§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
I know already that well over 50 hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I will do my best to keep a geographical balance, but, as always, the greatest help that hon. Members can give to the Chair is to be reasonably short.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Local Government Bill, apart from the London reorganisation, is the first major reform of local government this century. It is, obviously, of immense importance to the country's future that local government, which has such massive responsibilities for both decision-taking and administering much of the organisation of government in general, should be reorganised in this way.
The background to the Bill, as the House will be aware, is that the previous Government set up the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, which published its report on local government reform and suggested the creation of a relatively small number of unitary authorities which would be all-powerful and have all functions. It is certainly right to say that, for most people in local government, this was an unpopular proposal; and that virtually all the local authority associations were critical of it. It was a proposal which had, I believe, certain fundamental disadvantages.
At that time, I had the responsibility of being my party's spokesman on local government affairs, and I endeavoured to see that the party, rather than rejecting the Maud proposals, spent a period of some 12 months discussing objectively on what basis local government should be reformed. During that time the previous Government published their White Paper accepting in principle the Maud proposals and stating the basis on which they intended to reform local government. In those proposals they followed the idea of a unitary system of local government.
228 In the discussions that I had with local authority associations and officials, and with members of my party at every level of local government—and with members of other parties—I came to the conclusion that a system of local government where every function was centred in an authority which sometimes would be very remote from the people concerned was not the proper basis on which to reform local government. I considered it important that many of our boroughs and county boroughs, and our rural districts and urban districts, should be able to make decisions on matters that very much affected their local communities, and that those decisions should not be taken over a wider area. Therefore, prior to the General Election, in our manifesto and in a number of speeches, I outlined the basis upon which a Conservative Government would reform local government. This was the basis of endeavouring to see that there would be two tiers. One tier would deal with matters which were better organised over a wider catchment area. I accepted that education, social services, the strategic planning of an area and transportation were matters that of necessity are of interest to the public at large; and that it was right that a wider authority, such as a new county authority, should have responsibility. I decided at the same time that functions which should sensibly be administered nearer to the people concerned should be administered by new district authorities. I made this clear in the White Paper put before the House some months ago.
I have appreciated the constructive way in which the Opposition have criticised the different basis of local government reform that I suggested. In the same way, when they proposed single tier authorities, I endeavoured not to start a great anti-Maud campaign because, as the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said in his speech on the White Paper, there are a number of matters on which both parties are certainly in agreement. First, we are both in agreement that there is a need for local government reform, to replace the present boundaries and the present distribution of functions. At present we have 1,200 authorities—rural districts, urban districts, boroughs, county boroughs and counties. This is not a rational system of local government with which to meet the problems of the twentieth century.
229 The right hon. Member for Grimsby, in that same speech, also agreed that it was urgent to get on with the job of local government reform; that the uncertainty in local government was doing considerable damage to recruitment and staffing, and to the officers; and that it was right for the Government to set as close a timetable as possible in which to bring in the necessary proposals. The two parties were agreed on a number of reasons why changes were needed. I am grateful for the way that this was expressed.
In his speech, the right hon. Member for Grimsby quite reasonably complained that it would be wrong for consultation to take place on a basis of secrecy. I think that he would agree that from then on we have done everything to see that consultation should be as open as possible. Since the White Paper, my Department has prepared no fewer than 25 major consultation papers which have been available and published as widely as possible and have been seen by all local authorities primarily concerned. There has been very considerable consultation between my Department and the local authority associations and others.
I pay tribute to both the Minister for Local Government and Development and the Under-Secretary for the very considerable volume of work in which they have been personally involved during this period, both in the consultations on functions and in a whole series of conferences throughout the regions. After the question of boundaries was a matter of fierce difference between neigbouring local authorities, and they went and listened on the spot to the authorities concerned.
I pay tribute also to the officials of my Department. Any previous Minister will agree that to have a Bill of this magnitude ready for publication and for the House to debate in the first week of a new Session is a remarkable achievement and has meant a very great deal of work on the part of officials of my Department.
The reason I was anxious that the Bill should be introduced at an early stage is that it is obviously important that a Bill of this magnitude and importance should be discussed fully in the House and should go through a proper, critical and objective Committee stage. At the same time, it is important that the 230 Bill should reach the Statute Book as speedily as possible, for it is only when the Bill finally becomes an Act that the many managerial arrangements, which will be necessary to make the new authorities work and be successful from the commencement, can start to take place in detail.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to consultation. Is he satisfied that there has been sufficient consultation with representatives of policemen, particularly with the Police Federation? Is he aware that there is very strong feeling in many constabularies about the effect of this reorganisation on the police? Would he agree that there must be full consultation with the Police Federation at an early date?
§ Mr. Walker
Certainly I have noted the hon. Gentleman's Motion on the Order Paper, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is, naturally, primarily concerned with the type of negotiations and consultations to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend takes note of the hon. Gentleman's observations.
I should like now to deal with a number of questions raised by the Opposition in the debate on the White Paper, some where there was criticism by the Opposition, and some where there were expressions of hope that certain changes would be made.
First, the right hon. Member for Grimsby raised, as did others, the decision that would be made about the future of aldermen. I have provided in the Bill that the aldermanic position shall be discontinued in the reformed form of local government. In saying that, I think that both sides of the House would like to pay tribute to those of all political parties and persuasions who for many years have given fine service to local government in their capacity as aldermen. I should point out that, under the reformed local government, committees will have the right to co-opt on to them people whose expertise and knowledge will be of use to those particular committees of the local authority.
I believe that it is right that the newly reformed local government should be 231 on the basis that those making the decisions should go through the process of democratic election. It is important that the position that has arisen over the years, by which parties of both political persuasions have prolonged the effectiveness of one party's rule over another in spite of the expressed wishes of the electorate, should be ended.
For these reasons, having carefully taken into consideration the advantages of the aldermanic system, we have decided that this system should be abolished.
Both sides of the House raised the question of an ombudsman in local government. Although there is no provision in the Bill relating to an ombudsman, it is my intention to see that legislation is introduced before the new authorities come into being to set up a proper ombudsman system in local government. Naturally, I want to have talks with the local authority associations and the staff side of local government to obtain their views upon the form and the nature of the necessary legislation.
Another matter raised by the right hon. Member for Grimsby and supported on both sides of the House was the question of allowances to the councillors who will serve the new authorities. Here I have taken power to fix a maximum allowance that will be paid to the councillors elected to the new authorities. It will be a change from the present system under which loss of earnings has had to be established. This system has been unsatisfactory in a number of ways. First, it has involved a certain humiliating form-filling procedure which has been unfortunate. Second, it has been difficult for councillors who are self-employed.
In future an allowance will be paid which will be fixed by the Secretary of State in terms of a maximum, and the authorities themselves will decide within that limit what payments should be made to the councillors for the duties they carry out. The payment will be taxable. In fixing the limit, the fact that the payment will be taxable as part of the income of the councillor concerned will be taken into account.
I intend to fix the first maximum for this payment before the elections for the new authorities take place in 1973 so that those standing to serve on the authorities, 232 or those whom it is sought to persuade to stand, can have clear knowledge of the financial implications which are involved.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
The Secretary of State will know that many hourly paid workers who are also members of local authorities have suffered badly over the years as regards social security payments. I a glad that the Secretary of State has rectified this anomaly. Will a pensioner or a housewife get the same attendance allowance as an hourly paid worker who must lose a considerable sum in earnings?
§ Mr. Walker
The payments will be the same between one set of councillors and another. My object will be to see that the payment is of reasonably generous proportions so as to encourage able people who must make a sacrifice in earnings to become members of, and help to manage, the new authorities. It would be wrong to distinguish between types of council. Whatever level is fixed will apply to all councillors on a particular local authority.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
Has my right hon. Friend given special consideration to the question of increasing the allowance to chairmen of major committees, particularly in the largest authorities, because such chairmen must give up an immense amount of time, much more time than is demanded of the average councillor.
§ Mr. Walker
I have rejected the idea of a specific allowance for chairmen of committees. The method which is to be adopted will mean that the more work which is done by any councillor the greater the payment to him. Chairmen of committees who spend three, four or five days a week attending to their duties will receive an increased payment under the new system.
The Bill is a major measure consolidating and modernising the law of local government, and it covers England and Wales. Later in the debate, if they are fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Welsh Office will deal with the specifically Welsh aspects of the Bill.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Government's refusal to introduce a separate Bill for Wales has caused deep offence inside and outside local government circles?
§ Mr. Walker
I know the hon. Gentleman's views. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not constantly give way, because Mr. Speaker asked that short speeches be made. This is one of the biggest Bills to be presented to Parliament since the war. If I am constantly to answer interventions, my speech will continue for a long time. I hope that I shall have the indulgence of the House if I do not answer interventions.
The proposals in the Bill relating to England set up 44 new counties, 38 of which will be non-metropolitan counties and six of which will be metropolitan counties. Thereafter, a Boundary Commission will consider the boundaries of the districts. It is envisaged that the number of districts will be reduced from the present number of 900 to about one-third of that total.
We undertook that we would endeavour to take the opportunity of local government reform to reduce the number of specific individual controls exercised by central Government over local government. I want to report to the House the progress which has been made in the inquiry which we have been conducting into the various types of control by Government Departments over local government. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that in our exercise we have already identified 400 such controls which we intend to abolish. There are 50 further controls which we believe can be substantially modified so as to create less work for both local and central Government. One hundred of the controls I have mentioned are being abolished in this legislation.
The other 300 further controls which I am considering with my Department and with other Government Departments we may be able either to abolish or to amend. At the end of the passage of this legislation, and legislation which will follow from other Departments in the foreseeable future, there will be a very substantial reduction in these individual controls. Many of them have resulted in an absurd unnecessary bureaucracy being 234 created. For example, it has been the duty of Ministers in the past to approve ferry fares charged by local authorities and to approve burial fees and the fees of various markets. I do not believe that people in Whitehall are particularly good at fixing matters like this which would be much better left to local discretion.
§ Mr. Walker
There will be a nice simple basis available to all councils in future for rents.
The first aspect of the Bill, as set out in Schedule 1, is the new boundaries of the districts in metropolitan areas and metropolitan areas themselves and the new county boundaries. The names of these new counties are listed in Schedule 1. I am most anxious to ensure that the name chosen for a particular county is that which the local people believe is most appropriate for that county.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
My right hon. Friend sits for Worcester. I am his filial neighbour from South Worcestershire. Is he aware that the adoption in the Bill of the revolutionary name of Malvernshire has caused great offence in Worcestershire, which wants to be called "Greater Worcestershire." not some new-fangled name coined for the occasion? Can my right hon. Friend assure us that his mind is not closed?
§ Mr. Walker
I read in the local newspaper a report to the effect that my hon. Friend had immediately welcomed the name "Malvernshire". I am interested to learn that he has since changed his mind and that he can be guilty of misjudging matters. I am anxious that local opinion should try to formulate appropriate names. If in the process of the Bill going through names can be suggested for counties which are more acceptable to the local people than those proposed in the Bill, I shall welcome it.
The view has been put forward that it is aways sad to change an existing county, or the boundaries of an existing county; and in the Bill I have endeavoured to respect the traditions and the boundaries of local authorities which have earned the respect of the people living in their areas. I must tell the House that there is a considerable difference between these 235 proposals and those which have been put forward by the Labour Party. Under the proposals of hon. Gentlemen opposite, all but two counties would have disappeared or been completely changed in character. Only Nottinghamshire and Shropshire would have remained. Under our proposals, many counties will remain almost completely as they are now, while others will be the result of the amalgamation of two complete countries. I have endeavoured, to the maximum degree possible commensurate with bringing about a sensible measure of reform of local government, to pay respect to the natural loyalty of people towards their counties.
Likewise, with regard to towns and cities, the proposal to have a unitary system of government, which was proposed by the Labour Party, would have meant that virtually all our boroughs and many county boroughs would have been reduced in stature to pure parish councils. The proposals in the Bill will mean that all our famous towns and cities will remain to provide a service to the pubic, and will reflect the character of the localities in which they are situated.
I should now like to comment on a number of proposals which are different from those in the original White Paper. I propose first to say something about Humberside. The proposal in the Bill did not result from suggestions made as a result of our consultations with the local authorities concerned. They, quite naturally, concentrated on commenting upon the proposals which I had made, and did not come forward with any clear alternative proposal of their own.
The decision to proceed with the Humber bridge and the likely development of Humberside itself brought us to the conclusion that there were considerable advantages in combining both sides of the Humber. Our proposals for these boundaries resulted not from representations made by the local authorities concerned but from their failing to agree upon the basis of what they considered to be the right authority, and because it was felt that the decision about the Humber bridge meant that this area merited very careful consideration. I have, therefore, made the proposals set out here. In fairness to the local authorities 236 concerned, I must say that they were not consulted on these proposals, and I have, therefore, asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to go to the areas concerned to meet the local authorities involved so that we can obtain their opinions and comments on our proposals. I believe that my hon. Friend will undertake that task before the commencement of the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Walker
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I have given way a number of times already and if I continue to do so it will mean my making a very long speech.
One proposal which is dramatically different from the previous proposal is that concerning the transfer of North-East Essex to Suffolk. I must explain why this transfer was made. The reason was that, of all the suggestions made to us, this one alone was supported by six out of the nine local authorities concerned, which said that they wanted to be transferred from Essex to Suffolk. These six authorities represent the vast majority of the population of that area.
This suggestion was made not by my Department but by the local authorities concerned. I hope the House will agree that if the Government enter into consultations with local authorities and they find that uniquely—in no other part of the country did such a large group of local authorities ask to be transferred to another county—there is such a request, it is right for my Department to take note of such a suggestion.
§ Mr. Walker
I cannot give way. I hope my hon. Friend will understand that it would be unfair to treat one side of the House differently from the other.
I published this proposal about Essex because it was made at the request of the local authorities in the area, but the majority of people in Essex were not aware that such a proposal would be accepted, or taken advantage of. I therefore assure the House that I shall take a great interest in the views expressed as a result of the publication of this proposal. All I want to do is to 237 ensure that this area is dealt with in a way which meets the wishes of the people there. I hope that the House will understand that when a large proportion of the local authorities in an area—in this case six out of nine—make a request, it is understandable and right that my Department should endeavour to meet their wishes.
Another controversial matter is that of the boundary changes made in a number of metropolitan areas, in tightening still further the boundaries around built-up areas. This means the exclusion of Harrogate in the West Riding and part of the area surrounding Meriden in the Birmingham area, and the passing to Northumberland of a new town and an area which it was responsible for developing. I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the decision about Northumberland, because it will make Northumberland a more viable county and give it the new town which it has itself largely developed.
