shows the sort of road on which we ought to proceed.
On the matter of councillors' allowances, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the problem was already acute before reorganisation and will become much more acute with these new and larger counties. For instance, who from Grimsby will be able to afford to travel 30 miles to Lincoln for daytime meetings of the council? This may be all very well for retired and leisured people with time on their hands, housewives with grown-up families, solicitors and small business men who are able to leave their partners to take over the business while they are attending council meetings, and possibly for full-time officials of trade unions. But for the young skilled 1307 workers, young lecturers and young professional people, this will constitute an unacceptable risk to promotion and earnings prospects. One consequence of the sweeping election changes last week is the huge increase in the number of young councillors. If we are to get these young councillors in local authority work we must do something drastic about the problem of allowances.
The matter of salaries, as the right hon. Gentleman said, raises an important point of principle, and is a matter of disagreement probably within both parties. But whether we go the whole hog on salaries, the future system cannot conceivably work and we shall not get the calibre of councillors we need without a full measure of allowances to ensure that councillors are not out of pocket as a result of council service.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the staff commission, and I welcome the fact that he is to set up this body. I should welcome a little more detail from the Under-Secretary about when this body will be appointed and how it will work in the interim period. I hope that it will be more effective than the one we had at the time of the London government reorganisation, which was not wholly effective.
The last among the points of substance I wish to raise relates to the boundary Commission. I am concerned as to how the new boundaries will be determined. I understand that the initial county boundaries and metropolitan district boundaries must in practice be determined by Ministers, and I would not object to that, but I would ask about the important point of the initial distribution of ward boundaries. I assume that this will be decided by the Home Office, not by the Department for the Environment, but given the timetable which the Government have set themselves, it will be determined practically without any sort of local advice or serious local consultation. This may be the inevitable result of the timetable, but I should like the Under-Secretary to comment on this matter because, at first sight, it does not appear to be a satisfactory solution.
Thereafter, we shall have the boundary commission to determine the initial district boundaries, to redetermine ward boundaries and to determine future 1308 changes in all other boundaries—county and metropolitan districts. We must know more about this boundary commission. We have never had a boundary commission for local government before. It will have exceptional powers—[Interruption.] Certainly we have never had a permanent one. We have had two efforts since the end of the war, both of which collapsed in ignominous failure. We have never had a continuing and powerful commission.
This boundary commission will operate with few criteria laid down by Parliament. There is to be a major transfer of responsibility from Parliament to the boundary commission, and it is a major innovation which has not been sufficiently discussed. For example, what sort of people will sit on this boundary commission? The Secretary of State was asked this at his Press conference. He gave a splendid answer. He said that they… will be of the usual boundary commission calibre".That is hardly a sufficient answer to the question that I am putting. It is an example of the Anne Scott-James type of question-and-answer session. It does not answer the very serious point that I am putting here.
If we take the normal membership of a Parliamentary boundary commission, that is not suitable for a local government boundary commission. The problems are different. We must have people on the commission who have experience of local government. Incidentally, they will be taking intensely political decisions. They must have both a certain political sophistication and, above all, a knowledge of how local government works. They must not just be people of normal boundary commission calibre.
The commission will have the task of seeing that the rural areas are not over-represented in the new set-up. Very surprisingly, considering how prejudiced the Government's proposals are in favour of rural areas, the White Paper contains a phrase to the effect that their interests should not be overshadowed. In the new set-up, there is a greater danger that the interests of urban areas will be overshadowed. It is essential that the boundary commission bears that danger in mind. I believe that rural weighting is at last to disappear, but we should like to 1309 be reassured about that. There is much anxiety about what is likely to happen generally to boundaries, especially in the urban areas.
I find this a dispiriting White Paper. Some parts of it are good and welcome. But, whenever a choice has had to be made, it has come down always on the side of the rural and the conservative and against the urban and the radical. It has been criticised by planners especially, for reasons that I have mentioned. Yet there is the knowledge, experience and ability in Whitehall to provide an infinitely better solution. An infinitely better one has been provided in the case of Scotland. There is no lack of ability in Whitehall to provide better proposals.
I do not want an indefinite delay. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have gone over this course year after year. I am not pleading for a major delay, although, when the right hon. Gentleman says that his timetable for legislation is the same as ours, he must remember that a year was lost by the General Election and the change of Government. In the light of the very serious planning criticisms which have been made, in the light of the anxiety about the boundary commission, and in the light of the fact that many councils have changed control and need more time for consultation, I urge not an indefinite delay but the need for additional time to think again about those particular aspects of the White Paper which have aroused almost universal public criticism.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
I want to observe Mr. Speaker's 10-minute rule, so I hope that the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) will forgive me if I do not reply to his interesting and controversial speech, except to say that it is not right or fair to say that the boundary commissions collapsed. One was wound up by a Labour Minister, having already made proposals accepted by Parliament which happened to affect my constituency and with which I hope to deal in a moment.
Although I have some detailed reservations about my right hon. Friend's proposals, I have no doubt that reform is necessary on broadly the lines that he has put forward, and they are well thought out.
1310 There is one important exception to the opening words of the White Paper which say:The structure of local government in England is that which was bequeathed to us by the legislation of 1888 and 1894.That exception arose when, as a result of the last boundary commission, we had the amalgamation of Huntingdonshire and the Soke of Peterborough and another amalgamation of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. In his Circular, my right hon. Friend proposes that those two recently formed counties should be amalgamated further and that part of West Suffolk should be added to them, thus creating the proposed new Area No. 30.
I am speaking not only on my own behalf but at the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane). Both the county councils to which I have referred and in which our constituencies lie have passed resolutions by large majorities asking that they should not be further amalgamated. I suggest that there are strong and exceptional reasons why their wishes should be met. Paragraph 7(a) of the Circular refers to "special circumstances". Here, there are special circumstances of importance, as I shall hope to show.
In the past six years, both counties have undergone the upheaval of amalgamation. It really is an unheaval and I should mention in passing that, so far as can be seen, no economies have been achieved by the amalgamation in our county. It would not be right to inflict another and much greater unheaval on them unless it were shown to be really necessary, that it would produce real economies and result in a new county which geographically and in other ways created a cohesive and sound entity which was likely to work.
The county which is proposed by the amalgamation of the two recently formed counties with the addition of parts of West Suffolk would not achieve those ends. Such a county would have the disadvantage of being divided by a large wedge of low-lying fenland driven into its centre from the north. This geographical feature has meant that all the major road communications, and in part the remaining railways, form a rectangle 1311 at the corners of which are Peterborough, Wisbech, Cambridge and Huntingdon. But communications across the centre of the proposed new county are not good. It is an awkward and long journey between Cambridge and Peterborough, especially in winter. One has either to use minor roads across the fen or take the major roads the long way round.
The cities of Cambridge and Peterborough would be at the opposite corners of the proposed new county. But those two cities have never had any affinity. Both are large and prosperous, and both are growing fast. If they were both put into the same county there would he an endless tug-o-war between them.
There is the further factor of population. We realise that my right hon. Friend intends to use the figure of a quarter of a million as the normal minimum population of the new counties. I hope that that will not be regarded as "a rule of thumb". I hope that it will be regarded as the normal, but that where justifiable exceptions can be made to that rule, he will not hesitate to allow them.
There is no difficulty in achieving the figure of a quarter of a million in the area of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely because it has already got a population of 334,000. Huntingdon and Peterborough has a population of 207,000, but it is. and will remain, one of the fastest-growing areas of population in Britain. I say that for three reasons: first, because of the major expansion scheme at Peterborough, which has already started; secondly, because of the fast-developing town development schemes at both Huntingdon and St. Neots; and, thirdly, because throughout this county there is increasing activity of all kinds.
As a result of those factors, the county population will reach 235,000 by mid-1974—a few weeks after my right hon. Friend's D-day for bringing the new scheme into force—and it will reach the magic figure of a quarter of a million by about the end of 1975, which is easily within two years of the start of the new scheme. Taking the projection, which I am told is very reliable, based on all the known factors, including the planned expansion of Peterborough, by 1981—only 10 years from now—there will be well over 300.000 people in the county. Therefore, unless we are to apply a rule 1312 of thumb for the sake of doing so, which I am sure is not my right hon. Friend's intention, we shall reach his population target and prove that we have special circumstances.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby quoted paragraph 6 of the White Paper, which states:The areas of many existing authorities are out-dated and no longer reflect the pattern of life and work in modern society.That may be true of many areas, but it is not true of our two new counties—Huntingdon and Peterborough, on the one hand, and Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, on the other—both of which are growing fast, vigorously and progressively. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will leave them to get on with the job.
In fairness, I should add that the St. Ives Borough Council in my constituency and March and Wisbech in the constituency of my hon. Friend are in favour of the further amalgamation. March and Wisbech are apparently in favour of it for mainly economic reasons. But I hope that whoever is to wind up the debate for the Government will be able to assure my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely and his constituents that future county boundaries in this area will not affect regional economic development. That is the anxiety in March and Wisbech. Such an assurance would allay anxieties in the northern part of my hon. Friend's constituency, so I hope that such an assurance will be forthcoming.
Having made those main constituency points on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, I should like to add one or two other points.
As to districts at the second tier, I hope that my right hon. Friend has not got a closed mind about the minimum figure of 40,000 for predominantly rural areas. Surely we have to be very careful not to make the areas of district councils, which will operate some very personal services, including housing, so big that the administration seems too remote from so many of the constituents concerned. Thinking in terms again of a rule of thumb, 40,000 might be a mistake. My right hon. Friend could well afford to come down to 30,000 without impairing administration and preventing economies which might be made, but at the same time giving a better personal service.
1313 I was sorry that the appendix to the White Paper contained no reference to coping with emergencies either in peace or in war. That should obviously be the responsibility of county councils. I know that the Government are carrying out a home defence review. I assume that this omission was an oversight. I hope that the Government will decide that what used to be called civil defence and what is now so widely necessary to cope with peace-time emergencies will be combined as one function with the emphasis on peace-time emergencies.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on all the work which they have put into the White Paper. I think that we are moving on the right lines. I am sure that he and all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides will agree that this reform will have succeeded to a great extent if, as a result, our constituents cease to regard all of us as members of every local authority in their constituencies.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. H. J. Delargy (Thurrock)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, in compliance with Mr. Speaker's request for brevity, I will disregard the various documents and detailed notes with which, most uncharacteristically, I arrived for the debate.
In consequence, my brief speech will unashamedly be a constituency speech. That is not surprising because, when dealing with local government, one must speak about local interests.
The Secretary of State must have received representations from all over the country from boroughs, county boroughs, urban district councils and parish councils. He has certainly received representations from Thurrock, which is an urban district.
Many people imagine that all urban districts are small, drowsy, rural places built round a parish pump. Some of them undoubtedly are, but Thurrock is not. Thurrock covers an area of 44,000 acres, it has a population of nearly 130,000 and it is one of the most highly industrialised areas in Britain. Therefore, it irks the people of Thurrock to he regarded as though they were living in a sleepy hollow.
Some of the proposals in the White Paper treat them as though they were 1314 indeed living in a sleepy hollow. For example, whoever came up with the proposal that highways and traffic responsibilities be surrendered to the county council must be one of those who regard urban districts as exclusively rural. I feel sure that the Minister for Transport Industries would not make or agree with such a suggestion. I say that because the Minister has seen for himself the abnormally busy roads of Thurrock with traffic gong to and coming from the great container berths at Tilbury Docks, the big oil refineries at Coryton and Shellhaven and the other numerous commercial undertakings in the district. Problems of traffic, the maintenance of roads, and regulations about parking, lighting and public footpaths in this extremely busy area are local problems which vitally concern the local people; and only local people have the required knowledge to suggest local policies.
In support of my argument I quote from the White Paper words which have already been quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland):Above all else, a genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken—and should be seen to be taken—as locally as possible.Decisions about our traffic and all its problems will not be taken locally, and therefore will not be seen to be taken locally, if they are taken in some far away place like Chelmsford, where there is no knowledge and no experience of traffic problems like ours.
I shall cite only one more example. It is suggested in the White Paper that the library service should be transferred to the county council. We regard the library service as a local service, which has been paid for locally, and which is extremely well administered locally. In two or three months from now the Thurrock Council will have completed a new central library, including a theatre, a museum and a citizens' advice centre, at a cost of £920,000. It seems odd to us that the administration of the library, the museum and the theatre may now be transferred to Chelmsford. I repeat that we regard this as a local service which ought to be administered locally.
One could go into other anomalies in the White Paper—a document with which, I hasten to say, I am in agreement 1315 in principle—but, in view of the need to be brief, I shall not go into them all. I am sure that other hon. Members will do so.
The main representations which Thurrock Urban District Council has made to the Minister have been made in conjunction with its neighbour, the other large urban district in the area, Basildon, and it pleads for not one county council in Essex, but two, one mainly rural, and one mainly industrial. I shall not ask the Minister to give an answer to this proposal this evening, because he has only recently seen it. Nor will I argue the case this afternoon, but I should point out two things. First, the idea was not ours originally. It came from two members of the Royal Commission, who published a note of reservation. They were Sir Francis Hill and Mr. R. C. Wallis. I do not have the pleasure of knowing Sir Francis Hill, but I used to be very friendly with Mr. R. C. Wallis many years ago, and I am glad to note that his sense of judgement has not been impaired in the interval.
They suggest that Essexshould be divided, with mid-Essex based on Chelmsford, and south Essex, an In ban fringe along the Thames bank from Basildon to Southend, based probably on Southend.I am glad to see the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) in his place, as he usually is. They go on to say thatto merge these large urban communities on the Thames bank in a predominantly rural area would be to reproduce the conflicts which went on in Essex before the Loudon parts of it were removed from the administrative county and placed in Greater London.The second consideration is that from a quick glance at Circular 8/71 I note that of the 44 county councils—that is, excluding Greater London, of course—more than half have a population of less than that which would be in either of the two counties of Essex which I have mentioned, and most of them have a far lower rateable value.
I hope that those things will be taken into consideration when the Secretary of State considers the proposals placed before him by the Urban District Council of Thurrock.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Sir Tatton Brinton (Kidderminster)
I think that most of the authorities in the West Midlands, and Worcestershire in particular, will welcome the boundaries set out in the White Paper, as I do.
I was interested in the comments of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who referred particularly to the Birmingham boundaries. He made a plea for Birmingham to receive areas of Worcestershire, in particular, in order to satisfy the city's housing needs. I am glad that that proposal has been reversed in the White Paper, because, apart from the feelings of the authorities whom I represent, it seems to me that that must be a bad planning principle because it must lead to the spreading stain principle of development, whereby the great conurbations continue to become larger by growth at their edges. Unless some attempt is made to move populations from these areas to other areas well away from them, these large conurbations must, inevitably, become even larger and larger, and I should have thought that anybody would regard that as an undesirable objective.
Among the objects of reform, we are told that the Governmentare determined to play their part in creating the administrative framework within which the real challenges can be met in a way that matches the scale of the problems. The Government are equally determined to return power to those people who should exercise decisions locally, and to ensure that local government is given every opportunity to take that initiative and responsibility effectively, speedily and with vigour.Moreover, in dealing with the functions of district councils, the White Paper says in paragraph 22:The Government intend these councils to be genuine authorities, existing in their own right. and with responsibilites and powers sufficent to make service with them a reality for both members and officers … it would be a disservice to local government to establish authorities with functions which were inadequate to arouse public respect or interest.In the light of those desirable objectives, with which I fully agree, it seems to me that a conscious endeavour must be made to attain them. Some of the proposals for the division of powers between county and district councils as set out in the White Paper do not fully 1317 meet the requirements of those principles. I suggest that there are certain powers —and in this I follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) in certain respects—which could be transferred wholly to the district councils, others which could be transferred in part, and yet others again which could be exercised concurrently in the way that certain of the powers envisaged in the White Paper are to be exercised.
Responsibility for highways, traffic and transport is to be wholly transferred to the higher authorities, and this was mentioned by the hon. Member for Thurrock. Paragraph 19 of the White Paper mentions the difficulties of divided responsibility, but it does not specify what those difficulties are, nor how serious the Government consider them to be; but surely they cannot be so great as to demand the total transfer of responsibility for highways to the larger authority. I suggest that there are certain powers which ought to be kept at district level.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
Would my hon. and gallant Friend consider the experience of London, where there has been a division of traffic powers and considerable chaos? The new proposals seem likely to lead to a great improvement on that.
§ Sir T. Brinton
Perhaps if I develop my argument a little further, the answer will become plain. I am not talking of London. I represent a fairly typical area, with a moderate-sized town in the middle of countryside. It is this kind of country area of which I am thinking. What I am saying is not necessarily applicable to the metropolitan districts, and I do not pretend to be speaking for them.
But I would agree, that, within the non-metropolitan counties, highway and transporation planning, on the analogy of land-use planning, should be the function of the county authority, and that the formulation of policy through structure plans must be done over a wide area and should therefore remain with the county.
I would agree that public transport should be a county function, but I do not agree that it is necessary or even advisable to transfer district roads to the larger authority, for construction, repair or maintenance. Non-county boroughs and urban district councils have 1318 carried out these functions perfectly well for many years. They are functions which arouse a great deal of local interest. Private streets, stopping and diversion of highways are local matters.
There is also the question of legal responsibility. The legal liabilities which can fall on an authority if someone trips over a manhole cover are considerable and should be coped with locally. Anyone who has served on a local council knows how many complaints arise from street lighting, repair of roads and the Gas Board taking up the pavements. These local matters should remain where they have always been. If this is accepted, it would imply that traffic management, the regulation of vehicle and pedestrian movement, would have to be kept at local level.
There is a difficulty with principal roads, but in the urban areas of counties they have an impact on redevelopment schemes by the district. Why should there not be concurrent powers here to cover the fact that many important major road works are affected by redevelopment in so many cities? Here local responsibility within the district is called for in relation to redevelopment.
Why should building regulations be transferred to the county? It is not necessary that they should be administered over a wide area. Non-county boroughs and district councils have administered building regulations and building byelaws perfectly efficiently for many years—going back more or less to 1875. To transfer these matters of strong local interest to the county authority would produce the curious anomaly that, while one has to apply to the district council for planning permission to develop, one then has to apply to the county for permission as to how one builds.
Food and drugs regulations have been administered by all county boroughs, non-county boroughs and urban district councils of over 40,000 and also by many over 20,000. If the new minimum size of the districts is to be 40,000 or more, presumably they will be large enough to have qualified under the present arrangements to be food and drugs authorities.
If these districts are to continue to be public health authorities—curiously enough, there seems to be nothing in the 1319 White Paper to indicate the precise intentions here—surely they already have the staff to cover food and drugs administration. This is a function requiring special local knowledge, as anyone will realise who has had anything to do with it.
Another curious anomaly would arise. If a public health inspector responsible to the district went into premises on a complaint that they were vermin infested and then found that there were also food and drugs offences taking place, presumably he could take no action because that would be a matter for his county-employed colleague. This again involves an anomaly and apparently a division of powers. Food and drugs administration requires speed in action. There can be great danger to the public, and means of action should be kept as handy as possible to any source of trouble.
There is a wide variation in the needs of the administration of clean air regulations. They require no administration in most country areas. This is essentially an urban operation, and why should it not remain with the districts as one of the public health operations?
One must accept that refuse disposal has been done, in some country areas particularly, merely by buying up some good farming land and dumping stuff on it. This must be stopped: hence the reasonable suggestion that it should be a county function. But many urban authorities have extremely efficient refuse disposal systems, one of which is in Kidderminster. Kidderminster is naturally hurt at the thought that the only good refuse-destroying plant in the county of Worcestershire should be handed over to the county, which did not create it.
There appears to be a good argument for concurrent powers in this respect, within an overall policy laid down by the county but allowing those who can operate their disposal along with their refuse collection to do so. It is a remarkable suggestion that disposal and collection should be automatically separate where this is not necessary.
The hon. Member for Thurrock made a very strong plea for Thurrock's library and I would do the same for Kidderminster's, which I have frequently been told is regarded throughout the country as one of the best possessed by a town of this size. Paragraph 18 says: 1320Responsibility for libraries should rest with the education authority.But, again, it does not justify that sweeping statement. There seems to be no particular reason why an education authority should automatically be a library authority. It is more natural that it should go with the authority which is running the museum and art gallery, since in many towns all three have been closely associated both geographically and even administratively.
Why should they suddenly be taken higher up to the county? After all, the county will merely take over the existing libraries in many urban centres and administer them from a greater distance. The libraries and the staff will still be there. Why should they not be locally administered? Is there any saving in efficiency, or are they to be replaced with mobile libraries? That can hardly be the intention. Where they are being run efficiently, they should remain at district level and the county should carry on doing what it already does—covering the library requirements for less fortunately placed areas. I suggest that these powers also should be made concurrent.
May I compare the proposals for England with those in the consultative document for Wales? I bow to any Welshmen present, who are very able people, but I do not understand why their districts are thought to be more competent than those in England. Under the Welsh proposals, the district councils will have the responsibility for building regulations, clear air, car parks, refuse disposal, food safety and hygience, markets, slaughterhouses, shops and offices legislation and one or two others. Most of these powers are being transferred to the county authorities in England, but not in Wales. This is yet another anomaly. Why should we not in England be given the powers which are to be entrusted to Welsh districts? It is, after all, more in tune with the general intentions of the Government. The object should be to keep the powers at the lowest level which can reasonably exercise them.
Do not let us be led away by the Pied Piper of so-called managerial efficiency or administrative convenience, for we are dealing here with the government of the people, and the nearer we can get to the people the better, even if doing 1321 so means sacrificing a little of the convenience of some officials and occasionally being marginally less efficient. That is preferable to being super-efficient, inhuman and remote.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I fear that a great many people will receive the new White Paper with a feeling of bored inevitability, whatever we may say on the subject. I would like to think that out of the proposals being made by hon. Members in this debate, a new vigour will be injected into the whole issue of local government reorganisation, with more exciting ideas being brought to the surface, but I have my doubt about that.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) that the White Paper does not resolve many outstanding difficulties and that the battle will continue. Indeed, this is my sadness over the Government's proposals, which are in no sense a final solution. However much we examine these points, this is bound to be a temporary solution, if a solution at all.
I fear that we are perpetuating the town versus country battle, certainly in the metropolitan areas, and the way in which the boundaries have been drawn is responsible for this. One cannot look at the problems caused by the isolation of a great county like Northumberland without worrying about how the various services will be maintained.
I appreciate the Minister's remarks about these proposals being subject to regional strategy, particularly in relation to Metropolitan authorities, and it is to this that I particularly wish to address my remarks.
We were told in the White Paper that there would be regional strategy for land use planning and transportation. The weakness that is caused by the division of functions, particularly on the planning side, between authorities emphasises the need for a real regional authority. I would have preferred the proposals of the minority report of the Royal Commission because they seemed to make common sense.
We need a genuine regional authority with effective power, perhaps including within its ambit some of the ad hoc functions that have been given to statu- 1322 tory bodies in recent years. These ad hoc bodies are being confirmed by the Government's proposals for, for example, the health services. I would have thought that this type of body could be linked to a new, elected regional body.
Indeed, I do not see how anything less in size—anything smaller than a body covering a region—can perform these various functions adequately. If in the future we are to discuss the problems of, and find new sources for obtaining, local finance, it is at the level of the region that we are likely to find the best possibility of success.
Some novel suggestions appeared in a recent pamphlet issued by the Fabian Society, including some of the recomdations which the society has made to the Crowther Commission. I am sure that the Minister reads the New Statesman. He might extend his reading to Fabian Society documents. In this latest pamphlet he will find some exciting and dramatic new proposals for a form of regional authority that might take over some of the functions that have been accepted centrally.
The other end of the scale is of equal importance. I refer, of course, to the grass roots end, and I am disappointed at the tepid remarks that the Minister made about the position of the urban parish. We accept that the rural parish is enjoying a new lease of life in many areas, and particularly in some semi-urban areas, some of them not far from our larger towns. This experience has encouraged many people to argue that at a time when we are moving towards larger authorities—regardless of whether one accepts the idea of the larger regional authority—we should ensure that there is a lively base from which ideas can flow.
There is today a tremendous ferment of grass roots activity of an ad hoc character throughout our towns and countryside. It is from that ferment that we are most likely to get new recruits in to a real form of local democracy. I hope that we can go forward in this way, and the suggestions of the Association of Neighbourhood Councils offer a way forward along these lines.
An extremely well attended conference on this subject took place 10 days ago in Church House. Though it was Cup Final day and the last weekend before 1323 most of the local elections, it was well attended, largely by young people. While I am not suggesting that there was complete unanimity of view, there was an overwhelming demand for adequate representation at the grass roots level to ensure that local views are always ventilated before any of the bodies that are established under any legislation that we introduce. I hope that statutory recognition will be given to the right of consultation to bodies at this grass roots level.
I wish to stress the absurdity of some of the divisions of function that are being proposed. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton) referred to some of them. Hon. Members with experience of the work of public health inspectors will appreciate the difficulties they face. All along they have sensibly argued that environmental health matters should be under the control of one authority. As the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton) said, in many cases it is clearly a local matter. Therefore, it should be the responsibility of the more local authority.
Unfortunately, the White Paper is just about as unclear as it could be about the whole subject. Some of the responsibilities are to be given to the county and some are to be retained at the district level. There seems no very obvious reason why that should be so. Indeed, the clean air functions, which have always been the responsibility, until now of the more local authority, are transferred to the county. As far as I know, the county has no staff available for this kind of job—certainly not the existing counties; but I am aware that we are making new authorities.
Nevertheless, this is an example, among many others, of a complete division of responsibility in a very area where, for reality and sanity of operation, the whole of this area of work should be brought together. In opening the debate the Minister made an appeal for good management. He is making a very bad start with this separation and division.
I understand that discussions are likely to take place with the Association of Public Health Inspectors and with other bodies on matters such as these. But we have to test the effectiveness and reality 1324 of the proposals on practical issues of this kind and how they are likely to work out.
A further point of special interest to me and to some of my colleagues is the position about national park administration. I was delighted to find that my right hon. Friend, in a White Paper published more than a year ago, gave the assurance that the recommendation of the Maud Commission in this matter would be carried out and that at long last we should have a distinct administrative responsibility for national parks. But that has now been thrown overboard, in spite of eloquent pleas from the Government side of the House on this issue in the past. We have been given the slight sop of being assured that the whole matter is to be reviewed by a special committee. I suppose that we have to thank the Minister for that modest approach. But this is yet another area in which the White Paper, unhappily, has not been of the standard that we had hoped for. Again in this area, as in the rather more urgent areas to which I have referred, the White Paper offers no solution to our problems but only a very faltering step forward.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
In the interests of brevity, I shall not follow the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), nor will I spend time complimenting my right hon. Friend, who may take it that where I do not explicitly criticise his proposals, they have my support. I congratulate him on his presentation of the White Paper.
I make only two points. The first concerns parish councils, for whom I did some work on the Committee stage of the last Local Government Bill in 1957 and since then.
Paragraphs 39 and 40 of the White Paper, foreshadowing, as they do, a reduced status for parish councils in metropolitan areas—I stress "in metropolitan areas"—have caused some concern, especially in Yorkshire. The metropolitan areas designated in Yorkshire differ somewhat from the others in that they include stretches of rural countryside and these embrace some 240 rural parishes. There are only 330 rural parishes all told in metropolitan areas, so Yorkshire has the bulk of them. It is not clear from the White Paper whether 1325 they are to continue and, if so, in what form.
I listened very carefully to what my right hon. Friend said today, and I was still in the dark. I very much hope that we can have some reassurance from my hon. Friend to the effect that existing rural parishes, or parish meetings, even if in metropolitan areas, will continue with their present powers, because, as the hon. Member for South Shields said, they have an important pant to play and should continue to be allowed to play it.
My second point is about the effects of my right hon. Friend's proposals upon my constituency. Under these proposals, Harrogate, Knaresborough and most of Nidderdale would go into Metropolitan Area 6, in the district of Leeds. We shall therefore lose our councils. We shall have to accept very much reduced representation, and what remains of our representation will be on a body whose main interests are urban and industrial, not residential or agricultural or to do with tourism and the promotion of amenities, as are our own.
Therefore, we hope that before he brings forward legislation, my right hon. Friend will change this and respect the unanimous local desire to go into County Area No. 5, to the North, whose interests much more closely resemble our own. Moreover, they wish to have us associated with them and have said so to my right hon. Friend in the representations they have recently made to him. They have made a point to which I wish briefly to draw his attention. Paragraph 32 of the White Paper states:The boundaries of these areas …—that is, metropolitan areas—… should include all the main area, or areas, of continuous development and any adjacent area into which continuous development will extend".The North Riding draw attention to this, and the fact is that if one looks to the South of my constituency one finds along the valley of the Wharfe, a statutory green belt about eight miles wide between us and the industrial West Riding. There, or thereabouts, is the natural boundary and, as the North Riding County Council say, this green belt is an area of considerable charm and it is unthinkable that continuous development should extend into it.
1326 According to the present proposals, continuous development may well extend not only into it but beyond it into the predominantly rural area which constitutes my constituency. Having listened to my right hon. Friend's remarks earlier this afternoon about the importance of avoiding massive urban sprawl, I can only say that to keep the boundary where it is now proposed would be an invitation to massive urban sprawl. That is the position to the south of my constituency.
Looking to the north, one sees my constituency sticking out into County Area 5 like a massive promontory, which I am tempted to call Cape Walker, though in fairness I ought to refer to it as Cape Maud. To redraw the boundary, so as to put this promontory into Northern Area 5, where there is a community of interest, would be tidy and logical, and in line with the unanimous wishes of my constituents.
I will not say any more now, although I could do so, because my right hon. Friend has been good enough to engage in a dialogue which has been very friendly and which, I hope, will be fruitful. In my election address I drew the attention of my constituents to this problem, which arose out of the Maud Report, and indicated what my attitude would be. I have never known them feel more strongly or more unanimously about any issue. I refer to all the councils and representative bodies—the Chamber of Trade, the National Council of Women and so on—and the many individuals who have taken the trouble to write. We are all looking to my right hon. Friend to demonstrate his good will and good sense and to alter these boundaries in the sense we all desire.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
No one can be under any illusion that we are discussing the pattern of local government which is likely to stay for at least a century, perhaps longer. It clearly behoves us as members of a national Parliament to try to look beyond purely constituency interests and judge the proposals as a whole. The House will forgive me if in the short time available I concentrate on the far South-West Region, a region which has caused the House much concern over many years.
1327 The far South-West has high unemployment, poor communications and deep-seated regional problems. Therefore, any pattern of local government which is to be introduced for the far South-West will have to be judged by how it matches up against some of the problems which the region faces.
I contend that we are being asked to endorse a pattern of local government reform for the far South-West which is already out of date and which will be unable to respond to the challenges which we shall face for decades ahead. This particularly concerns Plymouth's role, In 1967, after much argument and a great deal of difficulty about getting the counties of Cornwall and Devon and the cities of Plymouth and Exeter to see the problems of the region as a whole, we were presented with a regional plan by the South-West Regional Economic Planning Council, which I think managed to achieve a degree of unanimity of approach which was almost unprecedented in the South-West. Amongst the many recommendations made by the Planning Council it is no exaggeration to say that one of the key recommendations was that Plymouth should become one of the growth centres of the far South-West.
Plymouth is a city of a quarter of a million people. The House will forgive me if I mention that the key thing which Plymouth is being asked to swallow is that a city of a quarter of a million people should be ruled from Exeter, which is 42 miles away. We are being asked to accept that the Tamar, which has been the traditional boundary between Cornwall and Devon for all these years, should continue to be the boundary. Practically every sensible planning argument is being overthrown purely and simply, it seems, because of a firm determination to maintain county boundaries.
No one can look at this region and this area without being struck by the fact that the geography has been dramatically changed over the last decade. Perhaps in no way has this been more marked than by the emergence of the Tamar Bridge, which has radically changed Plymouth's whole growth and development. We cannot look at the question of local government in Plymouth without taking cognisance of the Tamar Bridge and its impact and effect.
1328 The census returns show that, whereas in 1961 only 39 per cent. of the working population of Saltash found their primary job in Plymouth, by 1966 this proportion had risen to nearly 50 per cent. If the latest census returns were available I think it would be found that the proportion is now much nearer 60 per cent. So the pattern is now completely different.
None of us in Plymouth wants to take any more of Cornwall than is absolutely necessary on planning grounds. I would not hold to any particular boundary, but I believe that we cannot look at Plymouth without looking just straight across the Tamar at Saltash, Torpoint and the most immediate areas. We must try to convince the people of Saltash and Torpoint that their interests do not lie 47 and 49 miles away in Truro.
The simple logistic problem of being represented so far away is one of which I perhaps have unique experience in that my mother is an Alderman of Devon County Council and must travel 42 miles a day each way from Plymouth to Exeter for every single sub-committee meeting of Devon County Council. These are the sorts of practical problems that the Government must examine.
It was striking that earlier in the debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) singled out the case of Plymouth, but my right hon. Friend is not alone amongst national spokesmen in so doing. In another place Lord Redcliffe-Maud also pointed to the problem Plymouth faces in fitting into any pattern of local government. Baroness Sharp, who has very wide experience of local government matters, especially in view of her departmental experience and membership of the Royal Commission, said this in another place:… if you throw Plymouth into Devon you arrest and cripple a great deal of the enormous efforts that have been made in that part of the country … it is a piece of sentimental nonsense to say that the Tamar is still the Western boundary of Plymouth, because it is not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords; 29th March, 1971, c. 1122–3.]We all know that it is not. Cornishmen know it too. Sensible Cornishmen, when they can get away from the rather emotional argument, know, too, that Plymouth's strength and economic development are crucial for the whole of the region.
1329 From the point of view of bringing new industry down to Plymouth, one of the key problems we have had to face for decades has been Plymouth's dependence on the dockyard and the need to attract other industry to Plymouth.
This question must be considered from the point of view of both sides of the Tamar. This was recognised in the demarcation of the development area. The Saltash-Torpoint area was deliberately put outside the development area because of the attachment of those towns to Plymouth. When the Labour Party were in Government and we made Plymouth an intermediate area, we likewise took into account Saltash and Torpoint. When hon. Members opposite extended the intermediate area they were persuaded that logically Tavistock fitted into the Plymouth intermediate area.
I am not saying that industrial planning and economic growth arguments are the only considerations. However, in view of the immense distances that must be travelled, and in view of the industrial planning and economic growth arguments, we must ask why the Government have come up with these proposals for a new Devon county area nearly 29 per cent. of whose population will be from Plymouth.
The Under-Secretary who is to reply—the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine)—and part of whose constituency is in Plymouth, has had a great deal to do with the preparation of the White Paper. I must ask him to look again at this matter. We all recognise that, whatever our arguments, we want local government reform. Most hon. Members recognise that the Government's proposals for two-tier Government, whether we like them or not, will now come about.
The question therefore is: can we have some modification in those areas where some of the worst anomalies will arise from the present rigid maintenance of county boundaries? Plymouth has produced proposals for a new authority—a two-tier authority—to be called, possibly, "Tamarside". I believe that it is a viable authority. It certainly is viable in terms of population. The boundaries however are not at all fixed in my mind. If the argument for retaining some of the suggested Cornish area has very strong attachment in Cornwall, I would go along with it.
1330 The population of the proposed new "Tamarside" would be about 346,000. That would fit within all the categories of population limits that the Government have put into the White Paper. This would be composed of 250,000 citizens of Plymouth, about 58,000 from Devon, and 30,000 from Cornwall. The rateable value of the new authority would be £13¾ million, as calculated at 1st April, 1970. It would reduce the rateable value of Cornwall by less than £1 million. I believe that this is a viable proposition.
Three other counties would under the Government's proposals have smaller populations. Twenty-three metropolitan districts would be smaller. Eleven of the metropolitan districts suggested are smaller even than the present population of Plymouth. So, judged by the Government's own criteria, it is viable.