As regards these boundaries, I accept that there is a straight difference of view on this topic in planning terms. I want to make it clear that my decision to draw the boundaries of metropolitan areas tightly is made quite intentionally as part of our total approach to the planning problems of the regions. It has been suggested that my duty was to provide the major conurbations with what is described as a breathing space, to provide them with more land to meet their housing problems and their urban needs. Put another way, it is suggested that my duty was so to draw the boundaries of the metropolitan areas that the urban sprawl would continue. I believe that that is a mistake in planning terms, and that it is right for Governments, of all persuasions, to try to see that development takes place upon a carefully planned regional basis.
Speaking on Friday, during the debate on the New Towns Bill, the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) understandably paid tribute to the important rôle which his father had played in the new town movement. He said:Certainly this was the first major attempt in modern times to deal with the problem which Sir Thomas More had talked about in his Utopia—the suburban sprawl. His solution to the problem was the creation of 54 new towns. We are more than half way towards it, though it has taken 450 years to do it.238At that time people were dealing with the problem of a growing London and growing conurbations everywhere. The Minister rightly pointed out that the population is declining in London, but the suburban sprawl tends to go on. Just as one might have said that in 1946 the best thing would have been to look a generation ahead, it might be best to look a generation ahead now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1971; Vol. 825, c. 1404.]I believe that it is right for this country to say that it is no longer correct to solve the immediate problems of the major conurbations by steadily spreading their boundaries further. If we follow to its conclusion the argument that major conurbations should be given large areas of green land on which they can cater for both their green belt needs and their future housing needs, these conurbations would be massive, indeed. For example, the logic of the argument on this topic means that Greater London should be massively increased in size. That must follow if the same planning arguments are applied to London.
I accept that if the land is not available within the boundaries of the metropolitan areas it is a duty of Governments to see that their housing problems are met. I take, here, the example of Birmingham. [Interruption.] In Worcestershire, in which my own constituency lies, there is substantial Birmingham overspill taking place now. In Redditch, nearby, there is a similar scheme. I have never attacked the last Government's overspill strategies in relation to Worcestershire.
I accept that such a regional approach does entail that the region as a whole has to cope with this problem, but I do not consider that it is correct in planning terms to say that it should be met by a steady extension of boundaries. Let us consider the position in Birmingham over the past six years. Probably Birmingham has one of the biggest and most successful housing programmes in the country. It has provided for the people of Birmingham 27,654 homes within the city boundaries. But at Chelmsley Wood and in various other overspill schemes, even on the assumption that the overspill schemes cater for the people of Birmingham only as to two-thirds and local people as to one-third, it has provided a total of 24,169 homes outside the city boundaries.
I do not believe that it is good planning to extend the boundaries further, 239 for to do so would aggravate the problems of congestion, of communication, of job opportunity and of the availability of the countryside to people living in the inner parts of the major conurbations.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there some way by which we could be advised about the way to proceed at this point in the debate? The Secretary of State, being well aware of the importance of this Bill, will understand the limitations under which back benchers have to work. I acknowledge his courtesy to the House in view of the inherent difficulty of the Bill and the necessary length of his speech, but this is the only opportunity which back benchers have to question him.
In what way, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I realise that you have not the authority—could you advise that we proceed? Perhaps a wink is as good as a nod, and, as we wish very much to question the right hon. Gentleman, we are not too worried about the length of time which he takes.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that almost all hon. Members now present would like to put questions to the Minister, but, equally, we feel that we should let him get on so that there will be a good chance for us to intervene later.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point on which I wish to intervene a few minutes ago was really a point of order for the House. All of us have a variety of points which we wish to put. The Minister is at the moment adumbrating details related to his own local area. We should all wish to do the same. Is it not clear that the Committee stage of the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. I am grateful to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander 240 W. Lyon) for trying to help the Chair, but he must know that that is not a matter for the Chair. Indeed, the first point raised by the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter), which was not strictly a point of order, gave its own answer.
§ Mr. Walker
I am sure that no one could accuse me of not giving way whenever possible. I always endeavour to do so, but this is a two-day debate—[Interruption.]—there may well be an extension tomorrow—and my right hon. and hon. Friends will be able to reply to constituency points made by hon. Members.
We have proposed the basic changes in the boundaries of the new counties and of the metropolitan areas, and the boundaries of the metropolitan districts will be in line with them. I come now to the question of the boundaries of the other district authorities, which will follow publication and agreement of the new county and metropolitan area boundaries.
The district boundaries will be recommended by a Boundary Commission, the membership of which I shall shortly announce. I expect that that Commission will publish preliminary suggestions next spring. These will be purely proposals. After publication of those preliminary suggestions, there will be an opportunity for local authorities to give their reactions to the Boundary Commission's proposals. I expect that the Boundary Commission will report to me next autumn, after those consultations, making its recommendations as to the boundaries of the new districts, and these will be subject to the approval of the House by affirmative Resolution.
Clause 48 provides for a permanent Boundary Commission for local government. I feel that many of our problems in local government would have been solved if we had had such machinery in existence in the past, and I think I am right in saying that the idea of a permanent Boundary Commission to work on local government boundaries is accepted on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Walker
Yes, I shall come to that. The parishes in existence now, in both metropolitan areas and non-metropolitan areas, will remain in being. As regards parishes in towns which it is proposed to amalgamate with other areas, I am very much in favour of such towns being able to organise for themselves a parish council. There is, however, some difficulty regarding the date at which that can be done.
There is the difficulty of settling the boundaries and providing for elections if they were to take place immediately the new authorities came into being. At this point I am asking the Boundary Commission to review the proposals in relation to such parishes and to report to me on the matter after 1974 following its other reports. If I may say so, there is a certain advantage here in there being a small time lapse between the creation of the new authorities and the settling of the new parishes in some of the towns where it is decided to create them. There is the advantage that there otherwise might be a tendency for a range of good and able councillors to continue serving an authority which no longer had the powers of a main new district authority rather than join the new district authority. It may be thought, therefore, that there are certain advantages in a short time lapse before the new parishes take over their rightful rôle in such towns. I shall, however, be most interested to hear the views of hon. Members on both sides on this topic.
The Bill provides for a new system for electing members. County councils will be re-elected every fourth year, and one-third of district authority councillors will be elected each year for a period of four years. The advantage which I put forward in favour of this system is that it will mean that there will be but one election each year, so that there will not be the confusion which is frequently experienced under the present system when a whole series of local elections takes place at about the same time. I hope that this proposal will commend itself to the House.
Now, a word about the management problems of the new authorities. As the House knows, I decided to set up a study group to advise the new authorities at both district and county level on the best management approach which they could 242 bring to their new functions. This group, which comprises a number of distinguished local authority officials and people from the local government world, as well as a number of members from outside, is already hard at work. At my request, it published an interim report giving its view on the statutory controls over both committees and officers. I wanted to know its views before drafting the Bill. I did not accept in tow the views which it expressed. It wanted, for example, to take away all statutory committees, but I decided to retain certain statutory committees, in particular in education and the social services.
I believe that it was very much the feeling in the education world that the statutory committees should be retained. I see no great point in going against their wishes if people in the education world feel that some additional security is to be gained by having such statutory committees. As for the social services, these were newly created statutory committees, and I felt that it would have made for great uncertainty in the social services world if we had not continued their existence.
But I want to express my appreciation of the way in which the study group quickly gave me its views on the subject. Clauses 100 to 111 reflect the advice it gave me. They give much more flexibility in management structure, both in the appointment of officers and the creation of committees, than ever existed in the previous system of local government.
I turn to the division of powers between the counties, the metropolitan areas and the new districts. I have tried to see that where there is an advantage in powers being organised over a wider area they should be at the county level of local government, and that where they can reasonably be carried out at district level they should be so carried out. There was a great deal of consultation on this subject, carried out in an objective and constructive way. I asked the local authority associations to set before me their views on functions, which they all did. There were differences between them. I then asked the associations to come to my office and parade before me, with each other present, the conflicting arguments as to where the various functions should lie. I spoke to and 243 visited many of the local authority association conferences this year with the object of gaining their views on the topic.
I am appreciative of the remarks made by my predecessor responsible for local government, Lord Greenwood, when, commenting on the Bill, he wrote:… the Government has genuinely listened receptively to the many representations made to it. Reading all the reports of other people's speeches, and re-reading my own speech in the House of Lords, and the notes of speeches I have made in other places (reflecting of course those criticisms made by the associations which I believed to be valid), it is encouraging to find how many of the criticisms have been met. It is only fair to admit that before discussing some of the objections we shall have to put forward when the debate resumes.I can assure the House that I have tried to make a judgment on the allocation of functions based on the arguments put to me and the conflicting views of the local authority associations. As a result, I have decided to move a number of functions of importance to the district authorities.
First, in my previous proposals districts were to be responsible for the local decision-taking in planning, but not for the preparation of the local plans. As a result of my consultations, I decided that while the county should be responsible for the main structure plan of the whole county area the preparation of the local plan should be the responsibility of the district concerned. I know that that is considered by the districts to be an important additional function and that the counties expressed their hostility to its being lost to them. I fully understand their view.
I suggested in my original White Paper that we should set up a joint staff organisation between the districts and the counties. I have gone back on that suggestion, because all the local authority associations, with the exception of the counties, told me that in their view it would not work. I still think that in principle it could work, but I came to the conclusion that if the planning staff were to operate in the districts with the resentment of all the district authorities, that would not be a good basis on which to start local government reform. Therefore, I conceded that they should have separate staff. But the Bill makes provision for them to set up joint staff arrangements, and I 244 think that for many districts that would be a sensible and rational step. It will be a matter for decision by them whether they decide to take it.
Conservation will be very much at a district level. The powers to deal with conservation will be given to the districts, subject to my being satisfied that they have the necessary expert staff to carry out the conservation measures concerned. The county will have the powers in those districts without the expertise to carry out the task.
I decided that environmental health was best dealt with at district level. This will enable the districts to employ the public health inspectors, who can continue to carry out the range of functions which hon. Members, on both sides, will agree they have carried out exceedingly well in the past. I am pleased to say that my proposals have been acclaimed by the public health inspectors as being the very proposals they require.
I have also decided to place responsibility for building regulations at district instead of county level, for two reasons. The first is that housing functions are at district level. Second, my decision that local plan preparation should be at the district level adds weight to the argument that building regulations powers should be at that level.
There were conflicting arguments on highways. It was said that there would be greater efficiency in the construction and preparation of highways if this were carried out over a wider area, which I accept. But it was also said that one of the points of grievance that people in suburban and urban areas constantly raise with their local council is the maintenance of their road or street, broken pavements and kerbstones and bad lighting, all matters of considerable local importance. Therefore, I decided that in urban areas the maintenance of the non-classified roads should remain with the district authorities, unless they decide to make arrangements with the county authority for that authority to carry it out.
My original proposals were that the whole of public transport responsibility should be with the counties. I have since heard the arguments of the four associations in conflict on that topic. Whilst I could see the need for the counties to 245 have co-ordinating powers over transportation throughout a county area which I have given them, I could also see valid arguments why there was no need to take certain local authority bus undertakings away from the authority concerned. For example, in seaside resorts a special transport system frequently operates to benefit the tourist. Therefore, I have left the districts with the power to carry out this function.
The districts will also be the rating authorities and will be responsible for recreation and amenities.
In summary, we shall have district authorities responsible for the whole of their local planning, the whole of their housing, the maintenance of their urban roads, public transport, the whole of environmental health, the amenities and recreational pursuits. I believe that that means that we have a district tier of local government which will be able to make the decisions that affect the character of the locality, and that therefore the new districts will have a major rôle.
§ Mr. Walker
I have refused to give way to many other hon. Members. I must maintain that position.
The new counties will be responsible for education and the personal social services. There are those who feel that the personal social services should be at district level, but anyone who studies the nature of the resources needed to provide a full range of social services will see the importance of their being organised over a much wider catchment area. Therefore. I have resisted those suggestions.
The same applies to education. In my own constituency there is an education authority operating over a city, and everyone is proud of its record in education. But I understand the very valid argument that the range of education facilities that will be required in the future will not be within the resources of district authorities. Therefore, I have decided that although in the metropolitan districts, with much larger populations, responsibility for education can be at district level, over the other new counties the responsibility will clearly be at county level.
I have tried to keep strictly to the principle on powers that I laid down in 246 the White Paper, that the county authority will look after matters such as police, traffic, fire, consumer protection, education, social services, strategic planning and transportation, while the districts will look after all those services which can sensibly be placed at district level.
Reorganisation of water and sewerage is left out of the Bill because this will be the subject of separate legislation. I shall announce to the House our conclusions on this topic in due course.
I turn now to the position of the national parks. I wish first to make clear the situation regarding certain allegations made about an agreement between the Countryside Commission and the County Councils Association. It is alleged that this agreement was made under pressure from my Department. There have been both a letter in The Times and an article in last week's New Statesman making a positive allegation that it was under pressure from the Department of the Environment that the Commission reached an accommodation with the County Councils Association.
I can assure the House that when I heard the conflicting arguments on this topic I wanted to make an objective decision. I wrote to the amenity bodies, the County Councils Association, and the Countryside Commission, which, as the House knows, has the responsibility for national parks, and asked them to come to a meeting with me and present me with papers giving their views. I said that I would circulate their papers to the other parties and that I wished to hear the conflicting views debated. At no stage did I suggest to any one of these three bodies that they should get together. Two of them, the Countryside Commission, responsible for the management of national parks, and the County Councils Association, with a tremendous interest in the planning of the areas concerned, have reached agreement on how to deal with this problem. It was an agreement voluntarily reached.
I would like to read to the House a letter I have received from the Chairman of the Countryside Commission, so that this matter may be cleared up. It reads as follows:Dear Secretary of State, I see that it is being alleged in reports of speeches and 247 letters to the Press that you sought to persuade the Countryside Commission to reach agreement with the County Councils Association on proposals for the future administration of National Parks. This is, of course, quite contrary to the facts. At no time did you or any member of the Government request or suggest that we should have discussions with the County Councils Association on this matter.In view of the fact that the integrity of the Commission is being called in question by these allegations, I am proposing to issue to the Press a copy of this letter repudiating them.This was an agreement where the two bodies primarily concerned came together, discussed views where there was a difference, and made recommendations as to how they should be dealt with. I welcome the fact that the County Councils Association and the Countryside Commission have been able to produce a joint statement which shows a large measure of agreement between them.
The C.C.A. speaks for the local planning authorities most concerned, and the Commission has a statutory duty to advise us on national parks matters. Thus, the agreement has a great weight of responsible opinion behind it, and broadly, I intend to accept the solution proposed. The single committee system for both single-county and multi-county parks, advocated in the statement, would mean a considerable improvement in the existing committee structure in multi-county parks. We proposed, while retaining the two existing boards and the reserve power to set up others, to adopt the single committee system as the norm. These new bodies will have to produce comprehensive plans for each park. We shall certainly encourage them to do that as quickly as possible. The existing legislation and the provisions in the Bill are wide enough to secure through administrative action most of the other proposals in the joint statement.