Under the Government's proposals only one other county borough will have to travel to its administrative area as great a distance as will Plymouth—that is Barrow-in-Furness, which has a population of only 63,000 and must travel 77 miles to Carlisle—and more's the pity for that. Next comes Grimsby, with 96,000 people, travelling about 36 miles to Lincoln. My right hon. Friend has already mentioned the immense difficulties which the people of Grimsby will face in terms of both distance and geography.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
The hon. Gentleman has referred to Cumberland and spoken of the distance which people in Barrow would have to go to Carlisle. Why does he think that Carlisle will be the capital of Area 9? Would there not be good reason for having the capital somewhere south of Carlisle?
§ Dr. Owen
I must not go into the intricacies of an area which the hon. Gentleman knows far better than I do. My submission is that Plymouth is the natural focus of the economic and social life of a catchment area which includes part of Devon and part of Cornwall. It is the city in which I was born, in which I have lived, and part of which I have the honour to represent in the House now, but I make my plea not just on constituency grounds.
It is natural that there should be a rejection of the Government's proposals by the citizens of Plymouth, and that 1331 that rejection should be vehement and strong. It is natural, too, for people in Cornwall to wish to keep their own boundaries. The same reaction is natural for the citizens of Devon, although I think that they feel less strongly about it. But we in the House are setting the pattern of local government for a long time ahead, and we must look at these proposals in that light.
By any of the relevant criteria—in terms of uniting town and country, in terms of recreation, shopping, travel to work, employment, and in terms of the social pattern of life and work in the community—the new area which the City have proposed, which would have districts and would be a two-tier authority, accepting the Government's proposals, makes logical sense. In no way should Saltash, Torpoint and its area be governed from 47 and 49 miles away in Truro, and, likewise, a city of 250,000 people should not be governed from 42 miles away in Exeter.
We have a polytechnic, which was placed in Plymouth by the Labour Government for regional purposes, and we have a new regional hospital planned in Plymouth, and we have the proposals for area health boards to follow local government boundaries. All this, and the way in which we have seen the pattern of economic development proceed in this region in the past few years, points logically to an exception being made in the Government's proposals and the creation of a new area. I hope that the Secretary of State will look at Plymouth's scheme sympathetically.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) speaks for a county borough, and I think it significant that so many of my hon. Friends here today represent county boroughs outside metropolitan areas. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State knows that it is in these authorities that more anxiety about the Government's proposals has been expressed than in any other group of authorities. These anxieties are allayed only to a modest extent by the thought that they will have their own mayors and councils. I have found that when people are reminded of that the thought tends rather to exasperate than 1332 to pacify, because it implies that the only people who are concerned about the Government's proposals in county boroughs are those who themselves seek one day to wear the mayoral chain, and this is far from the truth.
The causes of anxiety in county boroughs are far more profound. I list them as three: loss of powers, remoteness, and—this applies particularly in my constituency—the possible financial burden. Many county boroughs had an example of what they fear may happen in the recent police reorganisation. This is certainly true of Blackpool and other county boroughs which I know. The police reorganisation a few years ago, which is constantly mentioned to me by constituents, involved not only a loss of powers and the problem of remoteness but also a loss of efficiency and an increase in costs.
The powers left to existing county boroughs under the Government's proposals will be less than those now possessed by a rural district council. I hope that my right hon. Friend, after the discussions which he is having and after considering the representations which he has said he is prepared to receive, will find it possible to leave more powers with the lower tier, and I hope that he will by his legislation ensure that that is done.
My right hon. Friend spoke earlier about the possibility of delegation of power by county councils. I am not sure that that is good enough. I am not convinced that it is impossible for him to discriminate in the sense of ensuring that greater powers are left with the larger district councils in the counties. I see no particular merit in tidy-mindedness for its own sake.
The anxieties in resort county boroughs are as great as those in any other. In the resorts, municipal enterprise has always played a bigger part than it has in other local authority areas. The Blackpool illuminations, for example, are provided by the authority; they cost £180,000 a year. Without those illuminations, the economy of Blackpool would collapse like a pricked balloon. I could give many other examples of municipal activities, in entertainment, publicity, car parks and so on, which are necessarily more ambitious in a resort than elsewhere.
For obvious reasons, the administration of the Shops Act is more important 1333 in a resort than elsewhere. Theatre licensing is more important. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to say something about the problems of the resorts, and tell us whether it will be possible for resort towns to retain their particular resort functions in their own hands.
But I must warn my hon. Friend that, if he can give that assurance, or something on those lines, that will not be the end of the story, because anxiety will then arise about how the resorts will pay for those functions on top of the rate which they will have to pay towards the county. But, at least, such an assurance will go some way.
Now, the question of remoteness. The passage on page 6 of the White Paper has already been quoted:… above all else, a genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken—and should be seen to be taken—as locally as possible.The impression which the county boroughs have is that remoteness will be increased by the Government's proposals, and this is a special anxiety where the county town is likely to be elsewhere. One worry in the minds of my constituents is simply this: If the Government's proposals go through as they stand in the White Paper, will the citizen have to go 20 miles or so for help in problems concerned with education or with personal social services? Perhaps my hon. Friend will explain how the Government reconcile the passage which I have just quoted with their actual proposals for an area such as the proposed Area 10 in which my constituency lies.
Third—this is of particuar concern to my constituency—there is the possible financial burden. In a few weeks, the Government will produce a Green Paper, which will be studied with close interest. But the possible financial burden is of great importance in influencing the attitude of my constituents now towards the Government's proposals on structure, and this is a matter which I know both my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend will agree no Conservative Minister can afford, or would wish, to take lightly. The cost of local government is of special concern in the resort towns, because they have many small businesses for which the rate burden is of particular importance. They also have many people of 1334 retirement age. Twenty per cent. of the population of Blackpool are over 65. They come to Blackpool and other resort towns not only because they are agreeable towns but because on the whole the rate burden has been light. My town clerk and borough treasurer estimate that if the Government's proposals are adopted as they stand they would involve an increase in the rate burden for the average ratepayer in Blackpool of 19 new pence in the pound, a formidable increase. If that estimate is accurate, it gives cause for the greatest concern. I will send my right hon. Friend the calculations I have just received. I hope that he will examine them and be able to show that some of the anxieties are unnecessary.
The anxieties to which I have wanted to refer are the inadequate powers that I believe the White Paper proposes for county boroughs; the increase in remoteness which I fear the proposals will involve for county boroughs, unless the Government can say more about their ideas; and, in my constituency, the danger of extra cost.
After consultation with other councils, my council has worked out alternative proposals, within the principles laid down in the White Paper, which it believes would avoid those problems. It proposes to send them to my right hon. Friend very soon. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to say in winding up the debate that my right hon. Friend will consider them personally and sympathetically.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
Very often in the House we debate the affairs of other nations and events across the sea, and very often we have two days in which to do it. It would not have been inappropriate to have two days to discuss the very important matters that we are now debating which affect our own country so vitally. We are all going rather quickly at the things we want to say, and I am sure that none of us feel that he has said precisely what he wanted to say to safeguard and satisfy those whom he represents.
As one of the few vice-presidents of the Association of Municipal Corporations in the House, I hope that there will be nothing but the fullest possible consultation, and that the undue haste in 1335 the House today will not be witnessed in the consultations with the A.M.C.
Society is becoming more complex, and the more complex it becomes the more we need local government that is efficient, compassionate and essentially local. As society becomes bigger and more powerful, my people, many of them humble, ordinary working-class people, become rather afraid of it. They get a great deal of comfort from local government.
I shall not speak particularly about my own constituency, but I want to praise local government and say how valuable it has been and will be. We shall all have to make some sacrifices, and we know precisely what they are. Let us not denigrate in any way what a great force local government has been and what a great contribution has been made by those who have been elected and have given valiant service for so long.
I want to make an appeal to the Government on behalf of those who are working in local government, who have done so much, sometimes for little pay, and have been very loyal. They have worked in places like my constituency and have stayed in them when they could have gone to more salubrious parts of the country, staying out of simple dedication to the people for whom they were working. Those standards must be maintained. On no account must the varying levels of local government put one man who is serving local government as an official in a position inferior to another. The organisation of local government services has high traditions of democratic practice, and I hope that we shall not see two levels of local government service entirely different from the traditions of the great service we have known.
People talk about size, population and area. It will not be by size, population or area that the new authorities will be judged, but by the improvement in the quality of people's life. We have seen changes in places like Merseyside. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) mentioned something that we, too, were affected by. An efficient police force was taken away from us, and we were given another which is not nearly 1336 as efficient. It is more costly, and it has yet to prove itself. It is in the light of that sort of thing that we are looking at the reorganisation and asking the questions that we must ask.
The only way in which we can achieve the quality of life that we want is by being able to recruit the right kind of men as officials, people of the high standard and calibre we have had before. Paragraph 8 of the White Paper has been quoted three times. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South was one of those who referred to the paragraph, which speaks about genuine local democracy implying that decisions should be taken locally and be seen to be taken locally. On Merseyside I have seen great tower blocks going up under successive Governments in areas where there were slums all over the place. Mr. Speaker, with his knowledge of Merseyside, will know them. They were some of the most vicious slums in the country. They were knocked down and tower blocks were put up. Everyone was consulted about them—bishops, architects, engineers—everyone but the people who were condemned to live in them. That is the sort of thing that goes on, and therefore my appeal is for local government to remain local. People who by virtue of their work, history, traditions, family and so on have to stay in a district may vote in it, but see other people from outside the district, giving them less than the best.
I am having to speak about the matter so quickly that it is almost impossible to do so properly.
Housing, planning, social security and social services should be as tight as my fist. They cannot be divorced from one another. The closer they are together the better it will be for the family. Family and local government go hand in hand. We have seen attacks on family life in the House right, left and centre in the past five or six years. Modern society is attacking it. If the Minister does the right thing today and in the future he can help the family to gain more dignity. We in the House accept wrong, low and inequitable standards too easily.
Why should a young married couple on the housing list of any local authority have to wait for a house five, six or seven years, until their marriage is destroyed? Why should it not be possible for a new housing authority, looking at planning, 1337 social security and social services together, to say to such young people who are looking for homes "We will give you a house on your wedding day"? That is good government.
We hope that under the new arrangements we can give sustenance to family life. People in local government are dealing every day with the break-up of marriages. If we could do the right thing in the right place, we could overcome many of the problems we are trying to solve.
I want to make an appeal to the Secretary of State on behalf of the voluntary societies. They are not mentioned in the White Paper. Many of us have worked a long time with the voluntary societies—for hospitals, hostels and other organisations like the Apostleship of the Sea. They all have their contribution to make in the new set-up. They are not mentioned in the White Paper, but the country would be much poorer if we forgot the contribution that they are making and can make in the future.
I think that the Secretary of State is right in his adjudication on Merseyside. It would have been a great mistake to put the County Borough of Bootle and the County Borough of Liverpool in the same set-up. We are rather pleased that he has given us the opportunity of land and advantages coming from the association with Crosby, Formby, Litherland, Aintree, Altcar, Aughton, Downholland, Ince Blundell, Lydiate, Maghull, Melling, Netherton, Sefton, and Thornton.
Of course, if there were an election in that area tomorrow the Labour Party would not be in control. I have been a Labour representative all my adult life, but, we must not be insular about these advances. We are adjudicating on the past and planning for the future, and anyone who plans for the future on the basis of partisanship will be doing the country an injustice.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) has made a good speech, which sets the right tone for this kind of debate. I, too, have promised to be brief, and I will be. I am the first Member from Kent to speak in the debate. I am, indeed, the senior Member from Kent among those present in that 1338 I have served in this House the longest. I shall discuss matters which affect the county. We shall have an opportunity of discussing local government finance on the b forthcoming Green Paper and I hope then to speak about new methods of evolving local government finance.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) spoke about people having to go 40 miles. Many of my constituents travel well over that distance daily to Maidstone, which is the centre of local government in Kent. It is plain that in Kent the first-tier authority will be the county authority. That will be based, as it always has been, on Maidstone, although the most important city in the county is, without doubt, Canterbury. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is sitting beside me now, lending me support.
Kent is divided into two halves—East Kent and West Kent. There is a genuine problem in East Kent in that people there feel that they are too far away from Maidstone. Whatever powers remain with the first-tier authority, it is of the greatest possible importance that we consider how those powers can be best delegated by the authority to more local authorities. I ask Maidstone to consider carefully the proposition that the responsibility for the main strategy of planning in East Kent should be at Canterbury and that many of the social service, education and other functions should be delegated to Canterbury.
This is an important aspect, because those who serve the first-tier authority must be able to be fairly and easily recruited and their expenses met. It is essential that they should not have to travel long distances. The county councillors from the Isle of Thanet are nearly all retired men and women. I want to see the younger generation—many young people are ready to do so—being able to serve without having to travel these long distances and it is therefore essential to delegate functions to East Kent and West Kent respectively.
Secondly, I think virtually all of those who will speak for Kent, either in this debate or on some other occasion, will make it plain that we want to see more second-tier authorities have rather more powers than is proposed. At present, of the 25 main functions it appears that 13 are to go to the first tier, nine appear to 1339 be concurrent and only three appear to be going to the districts. These proportions must be changed substantially. What we want to see, therefore, first of all, is large district councils. The picture is fairly clear in Kent, certainly in East Kent. We shall almost certainly have one authority for Thanet, with a population of 100,000. There will be another for the Canterbury-Whitstable area, another for Dover and another for Folkestone and Hythe. Each will have about 100,000 people. They will be powerful second-tier authorities with plenty of experience. I want to see local planning and development control as their responsibility, together with responsibility for highways, traffic management and the control of the traffic lights. This would leave the question of the strategic planning of traffic routes to the first-tier authority.
Thirdly, I want to see house building and housing management with the second-tier authorities. They should also have responsibility for food and drugs, clean air, refuse collection and so on, and probably some concurrent method for matters such as coast protection, playing fields and community services. There is clearly need for the provision of personal social services and for a great deal of licensing to be vested in the second-tier authorities.
I am satisfied that we can arrive at agreement. It is important to recognise that there is this sense of distance in Kent, which will be by far the largest non-metropolitan county, with nearly one and a half million people. The original proposal for Kent was to have two unitary authorities. Now we are to have only one, and it is therefore vital to ensure that, first, there is delegation of duties and, secondly, extra responsibilities for the second-tier authorities.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John Forrester (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
A remarkable change has come over the attitude of the British people towards the reform of local government. Whether they have been converted or brainwashed or whether this is just another sign of apathy, I cannot say. Whatever it is, I think that we should not impose upon them sweeping reforms of local government without adequate discussion and examination. There is, I am afraid, still a feeling in many parts of the country that the White Paper was 1340 hastily drawn and that the authorities are being rushed into decisions. There is also a widespread feeling that the Secretary of State has made up his mind and that it does not really matter what one says because he intends to carry out his proposals anyway. I hope that his mind is not closed to the extent that some people have been led to believe.
Whilst one cannot ignore historical associations, I cannot really believe that the ancient county boundaries have any particular relevance to reform of local government in the second half of the twentieth century. While the Maud boundary proposals may have had serious imperfections, they were at least a real attempt after detailed research to bring together communities with a common interest and to put them into units of a suitable size. The Minister could do worse than to look again at the Maud boundary proposals and marry them to his two-tier suggestions. The present county boundaries are very largely meaningless.
If we take Staffordshire, of which I am a representative, there is no community of interest between North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire. To those in the North the South is just another world. In many cases we do not even speak the same language. We have to find a common B.B.C. type language to understand each other.
§ Mr. Forrester
We shall have to try French if we get into the Common Market. The south of the county is on the doorstep of Birmingham and it naturally looks in that direction. In the North, if we look anywhere we look towards Manchester. There are no cultural ties between us. There are two distinct communities in North and South Staffordshire, and I would ask the Minister to have a look at a proposal to split Staffordshire into two separate county councils. If we are forced to join together this would be a shotgun marriage for which there is no justification. No doubt we would join together and work for the common good, but this would not be a union of like souls who had rushed into one another's arms.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
I have just come in and heard what the 1341 hon. Gentleman has been saying. I know, and I am sure he does, that the county council of Staffordshire takes the opposite view from that which he is putting forward. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like that to be made evident.
§ Mr. Forrester
I am sure that the Minister will take note of that. I was aware of that fact and was not supporting the county council in its representations. I have the consent of my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) and Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) to say that we think this is a reasonable and feasible proposition for Staffordshire. These two authorities would have roughly 450,000 people each. We believe they would be viable. After all, there are proposals for 13 county councils in the White Paper which would have populations of less than 500,000. If it is feared that one authority may dominate this kind of smaller local county council, it would be possible to partition those authorities on the basis of their older boundaries or of parliamentary constituencies.
I was once in favour of the Maud proposals for a unitary authority. I became rather disenchanted when it became clear that power, or democracy, was to be moved away from the people who really mattered. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) took the neighbourhood councils to heart, but with no powers for such councils I was left completely cold. The remoteness of Maud is a feature of the present proposals.
We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) who said that people would be 40 miles away from the centre. In Staffordshire, depending on where the county city would be, while people would not be 40 miles away, there would be considerable distances involved for some. Ordinary folk would have no chance of identifying themselves with the major seat of government in their county. Local government would cease to be local. Councillors who had to travel such great distances would not have the contact or control that they now have. The officers would become more important and the elected representatives 1342 less so. I feel that for North Staffordshire at least the Maud boundary proposals are substantially correct because they gather together people with a community of interests. They were perhaps a little large.
I ask the Minister to have another look at the Maud proposals based on city regions. In this case, with the two-tier concept, I ask him to give his attention to the powers which are to be offered to district councils. I was intrigued by the list put forward by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton). I thought that if I added just two other powers we would have transferred all powers from the county councils to the district councils and set up a new system of unitary authority. The powers being offered to the county boroughs are an insult—housing and refuse collection. The county council will even tell them what to do with the refuse when it is collected.
What kind of people will serve on district councils? The local town halls will be drained of all men and women of quality, whether elected representatives or appointed officials. The three personal services of education, social services and libraries which are to be retained by the metropolitan district councils ought to be left with the district councils, especially the county borough councils of today which have a population of quarter of a million. By allowing the metropolitan district councils to retain these services the Minister has admitted that quarter of a million or even less is a viable unit. I know that my right hon. Friend did not agree and that I am apparently on the wrong side over this.