The County Councils Association, the Countryside Commission, the C.P.R.E. and the C.P.R.W. have suggested the appointment of a national parks officer for each park. We shall commend this suggestion to the employing authorities. It has also been suggested that a 75 per cent. grant should be made towards the salary of such an officer, if one were appointed. This might logically be extended to all administrative costs of national parks. However, the whole financial 248 relationship between central and local government is under examination as part of the review of local government finance, on which the Government have published a Green Paper, and it would be premature to study matters like this in isolation before we establish a general central and local financial relationship.
I have no doubt that more needs to be done to encourage expenditure on these national assets which are being increasingly enjoyed by the nation as a whole. As the House knows, I have set up a committee of inquiry into the whole purpose of the national parks and have endeavoured to recruit to that committee a wide range of people, including Mr. John Cousins, representing the trade unions, so that we have advice from those who live in the national parks, from those who have long been supporters of them and from those from industrial areas who enjoy the national parks.
I hope that the House will agree that the agreement reached by the two principal bodies concerned will be of benefit to the future of the national parks.
I would now like to deal with the matter of the general spending powers of local authorities. It will be seen that in Clause 135 I have made provision for the existing rate of free expenditure to be made available to the new authorities. I wish to make it clear that this is a matter which I can change at any time. I would like to have further discussions on it, and I may well change it before the new authorities come into being. I placed it there because I have not conducted investigations into this matter, and I would welcome views from both sides of the House.
As far as implementation is concerned, I would repeat to the House the timetable in which we are involved. The definition of the non-metropolitan districts will be made by order before the end of 1972. All county councils and metropolitan district councils will be elected in the spring of 1973. The non-metropolitan district councils will be elected in the autumn of 1973. There have been suggestions that I should try to speed up this procedure so that they could be elected prior to that date. But there are difficulties here, such as fixing ward boundaries. If, however, this could be speeded up I would welcome it. I would be pleased to discuss with those 249 involved the possibilities of speeding up the election of the non-metropolitan district councils.
In April, 1974, the new authorities at district and county levels will take over their particular functions. It is the urgent wish of many local authorities that the elections in the new non-metropolitan districts should take place earlier than the autumn of 1973.
The changes here are widespread and will involve an enormous amount of work for members and officers. We shall make arrangements for local authorities to meet collectively to discuss the arrangements. For the officers, the reorganisation means the uncertainty of changing to a new employing authority. We shall consult on matters affecting staff interests. The Bill, in Clause 239, requires the appointment of a special staff commission to keep under review all matters affecting recruitment and transfer of staff and to advise on matters of staff interest. The commission will come into existence informally before the Bill reaches the Statute Book, so that it can immediately get down to work.
This is a major and comprehensive Bill, and I hope that in Committee and on Report we shall have constructive suggestions, and that we shall enter the Committee stage in the spirit of wishing to hear the points of view on detail. When the Bill reaches the Statute Book and the new authorities come into operation, we shall have ended the uncertainty which has bedevilled local government since the war. We shall have strengthened local democratic institutions so that they operate more successfully and efficiently and have a greater impact on their localities. We shall be giving to those who have served the old system of local government so well over the past decades a new opportunity of taking on a new, clear-cut system of local government. All the difficulties of one authority being answerable to another will come to an end. Functions will be at one level of local government or another.
I believe that the proposals represent the broad consensus of views as to what should take place to reform local government successfully.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
In the course of the debate on the White Paper 250 Cmmd. 4584 I commended the courage of the Secretary of State. Having listened to his opening speech today I commend his optimism, and having weighed the Bill, at least metaphorically, I commend his industry. That I am afraid is where the general congratulations must end. It is true that there may be hon. Friends of mine who will support large parts of the Bill just as there will be hon. Gentlemen opposite who will oppose large parts of it. The reason is quite clear. There is no general logical principle underlying the Bill. On the contrary, it remains an untidy compromise, a massive compromise but still a compromise, and it suffers from all the disadvantages of compromise.
At least it can be said that Maud was a great reform and, like all great reforms, it had its passionate supporters, and, I agree with the Secretary of State, it had its passionate opponents. That is the measure of greatness. It was clear-cut and decisive. This Bill is blurred and tepid. It has soaked up from everywhere ideas and suggestions, often conflicting, as it has gone along. It is a great big sponge of a Bill. Reforms are not made by sponges and crusades are not a process of osmosis. If the Bill illustrates anything, it illustrates the principle of the uninhabitability of the halfway house. For good or evil we are stuck with this Measure, at any rate for some time to come, and I will examine it in that light. We on this side of the House will do our best to put some sense into it in Committee and on Report, but because the Bill is as it is I shall be recommending my hon. Friends to divide against it.
I want to deal with some of the changes. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned aldermen, and we approve of their abolition. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) offers the Secretary of State his aldermen tomorrow. But the coupling of a four-year term of office with the all-out election procedure in county councils could give rise to a situation—it has happened before in municipal elections—when there would be no continuing members at all in a local authority in a year of a big swing. Why should not county councils be elected on the same basis as the district councils; that is, with some retiring each year? I 251 hope that the Secretary of State will consider this.
The other point is that if we are to abolish aldermen we have the curious anomaly of London which continues to have aldermen. It would be quite easy to move an Amendment in Committee—a Government Amendment I hope—possibly to Clause 9 which would have the effect of removing aldermen from London and the City of London. We would then have a general situation through the country. We welcome the right hon. Gentleman's conversion to local democracy and hope that it will be extended.
Dealing next with allowances and expenses for councillors, there is one specific point I want to raise. The Secretary of State has offered guidance under Clause 4 as to a reasonable minimum amount to be paid towards the expenses of the chairmen of principal councils. In some cases certain members can never hold this office because their colleagues are not sufficiently enlightened to set the minimum high enough. Perhaps this could be looked at. While I am on the subject I wonder whether the Secretary of State could also consider giving statutory authority for a proportion of those expenses to be paid as of right to the vice-chairmen.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of local planning, and this is one of the great factors in this reform. The 1947 Act reduced the number of planning authorities to 140. Under the present proposals the figure will be about 420. This is disturbing but is the inevitable result of the Government's proposals. I see no other way round it and, therefore, within the context of what the Government are doing, I see that this is necessary and that there should be these changes. To that extent, like him, I welcome the changes from the White Paper, from the "unified planning staff structure" of which the White Paper spoke.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not leave his researches into the quality of staff purely in the conservation area. I hope that he is satisfied that there are sufficient qualified staff to man all the other second-tier authorities. This is most important. If we concede that the district councils are to be given a greater share of planning we have to consider what sort of planning they are to have. At 252 the moment the Secretary of State would agree that many county district councils, under the delegation system, are dealing with a wider range of development applications than will be dealt with by their successors. In the light of this it seems to be a retrograde step.
If the Secretary of State really means to share the work properly I suggest that he looks again at the provision that any development within 220 feet of the middle of a principal road is a county matter. Its effect would be to remove from local determination the majority of development applications in central areas, and surely these are areas for which the district councils, because of their interest and special knowledge, ought to be considered and consulted.
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has made the change about building regulations. He may recall that I raised the point during the White Paper debate along with my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck). The Secretary of State was rather cold in his attitude. What he had to say was:I assure the hon. Gentleman that the quick jib, 'Fancy having houses away from building regulations', does not bear examination."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 19th May 1971, Vol. 817, c. 1288.]Apparently it does bear examination and it bears correction.
I want to deal with the question of highways and transport authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) when he opens the debate tomorrow will be dealing with this at greater length. What has been assigned to the district councils is the maintenance of urban roads, that is, unclassified roads with a speed limit of up to 40 m.p.h., and urban streets. In Clause 181 not even the provision of car parks or traffic management in their own towns is given to the district councils. For some curious reason it is given to them in Wales. I do not know what is the Welsh for "car park" but I would like to know what great facility the Welsh have for being able to induce the Secretary of State to make this concession.
It is extraordinary that this should be denied to the district councils in England. District councils have a vital interest in their own traffic problems, particularly in 253 the central area, and to decline to allow them to deal with such problems seems to provide another source of confusion. altercation and Even taking into account the Secretary of State's own ideas and the context in which he had to work, looking at the main situation, has he really met the problems facing us?
I do not propose to deal with the problems of Wales, although the Bill seeks to do so. My right hon. Friends the Members for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts) and Cardiff, West will have a great deal to say about this matter, and particularly about the lumping together of the Welsh and English proposals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Ifor Davies) very wisely thinks that there should be a separate Bill for Wales. The Welsh section of the Bill is self-contained. It could easily come within a separate Bill. I am delighted—and I am sure that I speak for the whole House—to see the Secretary of State for Wales in his place. I am aware that he has many preoccupations, but I should have hoped that he might have spared himself a little from his onerous external duties to lead such a Bill in Committee.
Coming to the various proposals, I welcome the Secretary of State's approach towards the question of Humberside. I know that the local authorities will welcome the visit of the Under-Secretary of State. However, since the right hon. Gentleman has become convinced, I think rightly, that this is one compact area, I wonder whether he would go a shade further and make it a metropolitan county. I know the arguments against, such as that there is an insufficiency of population, and so on. But this is very much a growth area, and an area which will have a very important bridge. It is that bridge which makes the difference. There will be a very large increase of population on Humberside and in growth generally. There are two rival urban centres, Grimsby and Hull—
§ Mr. Silkin
—or there were—and they might well better come together in a metropolitan county. If the Secretary of State will not go as far as that, will he go this far and say that he will keep the position under constant review and will instruct the Boundary Commission to 254 view the situation very carefully as the population increases?
A number of my hon. Friends have put to me the problem of the county boroughs in Central Lancashire. The Hunt and Maud Reports and my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) all advocated the creation of a metropolitan county in central Lancashire, partly because there is a population of well over 1 million there and partly because of the creation of the central Lancashire new town. I hope that this matter will be looked at before the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
My right hon. Friend has just referred to central Lancashire. Will he make similar reference to North-East Lancashire?
§ Mr. Silkin
Ellesmere Port and Neston have been taken out of the Wirral district of Merseyside, and Southport has been put into Merseyside. I know that the Secretary of State has been under considerable local pressure from various authorities to make this change, but it seems to me an illogical change because there is a division between the areas where people live and the areas where they work. This matter should be considered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath will deal in due course with the chronic and continuing scandal concerning Plymouth—a town of 250,000 people to be ruled by Exeter 42 miles away—and the rather special but most important situation concerning the West Midlands.
No doubt many amendments will be tabled in Committee by hon. Members on both sides in respect of different areas, and to make Committee points in a Second Reading debate would be unprofitable. But this illustrates something which, in a reverse way, the Secretary of State put forward as a criticism of the Maud Report. He said that the trouble with the Maud Report was that so many people criticised it. He must be unaware that many people and a large number of hon. Members criticise his proposals not for the same reasons but because they are so lukewarm and patched up that they inevitably give rise to such criticism.
Turning to the general principles of the Bill, it is clear that the Secretary of State 255 is conscious of the question of the boundaries of the metropolitan counties. He spent some time in his opening remarks dealing with this problem. Clearly, he has given it some thought. But I remain convinced that the boundaries are too tightly drawn. There must be space for further development, otherwise we shall rely on the co-operation of the planning authorities of the metropolitan counties and their neighbours coming to our rescue. I wish that I could say that this sort of co-operation always works, but it does not. It creates considerable conflict, confusion, altercation and, above all, delay. The problem in metropolitan areas arises from a shortage of land which creates difficulties which require quick and speedy solutions. The tightness of the boundaries will militate not only against the solutions but against the speed with which the problems can be dealt with.
The Secretary of State says that he has planned against urban sprawl. He believes that to draw rather looser boundaries would be a planning mistake. But planning is not an academic exercise; it is a profession of applied realism. The basis of planning is to accept what will happen and to channel it into the right areas. The Secretary of State kindly quoted from my speech in the House last Friday when I referred to Sir Thomas More's Utopia. I have advocated the creation of new towns many times, and I am sure that it is the right process for us.
But that does not alter the fact that individually large conurbations, in particular, need to extend. They do not militate one against the other. Nor can we stop them. If the Secretary of State will be advised by the experience of Queen Elizabeth I he may emerge a much wiser man. Queen Elizabeth introduced a Statute which prevented building in central London and Westminster and made provision in it for the imposition of a £5 fine. Unfortunately, that Statute fell into disuse long ago. We cannot stop building of this sort, and it is useless to try, but we can ensure that it is done properly and correctly. That is why the decision to tighten the boundaries round the metropolitan counties, if it is incorporated in the Bill, will soon be seen to be one of the major mistakes of the Bill.
256 Inevitably the Bill is weighted in favour of the country and against the town. It will diminish the powers of urban communities within the new county councils. To that extent, it is not only unrepresentative and doctrinaire; it is craven. It is the price which the Government are paying their rural backwoodsmen. The White Paper, I believe, envisaged the end of rural weighting. I have looked for a reference in the Bill to this. It may be there is no reference because it is dealt with by implication.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am very glad about that. I am going to make a suggestion to the Secretary of State. I think he should now consider urban weighting. In a period where there is so much increased mobility, with the introduction of the motor car and so on, the case for rural weighting has gone, but the case for urban weighting is the workload of those who represent urban communities. It is absurd to say that 10,000 represented in a rural area involves as much of a workload as 10,000 represented in an urban community. So I would like the right hon. Gentleman to look at this again, or look at it, perhaps, for the first time.
I want to come to the problem of education. I do not think this point has been grasped in this Bill. There are those who believe, and the Secretary of State is one of them, that the new metropolitan district councils will be well enough equipped to give good education to our children, and certainly this was Maud's view—there is no question about that—but the Labour Government took the contrary view and felt that education should be with the metropolitan county.
One of the major problems in the education of children is not so much related to the normal or even the above-average children: it is the proper education of those children who are not otherwise catered for, the dyslexic, the blind, the deaf, and the handicapped physically and mentally. Apart from anything else I think it would perhaps be agreed that the I.L.E.A. provides one of the greatest and best systems of education in our country. One of the most important tasks which the I.L.E.A. has been able to achieve has been the looking after of these minority interests. It does it very 257 well. It does it because it has the resources to cope with the problem, and it does it because it has the numbers to cope with. If the Secretary of State insists that education should remain in the metropolitan district councils the Bill should at least contain sufficient encouragement in finance and organisation to ensure that district councils can join together to solve this problem.