The Minister agreed that metropolitan borough district councils could adequately provide a service for education, and I think he is right. It does not seem right that authorities which may have 40,000 people should have exactly the same powers as a town or city with 300,000 people. Some services could be operated on an excepted district basis. Such a concession might even influence many small authorities to join together to acquire these extra powers. I do not think that in education it can be argued that it is necessary to have a very large authority to provide the necessary services. After all, the White Paper has 1343 great variations in population. Unless the Minister is convinced that these powers ought to be given directly to more authorities then we shall have fewer local education authorities in future.
These personal services are to be controlled by remote bureaucratic bodies, whereas they ought to be as local as possible. A local authority with a quarter of a million population can provide the necessary education services up to the age of 18. There are special groups of children who need education over that age and that need not be provided on a county basis. Large authorities will be faced with different kinds of secondary education within their borders, perhaps a comprehensive system with a sixth form college basis, an all-through college system, perhaps a selective system based on grammar schools.
The problem they will face is whether they are to run two or three different kinds of secondary education within their borders or whether there will be another upheaval of education with the whole thing in the melting pot and another new system coming out. My education authority has been as good as most. It will have nothing to gain from being part of a larger authority. I wonder why we are out to destroy what has already proved its worth.
The same is true of the social services. These are personal social services and cannot be administered from some remote base. There will still need to be local inspectors and local facilities of all kinds. I am sure that they are better administered in the locality and the county boroughs at least ought to have these facilities given to them. There is evidence that small authorities should amalgamate. That is not to suggest that the major authorities have been inefficient or neglecful in their duties. There is a need for marrying the interests of town and country but I believe that this can be done without destroying local pride, initiative and endeavour. The biggest scourge of modern times is this slavish adherence to the notion that if it is bigger it must be better or cheaper or more efficient. This is a fallacy which we have been "conned" into accepting I hope that the Minister will not be "conned" in this way when he presents his final paper.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-West)
I have some sympathy with the conclusions of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester), although I do not agree entirely with the way in which he reached them. I accept the general principle of the two-tier system and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State upon it. However, I regret that he found it necessary to use the term "county" for the new authority. It has caused misunderstanding in some of the cities, which is unfortunate.
I propose to concentrate on certain functions, because it is with their division that I am concerned. I take the City of Leicester as an example, not with the intention of being parochial, but because it illustrates the point and at the same time expresses the view on the city council. The City of Leicester has a population of 280,000 and a rateable value of £15½ million. It is therefore larger than half of the metropolitan districts to which it is proposed to give much greater functions. Paragraph 12 of the White Paper says that units of 250,000 may be considered large enough to provide the base for the functions of education and the personal social services.
Why is Leicester and cities of a similar size not considered capable of carrying out these functions? The Minister makes a distinction in paragraph 31 of the White Paper and I hope I shall have time to return to this. There is a feeling that a city of that size, with its great experience of handling much broader functions, that it is inappropriate for it to be cut to the size of a district authority which may, in some part of the county, be as small as 40,000 people.
I have doubts about whether local planning, which depends on detailed knowledge of local conditions, can be effectively performed without local staff. I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) that it will be difficult efficiently to operate a unified staff. There must be some division of loyalties and perhaps of responsibilities. There may be some conflicts within authorities when the staffs are answerable to others. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give further consideration to this matter.
Turning to the matters on which I wish mainly to comment—education and personal social services—I remind my 1345 right hon. Friend of the paragraph in the White Paper which has been quoted several times today, paragraph 8. I do not propose to quote it again. By transferring the function of education from the large cities to the county authority there is a failure to recognise the inevitable distinction between a large city and a rural area. I ask my right hon. Friend to consult the Secretary of State for Education and Science on the different requirements of education in a large urban area for nursery, and further education and education for the handicapped and, above all, education for immigrant pupils in cities with special immigrant problems. In Leicester, 14 per cent. of the school pupils are immigrant children. They present special problems. They have a special call on the resources of the city. An understanding has been developed among the teachers and the community. Would it be possible for the special education requirements of an urban society to be fully recognised if the city did not have the educational powers which it now possesses?
There is a conflict between the types of education which have been developed in the city and in the county. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consult the Secretary of State for Education on this very difficult problem. The urban problems are special and are recognised as such by the elected representatives of the city and by the city teachers.
It is difficult to divorce the personal social services from housing. To do so runs contrary to the Seebohm Report. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State suggested that the alternative was to move responsibility for housing to the county authority and unite housing and personal social services at that level. I suggest that the transfer should be in the reverse direction. The responsibility for the personal social services should go to the housing authority when that authority is of a size in excess of 250,000, as in Leicester. The question of uniting these two functions is very important and should be done at district level for urban communities of that size.
We have had a massive slum clearance programme in Leicester. There are 28,000 council houses in the city. We have the problem of a very large immigrant community. All these matters put great strains on housing and automatically 1346 create many personal problems which call for the help and assistance of the personal social services. There should be rethinking on these problems which are recognised by Members representing constituencies of the type which I represent. I am very conscious of them because probably I have more council houses in my constituency than any of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I believe there is a need to unite these two functions in one authority.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State justified avoiding a division of education and personal social services between the urban and rural communities because he did not wish to perpetuate the distinctions between these two societies. But these distinctions exist, just as there are distinctions between boys and girls. They are a fact of life. I do not suggest that one is any better than the other but they need different treatment in many respects. It would be wrong to attempt to apply to a city of the size and with the problems of Leicester a solution which might be appropriate and right in rural communities.
I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will again reflect on the functions question. I remind him of the words in paragraph 13 of the White Paper:… where the arguments are evenly balanced their judgment"—that is the Government's judgment—will be given in favour of responsibility being exercised at the more local level".I therefore hope that these functions will be exercised at the district level in large urban areas and large cities.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I will confine myself to one narrow but important point. Paragraph 24 of the White Paper says:The Government will consider the future responsibilities for water supply, sewerage and sewage disposal in the light of the report on these and related matters by the Central Advisory Water Committee …We now have that Report before us. Therein are contained many friendly cross-references to the Working Party on Sewage Disposal, in which I must declare the interest of my chairmanship.
One of the main conclusions of the Report of the Central Advisory Water Committee is that it is essential that a 1347 comprehensive water management plan be drawn up for every river basin. The Report suggests tentatively that there should be ten regional water authorities with four main functions: river management, water supply, sewage disposal, and planning. I make no apology for raising this point today because, at a time when we are reconsidering the functions of local government, it is essential to take this subject within the context of local government reform.
When we were doing the preparatory work for our Report, which was published under the title of "Taken for Granted", we found, in going round the country, such disparities of standards, activities and finance, that it was quite clear that the present situation was unsatisfactory. Authorities ranged from eight million people to fewer than 1,500 and expenditure varied between 5s. 11d. in the £ to an old-fashioned penny in the £.
The interesting relevance of this to local government reform is that the local authorities which spend the most do not always get the cleanest environment. There may be upriver pollution, or a dirty beach in an area which spends a lot of money because the tide may bring sewage across the bay from an area which spends little on sewage treatment.
We were forced to the conclusion that water is a part of geography—it flows through and over any man-drawn lines on maps—and that, while local government reform is taking place, the opportunity must be taken to deal with this problem. We suggested that river authorities should be reconstituted, renamed, and given the necessary legal powers to control discharges to the sea within the three-mile limit and discharges to estuaries.
I was glad that the Central Advisory Water Committee came so near to our own thinking, partly because of the growing public interest in dealing with pollution, and partly because of the increasing water shortage, which will be one of the big problems of the future. We are already using over 90 gallons of water per head per day, and the insatiable, demands of industry, agriculture and the rising standard of living will severely increase that demand. I was further encouraged to find that the Seventh 1348 Annual Report of the Water Resources Board contained a similar recommendation in paragraph 210:The two operations of providing water for use and disposing of it after use are clearly inter-related and inseparable. The importance of this will grow in the future as re-use of water in rivers plays an increasing part in meeting needs.With the support of the Water Resources Board, and encouraged by the first Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution under Sir Eric Ashby, I hope that the Minister will act on this consensus of advice. The Royal Commission said in paragraph 132:We regard three issues as particularly important:(i) the integration under a single authority in each river region of the administration of rivers and sewage treatment;In case any hon. Members think that this is not important, I remind them that in dry weather more than half the flow of the Orwell, the Thame, the Don and the Avon at Stratford consist of returned—I hope well-treated—effluent. I do not want to discourage the teetotal propensities of any hon. Member, but it is likely that a glass of water in London will have been in and out of somebody else four or five times. I mention this only to suggest that the quality of our river water is a matter of great concern.
I look forward to an opportunity being given for a much fuller discussion of this important subject in the House. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will see how well disciplined I am in making such a brief intervention. I hope it will result in some of these papers being taken out of their pigeon holes, where they have not been for long, and that we shall soon have some news on this matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Lady has been so well-disciplined that I propose to call another hon. Lady. I hope that she will be equally well-disciplined.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devon-port)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) on her speech. I know that she has taken a great interest in this subject. I shall be brief because the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) has already put forward a great many of my points.
1349 I thank the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) for the sympathy which he showed to the city of Plymouth. I hope that my right hon. Friend will show the same sympathy. I am a little nervous about his attitude, because I know his excellent powers of organisation. Some of his friends organised matters so well that I was the only Conservative Member to vote for Plympton and Plymstock to go into Plymouth. So this is why I am a little nervous today.
Mention has been made of apathy, but in our part of the world there is no apathy. A survey conducted by the local Press showed that 86 per cent. of the respondents were in favour of the Plymouth proposals. They have been revised three times, and my right hon. Friend has kindly given me an interview, so I will not go into any detail now. Plympton and Plymstock also had a survey, and 63 per cent. of the people there were pleased to be in with Plymouth.
We have had previous difficulty with the county, and I should like to quote from the evidence given by the Devon County Council to the Royal Commission; they stated in paragraph 9:The principal difficulties which affect the administration of the area are threefold: the problem of distances and communications, the lack of community of interest between the seaside resorts and the agricultural hinterland, and the lack of adequate financial resources.There is no community of interest between the Devon county and the city of Plymouth. The county would not give a contribution towards the Tamar Bridge, and we have had difficulty over Swancombe reservoir, and there is a difference of opinion about the educational plans. Devon county is comprehensive. Plymouth rebuilt after the war on the lines of the Butler 1944 Act and also wants to preserve its excellent grammar schools.
A distance of 43 miles from the centre of operations is too great, particularly in summer. On a recent Saturday morning it took me an hour to travel 8 miles, so congested is the traffic in the summer. It will be almost impossible for young councillors to travel such a distance; those in business will not be allowed time off by their firms, and those who have their own firms will not be able to spare the time. 1350 We may also have difficulty with those who work in the dockyard. Will they be able to remain as councillors in future? If not, we shall be left with the elderly and the retired.
We shall also need adequate local functions in order to keep enough interest going to get and keep the interest of councillors. Both the Hunt Report and the Tress Report stated that Plymouth should be a growth centre. In fact, we have worked hard on these lines and have sent officials to America, and indeed for a short time we had an office there to attract industry to Plymouth, and these efforts were successful. We have also had discussions with the Greater London Council about overspill. The population of Plymouth is one fifth of the total of the population of the two counties of Devon and Cornwall.
The proposed Tamar county would not be out of line with the proposals concerning Bristol, where Bath plus other parts of Somerset and Gloucester are to be combined. In fact, the White Paper contains 21 examples of existing counties being breached or altered. The hon. Member for Sutton has quoted from Lady Sharp and I hope that my right hon. Friend will take note of what she said because she is an expert in these matters.
It is not asking too much to suggest that parts of Cornwall might be joined to Plymouth. Parts of Cornwall, including the Rame peninsula, were within the county of Devon in the early part of the 19th Century. Even today, at Cawsand in Cornwall, there is an old boundary stone showing Devon county on one side and Cornwall county on the other, and we have now, of course, the Tamar bridge providing easy communications.
The city of Plymouth was the first city to be given a Charter by Parliament, in 1439. It has many historical records and it has always been anti-Establishment. There was a seige in 1642–46 in which Plymouthians held out against the King. In 1941 Plymouth suffered the most extensive war damage of any provincial city, and in 1943 the Plymouth plan was published. The people of Plymouth have shown great faith in their city, and I hope that it will not be the Department of the Environment which will knock down the city again.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wallace (Norwich, North)
I, too, will be brief. In view of what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), I would point out that Norwich received its first charter in 1158.
§ Mr. Wallace
I have come armed with a mass of material since the City Council yesterday came to a decision on this matter. However, the council will be contacting the Secretary of State so I will not go into detail now since many other hon. Members are waiting to take part in this debate.
Good local administration is based on close contact between council and citizens. Remote control fosters apathy and destroys local interest. I have served on a fairly large urban district council and on a large county council, the Kent County Council. I have experienced the extreme remoteness of the large local authority. When I used to enter the county hall at Maidstone, I used to imagine engraved above the great gateway the words "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." That was the sort of feeling one had with a large local authority. Conversely, in a more intimate local authority, there is a sense of everybody working for the benefit of the community and not being divided by parochial differences.
I am proud to say that I represent the city and county borough of Norwich. The county borough is known throughout the local government world as one of the most progressive and excellent authorities on the matter of administration. It is an administration which has been built up over the centuries by the endeavour of the citizens. It is sheer folly to take away our major powers and to merge us into a remote authority, as is proposed, with a population of 715,000 stretching 75 miles from one extreme to another. This proposal will mean a blight on local interest and citizenship.
Norwich itself has always been the traditional leader of the East Anglian area. There will be no feeling of community interest throughout the new county area and it will lack a common sense of purpose. Norwich, like many 1352 other areas, is very concerned about its excellent library, part of which is endowed by the United States Air Force, and has a magnificent museum and art gallery in the city castle and many other museums around the city. The art gallery and the new civic theatre are prized possessions which have been fought for over the years and which are visited by school children from London and elsewhere as part of their educational programme. All these good achievements will be lost if we become a large remote local authority.
I appeal to the Minister to consider giving Norwich more power than is envisaged at present. My main argument on the White Paper relates to the transfer of powers which is at present envisaged. These well-established local areas and county boroughs should not be deprived of a great deal of their powers or be merged into a remote area. This is what will happen to Norwich, and we shall lose something valuable in the process. It would be far better to amalgamate some of the smaller authorities, since I accept that local government reform is needed.
I register an objection on behalf of my City Council and the citizens of Norwich, irrespective of their political party; and I register my own objection at these proposals as one who has always been opposed to remote control and to the extension of bureaucracy. On no account will I vote in favour of any legislation that is proposed on the lines of the White Paper since it practically wipes out the good, compact, all-purpose authority.
Some amendment of the proposed transfer of power is needed and the Government should give way on this matter. Much in the White Paper is acceptable and praiseworthy, but I appeal to the Secretary of State to bring about a change in the proposals for a transfer of powers. If he is able to agree to do so, I assure him that I shall be more amenable on this matter, but at the moment I cannot support any proposed legislation.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
Once again it has fallen to a Conservative Government to propose a major reorganisation of local government. I well remember the 1963 legislation which 1353 re-organised local government in London. At that time all kinds of criticism was levelled against that legislation from all sides. But what happened to local government re-organisation in London? In fact, it worked out extremely well and is working for the benefit of everybody in the metropolitan area. I believe that the same thing will happen with these proposals. I give unqualified congratulations to my right hon. Friend in getting on with the job. Although during the Labour Administration many inquiries were set in hand, no action resulted.
I regard the White Paper as a landmark since it is based on the concept of increasing the efficiency of local government. It seeks to bring local government into a computer age, and therefore I see every justification for the allocation of functions which my right hon. Friend is proposing.
I wish to concentrate on two aspects of the White Paper. One of them has already attracted a special degree of interest, and it concerns the allocation of functions. The other factor on which I shall touch is the major question of finance, to which my right hon. Friend referred.
Dealing first with functions, as a frequent spokesman for the County Councils Association and a Vice-President of the Rural District Councils Association, I can say that both are happy with the proposals. As a Vice-President of the Association of Municipal Corporations and the representative of a county borough, I can say that the allocation of functions proposed is causing considerable concern. However, I believe that there is a wide misconception about what the new activities will be. Urban dwellers are thinking of the new councils as bodies comprised of councillors with the tweedy farmery image. In fact, the new county councils will be different. If I were a member of an existing county council, I should be exercised about the possibility of an urban takeover by urbane executives who were coming from the urban areas. The new county councils will be very different from the existing ones. I hope that I can get that message across and thereby give more confidence to all those worthy councillors from county boroughs who will serve on the new county councils and who I know will be as dedi- 1354 cated in their new work as they have been in the past.
Coming from the county of Cheshire, I must say how relieved we were at the result of the General Election. If it had not been for that result, the whole county would have been dismembered. As it is, my right hon. Friend has saved the county of Cheshire. I congratulate him, and I can assure him on behalf of the county that it proposes to be extremely generous to the district councils who will come along with it—not under it—and that it hopes that a modus vivendi will be worked out whereby the county will be a viable unit of local government, as it has been in the past.
I must not miss this opportunity of putting in one plea. I have been asked to say that we are losing about a third of our population, and we are asking for very modest extensions of the proposed county boundaries in the east and the west.
When this House considered the local government legislation of 1958, I spoke for Ellesmere Port, and I reiterate the plea that I made then, based on all kinds of splendid criteria, that the borough of Ellesmere Port and the urban district of Neston be included in the county of Cheshire. In the east of the county, there are three modest districts which want to be with the county and would be very welcome. I think that these are modest demands upon my right hon. Friend.
The county borough of Chester has been a unit of county government on its own for some 500 years. It has a good record of administration. I make one further plea to reinforce those which have been made by a number of my hon. Friends about county borough functions. As Chester has been designated as one of four historic cities in the country from the planning and environmental point of view, it should be autonomous in its planning functions.
It was significant that my right hon. Friend had something to say about finance. He said that the district councils would be the rating authorities. I do not think that that is a very much loved function of district councils. I regard it as a professional function. I was alarmed by this proposal, because it is one of the functions which can be computerised and which in my view 1355 ought to be one of the county's. On grounds of efficiency, the rating function would be better administered at county level, with all the computerisation available. On grounds of efficiency also, the number of experts on local government finance who can talk to the Government and stand a chance with the officials at the Ministry is limited. Therefore, it would be as well to have fewer rating authorities, and that those authorities should be the counties.