I have made a number of general criticisms. The Secretary of State, in his speech, referred more than once to the unitary system. Therefore, I do not regard it as inappropriate to speak about it myself. The unitary system has, obviously, both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are, first, that it is more logical to have responsibility for all services in one authority, and such a system is readily understandable by the public: they know exactly where to go. The second basis is that councillors have greater and more responsible tasks. The third basis is that the quality of the services can be improved by co-ordination. There is a disadvantage to the unitary system, and I appreciate it. It is that there may be a lack of community of interest where there is a wide geographical scatter of population or where the existence of rival urban centres hinders the growth of a sense of unity. I accept this, but will this Bil—as it must, if the Secretary of State is right—deal with this disadvantage?
Will this Bill give greater advantages than the unitary system? On the disadvantages, will it really bring community of interest? The Secretary of State should ask my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) or my right hon. Friends the Members for Caernarvon and Cardiff, West, or many other hon. Members on both sides who will be waiting, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to catch your eye. Will, under the Bill, the quality of services be improved by greater co-ordination? They will not. On the contrary, there will be an intensification of the cold war between town and country. Will councillors have greater and more responsible tasks? Or will they be frustrated because of the lack of co-ordination or sense of purpose? These are valid criticisms of this Bill. The Secretary of State hopes to solve local government in 247 Clauses. I am afraid that he has not done so.
258 Having talked about the Bill, there is one omission and I may not perhaps carry all my hon. Friends with me on this, but I think I should make the point. In the debate on the White Paper I commended the Secretary of State for his courage. He might have taken that courage a little further in one instance. If we regard young people, as we do, as adults for all other purposes at 18 years of age, why on earth do we restrict, under Clause 80 of the Bill, membership of the council to people over 21? The Secretary of State asks the Minister for Local Government, "Why have we?" Perhaps the Minister will tell him.
In all this muddle and confusion I was very glad of the Secretary of State's assurance about the ombudsman. It is good in itself. It is something we on this side of the House pressed for, and I believe that if this Bill is to become law the public will need not one ombudsman but several ombudsmen.
This Bill will be with us, as I have said, for some time. So we have got to live with it for a while at least. But that does not mean that we cannot improve it, and it does not mean that we shall not work very hard, all of us, to see that it is made more sensible and more workable. But at the same time it is a bad Bill, and, therefore, I shall call on my hon. and right hon. Friends to reject it. In doing so I bear in mind that such a Bill would have been difficult of acceptance from a popular Government in a time of consensus. How much less can it be tolerated coming, as it does, from this Government at this time? At least I acknowledge that the Government are consistent in one thing. A two-tier system of local government comes naturally from an Administration which, by their championship of all that is divisive, are trying to create a two-tier nation.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
Unlike the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin), I welcome this Measure to reorganise local government. It is a reform long overdue. I welcome, too, the structure which it proposes. I do not go along, therefore, with the strictures by the right hon. Gentleman, expressed as they have been with his customary courtesy and charm. On 259 the contrary, I think the Government are absolutely right to reject the Redcliffe-Maud proposals for concentrating effective power and services in the hands of large unitary authorities. That, in my view, would have spelled the death of local government. By all means let us reduce the number of local authorities, but the enlarged district councils must be left with important functions if local patriotism is not to die and services are not to be depersonalised. We should never underestimate the importance and the force of local patriotism, that sense of community which helps to bind our country together. I think that perhaps on this there is general agreement on both sides of the House.
As far as the new counties go, my right hon. Friend has claimed rightly that he has departed from existing boundaries to a far less degree than Redcliffe-Maud proposed, and only where absolutely necessary. I venture to disagree, at any rate as regards Essex. As the senior Member of the county, a position I share with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), I rise to protest, though I hope not at length, most strongly against the Government's proposals for my county. In this I have Essex County Council and many local authorities behind me.
Essex is under assault from two directions. On the one hand, the County Borough of Southend has just publicised proposals for erecting a new metropolitan county out of South Essex and, believe it or not, North Kent, notwithstanding the absence of any physical connection between the two. There has been no consultation on this proposal with neighbouring district councils—a most unneighbourly action—and this arrogant, ill-conceived, ill-prepared and preposterous proposal has no support whatsoever from my constituents.
On the other hand, we see from Schedule 1 to the Bill that the Government are proposing to detach from our historic and well-knit county its northeast corner, which includes the ancient Borough of Colchester and the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale). Colchester is the oldest town in Essex, indeed in the country, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy 260 Speaker, I have no doubt he will have something to say about this. It is the seat of Essex University, to which the ratepayers of the county have subscribed handsomely since its foundation. I will not go into this proposal in detail as my hon. Friends the Members for Harwich and Colchester are sitting beside me.
The county council has never been given any reasons for this. It is said that one reason may be that Suffolk, fearing the loss of the Port of Lowestoft, laid claim to the north-eastern part of Essex. I understand, however, that Suffolk is likely to regain Lowestoft. If that is so, the proposal for detaching north-east Essex should be dropped. Another reason which has been advanced is that a single county should have planning control over the haven ports of Felixstowe, Ipswich and Harwich on both sides of the Stour. If that is the argument, why should the hinterland town of Colchester be included? The fact is that Harwich does not have a common set of land communications with Felixstowe or Ipswich and, as all these ports are developing as container ports, there is not likely to be a large increase in population.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
As I was not able to interrupt the Minister, perhaps my hon. Friend can help me. Has he at any stage seen a cost analysis of the effect of paring off north-east Essex? Has he had an indication of when it will be available or when the case will be fully deployed on the merits or otherwise of going into Suffolk?
§ Mr. Braine
I have seen no such cost analysis and, so far as I am aware, none of my local authorities has either. I am even more seriously concerned about the damage which this proposal will do to our county services. Here my constituents in the southern part of the county have a right to be heard. I will take only two services, the police and welfare.
Since 1965 the Essex police have had two reorganisations and, if the proposal goes through, by 1974 there will be a third. The view of the police service generally over the country as a whole where similar change is likely and of the Police Superintendents Association, which I have represented for some years, and the view of the Essex Police Authority is that this will be bad for 261 police morale and bad for efficiency. I understand that the Home Office has been told this in no uncertain terms.
We have an efficient police force in Essex which should be left alone. There is nothing sacrosanct about boundaries. Indeed, crime knows no boundaries, but if there has to be one it should be the natural boundary, namely, the River Stour and not an artificial one drawn on the map.
I am shocked by the effect of the Government's proposals on our welfare services. When I had the honour to be Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Health, nearly a decade ago, Essex had the reputation of being one of the best welfare authorities in the country. It still has that reputation. In fact, some of us think it is the best in the country. What would be the effect of the Government's proposal on the quality and distribution of our welfare services? When Essex lost its metropolitan area in 1965 it was forced to reorganise its services and redeploy them in the eastern half of the county. Under the Government's proposals, Essex will now lose five out of six of the residential establishments for the mentally handicapped, nine out of ten of the properties providing rehabilitation for people recovering from mental illness, 48 out of 78 beds for the elderly mentally infirm, half the places in residential nurseries, 25 out of 31 community units for homeless families, two out of three residential special schools or maladjusted children, one out of three residential schools for educationally subnormal children and the only school for delicate children. All these will be taken away from us. This is of deep concern to the population of Essex, not only to my constituents. I could give many other examples but will not do so as many other hon. Members wish to speak. What I will say is that this proposal is totally unacceptable to our people and the local authorities.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
My hon. Friend says that the proposal is totally unacceptable, but the reason for this suggestion being taken up was that the local authorities of North-East Essex, representing 114,000 people, made these recommendations, as opposed to 45,000 against. I well understand my hon. Friend's cogent arguments but I must 262 make clear that this was not done against expressions of local feeling.
§ Mr. Braine
I accept what my right hon. Friend says. It is not for me to answer for local authorities represented by other hon. Members but I understand that not all of them took that view at that time. I also understand that the analysis of the implications to which my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester referred was not in their hands. Furthermore, I am of the belief that if they were asked now they would be of a different mind, but I will leave that to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Braine
My hon. Friend expresses the point perfectly.
Despite the generous allocation of functions which my right hon. Friend has made to the district authorities, it is important that there should be still more flexibility and that some really worthwhile functions should be allocated to the enlarged district councils. The Government promised this in the White Paper which said, in paragraph 8, thatdecisions should be taken … as locally as possible.Paragraph 13 states thatwhere the arguments are evenly balanced their"—the Government's—judgment will be given in favour of responsibility being exercised at the more local level.I applaud my right hon. Friend's approach to giving more powers to district councils. He is absolutely right on that, but I am doubtful about one aspect. I cannot see why district councils which at present are highway authorities and exercising their functions satisfactorily, as, for example, Benfleet Urban District Council has been doing, should now have these powers taken away. Under the provisions of the Bill, enlarged district councils with larger areas and considerably more resources will be reduced to filling in holes and surfacing only unclassified roads. They will even be denied the making up of private streets or making decisions as to the location of car 263 parks. This is a retrograde step because it reduces the control of local people over their immediate environment. I ask my right hon. Friend, therefore, to reconsider these matters.
Indeed, so deep is the feeling among all who care about local government in Essex that I shall not be able to go along with the Bill in its present form unless I can get some assurances that the points I have made will be taken care of. I shall listen, therefore, to the Government's winding-up speech with unusually close attention.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. R. B. Cant (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
As one who has been a member of a city council for some 20 years and who is currently chairman of the city planning committee, I listened to the speech of the Secretary of State with great interest. I go along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) in saying that one must welcome the decision of the Government to reform local government. In so far as they are reforming local government on the basis of the city region, it is something one might welcome, but most hon. Members present will take this opportunity to do a bit of special pleading. We shall be leaving the elaboration of great matters of major principle to the Front Bench.
I shall be making a naked plea for the handful of county boroughs and cities with populations of over 250,000 which have been subject to the most unfortunate treatment under the Bill. I must concede this is a very delicate subject which has divided us on both sides of the House. There will be much joining of hands between hon. Members who are totally opposed to the Bill and those who support it.
I wish to deal only with our particular predicament in Stoke-on-Trent, a county borough of 270,000 people which has been reduced by the Bill to the status of a district council. My main point of criticism is that this has been done to a large extent because of some political gerrymandering by the Government. As we in Stoke-on-Trent see the matter, the Government are using ancient county boundaries as a method of maintaining a degree of political control of the counties which runs counter to any efficient 264 organisation of local government under the new scheme.
If we think of the position of Stoke-on-Trent or the more general situation in terms of North Staffordshire, we find all the major reports which have been produced on local government, including the Local Government Boundary Commission Report of 1947, the Maud Report and other unofficial reports, have suggested conclusively that North Staffordshire is a natural area for a unitary authority of local government. Yet under the present Bill this area is to be brought into the County of Staffordshire.
It is a matter of great regret that both the Local Government Boundary Commission Report and the Maud Report were produced during a period of Labour Government. For some reason or other both the senior Ministers responsible for local government at that time did not show the will to get this reorganisation accomplished which obviously has been shown by the present Secretary of State. That great radical the late Mr. Aneurin Bevan received the report of the Local Government Boundary Commission and put it into a pigeon-hole. He, like Lloyd George, must have felt that nobody should undertake the reform of local government unless he wanted to let himself in for a great deal of trouble and opposition. Similarly with the Maud proposals we seem to have had a failure of will. Yet the Secretary of State, an up-and-coming organisation man and obviously a man of great organising ability and drive, is to attempt to put this Bill on to the Statute Book.
Unfortunately, the Labour Government gave the Secretary of State certain precedents which he feels he can rightly follow. The Labour Government gave control of the police to county authorities, and also gave them the control of the local polytechnic. If hon. Members on either side of the House were to ask whether a system based on the old traditional county will best serve the people who live in the great urban concentrations like Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire as well as other areas, I think the answer must be "No". We can go further than saying that this is based on an anachronism. We can argue that this solution in respect of a number of areas has been founded purely on the grounds of political expediency.
265 If in respect of the area from which I come I wanted additional evidence to support this thesis, I could readily find it. The original proposals for the county did not include a rural area with four or five solid Tory seats, the area of Seisdon. However, in the Bill this area has been added back to the county to prevent any possible contingency arising in which the Conservatives will not in future have control. This is deplorable. I hope the Secretary of State will restore his political integrity by lopping off this geographical sore thumb which has no relationship whatever to the area of Staffordshire. It was supposed originally to give some breathing space to Birmingham. I am not here to defend Birmingham's interests. However, I believe that the Secretary of State should look into this matter.
Incidentally, I was not surprised when a back-bench colleague of mine told me that he had been walking along the corridors of power and was about to turn a dark corner when he heard a senior Conservative Minister and a junior Minister in conversation. The junior Minister was saying that he had received a request from Staffordshire for certain concessions in respect of a matter which I shall not mention, and the senior Minister said, "Staffordshire has had enough concessions with the Local Government Bill". I think that that proves that this legislation is a piece of political gerrymandering which must be rectified. Heaven knows how far the principle will be taken when it comes to drawing electoral boundaries and determining wards. We shall have a pattern such as might give the Tammany Hall bosses in old New York an inferiority complex. That is how cynical I have become.
The situation is ironic, since Stoke-on-Trent is the one local government area which set an example to the country as far back as 1910 with the voluntary federation of Arnold Bennett's old five or six towns—or however many there were. Now we are in the position of being reduced to a district council. As someone once said, we are in the position of losing almost everything but our lord mayoral chains. We take a very poor view of it.
We in Stoke-on-Trent are not at all depressed. Even if the Bill goes through without amendment, we believe that Stoke-on-Trent still has a great future.
266 It has its problems. Certainly it would have its problems if we had a Conservative majority in Staffordshire. It has its problems because obviously we live in an area which depends on industries that have not perhaps the rosiest of futures. We believe, however, that there is a certain economic logic which will ensure growth, and this so often is quite independent of what the planners and politicians would try to determine for us. We are favoured in being the centre of a developing national network of roads. We have considerable urban motorway development, and we have the most brilliant scheme in the whole country for the reclamation of derelict land. Despite our relative poverty, we are spending something like £1 million a year on trying to remove the ravages of capitalism in terms of mining tips, pottery marl holes and so on.
Apart from taking Seisdon away from the new county, will the Minister try to give us some greater powers than those envisaged in the Bill along the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend? With an urban population of well over a quarter of a million, we are entitled to rather more than the maintenance of minor roads. I hope that the Minister will not listen to the clamant voices of the counties which are now trying to take back the extra planning powers given to us in the Bill, as distinct from the White Paper.
It is inevitable that anyone from a city or town with a population such as that of Stoke-on-Trent can look upon the Bill with great equanimity. We hope that if the Minister is able to push through this Measure, despite the Common Market and other matters, we can persuade him to give us the necessary powers at any rate to have greater control of our local destinies.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I do not propose to argue in detail the general virtues or otherwise of this lengthy Bill. Suffice it to say that I am in support of many of the basic principles behind the reorganisation of local government for a number of reasons. I believe that the abolition of small councils, whether they be county boroughs, municipal boroughs or rural districts, must lead to an improvement at both 267 councillor and officer level of the calibre and quality of the people involved.
Size for its own sake has no merit, but in my practical experience I have found that, for example, rural district councillors and their officers are immeasurably out of touch with their constituents. I believe that it is for this reason that hon. Members so frequently have letters dealing with council matters which are not really within their province. Equally, I can see the merits in the philosophy of combining in the local government of an area the urban and rural elements. One hears criticisms from the countryside that there will be urban domination. Equally, it is true that country people have a right to a say in the urban centre to which they come for their shopping and other services.
Before coming to the detailed minor points which concern me about the Bill, perhaps I might say that it is vitally important that local authorities at both levels and in the metropolitan districts are seen to be new. If this is really reorganisation of local government, it must be as clean a sweep as possible. There must be new faces among the elected representatives, and I hope that it will be possible to advertise at least the jobs of all the senior officers.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I appreciate that there are Clauses in the Bill dealing with these matters, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will emphasise constantly the newness of these authorities.
I make no apology for raising an objection to the Bill, since the history of consultation between the Government and my part of Somerset has been extremely poor. In the first instance, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was courteous enough to see the four Somerset Members who are not members of the Government. As a result, my right hon. Friend received a submission in our joint names recommending a substantial amendment to the White Paper boundary between Somerset and Avon. Our proposals were based on the views of our local authorities, on our constituents' opinions and, overall, on our own 268 local knowledge. If the proposals were unacceptable, we requested further consultations. Unhappily, these did not take place until after the publication of the Bill.
In due course, my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development was dispatched to Somerset to take soundings and to go through the motions of consultation. Although I requested to see him in his official capacity, my application to do so was rejected. I resented this strongly. It cannot really be called consultation when a Minister refuses to see an hon. Member in his own constituency.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)
My hon. Friend will recollect that I spent the morning and lunch time with him before conferring with local authorities, and I spent a day in his constituency and a further day in Bath consulting the local authorities of that area.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I think that I specifically said "in his official capacity". I do not call it consultation when I was not able to take the Minister out into the countryside to show him the area covering the points which I am trying to make.
Now to the line itself. On top of many other wider objections, it was clear that the line in the White Paper had been most carelessly drawn. It actually divided a large holiday camp in my constituency, going right through the middle of the ballroom. The mind boggles at the elimination dances which could have taken place had that line been allowed to exist. I am told that the Minister stated at his conference in Bath that his officials had walked that line.
It was immediately clear that Frome should never have been included in Areas 26. I am grateful that this particular error has now been corrected.
It rapidly became clear that, with one exception, few people liked the proposals, and compromises were sought. The Somerset Members, whom I have mentioned, and the county council policy advisory committee were in substantial agreement about a line north of the Axbridge Rural District. Others made different proposals, but no one, to my 269 knowledge, actually recommended the line which has been finally chosen. It is unacceptable to most people in my constituency. It has been criticised by all councils which have had time to meet, including representatives of Weston-super-Mare in consultation with three of its neighbouring councils. I should add that 13 days between First and Second Readings scarcely leaves proper time for sounding of opinion in one's constituency, although a number of parish councils have met in emergency and indicated to me that they do not agree with the line which has been proposed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) has described the line as "a complete nonsense", and where the boundary careers off on to a mysterious contour line on the Mendips he is especially right. Splitting these villages in this way exhibits a complete lack of knowledge of the layout of these places, their farms, and traditions. Perhaps in his attempt to be a new Solomon my right hon. Friend forgot to stop be-for cutting the baby in half.
There are three choices which I believe should be carefully looked at before a final decision is made on the boundary.
The first is that the City of Bristol should have metropolitan status, or a modified metropolitan status, similar to that now given to the City of Cardiff. If Cardiff can have special treatment, I do not see why Bristol should not. From the predicted growth of that city, it is quite clear that it could easily carry the responsibility of a metropolitan authority, and it will have the necessary population within the next year or two. This would allow the Somerset boundary to be moved substantially further north. I believe that other hon. Members will press this view regarding other towns and cities. While I understand the Minister's reluctance to create an organisation similar to existing county boroughs, I hope that he will look at the possibility of some compromise for the larger cities and towns which do not naturally fit into his plans for metropolitan areas or counties.
Secondly, I am interested to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North has revived my original proposals for having no boundary between Somerset and Avon. The county thus created would have a population of 1,282,000 and a rateable value of £55 270 million. It would still, however, be in area only the seventh largest in England, and with the motorway running from north to south, communications would be easier than exist in the present County of Somerset. I accept, however, that this is a compromise, and I understood that it was totally unacceptable on the ground that neither Bristol nor Taunton wished it. I certainly have no evidence that my constituents favour such a compromise solution.
The proposal which I really wish to urge upon the Government is that the remainder of the Axbridge Rural District and Weston-super-Mare Borough should go into the new County of Somerset. This would substantially improve the population of Somerset by over 19 per cent. and increase its rateable value by more than 20 per cent., at the same time reducing the population of Avon by only 8 per cent. and its rateable value by only 7.6 per cent. I believe that this would receive overwhelming support from councillors and the people, with the possible exception of some members of the Weston Borough Council.
Axbridge Rural District is overwhelmingly in favour of staying an entity and remaining in Somerset. There is the particularly strong point that Axbridge and Weston could, and I believe should, become a second-tier authority. The borough, however, was slighted by the county council in 1934 and has always maintained a prickly relationship with the county administration at Taunton. This opportunity to get away seems too good to miss. I think that I can best sum up its attitude by saying that its reasons for wishing to get out of Somerset are of historical disaffection. The Minister might be interested to know, before listening too carefully to its opinions, that it does not see eye to eye with him on either the sale of council houses or the Bill which he introduced yesterday.
§ Mr. Wiggin
The borough believes that the new County of Avon may have a better rate structure than the present County of Somerset, but I can find no evidence to support that view.
The amount of influence that Weston will have in Avon will be substantially 271 less than that which it could have in Somerset, and a second-tier authority consisting of Weston and Axbridge would make the ideal size and assist in the completion of the jigsaw both in Somerset and in Avon. Since I am bound to be out of step with some of my constituents in this matter, I hope that the Minister will accept that I am offering dispassionate advice and that I am genuinely interested in what is best for my constituents and for the country as a whole.
The arguments for Weston and Axbridge becoming an entity in Somerset are weighty and have already been sent to the Secretary of State. I will not delay the House by reciting them. Suffice it to say that they cover education, police, fire, health, movement to work, the Severnside study, planning, local opinion and geographical considerations. Feelings have run very high in our area, as the Minister will know, but we have attempted to influence his thinking in a constitutional manner. I sincerely hope that he will be able to look again along the lines which I have suggested and, in particular, to give really firm reasons before suggesting that Axbridge and Weston should be excluded from the County of Somerset. I appreciate that if he were to give me that assurance in winding up, he might lay himself open to reopening arguments all over the country. It is for this reason only that I shall not oppose the Government tomorrow night. But the Minister can rest assured that pressure will remain to amend the Bill on this matter in due course, and I hope that he will do so voluntarily in the interests of good government.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
In compliance with Mr. Speaker's request and out of courtesy to so many hon. Members who wish to speak, my speech will be very brief. I hope that this commendable exercise in self-restraint will be an inspiration to others.
I want to speak about district councils. Since publication of the White Paper last May, it is true that some concessions have been made to district councils, but not many and they do not go very far. I want to draw attention to three criticisms 272 which district councils are making about the Bill. They concern highways, to which the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) has already referred, libraries and planning. There are some districts, or areas which will soon be districts, which have control of hundreds of miles of highways. Now they are going to be allowed to deal only with footpaths, private streets, side roads and bridleways.
Take the example of Thurrock. This urban district council has spent on roads in the last four years £ 5½ million. At the moment it has major road schemes which will cost £6½ million. In the last four years this urban district council has spent £20,000 on the lighting of roads. All this has been done very efficiently. It happens that the two Ministers responsible for roads and transport have seen for themselves how abnormally busy are the highways in this part of Essex. One of the Ministers, whom I am happy to see in his place busily taking notes, recently opened the big bypass at Stanford-le-Hope, and he saw that these roads are rather busier than most other roads in the United Kingdom.
All the problems of traffic, the maintenance of these roads, and the lighting of public footpaths are local problems which concern local people. Only local people have the required local knowledge to initiate and follow through local policies. I would remind the Secretary of State of these words which appear in his own White Paper: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 local traffic problems will not be taken locally, and, therefore, canont be seen to be taken locally, if they are going to remain in some far-off place like Chelmsford, where there is no knowledge or experience of traffic such as ours. We have an excellent technical and works organisation for our highways and traffic. Is this organisation going to be allowed merely to repair potholes or broken pavements, or perhaps clip the grass verges on the bridleways? Is that all it is going to be left to do—this highly efficient and experienced staff?
Now a word about libraries. Local libraries are built by local people with local money. They are administered by 273 local persons and are used almost exclusively by local people. Why, then, the Government should not consider libraries to be a local service is a mystery to me. Thurrock has just built a new central library costing £1 million. Included in the building are a museum and a theatre. The library service is to be transferred to the county, but the museum and the theatre are going to be administered by the district. So it will be in this strange position of having two authorities administering the same building—a situation which, it seems, comes straight out of "Alice in Wonderland".
I should now like to say a word about planning. I know that this is a very complicated subject, and I am still rather vague after hearing the Secretary of State's explanation today. I noticed that my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) seemed as much in the dark about it as I am, because he asked questions. What is certain to all of us is that much local autonomy will pass to the counties. For example, although it is the function of the district council, according to the Bill—and the Secretary of State considers this to be a great concession—to prepare local development plans, the county councils can still decide that these plans prepared at local level can be changed and re-planned at county level. Therefore, I think we should be very careful to ensure that local controls, whether over planning or anything else, which appear to have been given in this Bill are in reality given and are not illusory.
We should eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, the remoteness between the citizen and his local authority. We must make local government as local as possible. We must have less bureaucracy and more democracy.
The points that I have made may seem like constituency points, but they are more than that, because they concern, I think, every constituency in the country.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
Ministers will be well aware of Blackpool's desire that it should be part and parcel of a metropolitan area in Lancashire. Whatever disappointments there have been that that desire has not been acceded to, at least we can say that those responsible for that decision 274 took great care to come and consult us and give us a great deal of their time. For that we can be grateful.
It was a case which was put forward with force, largely motivated by my own constituency of Blackpool, well documented and, as I say, put forward with clarity and force. It drew a large amount of assent in the area, and I must also accept that at the same time it drew a certain amount of neighbourly dissent. Whatever the reasons for the decision, however, it has already been said in this debate that we are making the decision in this House for a lifetime.
I want to turn immediately to certain of Blackpool's special problems which arise from the nature of the town itself and its industry. They arise from the nature of the industry because Blackpool is the biggest tourist and amusement centre in the country. The very fact that we are the biggest tourist and amusement centre in the country raises both environmental and council expenditure problems which are, if not unique, certainly of overriding importance to the town itself. We also have the problem of a town of 150.000, which is considerable and which at certain times in the summer increases to a population of nearly half a million.
Therefore, I am going to concern myself with three areas of concern which have been canvassed in Blackpool over the last six or nine months since the Government's proposals came under consideration. The first I have already touched on—the lights and all that goes with them and, not just the lights themselves. Expenditure on the lights and amusements by the council is now of the order of £250,000. After the precept which will go to our new and first tier authority, the finding of that money will be a serious and continuing burden for the town. It is a burden which we shoulder and from which many outside our boundaries benefit. Thus I hope that when the Boundary Commission comes to consider what should be the correct boundaries for the lower tier authority in the future, the Commission will remember that that is a burden from which others benefit and which Blackpool hears.
There is another point concerning municipal expenditure, which may be covered by Clause 135, although I doubt it. Inevitably, a town running the kind of industry which we seek to run must 275 indulge in a great deal of municipal entertaining, not simply for political reasons, important though those may be, but in order to attract to the town the industrial exhibitions, conferences and so on, on which our prosperity so much depends. Will it be possible for the town to continue if it wishes—it may have to—to spend £40,000 a year or more on this activity?
Something which effects us particularly strongly is the question of traffic control and road policy generally. Blackpool and other holiday resorts—this may apply to other towns as well—seek to draw traffic in, whereas everyone else in our area, quite properly for environmental reasons, seeks to exclude traffic. I fear that if that pattern is to be decided by officials whose minds are directed to the exclusion of traffic, they may not understand our special problems and the fact that, over the four or five months of our season, it is essential that we attract traffic and give it proper parking places: it is no good if it simply drives through. We should also have a liberal policy on street parking and be prepared to accept the consequent inconveniences.
That is an entirely different view of traffic control and planning from the view taken in the rest of the area. Will we find that officials who approach it in one way everywhere else in Lancashire will accept and understand the flexibility which is needed for our town and district?
It goes further than that. At certain times it is necessary to ignore street parking, and traffic wardens and traffic control generally have to operate flexibly. Otherwise we would slide into bankruptcy. Obviously, the whole question of lighting and highway control is absolutely vital to the provision of our seven miles of lights.
One matter the importance of which is not immediately evident is the question of weights and measures and the control over restaurants and hygiene standards which is being taken from the local districts. This is of great importance in a town which makes its money by catering. Again, will people miles away look at these problems with a different eye or will they be able to approach our problems with flexibility and local knowledge?
Clause 100 of the Bill provides for arrangements to be made for second-tier 276 authorities to take over these functions. In the past, such powers have been one of the most fruitful fields for disputes among local authorities and I do not doubt that the present arrangements will be equally fruitful. I hope that the Ministers may accept that there should be some reserve power. Then, if the matter is not working and it becomes imperative for the second-tier authority to take these decisions, there could be an appeal to the Minister to make the delegation or the new arrangement effective.
I thoroughly agree with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) about libraries. He put it so splendidly that it does not need to be said again.
As one who served on a local authority for some time and was fortunate enough to work it in without its being a financial liability, I congratulate the Government on grasping the nettle of payment for councillors and I hope that they will be generous. We want the whole spectrum in local government. It should not be the preserve of the middle-class professional man who can organise his affairs or the retired who are merely filling in time. They will not bring to local government what we are hoping to get, particularly in the light of the fact that those who attend the county hall on the Fylde Coast, for example, would face a journey of 20 miles there and back—a whole day out of their work. Accepting that there will be payment, I urge the Government to make it generous.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. J. D. Dormand (Easington)
All hon. Members who have spoken so far have referred to constituency matters, which is quite proper in a debate on local government, but I want to deal with a principle which, although it affects my constituency, also affects the whole country. I refer to delegated functions.