My right hon. Friend said something else about the financial function. He said that a sales tax or possibly a local vehicle tax was under consideration. A sales tax is the front runner in this field of alternative sources of locally raised revenue. If a sales tax ever eventuates, it must be a function of the counties and not of the district councils. If we are to follow through logically my right hon. Friend's proposals, rates will be raised by the district councils, with the county precepting on them, and a sales tax would be a function of at least county government.
There is a case for bringing the two functions of raising finance under one hat, and that should be the county hat. More than that, if the elected representatives in local government at county level are to be spending the millions of pounds and those at district level are to be spending the millions of pence, the councillors responsible for spending the money should be responsible for levying the rate.
I leave my points there, in deference to Mr. Speaker's strictures. Once again, I reiterate my congratulations to my right hon. Friend and say with confidence that, when his proposals are understood fully throughout the country, they will command wide acceptance.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
It is my intention also to be brief, but it is not my intention to pursue any of the points raised by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple). I do not understand his observation that it has fallen to a Conservative Government to bring about local government reform. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has heard about Maud and the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for 1356 Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in relation to Maud. However, I will not pursue the point, because it is not very relevant.
I want to consider the way in which the proposals in the White Paper affect county boroughs in Central Lancashire. Clearly, the county boroughs of Burnley, Blackpool, Preston and Blackburn recognise the need for change. There is no doubt about that. But, realising that the change could last for upwards, I suppose, of 100 years, they believe that the amount of consideration which has been given to it by the Government is insufficient.
I have referred generally to the work of the county boroughs. I can speak with more authority about my own constituency. Here, let the Minister note, I am in the unique position of speaking for all three political parties, for the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Trade. All are united in their opposition to the Government's proposals.
A tremendous amount of industrial development has been undertaken in Burnley as a result of local initiative. The people of Burnley were badly hit by the recessions in cotton and coal, and they have revealed a local dynamism without which I am afraid that the county borough of Burnley and many other county boroughs in Central Lancashire would have been in a parlous state. These areas will be rendered a disabling blow if we take that away from them.
Education, housing and the development of the central areas reveal a remarkable pattern of local government control over the years consistent at all times with the people.
The White Paper, in paragraph 8, states:A vigorous local democracy means that authorities must be given real functions—with powers of decision and the ability to take action without being subjected to excessive regulation by central government through financial or other controls. Local authority areas should be related to areas within which people have a common interest—through living in a recognisable community, through the links of employment, shopping or social activities or through history and tradition.The professed aims of the Minister and the proposals in the White Paper in no way match.
I promised to be brief, and I shall keep that promise. Before resuming my seat I make a special and earnest appeal 1357 to the Secretary of State. I know his dynamic character. One can say that, but whether one agrees with his conclusions is another matter. The Minister is young and ambitious and, I believe, prepared to take adventurous steps. I appeal to him not to take those steps until he has consulted people who have experience. The right hon. Gentleman is not present, but I have no doubt that his political ego will ensure that he reads my remarks. I know that I would do so if I were in his position. I therefore appeal to him, before finally making up his mind on this very important issue, to see these county boroughs and to examine the plans which they intend putting before him to give them a form of metropolitan area status. If he did that, I am sure that these areas which include members of his own party would be eternally grateful.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
If I say nothing in praise of the proposals in the White Paper it is solely in the interests of brevity. Time compells me to concentrate upon one point of criticism affecting my constituency.
It is proposed that the southern part of Buckinghamshire, the Eton rural district, the Eton urban district and the borough of Slough, should be put into Berkshire. The White Paper states that the intention is to form local authority areas which have a community of purpose and a contemporary sense of affinity. This proposal will certainly run totally counter to all that is so expressed in the White Paper. For example, in paragraph 6, it states:The areas of many existing authorities are out dated and no longer reflect the pattern of life and work in modern society.The existing boundaries of Buckinghamshire certainly reflect the pattern of life and work.
In South Buckinghamshire there is the strongest possible boundary of all—the River Thames. The proposal that Berkshire should come across the River Thames, which has not many bridges at that point, to take in the southern part of Buckinghamshire lies in the face of geography, of what the people of the area want, and of any administrative logic. There seems no other possible explanation than that someone must have 1358 represented to my right hon. Friend that that would accord with the wishes and the natural desires of the people in the area. I assure him that that is not so.
I am not entitled to speak for the people of the borough of Slough or the Eton urban district, but the noble Lord Brockway, who represented that constituency in this House for many years, made it clear in another place in a recent debate that he had no hesitation in saying that the population of that area desired to remain in Buckinghamshire and not be transferred to Berkshire. The noble Lord said that Slough and the Eton urban district were absolutely united in opposing transfer.
I can speak for the people in the Eton rural district. I have represented them for over twenty-one years, I live in the constituency, and therefore I feel that I know what they want. They are overwhelmingly opposed to this change. I know that my right hon. Friend will have been deluged with complaints and objections from public and private bodies, individuals and societies. Everybody has been horrified by this suggestion. I ask him to believe that any idea that the people of the southern part of South Buckinghamshire think in terms of Reading and Berkshire is absurd.
The eastern boundary of this area is about 15 miles from Charing Cross. If one had to put a label upon the Eton rural district it would be that it was a commuter district. The people living there tend to work in London. They never think in terms of Reading or Berkshire; they think of themselves, the villages in the area, and then of London where many of them work and to and from which they travel with regularity.
I turn now to the viability of the area. If this extraordinary change is not made the counties of Buckinghamshire and Berkshire will be of similar size—roughly half a million. If the change is made Buckinghamshire will become the fifth smallest county and Berkshire will become one of the biggest counties. Both counties have populations of about half a million—far above the minimum level that my right hon. Friend has proposed. Therefore, from considerations of population or revenue no possible argument can be derived in favour of the change. On the contrary, arguments can be 1359 derived against it. The affinities of the people, their pattern of life, work, shopping and travel, all militate against the change. They are unanimous against it. The River Thames is the most obvious and natural boundary that anyone could imagine.
These areas have been in Buckinghamshire for nearly 1,100 years—from the time that Buckinghamshire came into existence as part of the Kingdom of Mercia. When hon. Members get tired of waiting to be called in this place, they apply for the Chiltern Hundreds. I have them in the sense that I represent two of them. It is proposed to wrench away the southern part of two of the Chiltern Hundreds—the House has often heard the phrase: "Her Majesty's Chiltern Hundreds in the County of Buckinghamshire"—which have been in Buckinghamshire for over 1,000 years, and to put them in Berkshire where they do not want to go. Why? I am utterly at a loss to know.
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) said one thing about consultation which I think strikes a chord in many of us. He felt that the consultation was sometimes a little elevated, abstract and remote. I wonder from whom my right hon. Friend got this advice. If I had been asked, which I was not, I could have told him exactly what the reaction of my constituents would be. I could have told him that they worked in and travelled to London. I could have told him that Reading and Berkshire were nothing in their lives and that to replace the Thames by the A40, the road to Oxford, which cuts through the communities of the area, so that we lose the wonderful boundary of the biggest river in England and get instead a road which threads its sinuous way along and across streets was high summer madness. But nobody asked me.
I ask my right hon. Friend now to accept that advice from everybody in my constituency, from the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, from Earl Howe, from my colleagues in this House who surround the area or who live in it. Everybody holds that view and I ask my right hon. Friend to accept this volume of representation and to reverse what must surely have been a mere inadvertence.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
One of my hon. Friends said that if it is bigger, it is not bound to be better. That is important, because, although we are discussing the Redcliffe-Maud Report, I remember Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve's report, and I remember, too, the development of the green belt in the late 'thirties. In those days we talked about putting nets around large county boroughs to prevent county borough and borough sprawl.
I was disgusted—and I say this respectfully—when my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) allowed Sheffield to overspill into Derbyshire. Some of the aldermen say, "This must be all right, because we are going to be bigger". Only a few weeks ago one alderman of Barnsley said:We are now a population of 80,000, but in a short time there will be a population of 200,000 in the area.That is how people look at the situation.
We are dealing with local government, and local means local. I was a member of a local government in the late' thirties. In the Urban District Council of Rothwell we had a wonderful M. and C.W. service. Legislation took it away from us, and today the service is not as good as it was then. We carried out our own immunisation service. We run our own library service. Refuse is collected every week, and now, in the three urban districts that I represent, our services are comparable to, if not better than, those in any other part of the country.
The Secretary of State says that this is new and exciting. It is not new, and I wonder whether it is going to be exciting. I come back to the words of my hon. Friend, "if it is bigger, is it better?" I believe that, in the words of the Trustram Eve Report, it is better to bring together two maximum populations of 50,000 or 60,000. It would be better to bring together Stanley, Normanton and Roth-well and to give the area additional powers. If that were done, it would do a better job than it will if it is flung into this metropolitan area that is being put before us.
Only two years ago the town planning authority in the West Riding talked about the five towns of Castleford, Pontefract, 1361 Nottingley, Normanton and Featherstone. They have their trading area, and they are part of an intermediate area. They are disappointed now that they are to be put into the Wakefield district. Can anyone say that they will be more efficient and provide a better service?
The Secretary of State referred to education. I guarantee that he could not stand up before any teacher and say that education will be better dealt with by the district than by the metropolitan. Only recently I received a letter saying:We have in Rothwell and Stanley what seems an efficient educational system working in the framework created by the West Riding Education Department. Teachers, whether in primary, secondary schools, grammar or modern, co-operate together and create a happy and effective integrated system. All this will be destroyed when the schools in the Stanley area go into the Wakefield district and those in Rothwell go into Leeds.Stanley and Rothwell have one education executive. We have one grammar school. What does it mean? Education in the West Riding is at the top in Wakefield, while Leeds is well below, and we shall be divided.
I suggest to the Secretary of State that he should look at this whole question, because Sir Alec Clegg has denounced his proposals. The criticism was published in the Yorkshire Post some time ago, and I hope that cognisance will be taken of what was said, because this is an extremely serious matter, and local authorities in my constituency are concerned about these proposals.
There is no comparison between the metropolitan area suggested for West Yorkshire and that for South-East Lancashire and the Midlands. Physically and economically we are far more loosely knit. We have our wide open spaces, and our green belts, and to talk about making us a metropolitan area is far from the mark. I am sure that this proposal needs to be re-examined by the Secretary of State.
Not long ago I travelled over the Pennines to Manchester. Heaven forbid that Yorkshire ever becomes like South-East Lancashire, because from the Pennines to Manchester I could not tell which was Oldham and which was Failsworth. In fact, I did not know when I arrived in Manchester. There is nothing like that in Yorkshire, and it is unfair to compare us with the West 1362 Midlands, Merseyside, or South-East Lancashire.
I should have thought that would be far better to adopt the proposal in the Trustram Eve Report and integrate into districts units of up to 50,000 or 60,000. I believe that sufficient consideration has not been given to some of the reports made prior to the Redcliffe-Maud Report, and I wanted to take part in today's debate because I think that they are important to West Yorkshire.
Reference has been made to Harrogate being joined to Leeds. It will be far better if Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Hull remain as they are. We could bring some unification into the smaller units and, if they were given the right kind of powers, we could keep things local. We could engender more local interest and maintain quality service. I think that if that were done we should bring about as great an improvement as we shall have if these proposals are carried out. I hope that the classification of a metropolitan area is a non-runner in West Yorkshire. I hope that education, as it is at present, particularly in the West Riding, will be maintained, because we are proud of it. If these things are taken into consideration, it will satisfy the people whom I represent.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said that the county borough of Southend had achieved some notoriety in recent months. Although I am sorely tempted to deal with some of the more hysterical pronouncements from that area, it would be unfair to waste the time of the House. Being a kindly soul, I prefer to ignore them and to concentrate on this White Paper.
On the general position, I am amazed that some people professing to be expert students of politics and local government should appear to be surprised that the Government have come forward with a White Paper on local government reform. If they did not expect proposals for local government reform, they must have peen fast asleep for the last ten years. Nothing else has been talked about in local government circles, both among the Labour Party and ourselves, for the last ten years—
§ Sir S. McAdden
I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
I am making no reference to the Liberal Party. That would be unkind, because not one member of that party has attended the debate since it started. Let us confine our remarks to those who are interested in the subject and have been for the last 20 years. Those who say that it has come like a bolt from the blue have not been interested either in politics or in local government.
Some others say, "We expected some reform of local government, but we did not expect this proposal of a two-tier system from the Conservative Party." They obviously did not read the Conservative election manifesto, where it was clearly set out. It is a little late for people who are now protesting that they are the grass roots of the Conservative Party, responsible for the election of hon. Members, to pretend that they did not know that the Tory Party was committed to a two-tier system. Perhaps they are not so up-to-date on political affairs as they should be.
The natural irritation which one feels about some of the silly comments should not lead my right hon. Friend to be unduly prejudiced against real and substantial points. Even the stupidest people can sometimes put forward sensible arguments. Some sensible arguments can be made against the White Paper.
I represent half the county borough of Southend-on-Sea. People who say that there should be a policy for county boroughs as a whole are talking nonsense, because these boroughs vary so much; their populations range from 30,000 to 250,000 and more. There cannot be a general policy for them all. I can understand that my right hon. Friend's argument presumably would be that one cannot pick and choose, but one can and should. Local authorities over a particular size and operating in exceptional circumstances should not be lumped together with all local authorities.
An example is the seaside resorts. They must provide services not only for their resident populations but, in my own county borough, for example, for millions of other people during the summer months, who expect to be provided with 1364 some of the services which it is the duty of the borough to provide. There is a case for looking into this situation.
In spite of some of the more excitable things which were said in the early stages of the discussion of the White Paper, at last some sensible proposals have come forward. With all modesty, I would point out that they are proposals which I suggested. I am glad that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) is here, because I want to join him in commending to my right hon. Friends the proposals submitted by Thurrock and Basildon and which have the blessing, if it is needed, of Southend-on-Sea as well—
§ Sir S. McAdden
This is an excellent proposal. It has been set out in writing to my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Thurrock has dealt with it already, so I will not go over it again. I hope that it will receive serious consideration. If my right hon. Friend decides not to go forward with it, I hope that he will consider the general functions and powers of county boroughs. He must appreciate that it comes as a nasty shock to an authority which for years has been an all-purpose authority suddenly to find itself divested of some of its powers.
This has been exaggerated, and it has even been said that all their powers will be taken away. They will not, but some very important ones will be. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development will spell out some of the important powers which will remain with the district councils, some of the functions which they will still have to perform, and that his right hon. Friend will give serious consideration to extending those powers, to those former all-purpose authorities from which it is proposed to take them away. After all, if a local authority has over the years succeeded in providing excellent services, it seems a pity to take them away and give them to some other authority.
This difficulty has been exaggerated. It has been suggested that, suddenly, because a new county council is elected to whom power has been delegated, all that facilities in the old county borough areas will suddenly disappear overnight. Of course they will not. The new county council, finding within its area a former 1365 county borough with an excellent system of services, will not suddenly throw them out of the window. It will build upon them and try to improve them. But there is considerable apprehension about the result—an apprehension which it is the job of my right hon. Friend to try to remove, so far as he can.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be deterred by some of the rude things which have been said. here is common sense behind them. I can take it. I do not mind what rude things they say to me, about what will happen at the next election and how the Government will be brought down. I hope that my right hon. Friend will apply his mind to the serious questions and give the county boroughs some more consideration than seems to have been evidenced in the proposals in the White Paper.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
I shall not quarrel in this debate, with the boundaries proposed in the White Paper. My criticism is diretced to the lack of democracy in these new proposals. I would refer the House to paragraph 8 of the White Paper, already referred to by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon). It states:…a genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken—and should be seen to be taken—as locally as possible.Paragraph 13 states:…judgment will be given in favour of responsibility being exercised at the more local level.Paragraph 22 regarding district councils states:The Government intend these councils to be genuine authorities, existing in their own right, and with responsibilities and powers sufficient to make service with them a reality for both members and officers. It would be a disservice to local government to establish authorities with functions inadequate to arouse public respect or interest.The proposed allocation of functions given in the appendix to the White Paper seems to be entirely contrary to those statements of intent. Only a limited range of functions is proposed to be given to district councils.
On reading the White Paper one would imagine that the first few pages to part 1366 of which I have referred were written by one man and then he died and the rest was written by somebody else with completely different views. We will not get people of the right calibre to serve on what is virtually a rural district council or get the right calibre of officers.
Let me consider one or two services and the proposed allocation of functions. First, highways, traffic and transportation. Everything goes to the county council, including lighting, maintenance, repairs of all minor streets in the area, traffic regulation, parking restriction, pedestrian crossings and even private street works. The county will obviously have to establish depots in all the local authority areas, and this will mean an increase in the rates.
Furthermore, anybody wishing to make a complaint will have to go to the county council. The borough council of Watford has 44 members, but Watford has only seven out of the 88 members of the county council. How are other members of the county council, for example, a man in Royston, in North Herts, to know the traffic problems of some of the streets in Watford?
This plan is bound to lead to redundancies. The borough engineer's department will have no work, will obviously be phased out and about 80 people will have to go. It will be reduced to achitects and quantity surveyors to deal with housing, with a small section for collecting refuse.
May I remind the House that Watford is the pioneer of the service precinct and pedestrian precinct. It would have been impossible for Watford to have pioneered these developments if it had not had traffic management powers and powers to deal with the improvement of roads.
There are three multi-storey car parks in Watford. Indeed, Watford is streets ahead of other boroughs. Why, therefore, emasculate it? I urge the Minister—who is not in his place but who is, no doubt, with us in spirit—seriously to reconsider the whole question of highways, traffic and transportation.
Next, town planning. I do not grumble with the distribution of development control in connection with this; what is bad is that the staff dealing with the function of advising the district council should 1367 be no longer under that council's control, but in future will be county officers. This is dealt with in paragraph 21 of the White Paper, which I will not read because time is short and many other hon. Members wish to speak. This system of advisory staff being county council officers existed 15 or 20 years ago and was found not to work. I urge the Minister not to go back to the previous system. Insuperable problems of dual allegiance are also bound to be created.
Next—libraries. Watford library is superior to any county service. Why not leave it as it is? I remind the House that the total cost per 1,000 inhabitants in Watford is less than any county library service.
Another sphere in which it is proposed to remove democratic local participation is education. The divisional executive will disappear. At present there is a local officer and a local councillor dealing with this issue and anybody in difficulty need not go to the county council. These local men—officers and councillors—know the scene and local problems far better than the county council, which does not have the understanding of local needs. Again I cite the example of Royston in North Hertfordshire and Watford in South-West Hertfordshire. The problems in each are different. I urge the Minister to retain the present divisional executive system.
At present the borough council is responsible for administering building regulations and for giving approval to building plans. The White Paper gives this responsibility to the county council, while the district council remains responsible for granting planning permission. This is completely upside down and incredible. Building regulations are now generally uniform throughout the country. Is there any reason why they should not be administered locally by the same authority as administers development control, so affording an applicant the opportunity of on-the-spot consultation at the local council offices?
May I remind the Minister that it is intended to give district councils in Wales administration of the building regulations. Why not do the same in England? This leads me to ask why all the proposals for the allocation of functions as between county councils and district councils in Wales are much more favourable to dis- 1368 trict councils in Wales than they are to their counterparts in England. Are the English district councils deemed to be so undesirable or inefficient?
Every type of authority in the county of Hertford—boroughs, urban district councils and rural district councils—support the views that I have outlined. I therefore ask the Minister to give serious attention to these views before taking further decisions.
The opinion which I now give about the aldermanic system is my own and has nothing to do with my constituency or the county of Hertford. I believe that the aldermanic system is anomalous, anachronistic and anti-democratic. I have a suggestion, however, which I commend to the Minister—that when councillors have given long service to a local authority and have thereby gained valuable experience, if they do not want to go in for the rough and tumble of elections or the exertion of being county councillors any longer they should be able to be aldermen with power to attend and speak at council meetings but not to vote.
In this way they would be contributing their valuable experience to the council, but the democratic principle would not be vitiated because they would not be able to vote. I ask the Minister to examine this suggestion which, as I say, is a personal one.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
It is inevitable that, in discussing these important proposals for local government reform, hon. Members will reflect local circumstances. I shall do the same because of the deep concern in two areas of my constituency in Northamptonshire which it is proposed should be transferred to adjoining counties.
I wish, first, to refer to the villages of Crick, Barby, Kilsby, Lilbourne and Yelvertoft in the northern part of Northamptonshire, and which it is proposed should form part of the new area of Warwick.
The depth of feeling on the part of the residents of this area is considerable. A petition was sent to the Secretary of State in 1970 bearing well over 2,000 signatures against this transfer, and that represented the view of 85 per cent. of the total electorate.
1369 All five parish councils, with the exception of Barby, have passed resolutions against the Government's proposals. At a public meeting held in April, called by the county council, of those present two voted for the proposals and 175 against. The Royal Commission justified the transfer on the ground thatThese parishes look to Rugby and to some extent also to Coventry for employment, shopping and entertainment".This could be said of a variety of locations. It is very difficult to justify changing the ancient and historic boundaries on grounds such as these.
There is also a proposal to transfer to the new Oxford authority the Brackley borough council and 18 parishes in the rural district area of Brackley. Brackley is a small town surrounded by a very beautiful rural area which comprises the Western tip of the county, stretching from Upper Boddington south to Aynho, some 15 miles, and from Middleton Cheney west to Syresham, approximately 12 miles. Residents in this delightful countryside know, from the services they have enjoyed in Northamptonshire, that they have all along been highly favoured by the county council which, as a whole, has directed so much of its efforts to the preservation of these outstanding parts of rural England.
The Royal Commission Report justified moving this area out of Northamptonshire into the new area of Oxfordshire on the ground that the Brackley borough and rural district had particular links with Banbury. But this is certainly not the case. The whole area is an entity in itself and has no close loyalties elsewhere. It is a distinct area with an individual character. It may be accused of introspection, but there can be no criteria which justify its removal from the present county boundaries, to which it has so many loyalties.
At a public meeting in Brackley a short while ago, out of 200 people present, only five voted in favour of the Government's proposals. Sir Spencer Summers, whom many of us remember as the representative of the Aylesbury constituency in this House for many years, coined a delightful description of the area. He termed it a countryside "in isolation". Certainly it is that. It is a very beautiful and delightful part of 1370 Northamptonshire and I hope that it will remain a part.
On the general point about staffs in local government, the staff issue is not receiving the careful attention which it should. There is understandable anxiety among the staffs of local authorities throughout England and Wales at all levels. We can understand this when we realise that some 1,400 authorities are to be reduced in number to between 400 and 500. Therefore, this will mean a reduction in senior posts, in professional terms and in employment terms.
I was surprised to learn from the Secretary of State, when he answered a Question on 23rd March, that the appointment of a staff commission must await legislation before it can be established formally. We have had experience under the Local Government Act, and I am concerned that we can do nothing in positive terms about staffs in local government until we have legislation.
There is understandable difficulty in maintaining existing staffs and in the appointment of men of first-class calibre to fill vacancies arising between now and 1974, to which must be added the poor prospects, or the much less favourable prospects, for officers in the proposed district authorities.
The biggest ever managerial task lies before members and officers of local authorities between now and April, 1974. In terms of appointments throughout the new authorities of all sorts, I hope that we shall not find that heirs apparent are appointed to these various senior posts. It would be a very bad state of affairs if a clerk of a county council, for example, were looked upon now as the heir apparent for the revised county council, or if a principal officer in one of the county boroughs which was being taken into a new county considered himself, or was considered by council members, as the natural successor to that senior post when appointments are made.
It is difficult to see how one can avoid the natural parochialism that there is bound to be in this respect. My suggestion, which I understand would not be very acceptable to local government as a whole, is that we should consider making the first appointments of a senior nature by the staff commission itself rather, perhaps, than by leaving it to 1371 members of local authorities, who may be trying to put their favoured sons into these senior positions.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to call attention to this matter at this stage. I should have thought it most unfortunate if there is a sort of pre-emption on staff appointments at this stage. We shall try to appoint the staff commission, for convention, perhaps, even before it has its legal function, after the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope that there will then be an opportunity of getting down at once to the appointment of the staff, without necessarily pre-empting on that beforehand.
§ Mr. Jones
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those useful comments.
I am concerned about the proposal in paragraph 21 of the White Paper for…a unified staff structure, serving both counties and districts…This relates to planning, where we should have joint staffs. I notice that when the Secretary of State referred to this he mentioned the co-ordination of staffs and not "a unified staff structure". There are clearly difficulties here. The present proposals are contrary to accepted practice, and I cannot see how they will work out satisfactorily in administrative terms. There are bound to be divergencies of view between county authorities and district councils. The latter clearly need officers directly responsible to them, who can give independent advice and take a full and uninhibited part in any discussion with county officials in presenting the district council's case.
There is an important question of loyalty of staffs. A nightmare situation could develop in which loyalties must inevitably be involved if the proposals are implemented. I hope that it will be possible to consider this aspect of the recommendations again.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on the degree and extent of the consultation in which he has engaged on this subject. I know that it has been widely applauded and recognised. I think that this has become known throughout the country as the "Peter Walker exercise". It has been extremely useful for all those 1372 wishing to play a part in forming policy, and I am convinced that the Secretary of State recognises the value of it. In persuading his Cabinet colleagues to place a Bill in the legislative programme he has recognised the feeling throughout local government and the country on the issue of reform which has been with us for so long. "Let us get on with it", is the general feeling. Clearly this is just what the Government intend to do.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Dick Leonard (Romford)
Unlike the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) and the majority of other hon. Members who have spoken, I have no special plea to make for the county, the borough or the parish in which I live. Indeed, as a London Member I can claim relative disinterest, if not complete impartiality, in my approach to the question where exactly the boundaries of individual authorities are to be drawn.
What I am concerned about is the method by which these boundaries are to be delineated. This is the single point to which I shall address myself—the powers, duties and membership of the Local Government Boundary Commission proposed in paragraphs 56 and 57 of the White Paper. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) has already put a number of pertinent questions concerning the Commission, and I look forward with interest to the answers which the Under-Secretary will give later.
It is extraordinary that there is so little detail about the Commission in the White Paper, nothing about its membership and virtually nothing about its terms of reference. One of the more disturbing omissions is that no guidance is given concerning the apportionment of electoral divisions within the new local authority areas, a matter on which experience suggests that the clearest possible guidelines should be given.
The existing provisions for revising local government electoral areas are irregular, inefficient and opaque, and they lead almost invariably to confusion, frustration and accusations of bad faith. It is vital that the opportunity should now be seized of making a fresh start and putting the machinery permanently on a more rational, clearer and equitable basis.
1373 The White Paper suggests in paragraph 57 that the Government have in mind that the Boundary Commissionshould form part of the permanent machinery for keeping local government areas and electoral divisions up-to-date.I am delighted to hear this, but in so far as a permanent machinery exists already, its object appears to be to keep electoral divisions out of date. The most grotesque anomalies have arisen and have been allowed to continue year after year with no attempt made to put them right. For example, it was pointed out in 1964 by a writer in the Local Government Chronicle that the boroughs of Poole and Weymouth, which together had some 93,000 electors, returned only 22 members to the Dorset County Council, while the remainder of the county, with a population of 121,000, returned no fewer than 48 members. Since then there have been some minor adjustments, but the basic anomaly remains and there has been no major re-warding in the county of Dorset since 1933.
On the Cumberland County Council it takes 7,714 votes to return a member from the Workington South division but only 1,381 to elect a councillor from Lamplugh. Cumberland is one of a number of counties—I could give other examples such as Oxfordshire, Dorset and Shropshire—where the urban areas are grossly under-represented in relation to the more rural parts.
The Cumberland County Council has been in no hurry to correct this anomaly. Its last proposal for reapportionment was in 1937. Perhaps this is the reason why the Labour Party has never controlled the Cumberland County Council, though at every post-war parliamentary election it has polled more votes in Cumberland than the Conservatives.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis
I assure my hon. Friend that after last Thursday the ball has certainly started to roll in Cumberland towards the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Leonard
I am delighted to hear that. If hon. Members opposite feel rather complacent about this example, I can offer them plenty of others where it is the Tories who have suffered from the lack of effective machinery for regular revisions of electoral boundaries. In Manchester, for example, where a rewarding has just taken place, the Con- 1374 servatives were for many years underrepresented on the City Council. It was only when they rather fortuitously won control in 1967 that they were able to set the machinery going which resulted in the new boundaries under which last week's election took place. The previous re-warding in Manchester had been as recent as 1953, but by last year the Woodhouse Park ward with 18,241 electors was already more than seven times as large as St. Peter's ward which had 2,494 voters.
I think that I have given sufficient examples to show the extremely unsatisfactory nature of the present position.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Then no doubt the hon. Gentleman will welcome the suggestion in paragraph 57, to which he has referred, of the Boundary Commission which might in future be able to take the initiative in the revision of boundaries, whereas it has come only from local authorities in the past.
§ Mr. Leonard
Yes, but if the new proposals are to command confidence, they must have built-in procedures for preventing such anomalies from arising and persisting. The White Paper tells us nothing about that, and the only evidence we have that the Government are cognisant of the problem comes from Press reports of the various confidential consultative papers to which the Secretary of State referred.
Three essential principles must be established from the outset. The first requirement is to give equality of numbers within electoral districts overriding priority in the criteria for drawing up electoral divisions. It has been reported that the Government favour adopting the provision in the London Government Act that the ratio of electors to councillors must be "as nearly as may be" the same in every ward. In my view, this is far too vague a formulation, and I hope that the Bill will contain a firm stipulation of the maximum permitted deviation from the average. This deviation should not be large—certainly no greater than, say, 25 per cent.—so that good effect can be given to the principle of "one man one vote" and to make it more difficult to draw up boundaries designed to give party advantage.
The second principle is that there should be a regular review of boundaries and that the initiative for change should 1375 not be left to the local authority itself, as at present. I am glad that the Minister has indicated that this will be so. The Boundary Commission might be charged with making a regular review, say, every 10 years, with the power to make interim proposals in respect of individual authorities which are experiencing rapid population change.
The third and equally fundamental need is that the Boundary Commission should be properly equipped to function effectively. This means, first, that its membership must include people who do not only have a deep knowledge of the problems involved but have a dynamic approach and are willing to learn from the experiences of other democratic countries, which in this sphere are highly relevant. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby referred to the need for members with local government experience. I hope that at least one person with an academic background in this field will be included.
I come now to what I know will be regarded in the House as a controversial proposal but which I am convinced none the less is essential, namely, that the Boundary Commission shoud take account of the likely political consequences of its recommendations in terms of party balance and should strive to ensure, as far as practicable, that in any authority the party achieving the highest number of votes should also have the largest number of seats on the council. In the past, both local government and Parliamentary Commissions have not openly taken such factors into account, and the result has been that the political parties have been forced to cloak their perfectly legitimate partisan representations in a camouflage of spurious argument. The result has been not only that a number of highly peculiar recommendations have been adopted but that this allegedly nonpolitical process has by no means been immune from violent political controversy, as was instanced by the Northampton case in 1965.
I believe that it would lead to better decisions and, in the end, to fewer accusations of political jiggery-pokery if such political considerations were brought into the open. The pretence that Boundary Commissioners are not taking highly poli- 1376 tical decisions, however impartial they may be, is a ludicrous fiction, and it is high time that it was given a decent burial.
To take specific account of political factors would, no doubt, add to the complexity of the Boundary Commissioners' work, and it is essential that they be given adequate means to carry out their task. This, surely, must include the use of computers to assist in the delineation of ward boundaries. When I spoke in the debate on Parliamentary redistribution last October and referred to the considerable research carried out in the United States into computer redistricting, the reaction of the Minister of State at the Home Office, who replied to the debate, was most disturbing. He was, frankly, incredulous, and it was the reverse of reassuring to learn that the Minister responsible for these matters had no idea of the work which was being carried on.
I sincerely hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is better informed, but, in case he has not heard about it, I refer him to the work which has been done in the Department of Economics at Bristol University on the determination of local government boundaries by computer. The method was applied to the ward boundaries of the County Borough of Bristol and produced a scheme whereby the maximum deviation of any ward from the average electorate was 11 per cent., and after a period of 11 years the deviation had increased only to 16 per cent. By contrast, the actual re-warding of Bristol prepared by a Boundary Commissioner in 1954 produced a maximum deviation of 20 per cent., which increased to 53 per cent. by 1965.
It is clear that, with the aid of computers, the Boundary Commissioners can produce more objective and precise recommendations, and I hope that the House will demand that the proposed Local Government Boundary Commission be equipped from the outset with the necessary technical and professional backing to take full advantage of the most modern methods available.
Provided the Government give satisfactory assurances about the Local Government Boundary Commission, we should be in a position to effect a permanent and long-overdue improvement in 1377 the democratic machinery of local government. But it is proposed that the initial boundaries for the first elections to the new authorities should not be drawn up by the commission but should be concocted in great haste by town clerks throughout the country. That is, surely, a mistake. The first councils elected will set the tone for the new system, which is likely to endure for many years. It is more important that it should get off to a good start than that it should be launched in 1973 rather than in, say, 1974. The commission should be asked to delineate electoral boundaries before the first elections are held, even if that means some additional delay in establishing the new authorities.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Brierley Hill)
I do not intend to deal with all the statistics the hon. Member for Rom-ford (Mr. Leonard) used in presenting his case.
We are debating a difficult subject. We all accept the need for some local government reorganisation, but there is always disagreement on the proposals put forward. The area I represent was far from happy about the Redcliffe-Maud proposals. We think that the proposals before us are better, but we have certain reservations about them. The West Midlands had a major reorganisation in 1966, and many people feel strongly that our area could have been excluded this time. After all, London has also had a major reorganisation and was left out this time. Our area has not completely settled down since the 1966 reorganisation. The merging then of smaller authorities into a large county borough caused considerable headaches. Now to be faced with further disruption has caused great forebodings in the area.
Like certain other hon. Members who have spoken, I do not worship at the shrine of the belief that the larger the authority the more efficient it is. Many smaller local authorities do an excellent job. Because of their size they provide a very good service to the local people. They are more accessible and more in touch with the people. Residents find it much easier to talk to the officials and officers of the council concerned.
We have been asked to be brief, and therefore for the last few minutes of my speech I shall just underline certain of 1378 the problems about which anxiety has been expressed in my constituency.
Under the White Paper proposals, Dudley county borough would become part of the West Midlands metropolitan area and lose many of its functions. Because of the request for short speeches, I shall mention only one of the problems about which it is concerned, the question of highways and traffic management, which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Thturock (Mr. Delargy). The White Paper proposes handing over responsibility for these to the West Midlands metropolitan council. But many highway functions are very local and could be left with the district council, such as the construction and improvement of minor roads, together with maintenance work.
What particularly worries Dudley is the question of traffic management being the responsibility of the metropolitan council. This is of great concern to the Dudley council, because it has just built a new shopping precinct. Great thought was given to the provision of adequate free car-parking facilities in the area. Any future decision on on and off-street parking could be damaging to that shopping area. The fear in Dudley is that the new metropolitan council for the West Midlands may not see things in the same light as Dudley. There is anxiety that the foresight Dudley has shown on car parking, which has helped make it a first-class shopping area, could all be undone.
My main reason for speaking in the debate is the proposal in the White Paper to dismember the rural district of Seisdon, with a population of almost 40,000. I have had more letters of protest on this issue than on any other since I entered the House. I cannot understand why this rural district should be split up four ways. Seisdon has been part of Staffordshire as long as anyone can remember. According to the White Paper, Staffordshire remains as a county. Why, then, hive off Seisdon? Part of it is to go to Worcestershire-Herefordshire, part is to go to Shropshire and part is to go to Dudley, while the most populous part is to go to Wolverhampton. By a strange coincidence, I have had more complaints from the part which is to go to Wolverhampton than from any other part of the rural district. I remind my 1379 hon. Friend that paragraph 29 of the White Paper says:Where possible, existing county boroughs will be retained in order to keep the maximum existing loyalties and to minimise the administrative problems.Surely, the wishes of local people should be taken into account—and the local people are overwhelmingly against being part of the West Midlands metropolitan area.