One of the differences between the present Bill and that which the last Government would have introduced is the two-tier structure. I agree with that principle, as do many of my hon. Friends, and I have the satisfacton of the support in this of my constituency Labour Party. I support the principle because it brings certain important local government functions nearer to the man in the street, because it provides easier opportunity for him to complain or make representations and because it involves more people in 277 local government. The second-tier authorities must, by definition be smaller than the first-tier authorities, but there is no intrinsic merit in bigness.
I presume that the Government have adopted this principle for the reasons which I have given and perhaps for other reasons. Certainly, during the last 18 months we have heard plenty of this proposition from the Government. They have said, before, during and since the General Election, that men should be given responsibility for their own affairs and that there should be more local democracy and self-government and no pushing around from the big boys on high. Presumably that is why they have introduced the principle.
To their credit, they have spelled it out. I make no apology for repeating the quotation from paragraph 8 of the White Paper which my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) gave. Paragraph 8 says:Above all else"—note the words—genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken …. as locally as posible.The operative words there are "as locally as possible". The trouble with the present Government is that their actons belie their words, and I make no apology for mentioning again the classic example of the last 12 months in this respect.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science had not warmed her seat in Curzon Street before she issued Circular 10/70 on the grounds that she wished to reverse the former Labour Government's policy and allow local authorities freedom to decide whether they should reorganise on comprehensive lines. It would not be appropriate in this debate to say what a total failure that has been.
One could understand the logic of hon. Gentlemen opposite in saying "This is freedom for local authorities" by that action. But what happened when it was a question of primary school milk? Local authorities expected that in that case they would be given parallel freedom to pay for milk if they wished to do so, but they were not. That is a good example of the inconsistency of the present Government in the matter of the so-called freedom of local authorities.
278 My intervention in this debate is to demonstrate the Government's inconsistency once again in that they are decreasing the amount of local responsibility. I shall take as my example one of the most important spheres of local government, education, and in this context, because I do not wish to detain the House, I shall give only two brief quotations from the Bill relating to education.
Clause 185(2) states:No scheme of divisional administration shall be made under Part III of Schedule 1 to the Education Act 1944 and that Part of that Schedule shall cease to have effect.Subsection (3) of that Clause says:Section 52 of the Local Government Act 1958 shall cease to have effect on the passing of this Act.What is all that about? These provisions mean that 130 divisional executives and 39 excepted districts will be abolished, in the words of the Prime Minister, at a stroke.
Divisional executives and excepted districts are the grass roots in the control of education, and they are a most effective means of carrying out delegated functions. My authority, Easington Rural District Council, has carried out delegated functions not only in education but in health, welfare and planning. It has done this effectively for a number of years. In view of the proposal in the Bill, it is legitimate to ask why the Government are opting for this different structure.
I am reminded that it was a coalition Government who were in power at the time of the passing of the Education Act, 1944. The First Schedule to which the Act refers, Part III, says:For the purpose of securing that the functions of local education authorities will be exercised with due regard to the circumstances affecting different parts of their areas, and with the co-operation of persons having special knowledge of such circumstances, provision shall be made by schemes for partitioning the areas of authorities into such divisions as may be conducive to efficient and convenient administration.Surely that could have been written by the present Government Front Bench. Are not those the criteria which hon. Gentleman opposite are constantly putting to the House? Have those conditions not proved satisfactory? What is the evidence of the lack of success, if any?
279 I have read carefully all the documents, including the White Paper, concerned with this matter. It is clear that the simple answer is that there is no justification of any sort for this action. I listened carefully to the Secretary of State's remarks. I listened with the same attention to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin), and not a word was said about it. Paragraph 17 of the White Paper simply tells us what the Government are doing, but they supply no justification for their action.
There must have been some success with these delegated functions because in 1958, 14 years after the original Act which instituted them, the Local Government Act, 1958, extended the scope of excepted districts. From 1958 the only qualification a local authority needed to become an excepted district was to have a population of 60,000. On that basis, I believe correctly, it was considered big enough to exercise delegated functions in education.
In my view these bodies—the divisional executives and excepted districts—epitomise everything which the Government say they are trying to achieve. They have created a personal touch, an intimacy, a mutual confidence between local authority and staff which cannot be achieved by the local education authority because of its size. This is not a criticism of the local education authority. Indeed, divisional executives and excepted districts are agents of the local education authority. They work under its regulations and use its money. Excepted districts have no power to raise a rate for this purpose. However, they provide the local touch for the local education authority so that, for example, an aggrieved parent can pop into the local education office or see a local committee member.
As I understand the Bill, all delegated functions in local government will be swept away, and this by a Government who purport to say that decisions should be taken, according to their White Paper, "as locally as possible".
It is often said that one of the arguments against this sort of body and its functioning is the fact that its staff are not of the right quality. As a former 280 officer of an excepted district, I shall be expected by hon. Members strongly to dispute that assertion. On the whole, the officers of such authorities fall into two categories. There are those who prefer to work with the smaller authority. There are plenty of these in local government. I am sure that if the Secretary of State for Education and Science were here she would pay tribute to the calibre of, for example, Dr. L. W. F. White, one of the best administrators in education, and there are many like him in the service.
Then there are those who might be said to be on their way up in local government. They desire to undertake administrative work in a bigger service. They, as it were, pass through the middle tier on their way to the higher echelons. For these reasons the administration at this level has been excellent.
I have attended many local government conferences in my time, but I have found none more effective than those of the National Association of Divisional Executives for Education. Its members are in touch with the day-to-day problems of education, and I could say the same about the members of the various committees and officers who are concerned with other delegated functions in local government. Perhaps the proof of the pudding lies in the fact that this national association has frequently been, and still is, consulted by the Department of Education and Science.
I do not wish to be misunderstood in this matter. I am not making a plea for the delegation of the whole of a service. That would be nonsense, for the reasons given by the Secretary of State. However, in some services such as education and health there is an overwhelming case for the day-to-day functions to be run at district level.
In the Bill the Government are once again showing how different are their actions from their words. I hope they will think again on the points I have put to them today.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)
This Bill is like the curate's egg—only good in parts. In its good parts, I welcome the institution of metropolitan counties, which is a much-needed reform in the densely built up areas. I regret in 281 other respects that the Bill does not reform but merely tinkers with the present system. I regret that my right hon. Friend, despite all the representations which have been made since the White Paper, has made so few changes.
I do not want to repeat the arguments used in the White Paper debate, but I want to say how deeply we in Southampton and Portsmouth deplore the decision neither to divide Hampshire into two counties nor to make it a metropolitan area. We think that we are right in our submission and that the rapid increase in the population of Hampshire, expected to be 50 per cent. up by the end of the century, will inevitably mean changes in the present proposals long before then. I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend is making provision for the Boundary Commission to be able to recommend changes in the size, composition and status of counties in the future.
Apart from the question of whether a one-tier or two-tier organisation is preferable—unlike the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand), I still think that single-tier, all-purpose authorities are the best—the main difference of opinion is over the division of functions and powers not only between counties and districts but between county districts and metropolitan districts. Hampshire County Council has made its recommendations for its county districts, but no one knows whether those proposals will be accepted. They show that districts vary considerably in size—from the Christchurch, Ringwood, Fording-bridge district, for example, with 63,000 population, to Southampton with 227,000 population, nearly four times as big. Yet the powers and functions they are to have under the Bill are to be the same. This is illogical, not only on the ground of population but on the ground of geographical size. Geographical size gives rise to many different problems. In a scattered rural area it may be easier to get to the county centre than to a local centre, whereas in towns it is far easier to get to the town hall.
I ask my right hon. Friend to make provision in the Bill for changes to be possible, following representations by the newly elected district councils—probably to be decided upon by the Secretary of State or by the Boundary Commission—in functions as between district councils 282 and the counties. This would remove the apprehensions of many people. I know that it may be said that it is administratively convenient to keep these things as they are, but that is not really a valid argument. It is vital that large towns like Portsmouth and Southampton, which are at present all-purpose authorities, should have their needs met.
I appreciate that power is to be given to counties to delegate, but there is no power for districts to demand delegation and no provision for arbitration in such cases. I hope that the Secretary of State will make such provision. The principal weakness of the present allocation is in the personal services—education and the social services—where local contact is the most important of all. These are to go to the counties, but they will not go to the county districts although they are to go to the metropolitan districts. Why not to all districts, or why not a differentiation on size so that the larger districts, made up probably from the existing county boroughs, can be treated exactly the same as metropolitan districts in this respect? This can only be done by some flexible system of allocation of functions and duties, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this matter very seriously.
The question of the position of aldermen has been raised. As an alderman myself, I suppose that I should object to the proposal about them. On the other hand, having seen in recent years the way in which the position of aldermen has been abused for party ends, I think there is no doubt that, unless some satisfactory alternative method of election can be devised, they must go. It is a pity that they should go. On the other hand, I think that the present abuse of the system is indefensible. But I should like my right hon. Friend to tell us why he is excluding London from this provision. What is good for London must surely be good for the country and vice versa.
I am rather surprised that the possibility of abuse is still being retained in the case of chairmen. I understand that they will still be able to be selected or elected either from members of the council or from people qualified to be members of the council. It seems to me that an unscrupulous party could still elect a 283 chairman from outside the council and thus gain one extra vote and a casting vote as well. If aldermen are to be abolished for this very reason, then the loophole in the case of chairmen should be closed also.
Like others, I am pleased to see that local planning is to be in the hands of district councils. This is a welcome change, for which I thank my right hon. Friend. But he should introduce a safeguard, which is needed, to enable districts to appeal to the Minister if they are not satisfied with the structure of development plans which might vitally affect them. As far as I understand it, at present it is proposed that the counties will decide this and that the districts will have no right of appeal.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
If a local plan, prepared by a district, and the structural plan do not agree, it will be a matter of arbitration by the Minister.
§ Mr. Pink
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that statement.
My right hon. Friend referred to the election dates in 1973—for the counties in the spring and for the districts in the autumn. He gave good administrative reasons. But he should gice consideration to the hardship which will arise for staff in this context. The counties will be elected first and they will fill their posts first. The district officials will not know then what terms the districts are going to offer. How can they put in for county jobs not knowing what prospects the districts may offer? It will be putting them in considerable difficulty and could cause hardship. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to make some provision to overcome this problem.
I have one further appeal. It concerns commissions of the peace. These are to be related to the local government areas. I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider and relate them to the Crown court areas, which seems much more logical. Crown courts are located where they are needed, and the commissions of the peace need to be closely related to them because of the other courts which have to be provided for. I do not think it should prove difficult to relate the commissions of the peace to the areas of the Crown courts.
284 The Bill is good in parts. I am disappointed that the case for south Hampshire is not being met. I am sure that the Bill will not generate much enthusiasm amongst the public but that it will generate a great deal of ill-will amongst the thousands of public-spirited councillors, and that local government will lose many good men and women it can ill afford to lose. The word "reform" in the Bill is a misnomer. The Bill is merely tinkering with the present system. Real reform will have to come very soon, despite all the assurances that we have received.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
The House is debating what I believe to be fundamentally a bad Bill, and I am glad that my hon. Friends are to divide the House tomorrow evening to show our feeling that this is in concept a bad Bill. By rejecting the unitary concept embraced within the Maud Report, the Government have given up the opportunity of a radical reform.
The Secretary of State makes much of the fact that, in his view, there is a broad consensus in favour of the Bill. One must ask whether he travels the country. Certainly he needs to come to the South-West of England and not rely on his hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) to relate the true feeling in some parts of the West Country about these proposals, for there is no doubt that the City of Plymouth deeply resents them. Speaking as a Plymothian, I never thought that I should live to see the day when a city of more than 250,000 and with a proud history would be told it was to be ruled from Exeter, a city of only some 90,000 and some 42 miles away.
It is significant that, after the new proposals for Humberside, Plymouth is the one major area about which there is considerable national opinion and that the proposals are an administrative nonsense. I have not yet heard one argument why the Government have rejected the proposals for a Tamarside authority. It is simply no good talking about the broad aspects of the Bill without filling in some of the detail and without mentioning some of the boundary decisions about which there has been intense criticism, and not just from local inhabitants.
285 I accept that the citizens of Plymouth are bound to criticise these proposals and are bound to feel hurt, but what is significant is the extent of the criticism of the proposals for Plymouth by many authorities well outside its boundaries, viewing it from a national background. I shall not go over the arguments, for they are well known, but one must question having accepted what can be termed the "estuarial principle"—that when there is a river estuary, one may cross the estuary and take in the normal catchment area, as has been done with Humberside—why the same cannot be applied to Plymouth.
Why has the Tamar to continue to make this totally unrealistic boundary division? Why cannot Saltash and Torpoint, which are, in effect, now part of Plymouth and many of whose families have been Plymothians and whose history has been increasingly linked with that of Plymouth, now join formally with Plymouth? Ever since the building of the Saltash bridge it has been particularly emphasised—it was always strong, but it has become now beyond question—that it is part of the city. These two areas have, in any reasonable sense of the term, always been part of the Plymouth area.
I strongly object to the proposals, and I do not believe that they will make for sound local government. I speak with some feeling on this subject. I am one of the very few hon. Members present with experience of a councillor who presently has to travel these distances. My mother is an alderman for the County of Devon and now lives within the present boundaries of Plymouth. She has to travel these distances nightly to go to committees and so on. I cannot believe that young and able people who are still working and active will be able to take part in local government if they have to travel distances such as these. It is high time that the Secretary of State looked at this matter again.
The right hon. Gentleman has listened too much to the hon. Member for Tavistock, whom we are glad to see in his place. The hon. Member came to the West Country and we were glad that he became a Member of Parliament, although for a different party, and we extended the friendship of the West Country to him. 286 We hear that in all probability he is to leave the area. We are sorry that he is to go, but we are particularly sorry that he is leaving as one of his main hallmarks this tragic decision on local government.
Labour councillors in Plymouth have tried as far as possible to make a bipartisan policy and to put the future of the city before party politics, to try to present a united front to the House and the country. In Committee the Opposition will formally move an Amendment proposing Tamarside. We have now reached the stage when the issue has become party political. We shall be grateful for any support which we may get from the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) or any other hon. Member on the Committee, but in Committee we shall try, as a political party, to change the Bill.
We must ask why it is that the Government have rejected the Tamarside proposal. The answer is political. It is because they wish to retain five constituencies in Cornwall. There is no local government argument, no administrative argument, against the proposal. What the Government are doing is naked political opportunism and refusing to face the problem in Cornwall.