They have a great fear of an urban sprawl stretching all the way from Coventry right over to Shropshire. Many of these people moved into the rural district as a deliberate act of policy because they sought to live in a more rural environment, and they are horrified at the prospect of now being swallowed up. The area was also looked at when the 1966 changes were made. Then, all the continuously built up areas were included in the West Midlands conurbation. Seisdon is not part of this continuous development. There are large areas of open land that separate the conurbation from the rural district. I want to illustrate the case by quoting the problems facing education and the difficulties that would emerge if the White Paper proposals were legislated.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I want to give my hon. Friend the assurance now that the inclusion of an area within a metropolitan county does not mean that, where necessary, green belt areas will not be protected. They will, indeed, be protected, even though they may be within a metropolitan area.
§ Mr. Montgomery
I am grateful for that assurance, but the people of that area are still very suspicious.
I come back to the problems of education. There are three comprehensive schools in the rural district—one in the south, one in the centre and one in the north. The school in the south, at Kinver, which is now being enlarged at considerable expense, would cater, if the proposals were implemented. for children who would be living in areas administered by Worcestershire-Herefordshire, Shropshire and Dudley. Similarly, the school in the north at Codsall, provide, for areas which would be added to Shropshire, while Codsall itself would be annexed by Wolverhampton. Thus, 1380 Shropshire would acquire an area that it does not seek and whose educational needs would have to be met by Wolverhampton.
I want to stress the tremendous fight that is being waged by local residents of Seisdon to keep the district within the county of Staffordshire. They are hacked by the local rural district council, by Staffordshire County Council and by all surrounding local authorities which are affected, with the exception of Wolverhampton, which is non-committal. In view of all this, I hope that my right hon. Friend will give second thoughts to all these representations before introducing the necessary legislation.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I will obey the strictures of Mr. Speaker and be brief. I have little alternative, since my speech, in common with the others which have been made, is non-political. The fact that it is non-political naturally limits what I have to say.
I will not go over some of the advantages and disadvantages of the White Paper proposals, because these were dealt with by the Secretary of State and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), and reference has been made to them by other hon. Members. I am sure that they are right in making the point that there are a good many advantages in having larger authorities, but there are many disadvantages as well.
In last week's local elections, many of the large conurbations showed a national swing but, as political commentators pointed out, in many smaller local authorities the national swing was blurred by local issues which candidates had managed to get across in their campaigns. Therefore, to that extent it is a problem that will have to be solved when the White Paper proposals are enacted.
I live in Clay Cross, not part of my constituency but part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain). It is a small local authority with a population of about 10,000 and in such an authority it is relatively easy to command a good deal of public participation, especially when there is also a high degree of political activity.
1381 Several years ago we decided that we would clear the slums, that we would not increase council house rents. During this period—despite being challenged at the audit and in various other ways by our opponents—admirably led by the hon. Member for Derbyshire North-East we managed to sustain that programme. The point needs to be made that, as a result of this high degree of political activity and as a result of the public participation in that very small town, the election figures in seven out of the last 10 elections have shown polls of more than 50 per cent.
In the last two years, when the pressure has really been on us, we have achieved a poll of 62 per cent. and 58 per cent. respectively. This is a problem that has to be faced by any Government dealing with these proposals. How it will be solved I cannot readily say, but having served on a local authority of this small urban character and having served on the county council for six years, under both Tory and Labour Administrations I know that it is all too true that there are degrees of remoteness as between one and the other.
At the first education committee meeting of the county council which I attended the first 16 items on the agenda were ticked off by the officials before any member of the Committee had spoken. It was at item No. 17 that the official suggested that council members might like to discuss the matter. This could not happen in a very small local authority, where the official is much closer and can be got at much more easily. We shall, without doubt, have trouble wth the bureaucrats in the large administrations.
I want to concentrate on one part of my constituency, Barlborough. I suppose that hon. Members will have had their letters from the Action Committee of Barlborough, a very small village with a rural district council striving in every way to get to one of the Ministers in the Department of the Environment. Only 10 days ago hon. Members of the Action Committee marched 160 miles from Barlborough to London—a scheme devised by someone not far away from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The net result was that we were not able to meet any Minister connected with the Department.
§ Mr. Graham Page
May I assure the hon. Gentleman that the representations were brought to the attention of Ministers. We learned about them.
§ Mr. Skinner
I am pleased to hear it. The people followed up this exercise by demanding some sort of meeting, however brief, with the Minister to show the intensity of feeling that exists in Barlborough. As they see it, it is proposed that they should be pushed into Sheffield.
It is true that the Maud Committee's Report also made some recommendations and it was as a result of that Report that the Action Committee was set up, by people of all political persuasions. It needs to be placed on the record that the local rector allowed his home to be used for the meetings.
I have been asked to put the village of Barlborough on the map in relation to these proposals. The people there do not want to be linked with Sheffield in any way. The survey which they conducted as a result of the Maud Report shows some very alarming conclusions. The people involved in that exercise knocked on the door of the more than 2,000 electors in the village and the results show that the percentage of people who work in South Yorkshire was less than 13 and of people who buy food in Sheffield and South Yorkshire less than 2 per cent. Despite the fact that Sheffield, with its population of half a million, has many forms of entertainment which could attract people from Barlborough, only 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. of the people involved, in the survey—and it included most of those in the village—went to Sheffield for indoor or outdoor entertainment—and do not ask me what form it took.
Educationally there is an even weaker case. Many older people as well as young people are taking part in further education. Sheffield has many facilities for it. But only 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. of the people in the village taking courses were taking them in Sheffield. About 90 per cent. of the others taking further education courses were going to Chesterfield and Clowne. One can therefore appreciate why the people of Barlborough are insistent that their will should be taken into account.
I hope that the Minister has listened intently to my remarks on behalf of the 1383 people of Barlborough and will meet a deputation, small and brief though it may be, to make sure that the objections they have made in no uncertain fashion will be looked at closely and that they will be allowed to remain a part of Derbyshire for a very long time.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)
The debate has shown that hon. Members agree that the reorganisation of local government is necessary and that their local authorities should not be touched. There is no doubt in my mind that for efficiency a large single-tier authority is the best, but that for human relationships a small local authority is essential. Paragraph 13 of the White Paper sums it up:…there will always be conflicts between those who argue for large scale organisation on grounds of efficiency and those, on the other hand, who argue for control by a body close to the people for whom the service is designed.It is most important that the personal services should remain local. Yet education and social services are to be the function of the county authority. Unless the counties are prepared and able to delegate very extensively, local contact will be lost.
I am prepared to accept the principle of two-tier government. We in the Portsmouth and South Hampshire area have found it necessary for planning and major road construction to have a coordinating committee made up of representatives of Portsmouth, Southampton and the county. Where the Government have gone wrong in the White Paper is in the allocation of functions between the county and the county district. It cannot make sense to remove all major powers from county boroughs of perhaps 250,000 inhabitants or more which have used them wisely and well for a great many years.
I turn to the problem of South Hampshire. It is a unique and special problem. It was recognised by the Labour Government, as the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) reminded us. I hope that this support will not influence the Government against the proposals being put forward by Portsmouth and Southampton. I am sure the Minister will examine them impartially and objec- 1384 tively and will also have regard to the remarks made in another place by Lady Sharp, who has unrivalled experience in local government in Whitehall.
Out of 44 new counties, seven metropolitan areas have populations between 1,312,000 and 2,901,000. Of the remaining non-metropolitan counties only five have populations of more than one million. Of these, Hampshire is the only county comparable with the metropolitan areas. It is probably the fastest growing area in the country. The population is 1⅓ million now and will be two million by the end of the century. The county has a considerable amount of industry, and that industry and a large proportion of the population are concentrated in a narrow belt only 10 or 15 miles wide along the south coast. Of that 1⅓ million, 100,000 live in the Isle of Wight. The Minister has already agreed that the Isle of Wight is unique and must be considered entirely on its own. Four hundred thousand people live in the Southampton area, 500,000 in the Portsmouth area and only 300,000 in the remainder of the county.
It is illogical to govern this sort of set-up from the county because of the existing local interest. The River Hamble forms a natural boundary. The people on either side stand back to back. Those on the west look to Southampton for their major shopping centre, amusements, recreations and amenities. Those on the east similarly look towards Portsmouth. Portsmouth and Southampton have had extensive discussions and have put to the Minister two alternative proposals, both of which comply with the principles outlined in the White Paper.
The first proposal is to divide the proposed county of Hampshire into two counties, East and West Hampshire. The East would be based on Portsmouth and the West on Southampton. This is Maud with a two-tier outlook and will give two strong counties based on two strong and efficient county boroughs, each perfectly capable of expansion.
The second proposal was put forward by Lord Jacques in another place for this area to be a metropolitan area. The White Paper, in paragraph 31, stresses the sizes of authorities. In our proposals the sizes of the metropolitan districts are extremely flexible. Excluding the Isle 1385 of Wight, there could be three districts, of 300,000, 400,000 and 500,000, or four districts of 170,000, 300,000, 330,000 and 400,000 and we could have areas of five, six, seven or eight districts from 100,000 upwards.
The Minister has ample choice from which to select whatever he thinks best. These are two reasonable alternatives, and either is better than the Minister's proposals. I am sure he will consider these proposals carefully and impartially.
I support the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon). As one of the Vice-Presidents of the A.M.C., although a new one, I add my plea to the Minister to consider the recommendations of the A.M.C. carefully and sympathetically.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
The debate has been most interesting. I have learned a great deal about the constituencies of hon. Members, and my knowledge of geography, even about small villages, has improved no end. The debate should have been made compulsory hearing for every hon. Member.
I should like to deal with the general principles. Nobody doubts that local government is in need of radical overhaul. I believe that the overhaul has been delayed for far too long. Local government has become discredited and has lost much of the powers which it should and could have dealt with had it been reorganised 10 or 20 years earlier. Those powers are now being administered by ad hoc bodies which are not responsible to anybody, except to the Minister who appoints them. In my view, that is not democracy.
I believe that the present White Paper will not bring about the radical overhaul that is needed. It will be found that the White Paper merely tinkers with the problem. I say this because it is proposed to reorganise local government on the present two-tier system—a system with which the electorate has been bored for a long time and will continue to be bored for a long time to come if these proposals go through.
I am an unrepentant all-purpose authority man. I very much regret that the principle of all-purpose authorities is being thrown overboard. I also very much regret that my right hon. Friend 1386 the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) gave the Government such an easy ride. He missed the opportunity to put forward once again the principle of the all-purpose authority.
Many of my hon. Friends have said that "bigness" is not necessarily "goodness"; that it is not necessary to be big to be efficient. I go further. It is unnecessary to be all that big to be all-purpose. What is absolutely necessary is that the people should understand who is governing them. Under a two-tier system it is so easy for one authority, one set of people, to pass the buck to another. This is why in local elections the Government get the blame. No matter how good the local man may be, if the Government are bad, as is the case with this one, he will get thrown out. What we need is a series of all-purpose authorities which people understand and know and can kick about as they feel necessary.
I believe that the Maud proposals were reasonably good. I do not think they needed to be accepted in their entirety. The concept of the all-purpose authority is good and could have been accepted but, at the same time, a greater number of authorities could have been created which would have been acceptable to local government and to people up and down the country.
There are two other matters that I should like to mention. The first relates to aldermen. I join with my right hon. Friend and others who have spoken with regret that aldermen have been given a reprieve. The aldermanic bench undoubtedly is an outmoded and undemocratic institution. The election or appointment of aldermen causes more heart-searching, more tittle-tattle than anything else in local government, and it tends to bring local government and the people who serve it into disrepute. I urge the Government to have second thoughts about the aldermanic bench. If they wipe it away, they will ensure that all who serve on any elected body are elected directly to it by the people whom they are to serve.
Perhaps I might make one further point about councillors and the difficulties that they encounter. We have heard from a number of hon. Members how councillors need better allowances, to ensure that they are not out of pocket. In addition, if they are to do their job properly, they 1387 require secretarial assistance and paper and envelopes. Very few at the moment get the facilities necessary for them to carry out their important duties.
I have made no comment so far about my constituency. In doing so now, I shall be brief. When the Maud Commission reported, it mentioned Swindon and Wiltshire and came to the conclusion that nothing could be done about them. They were left alone. What I am supposed to recommend in the circumstances, I do not know. However, I know that when the Swindon Borough Council received the Maud proposals, it put forward a suggestion for a unitary authority in the north of Wiltshire which would have been a viable proposition. It has now put forward a further suggestion which splits the county of Wiltshire into north and south. I am not altogether sure that that is viable. But I hope that the Minister will consider this proposal seriously.
I urge the Government to take another long, hard look at their proposals and to take serious account of what the Association of Municipal Corporations proposed when it came forward with its original recommendations to the Maud Commission. If they were adopted, they would put local government on a very sound footing which ordinary people could understand, respect, and perhaps go out to vote for on polling day.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
After this long debate, I am grateful, as a Member representing a Somerset constituency, to be given a brief over at the end.
My right hon. Friend knows that the county of Somerset is suffering a traumatic experience. It is no secret that his proposals are distasteful to many citizens of the county and to many county councillors. That is understandable when one considers how this ancient and proud county will suffer the loss of more than a third of its population. I say nothing about the compromise which it is hoped will result from discussions that we have had with my right hon. Friend. We are grateful for the courteous way in which he received representatives of the county council and a number of my colleagues.
I have only one point to make, and it concerns the functions of the county 1388 authority. One of the conclusions of the White Paper is that services must be organised on a scale sufficient to command skilled administration. This is very important. Somerset is to become a very much smaller county. Today, we have efficient services, and we want to keep them, together with our skilled administrators. The principle has been conceded that the two new counties shall have a joint police force.
I suggest that the two counties should be allowed to come together with a joint education and social service committee and perhaps a joint fire service. If they could come together with such a joint committee it would take the sting out of much of the criticism and fears of the present division of the county. The fears of the education authority about the catchment areas and fears about the communications of the fire service and other matters would be overcome if we could organise joint service departments between the two new counties.
The initiative must come from the Government. It should not be left to the counties to come together. The Government must make the proposals and suggest the best way that it should take place and leave it to the two new counties to get on with it and to put it into effect.
We are glad that our experience and uncertainty will not be for long. I believe that the Minister, whom I congratulate, is getting on with the job of reorganising local government to bring an end to the uncertainty and the distress which is bound to be caused to many people.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I started out in local government with a bias in favour of county boroughs because I was a chairman of finance of a county borough, but marginally at the moment I prefer the present posposals to those put forward by Maud and the previous Government. I say "marginally" because both have one great fault. Both endeavour to impose an enormous measure of uniformity over the country as a whole. There is only one distinction made in England, namely, between a metropolitan area and everything else. It seems to me that there is a greater diversity in England than those two possibilities imply.
I plead with the right hon. Gentleman, when he brings his Bill forward, to put 1389 in it a wide and general power for himself and his successors. I should like him to be able, with the approval of the local authority concerned, to place an Order before this House for its approval amending almost any Act relating to local government or the constitution of a particular authority. There would be nothing unique in this proposal. Strangely enough, the City of London can amend its own constitution by its own Act. It is actually called an Act by reason of its semi-sovereignty in this respect.
There have been many cases, in my experience—no doubt it is the experience of other hon. Members—where simple desirable things have proved impossible merely because there was one vast sweeping piece of general legislation, and nobody wanted to spend several thousand pounds pushing through Parliament a Private Bill which might be opposed.
For example, in some cases it has proved impossible to alter the management structure of an authority because one statutory officer could not be put under another officer. The right hon. Gentleman is a genuine believer in managerial efficiency. I hope that he will consider that small pettyfogging things like that should not be precluded because there is one vast national Act of Parliament.
Some of the worst authorities are those which, in parliamentary terms, are overwhelmingly safe for one party or the other. They become so solidly packed with members of one party or the other on the council—I have examples of both in mind, but I do not particularly wish to quote them—that they cease for all practical purposes to be democratic and become, at the least incompetent and in some cases worse than that. I see no reason for imposing on an authority of that type the pattern of election which is naturally suited and fitted for this House of Commons. I do not agree with the Liberal Party's views on proportional representation in general, because that would alter the national system of government completely and adversely. However, there is no reason that a particular local authority should not have a different electoral system from its neighbour, provided that it is democratic. When I say that I want the right hon. Gentleman to give himself the widest possible power to amend the constitu- 1390 tions of authorities, with their consent, I really mean it.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he was proposing that the district councils should be rating authorities. Again, purely in the interests of efficiency, in this day and age, the collector of the rates ought to be as big an authority as possible, the one that can put the rate demand on to the biggest possible computer and switch it out across the countryside. The collection of rates is an impersonal service. It is a purely managerial, clerical job that can be done on a computer. Another reason why this responsibility should rest with the biggest authorities is that they will also be the biggest spenders, and I believe that the heading on the notepaper, or the bill that is the rate demand, should be the heading and title of the authority that is primarily responsible for spending money.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
The Secretary of State must have learned today, as his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), learned in his time, that the Minister who attempts to reorganise local government is guilty—and I use the word guilty quite deliberately—of the highest courage, for he suddenly finds himself totally alone. In a moment I intend to take the right hon. Gentleman to task, just as almost every other hon. Member who has spoken during the debate has done, but, because I intend to take him to task, I think that I might start with one little bit of welcome, and I hope that this will just dent the blunt instrument which I intend to use later. I think that the Management Commission is very much to be welcomed, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman was able to announce that this afternoon.
I think that we ought to congratulate the Secretary of State's right hon. Friends, the Leader of the House, and the Patronage Secretary, on the exquisite timing of the debate. We have today been debating the reorganisation of local government, and only last Thursday the British people did a little reorganising of their own. I did not see the programme, but I was told about it: I understand that on television last Thursday the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones), said 1391 that local election results depended on the personality of the candidates. That was one of the factors that he mentioned as differing from a parliamentary election. I do not go along with the hon. Gentleman. One thousand Conservative candidates suffering from a defect of personality, perhaps, two thousand if I am pushed very hard, but 2,800 strains my credulity.
§ Mr. Silkin
One point has been broached by only one speaker today, and that was my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) who saw that local elections are determined by national considerations. We all know that that is true, but my hon. Friend was the only one today to say so. Just as the Labour Government, in the days of their deepest unpopularity, lost seat after seat in the local elections three years ago, so, in a better time for it today, the Labour Party won back all the seats it lost then, and more. I am making here a strictly non-political, only local government point. It may not necessarily be such a bad thing that the electors do think in national terms.
When we talk of local democracy we may be confusing it with local government. There is a distinction: one wants the most efficient form of local government, but one equally wants an electorate who are aware that there is a difference betwen the two major parties, who believe fundamentally that one party or the other is best charged to deal with the problems of the time and who relate the national problem to their local area. I am much more concerned with the relatively small number who vote in local elections.
Here I must take the Secretary of State to task, as I promised I would. The objectives which he has set himself would be approved of by most hon. Members; the objectives set out in paragraph 6 are thoroughly praiseworthy—that is to say, that we must have an up-to-date form of local government, that there are too many local authorities, that many are too small in area and resources and that there is a great division or responsibilities and areas. But when the White Paper talks of getting local government nearer to the 1392 people, we must remember that in a curious way it could hardly be nearer under the present old and admittedly unsatisfactory system. The very multiplicity of local authorities shows that the local authority and the citizens are very close together.
It is right to reform local government because we are moving into an age in which the small boundaries of the past must be enlarged, but I am not so certain that the Secretary of State is right in his choice of the two-tier system. It seems to me—I am probably doing him an injustice but I am constantly doing him an injustice, and I know that he will forgive me—that, in a sense, he has produced the solution before having fully investigated the problem.
When he considered the unitary system as Maud had developed it, it did not apply throughout the country, and he thought that the lower tier was doing absolutely nothing. One cannot get local government to work perfectly and valuably unless it is given a job to do. Mere criticism was not giving it a job. No one would want to go on it or vote for it. I hope that I am not over-stating the case.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby said, there is a very interesting situation in the Golborne ward of Kensington, where just such a talking rather than doing council was elected. The figures are still rather disgraceful, but to those of us who were brought up in London and know what London figures are like at local elections, they are very good. The vote in the Golborne ward for the community council was 29 per cent.; the vote for the local council in that ward was 19 per cent.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I am very much in favour of this experiment and I hope that we can extend it, but the comparison is unworthy in the sense that there were 10 candidates in the more recent election, and massive publicity and a considerable amount of investment from the Rowntree Trust into the whole project. One cannot compare the voting figures.
§ Mr. Silkin
Whether the Secretary of State goes all or part of the way with me, he must come some of the way with me.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) mentioned the 1393 valuable function that can be performed by neighbourhood councils. I agree, and in any consideration of local government we must not ignore the right of people to talk, criticise and direct the local problems and dialogue to the larger authority.
I come to what seems to be the most difficult question of functions, accepting that the Secretary of State has made up his mind—a subject to which I will return later—and accepting that for a while this must remain the basis of local government reorganisation. Taking it within the right hon. Gentleman's framework, what do I think he has done wrong?
If I were to accept his premises totally—on the whole he has produced what I consider to be a tolerable sort of answer—I suggest that when we come to housing and building generally, three important points need a great deal more consideration.
I like paragraph 23 of the White Paper, which says, about housing, that the service should be operated as close to the citizen as possible. This strikes me as one of those splendid proverbs—if it is not a proverb, it deserves to be one—of which everybody says immediately, "That is right. I have lived with this all my life", until the moment comes when one analyses it, and then one finds that it means absolutely nothing.
Even if housing goes to district councils, that does not make housing close to the citizen. I am ignoring the fact that the town hall may be a few miles from him, in any event. The closeness of the citizen to the housing problem occurs when, and not before, he is housed. It is, therefore, a problem of the number of houses that can be provided.
The London analogy is useful to follow. Like some of my hon. Friends who have spoken, I have been able to take a rather detached view of this because I have had no constituency interest. If the Secretary of State's predecessor had tried me in 1963, he might not have found me so detached.
It seems that there is advantage, provided it is properly done—for party political reasons there would, no doubt, be a dispute across the Floor of the House on this point—in the G.L.C. and London boroughs being housing authorities, as 1394 they are, but I mean acting fully in that sense.
If one says to a London borough, "Only you may provide housing for the citizen", one immediately limits where the citizen can go, where his housing must be and his opportunity of obtaining a house. The current housing powers of the larger and smaller authorities—I am now talking in terms of "larger and smaller" and not "upper and lower"—enable housing to he provided over a much wider area. Further, a smaller authority—whether it be of 40,000 or 100,000 population—can see only part of the picture. It looks at housing in its area and does not see housing as a general need for the region.
I am thinking of the south coast towns about the period 1962 to 1964. A number of those towns thought that these was a need for housing in the area and, as the Secretary of State will probably recall, flats were built on a very large scale in a number of south coast resorts to cater for what they believed to be the demand. Those flats remained empty for years. There was a need for flats, but the need was not in that location, and it could have been much better expressed if they had looked at the need regionally.
That is the limitation of giving housing powers to district councils but only reserve powers—there is a query in the case of overspill—which are not very well spelt out to the county councils. This is a matter about which the Secretary of State ought to think very seriously. I suspect that he may well be thinking about it, judging from his expression at the moment. It is a means of speeding up housing, and a vital means. His expression at the moment is highly thoughtful; not incredulous, but thoughtful.
The citizen's need for housing is related to where he works. It must be so. He wants to live near his work. The work is not provided on a district council basis but on a regional basis. Where the work and the factories are, that is where the homes must be. That is the principle of new towns. I put that principle again to the Secretary of State in saying that this is an opportunity for him to amend the proposals in his White Paper when the legislation comes and to give concurrent housing powers to the larger authorities.
1395 A minor point, but one which has a practical bearing, is the question of building regulations not related to housing but related to planning applications. I thought that the Secretary of State dealt with that effectively. As I understand the White Paper, the original application for planning permission is made to the district council, but the building regulations lie with the county council. If that is so, it ignores what is the general proposition when a developer wishes to apply for planning permission. He may obtain outline permission. It may become a detailed planning permission. Then he comes up against building regulations and so on. The Secretary of State has probably tended to ignore the practical defects of having the building regulations in a different area of responsibility. It is a small point but one which should, perhaps, be examined again.
Finally, reform of local government is overdue. It is overdue because we are moving towards a highly mobile society day by day. The small areas of local administration are no longer large enough. I give at least one cheer, and possibly even two, for the Government's recognition of that fact. There are factors which will enter into the whole of local government within the next very few years. In another place, Earl Jellicoe said that this reorganisation of local government ought to last for, he thought, about 50 years. Even if it were very good indeed—I have tried to say that it is not 100 per cent. good—I still think that 50 years is far too long. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) put it at about 100 years, but he is a good deal younger than I and probably hopes to see the end of it. I may see the end of it earlier.
There are two factors to be taken into account. The population is apparently increasing at the rate of about 300,000 per year. That is more than the largest new town. I am sure that I would take the Secretary of State with me when I say that that is the equivalent of 100,000 new houses per year in addition to what we believed was necessary.
If this is so, where will those 100,000 houses be built? We cannot say at the moment where another 500,000 houses will be needed in five years. This is why anything that we decide at this moment 1396 is only ephemeral and transitory. Something much more radical will be required.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby has maintained on a number of occasions—my right hon. Friend always had to make this point very clearly, because people had difficulty in understanding it—the Crowther Commission was dealing with the devolution of functions from central government downwards. People tended to think that the Crowther Commission was concerned with local government powers, but it was not. In an instinctive sort of way those who spoke about Crowther having a bearing on this problem were probably not so wrong as all that. The Secretary of State was one of those people, but consistency, as we all know, is the virtue of small minds and the Secretary of State has a large mind. The truth is that although Crowther was concerned with the devolution of powers down, equally it is bound to affect the evolution of powers up.
This has been a very long and a very good debate. In fairness, I must leave the Under-Secretary sufficient time for him to deal with the many loose ends which remain.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)
It certainly has been an extremely good debate. All of us involved in political decisions in local government have been aware of the very high quality of debate that has taken place, not only in this House but also in another place, in the Press, within local authorities and among local authority associations.
One of the things which it is not controversial to claim is the real welcome which has been extended almost universally to the Government's action in producing the White Paper. Without any doubt it is now totally accepted that there is an urgent need to reform local government. There is no doubt either that the timetable set out in the White Paper has been widely praised. Although it is tight and will impose a burden on those who will have to carry it out, in the circumstances it is seen as sensible and helpful.
It is not an unreal claim to make from this Despatch Box that the two-tier concept to which my right hon. Friend 1397 committed the Conservative Party when we were in opposition is now widely seen as a practical solution to the problems of how to set about reforming local government.
Therefore, it is not only that there has been a wide welcome in the House today for the Government's proposals. Three out of the four local authority associations have been able to welcome the proposals. Very distinguished comments have been made in another place by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, when he opened the debate for the Opposition in another place, and by the noble Lady, Baroness Sharp, who also made valuable comments in broad support of what the Government are doing.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) made one or two rather highly selective Press quotations. I notice that he did not quote from the New Statesman, because that completely supported what my right hon. Friend is doing. If we were to engage in an exercise of exchanging quotations, we on this side of the House would win the argument. I will content myself by quoting from The Times, which I think is a not unreasonable paper to quote in this debate, which said on 17th February:In general Mr. Walker's proposals are an improvement on the previous Government's, which followed the Royal Commission more closely.We could go on swapping quotations back and forth and I suspect that we on this side would win.
There is now this general consensus that we must go forward. That is an extremely helpful atmosphere from which to approach this situation. May I say to all hon. Members that the wind-up speeches have been deliberately cut to the minimum to give as many hon. Members as possible the opportunity to speak. It will not therefore be possible to refer to the large number of distinguished contributions, but I have already made arrangements that anyone to whom I do not refer will receive a letter from one of the Ministers in the Department giving our views on the points raised.
In listening to the speeches it seemed that they were broadly concentrated around two main points in the White Paper proposals; first the boundaries and 1398 second the division of functions. I feel that I have an interest to declare with regard to boundaries because, with the possible exception of my right hon. Friend, I have read more local newspapers on the subject of local government reform than anyone else in the country—I have read virtually all of them. They give an impression of what is going on and the sort of comments being made. We have absorbed a large weight of opinion.
I am very sympathetic, representing in part a county borough, the City of Plymouth, to the views put forward, and the natural and understandable local loyalties and historical ties which have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen). I understand these loyalties and regard them as among the most valuable facets of local government. Everyone would accept that whatever we did, these loyalties were bound to be altered in some way by the nature of the changes which any party would be compelled to introduce if it were not to leave the problem completely alone.
The House will understand that I cannot prejudge representations coming from local authorities all over the country, which must reach my right hon. Friend by 31st May, by commenting on the large number of points that have been made of an essentially local nature. What I can say is that everything that they have said today, and which their local authorities have said or will say before 31st May—or in the extended time which we gladly give to local authorities where control has changed in the recent elections—will be willingly and gladly considered with great care. My right hon. Friend will take into account all that is said before reaching his conclusions.
One point I want to deal with on the subject of boundaries was raised by the right hon. Member for Grimsby and then by his right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin). The right hon. Member for Grimsby criticised my right hon. Friend because we had drawn the boundaries of the metropolitan counties too tight for them to be able to cater within their boundaries for their housing programmes. I follow the argument and have heard it before in another 1399 place. It was the right hon. Gentleman's view that we should have given them sufficient land to cater for their housing requirements within their own metropolitan county boundaries.
We believe that this is to say that the land within those metropolitan counties is to be immediately blighted for the purposes of housing development. It is, in other words, to encourage the "nibble" approach to our housing problems, to say that we will nibble outwards from the great conurbation centres without any very real, sensible and coherent regional plan as to where it will end. That is not a solution at all, because sooner or later we shall use up the land and shall have to face the question how to proceed on a regional basis. My right hon. Friend is quite right to put a close line around the metropolitan counties so that we are forced at this stage to face the real problems raised by the right hon. Member for Deptford about the population explosion.
We are delighted that we have seen the publication of the South-East Joint Planning Study which says that in that region this question has been faced on a regional basis and areas have been found, in conjunction with the local authorities, where planning and housing can take place in a coherent way. We believe that is right and my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development is already ensuring that these planning studies continue at an enhanced speed. That seems to us to be the right way to go about it.
When the right hon. Member for Grimsby said that we are forcing central Government to remain in the delicate and sensitive area of arbitrating between one set of authorities, the metropolitan counties, and the neighbouring new counties which we wish to create, he seemed to feel it desirable that central Government should not be involved in that way. But I could not help remembering that it was only a matter of a few months ago that his colleagues were attacking us for removing the Land Commission, which was designed to do precisely that job of central Government intervention. The way in which London overspill has had to be catered for on a national basis indicates clearly that we cannot solve the housing problem of the bigger conurbations 1400 simply by nibbling away at the edges of those conurbations.
The second main set of discussions today centred around functions and whether more of them should be transferred to the districts. We heard many speeches of great quality and interest on this subject, My hon. Friends the Members for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton), Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) and City of Chester (Mr. Temple) all dealt with problems of that sort. They asked about the specific arguments for moving the functions more in the direction of the districts. I do not think that in the short time available it would be appropriate for me to try to go through the various functions and to argue out the case for each one. Those arguments are going on at great length. Hon. Members are free to express their views, and have done so, as are the local authority associations. My right hon. Friend said in opening how flexible a view he wants to take to ensure that the right decisions are made when he finally puts his proposals to Parliament.
It is important to understand, while we are discussing whether there should be a transfer of more functions from the district councils to the larger authorities, the alternative which we should have been discussing if the Government had not been elected, which was that there would be no transfer from any authorities, because there would have been only one sort of authority. All those who are now saying that we should give more authority to the county boroughs, for example, as I gather the right hon. Member for Grimsby did, should remember what would have happened to those county boroughs if unitary authorities had come into being. There would then have been only that very remote, planning-oriented sort of council, and our party when in opposition felt that it could not possibly support such a policy.
I want to re-emphasise the point that has also been made about the ability of the new counties to make districts responsible for the administration of many of the functions of those new counties. Certainly, responsibility will lie with the new counties for many functions. We have yet to make up our minds finally what they should be. We intend that the functions that should go, after close examination, Ito the new counties will 1401 be based there, with the responsibility. But there will then be district councils, some of which will represent the large towns and cities, which will be viable authorities to which the county authorities can delegate the administration of functions for which the responsibility is at county level.
I should like to say a word about the position of the county boroughs. It has been said in this Chamber—and it needs no repetition for us to be convinced of it—that the county boroughs have played a magnificent part in the establishment of local government. Everyone pays great tribute to it. It is a negative way to look at what the Government propose, to feel that the great contribution of the members and their officers is to be lost to local government.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I accept that many of them feel that. But one of the very important messages that we should all try to re-emphasise for people in local government at the county borough level is that, as a result of what the Government are doing, they will for the first time have the opportunity to play a much bigger part in a much wider geographical area, dealing with issues over which they have no power now. The positive aspect is the opportunity for a new sense of partnership and working together of the big towns and their surrounding areas. For the county boroughs and the people now working within them it is an opportunity to which I hope they will respond when we make our proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) made that point, and I am sorry that I was not here for his speech.
The fourth point on the question of functions arises from the contributions by my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South and Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden). They have undoubtedly played a remarkable part in the way in which they have presented the views of their constituents, who have understandable local feeling on the matter. They have been diligent to a degree in making my right hon. Friend aware of the problems. Both Blackpool and Southend have problems not only of county boroughs but also those arising from their status as major resorts. They exercise powers as county boroughs in pursuit 1402 of their functions and interests as seaside resorts which are of crucial importance, and we well understand that.
It is no intention of my right hon. Friend that the very important functions at seaside resorts—illuminations, gardens, theatres, piers, amusements, parks and sports centres—should be removed from the control of the district councils which are certain to be based on the constituencies of my hon. Friends. It would be helpful if the British Resorts Association, which represents, broadly speaking, the holiday resorts, could let my right hon. Friend know what it thinks about the powers and the various divisions of functions proposed in the White Paper and what it suggests might be done in that context. We hope that it will take the opportunity to let us have its views.
A number of other points have been made apart from those coming under these two general divisions. The first is the question of aldermen. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we have reprieved aldermen. We have done so to the extent that we are consulting the local authorities about their future. What we have said in the consultative document is that, if aldermen are to remain part of local government, they will not continue to have the present one-quarter of council representation but will have one-seventh. But this is a matter for discussion. No final decision has been taken. We are having consultations.
§ Sir S. McAdden
Has my hon. Friend noted that since the beginning of the debate no Liberal has been present?
§ Mr. Heseltine
It is perhaps not for me to make a comment on that.
Another point is the question of allowances for people serving on local authorities. Without committing ourselves, it is our view that the sort of people who have been referred to as desirable recruits to local government cannot be expected to be out of pocket as a result of their contribution. We are having consultations on this as well.
The question of secrecy was raised. I hope that my right hon. Friend was able to re-assure the right hon. Gentleman on this point. He showed clearly that the documents which we have distributed are not intended to be secret. They can be 1403 distributed by the local authority associations to the local authorities, and there is nothing to stop them in turn from distributing them to the public if they so wish. If in future we need to have confidential discussions, we shall see that our documents are clearly marked.
I should have liked to mention the large number of other matters raised during the debate. We have learnt a great deal about hon. Member's views. The crucial point which emerges is that there is a very wide measure of support for the concepts of moving ahead within the framework of what the Government have said. We believe that the consensus view is: "Do it, do it now, and do it within the concept of the two-tier system." There are still arguments about boundaries and representations about the division of functions. We will consult, as we are already doing, the local authority associations, and we will take note of the views of right hon. and hon. Members. Clearly, beyond any shadow of doubt, we have decided to legislate in 1971–72; the legislation will be based upon the concept of a two-tier reform of local government, and we have no doubt at all that the new system will come into operation on 1st April, 1974.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I put the Question, I wish to express my appreciation to the House for the way in which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides have responded to my appeal for brief speeches. According to my calculations, in the four hours eight minutes available for back-bench speakers, 28 hon. Members were called—an average of just under nine minutes a speech. I think that they were none the worse for that fact.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the White Paper on Local Government in England (Command Paper No. 4584).