One of the major objections used by the Secretary of State in conversation has been, as I understand it, that he felt unable to make these changes against public opinion in the added areas. It is a fact, which has to be faced, that the areas which would be taken into the new Tamarside authority do not wish to go, and it is time that the Tory-controlled city council began to ask itself why. It is time that the Plymouth Tories were reminded of the fact that they stand out like a sore thumb as one of the most reactionary local authorities in the West Country. On comprehensive education, on the social services, on health and welfare, their record is not such as to make people want to go into this new local authority.
It has not been said before because many of us have wanted to make the best possible case for Plymouth, but it is within the ability of the Tory councillors to change these policies and make Plymouth more attractive to the citizens 287 of Torpoint, Saltash, Okehampton, Tavistock, Ivybridge and the surrounding area. The Tories should look at some of their home domestic policies. When they ask Labour councillors for support for their proposals for Tamarside, they must look at some of their own proposals.
The latest to come forward is a proposal for four districts for the new county of Devon. We cannot continue a bipartisan policy on this, and the Labour group has made it clear that it could not support such a proposal. The Tory group is proposing a new district for Plymouth of 315,000 people, and yet in the Tamarside top-tier authority there would be only 346,000 people. It makes a nonsense of local democracy to have such a very large district in the Devon area, and one must ask why the Tories are making the proposal, and again the answer is purely political. The zeal solution must be that the city will need to support the proposals of Devon County for 10 districts for the county with the county borough of Plymouth staying within its existing boundaries.
This whole proposal has its grave imperfections. It is difficult to operate because of the population, but if these local government changes are to be made, we shall have to work within that framework. In Devon we must accept that it is sometimes difficult to keep to the 40,000 population figure because of the large area covered, but the Tory controlled council in Plymouth is asking for bipartisan support in its fight against the Secretary of State's proposals. It is time that it looked to some of its own policies and showed a little more enlightenment. I do not ask it to change its overall philosophy, but at least it should be more in line with the local authorities on either side, Cornwall and Devon. If it does change, it will command more support in the region.
So many hon. Members wish to speak that I shall go no further. The proposals of the Government will not stand up to the passage of time. We all want devolution of power from Westminster and we want that devolution to be evidenced by true democracy. I accept that democratic institutions often lead to a degree of inefficiency. It was G. D. H. Cole who said that "the price of democracy was a little inefficiency". In this 288 Bill I see no real democracy but plenty of inefficiency, and the proposals for the West Country and the City of Plymouth offer a bleak outlook. We shall try to work within this pattern of local government, but the pattern is wrong.
The Labour Party will oppose the Bill, and in Committee we shall fight for a Tamarside authority, and we shall pin the responsibility for this appalling legislation where it lies—with the Tory Party and the Tory Government.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
The people of Great Yarmouth have survived 700 years of East Coast buffetings since they were granted their Charter by King John. They will not, therefore, be overwhelmed by the political storm that has hit them by now losing their county borough status. But they are disappointed.
In view of the short time available for speeches, I shall endeavour to make mine even shorter than the very short one of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). I had best do so by asking my hon. Friend, the Minister for Local Government and Development, who has been so assiduous in his attendance at this debate—he has not been out for one moment—if he will bear with me while I quote from a letter from the Norfolk County Council. I wish to quote three extracts from the letter, dated 12th November, 1971.
Referring to the new county boundary with Suffolk, it states:We regret that the Government have seen fit to reject the boundary proposed by the White Paper, which would have included North-East Suffolk with Norfolk".Later it states:Most surprisingly of all, it ignores the conclusion reached by East Suffolk County Council that the nine most northerly parishes of East Suffolk lying south of Great Yarmouth (Bradwell, Belton, Ashby, Burgh Castle, Fritton, Herringfleet, Hopton, Lound and Somerleyton)"—little villages which have sprung up from Yarmouth and attached themselves to Yarmouth, as a limpet to the bottom of a boat—ought to form part of the new Norfolk because of their close affinity with Great Yarmouth, the need to provide land for Yarmouth's expansion or the need to include Road A.143 within the boundary of one highway authority. The County Council are consulting the councils of Beccles, Bungay and 289 Wainford as to the action they may be proposing to take to try to secure that the whole of the Waveney Valley is brought within Norfolk.Although modern bargaining consists of asking for a lot, hoping to get a little, I think my hon. Friend is such an honest man that if I ask for only a little—I am supremely confident—I shall get the lot.
The letter further states:As regards the nine parishes south of Great Yarmouth, the County Council are sure that Great Yarmouth Council will feel as strongly as Norfolk do that, at the least, these parishes should, by amendment of the Bill, be brought into the new county of Norfolk from the outset.This northern enclave, it will be gathered from the history of the matter as contained in the White Paper, was to be included in Norfolk, but parts of Suffolk, notably Lowestoft, did not want to come into the picture. I imagine that certain people looked at this and said that the boundary should be left where it was. That is natural enough. They forgot, however, those terribly important extensions of Yarmouth, those nine villages I have mentioned. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give this to us simply on those grounds.
Had there been any feeling on the part of either East Suffolk County Council or Norfolk County Council I would not have expected my hon. Friend the Minister to have been able to give way, to have been able to face a battle with Norfolk County Council, a senior authority in the new set-up, or with the East Suffolk County Council, also a senior authority. As they are both agreed on it, I feel certain that what I am asking for, and what Great Yarmouth is asking for, is the most reasonable thing so far asked of my hon. Friend this afternoon. I hope I shall hear from my benevolent hon. Friend that he will accede to this request.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
In a Bill constructed as this one is hon. Members from Wales can hardly be expected to follow the contributions of English colleagues. There is general agreement on both sides of the House that there should be a reorganisation of local government in England and Wales. There is also a considerable recognition of this outside the House, both among those serving in local government and among 290 those representing other interests in the community.
This, then, should have been the position of strength from which the Government approached this agreed task. But this Government, true to form, have once again, by their insensitive attitude in this matter, as they have done on every occasion, invoked the hostility of almost every group of people except their own back benchers. Frankly, I see those back benchers as being led over the diminishing ground towards the cliff edge of disaster.
My use of the time available to me in this debate will concern itself with Wales, and the reform proposed for us in our country. At once, the insensitivity of the Government is seen when one considers that the Bill is one for England and Wales. Wales is treated with contempt by the Government when it is seen that detailed consideration of the consequences of the Bill for Welsh local government will not be given by all 36 Members elected to this House by the people of Wales but by a tiny minority of their number whose views and opinions on how local government reorganisation should be effected in Wales will be diluted by the opinions justifiably put forward by English Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Wales and the hon. Gentleman the Minister of State for Wales—men who, we have seen, do not seem to understand the needs or aspirations of local government in Wales.
The next act of insensitivity of which this Government are guilty in regard to Wales concerns the position of the county of Glamorgan, which has, over the years, been administered in a manner which cannot be bettered in any part of the United Kingdom. When the right hon. Gentleman produced his White Paper, which surely was the indication to everyone in Wales that Wales should be treated as Scotland in respect of local government reorganisation—that is, in a separate Bill from England—he was accused of gerrymandering. Some used this accusation in all seriousness, because they saw his proposals as being dictated to him by the Conservative Party in Wales. Others were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt when he protested his innocence of this charge. Now we have seen the Bill, and we know 291 that the charge is sustained. The proposal to set up a county council of South Glamorgan is seen to vindicate those who made the charge, and to mock the protestations of innocence made by the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman now tries to suggest to the people of Wales that it is right and proper that there should be one Bill covering England and Wales, but with our experience of him on the question of political gerrymandering, he will not be surprised to find that that will not meet with general approbation among the Welsh.
We know that the real reason why we cannot have a separate Bill for Wales is the defeat that the right hon. Gentleman and his party sustained in the Welsh Grand Committee when that Committee debated the White Paper towards the end of last Session and when Labour, Liberal and Independent Members of this House voted solidly against the proposals in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman and his Government know that if they allow the elected representatives of the people of Wales to deal with the Welsh Bill it will be passed only with considerable alterations.
The voices raised in protest at the mutilation of the great administrative county of Glamorgan are many, for though it might be said that the original proposal of the Secretary of State for two county councils in Glamorgan was largely acceptable, the proposition in the Bill that there should be three such councils received only tiny support, that being expressed out of the mouths of members of the Conservative Party in Cardiff. Conservatives elsewhere, although they do not exist in significant numbers in these places, join in the condemnation of what is being done by their Government. They know, as we do, that the Government's proposals condemn those who live in the proposed mid-Glamorgan county area to living in an area whose financial resources do not match up to the resources of the administration under which they at present reside.
It will mean that the social problems which press down upon them as a result of their history will not be resolved, because 292 the financial resources will simply not be available to meet them. It is no use the Government saying that financial aid will be brought to them to meet these problems. We all know that as soon as a financial crisis hits the country in the shape of a payments crisis—and under this Government it will not be long before we get into that position—the first victims of the "stop" measures are the local authorities. There is, therefore, not much confidence in promises on that score.
In his haste to appease the taste for political blood among his Conservative friends in Cardiff the Secretary of State has been prepared to put aside the needs of a vast population in Glamorgan, needs concerning planning, education and highway requirements, for which county councils are responsible. The right hon. Gentleman has only himself to blame for the fact that his Measure will be resisted by every possible means in Committee and on Report when matters affecting Wales are in issue.
I return now to a constituency point to which I referred in the Welsh Grand Committee and about which the Minister of State kindly wrote to me. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that neither my constituents who are affected by this proposal nor myself can accept his point of view. We regard it as a matter of importance, and for that reason I am obliged to state it again in the House and to give notice that I shall seek to table an Amendment in Committee when it meets to give detailed consideration to the Bill.
Just as in other instances it can be held that what is proposed in the Bill is untidy and disregards the social life and habits of our people, so too can this be said of the proposal to transfer the whole of the present parish of Rhigos from the Neath rural district area which will comprise parts of No. 3 district of West Glamorgan into the No. 3 district of Mid-Glamorgan.
I recognise, as does the Neath Rural District Council, that for many years the position over this parish has not been satisfactory. Consideration has been given on a number of occasions to finding a solution, but none has been found. It seems to be extremely foolish if at this time when Parliament is making a change in local government which it is hoped will stand after our time, we should 293 make the mistake of perpetuating a situation which has caused difficulty for so long in the past.
While it is recognised that the place for that part of Hirwaun which at present is with the parish of Rhigos should be with Aberdare, with which it enjoys a cultural, social and administrative affinity, this cannot be said of the villages of Rhigos and of Pont Walby, which adhere to Glynneath and which comprise the remainder of the parish of Rhigos, since both Rhigos and Pont Walby have their cultural, social and administrative affinity with Neath. The people here go to Neath to shop, they go there when in need of support from the social services and when they need hospital treatment. These people are Neath people, not Aberdare people, and they are saying this in a petition which they are raising against their inclusion in Mid-Glamorgan.
I think I know the real reason why my representations on this point were previously rejected. I believe it rests with the decision to establish South Glamorgan. As I have said, Mid-Glamorgan will be an impoverished county council as a result of the substantial part of the rateable value which would have been available to the formerly-proposed East Glamorgan County Council being given to South Glamorgan. It therefore becomes necessary to give some compensation to Mid-Glamorgan and it is here that the parish of Rhigos provides that compensation. [Interruption.] Included within the parish is the Hirwaun Industrial Estate. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Michael Roberts) does not know that. This is an important source of rateable value.
If the right hon. Gentleman would look again and draw his boundary between West Glamorgan and Mid-Glamorgan at a point west of the industrial estate but east of the village of Rhigos he would be able to satisfy my constituents, whom he now displeases greatly. At the same time he would be able to give his sop of compensation to Mid-Glamorgan, which he must give following his butchery of the administrative county of Glamorgan.
Like most hon. Members, I believe in the necessity of reorganising local government in the United Kingdom and in Wales in particular. This must be done to provide a more adequate vehicle for local expression. I do not believe that this Bill, 294 especially as it applies to Wales, will achieve this. It has been drawn up not on the grounds of what is publicly beneficial but on the grounds of what is politically advantageous to the party opposite. Because of this it will not work, and I hope that when we come into office we shall scrap this proposal for reorganisation before its ill-effects have had an opportunity to damage the good working of local government, especially in Wales.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) will forgive me if I do not follow him into Wales but instead bring the debate back to this country. I have very little knowledge of Welsh affairs. Unlike the hon. Member, I welcome this Bill because reform in local government is long overdue. The Government proposals are on the right lines and will improve efficiency and remedy many of the present defects.
I do not want to make many constituency points. I am glad that the county of Wiltshire remains intact, this is very welcome in my own constituency. I am confident that there will be no difficulty in settling the boundaries of various districts with the minimum of argument and bitterness. There is perhaps one constituency point. I am worried about the position of the small boroughs, particularly boroughs like Chippenham, Caine and Malmesbury. I have in the last few days received representations from them. Under Clause 1 all boroughs will cease to exist on 1st April, 1974. I ask the Minister to allow small boroughs such as the ones I have mentioned to have a new council, either with effect from the appointed day or as soon as possible afterwards. I do not think that these small boroughs will be content to be mere parish councils. The Association for Neighbourhood Councils put forward the idea of community councils, and I ask the Minister to consider it carefully and perhaps comment on it at the end of the debate.
This is a real problem, and I do not think that I can deal with it better than by reading two or three sentences from a letter which the town clerk of Calne wrote to me and which I received today. He stated:Under the provisions of the Bill we would have the anomaly of the parish of Calne 295 Without and the parish of Corsham, for instance, existing as of right as parish councils having statutory functions and being able as a statutory body to make representations to the new district council, whereas in Calne there would be no such means of representation or action".This is a real problem, and small boroughs are worried about it.
I wish to speak about planning functions. I realise that in a sense this is a Committee point, but it is fundamental. The County Councils Association feels very deeply about it. It believes that the Minister has gone wrong, and I support its view. The Minister said that he had changed his mind since the White Paper was published. I do not complain about that—we are all entitled to change our mind—but I consider that his first thoughts were better. My right hon. Friend touched on this matter briefly in his speech, but he has not convinced me, and I hope that even now I can persuade him to think again.
Before 1947 planning was the responsibility of numerous borough and district councils. To overcome this defect, the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, reduced the number of planning authorities to about 140. When the Royal Commission on Local Government looked into the matter a few years ago it thought that 140 was too many.
In paragraph 11 of their White Paper the Government wrote:Land-use planning and transportation will increasingly be dependent upon the framework of a regional strategy, but the units responsible for these functions localy must be adequate in size and in resources to operate with a sensible external independence and internal cohesion.It was for that reason that the Government, in their White Paper, decided that while it was right that district councils should take a larger number of planning control decisions, they should do so only on the basis of the professional advice of officers who were part of a unified staff structure.
The only other quotation which I wish to make comes from paragraph 21 of the White Paper. I make this quotation because the Government have changed their view in the last few days. They wrote:The district councils should, as of right, take by far the greater number of planning control decisions, provided"—296 and I emphasise these words—that the professional advice comes from officers who are part of a unified staff structure, serving both counties and districts, so that local needs are reflected in the detailed implementation of development plans. Responsibility for broad planning policies and for the development of both structure and local plans must, however, rest with the county councils.That was the Government's view in the White Paper published as recently as February this year.
It is odd that the Government should propose that district councils should not only take development control decisions on the basis of advice from their own professional staff but frame local plans on the same advice. This is putting the clock not forward but back. I feel strongly that district councils should be allowed to play a full part in the determination of matters which vitally affect them. Many hon. Members have received letters from district councils making this point, and their views have been put forward in the debate.
I appreciate that a unified staff structure in planning would produce certain problems, but without such a structure in planning, the Government's proposals will raise insuperable planning difficulties. The county councils feel very strongly about this matter, and I ask the Minister to consider and to reply to five points which I wish to put to him.
First, there is a very large number of plan-making authorities. The Government propose to increase the number to about 420. This figure should be compared with the present number of about 140 and the number in the White Paper of only 50. The Government propose to increase the number of planning authorities at a time when there is general support in the country, if not in the House, for having fewer and larger planning units, The Government propose to take a step in the wrong direction.
Secondly, there is the point which the County Councils Association describes as "diffusion of skills". Effective planning depends on moulding a wide range of professional skills into a team for the purpose of producing development plans and the implementation of those plans. The proposals in the Bill will cause the break-up of existing teams and the redeployment of planners in penny packets throughout the country. In addition, many new district planning authorities 297 will be small and unable to employ specialist planners or to provide a realistic career structure for them.
Thirdly, there is a general shortage of planning staff, and it is likely to last for a number of years. It will be extremely difficult to provide adequate staff for the proposed 420 district planning authorities.
Fourthly, there is the problem which will follow the separation of local planning from transportation. Surely highway and transportation policies are principal aspects of structure plans. Under the Bill, these are to be county responsibilities. Highway and transportation matters go to the heart of local plans, and they will be among the most important factors which control development decisions. It is therefore totally illogical to give local plan-making to district authorities which do not have overall planning responsibility for highways and transportation.
Fifthly, I refer to the need for common survey and research. Structure and local plans need to be interdependent. They need to be based on a common survey against a background of common research. The Bill's proposals will cause much unnecessary duplication and different views, leading to argument, friction and delay.
My right hon. Friend was asked earlier what would happen if the county councils and district councils could not agree. He said that there would be an inquiry and he would give an answer. That will cause an unnecessary amount of duplication and trouble.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great benefits of the Bill is that it will reduce fragmentation of local government and will allow the central Government to devolve more powers to local authorities, but when it comes to planning the fragmentation is being increased? In time the Secretary of State will undoubtedly have to take back many more powers, because he will be the court of appeal.
§ Mr. Awdry
I agree with my hon. Friend. Local people should have control over local decisions, and I support the Bill to the extent that it moves in that direction. But on planning matters it goes precisely in the opposite direction.
298 It is proposed that there should be more rather than fewer planning authorities, and this will cause confusion and duplication and bitterness between local authorities and from time to time the Minister will have to step in and sort out the problem. This is bad local government.
For all these reasons, I ask the Government to think again. As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend's first ideas were a good deal better than his second.
§ Mr. Speaker
I often comment about the length of speeches. We have had 11 back-bench speeches averaging 11 minutes. I am most grateful to hon. Members for their co-operation.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wallace (Norwich, North)
I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms at the Government's decision to send this large Bill to a Standing Committee. It may be a large Standing Committee but it will be very difficult for hon. Members to make constructive suggestions and discuss all the important points which will arise. This course might be politically expedient for the Government, and I can understand their difficulties concerning Common Market legislation and so on, but I shall not be expected to sympathise with them.
The sending of the Bill to a Standing Committee is not good for local democracy. There are many points about which local people, whether members of councils or of local associations, will want to make representations, but their own elected Members of Parliament will be unable to make them on their behalf. We keep saying, and it is true, that it is very important to bear in mind that local government touches the local citizens most intimately, directly and in their lives and the lives of their families in their towns and cities. I would say also that the Report stage is not in itself an adequate alternative opportunity to hon. Members to make points, and certainly not for those hon. Members who are unable to make points in Committee.
Therefore, without any question of party prejudice or anything like that but in the interests of local government, in the interests of local democracy and in the interests of the House, I appeal to the Leader of the House to reconsider this decision and that if it is impossible 299 to commit the whole Bill to a Committee of the whole House, at least we may expect that major parts of it will be considered in Committee in this Chamber. This is a cumbersome and complicated Bill, as it inevitably would have been whichever party in power produced it and no matter how excellent the Government's draftsmen. It was inevitable that this would be the case.
I have said before that I do not favour large all-purpose authorities. They add to remote control. They detract from local control and local interest and they increase the threat of local bureaucracy. Therefore, I cannot wholeheartedly agree with the changes proposed in this legislation or, to be frank, those in the Maud Report.
There is one point I want particularly to make about some of our ancient boroughs with great traditions. It is adding insult to injury that ancient boroughs with great traditions and achievements should be forced to go cap in hand asking for their charters to be regranted. In this House we are very jealous of the ancient rights and privileges of the City of London. They are carefully preserved and include the privilege of coming to the Bar of the House. But the City of Norwich, equal to the City of London in traditions but with greater social achievements to its credit, is having its powers reduced and is being forced to reapply for its Charter. This both the City of Norwich and I consider a downright insult, and we ask the Government to have a rethink of the situation of some of our ancient cities and boroughs.
I welcome the change of heart by the Government in granting planning powers to district councils, but what I cannot understand is why they have not included powers over road improvements, lighting and the control of traffic and parking. Another hon. Member touched on this a few moments ago. Traffic management is an important and vital part of environmental control and certainly of planning functions, and powers over improvement and traffic management should be given to district councils, at the very least for those roads for which they are now given authority and responsibility for maintenance. However, I think we should go further.
300 Another point is consumer protection, a subject on which we have already had some interesting debates in the House, but this is consumer protection from the local authority angle. Under the Bill, consumer protection seems to be split in a ridiculous fashion over two types of authority, at least in England, though certainly not in Wales. Why should this priority and preference be given to Wales? In England the duties are split. Consumer protection is very much a matter of local concern and one on which local knowledge is very important. Why are the composition and description of food and drugs made the responsibility of one authority, and enforcement of food safety and hygiene the responsibility of another? I can envisage two officials involved in one instance in a city or town, one official from a major county authority and one from the district council. There is an absurd duplication of effort and an absurd duplication of officials.
Those are the two points which I really wished to emphasise in this debate. I admit that some degree of reform in local government is necessary—I do not challenge that at all—but changes and amalgamations will provide headaches and one of the major problems and headaches will be that of accommodation for central administration. Let me quote one example. Some years ago the House voted for a change in local government in London. I live in the London Borough of Bexley—but not, let me add, in the constituency of Bexley. In the London Borough of Bexley there is no main centre of administration. Major departments are scattered over a wide area of the new borough, thus adding to the expense of administration, causing a waste of time of officials, a waste of use of cars and petrol and extreme confusion and expense to the ratepayers and citizens who foot the bill.
Centres for some of the newly created authorities will be necessary; they must have centres of administration. I warn the Government that this will be a very costly business, and I wonder whether they have given any thought to this vital and important matter. We can have all the most wonderful schemes for local government reform under the sun, but unless the administration is concentrated and accessible to the people we shall not 301 get the success we hope for. Accessibility is important to the citizen, as it is to the authorities.
Let me say from some small degree of experience in serving in local government, a field in which all hopeful aspirants to membership of this House should serve, that the most successful local authorities are those most readily accessible to their citizens. In my view, the main danger of this change is that the remote control of Whitehall will be followed by remote control in local government, leading to widespread apathy which, in turn, constitutes a danger to democracy. This is a measure of the responsibility which the newly created councils will bear. They, like us, will represent people. They, like us, must never forget this primary duty.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Fidler (Bury and Radcliffe)
I give a general welcome to this Bill. I think the Secretary of State and his fellow Ministers are to be congratulated on grasping the nettle very firmly. They have brought more order out of chaos than the proposals in the Maud Report would have suggested.
I have some general questions to which I hope my right hon. Friend will apply his mind. For example, I do not see in the Bill how, once we have established our new districts, we shall maintain the traditions associated with their names or even the names themselves—names associated with soccer and rugby teams and cricket teams. Indeed, I am wondering how the motorist driving up and down the country will manage if, instead of having useful signs indicating the numerous towns he passes or goes through, he has just a new sign basically an indication of a newly created local authority area made out of a number of townships, the townships themselves being reduced in number. How will the motorist be guided in going from place to place when there will be so many places included in one ambit? The same consideration applies to railway stations. Shall we retain the old names for those districts even when we have established the new authorities?
A second question of general interest is: what is to happen to the magistrates' courts? At the moment they are conveniently situated, and work in connec- 302 tion with the local authorities. I have received within the last 48 hours a letter from the President of the Lancashire Justices' Clerks Society drawing my attention to a memorandum which the society is submitting and saying that it hopes there will be a separate Bill introduced by the appropriate Minister to ensure that borough court committees are dealt with quite separately, with separate arrangements made for the magistrates' courts and petty sessional divisional boundaries, and that such a Bill should come into effect coincidentally with the Local Government Bill in April, 1974.
I should like to mention two inconsistencies and ask why they exist. Why should a Bill which deals with England and Wales set out arrangements for community councils in Wales only, but, in the corresponding part of the Bill about England, refer to parish councils? I should think that if community councils can be established for areas in Wales some arrangements could be made for them to be established in English areas. To most people, the parish council denotes something very much smaller than a community council, and I should like the Minister to explain to me the reason for the different treatment of England and Wales.
I cannot understand why there has been what is almost a vendetta against the continuing office of alderman. I here declare a vested interest. I have been a member of the local authority of Prestwich which adjoins my constituency, although it is not part of it, since 1951, and an alderman since 1964. Unlike some less well organised and less reasonable bodies, my local authority usually chooses by seniority a member of the council to become an alderman when an aldermanic vacancy occurs.
These appointments are not cancelled out with change of party in the local authority. Once a man has been appointed he continues in the aldermanic office, the assumption being—and I speak without any false modesty in the matter—that those who have served in the council for a very long time and have submitted themselves to the vagaries of the electorate in the main have reached a stage where they are entitled to be regarded as elder statesmen—and here I do not refer to the mayor, who is senior citizen only for a year—who can give 303 some weight to the deliberations of the council and maintain some continuity at a time when elected representatives change.
If there is merit in the suggestion that aldermancy should be abolished because of party manoeuvring, surely the matter could have been dealt with by making some fixed arrangement whereby once a man was elected an alderman, and on the basis of seniority, he should retain that office. That would take care of what is being claimed to be a deficiency in the system.
Nor can I understand why, if it should be good enough to keep aldermen in the G.L.C. area, it should not be good enough in the rest of the country. If it cannot be operated generally, let it be at least this much consistent: since the G.L.C. represents a metropolitan area, let the aldermancy system continue in the metropolitan counties which are to be established elsewhere.
I plead with the Minister to look again at this matter. If it is claimed that it is non-democratic that aldermen should be elected not by the electorate but within the council, how can it be democratic to destroy them and, at the same time, arrange for co-options, again within the council and certainly without reference to the local electorate?
My main criticism deals with boundaries. I pay full tribute to the Secretary of State and his colleagues for the sympathetic way in which they have listened to my case for District 12(c) of the SELNEC area, as the paper published earlier this year shows. I am grateful that they took the Borough of Prestwich out of the proposed Salford district south into the Bury-based district.
But I cannot understand why the irrefutable case I made for the splitting of the proposed District 12(c) into a district based in Bury and a district based on Rochdale was not accepted. I know that the name for the new authority including the two county boroughs of Bury and Rochdale might be Burydale, but what has been devised might be more aptly named Bochdale or Robury.
One cannot put together the boroughs of Rochdale and Bury, because there is no community of interest between these two separate sides of the Greater Manchester 304 District (c). In the White Paper, the Minister laid down the condition that should attach to this establishment of the new areas, and made great play of the fact that local authority areas should be related. He stated:Local authority areas should be related to areas within which people have a common interests—through living in a recognisable community, through the links of employment, shopping or social activities, or through history and tradition.All these qualifications would be satisfied if the Minister would be good enough to split what he now proposes in the Greater Manchester District (c) into two districts, one based on Bury, including Prestwich, which has gone north into that area from Salford, and the other based on Rochdale. The total population of the proposed Manchester District (c) is 331,000, and perhaps that is not big enough to split into two, but very geographically convenient is the Borough of Middleton. If that were moved north from the group at present including Oldham, it would leave Oldham with 222,000—quite big enough to be acceptable under the terms of the Bill—and increase the Bury and Rochdale group to about 400,000, which could be split into two separate areas having a population of 200,000 each. That would be by no means the lowest populated area; I see that one of the Tyneside districts is as low as 177,000. We would therefore be above the minimum figure which the Minister has assumed in the proposed Bill.
I make this plea to him because all the road and rail links run north and south and there is no real link between Bury and Rochdale. The local courts, the income tax offices, and many other items that I have drawn to the attention of the Minister show that there is a completely separate identity of interest between the two.
I therefore ask the Minister to look again at the Greater Manchester District (c), and to realise that by bringing Middleton north, without detriment to the size of the other areas, he will have an area which can be most conveniently split into two. I ask him to look again at the dissection of Ramsbottom, which now has one-third pushed north into the new county of Lacashire while the other two-thirds are kept within the proposed 305 new area of Bury and Rochdale. I have a letter from the secretary of the local golf club who points out that whereas before they were conveiently situated, at one hole part of the course will be in Lancashire and the rest in the proposed new metropolitan area. This is a ridiculous situation. By taking this one-third in the north from the district we create a geographical wedge between the proposed area of Bury and Rochdale itself.
I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to look again at the map with at least rose-tinted spectacles, realising that he will give effect to his own desires by acting as I ask. I hope that he will give us the kind of reply which is so eagerly and anxiously awaited by the Bury and Rochdale areas.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
Unlike a number of hon. Members who have spoken in lugubrious tones about the future of their cities and constituencies, I am not dismayed. I begin with an unashamed acknowledgment of the Minister's imagination, because I honestly believe that it is an imaginative step to link the two sides of the Humber. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) who spoke so movingly about the fate of Plymouth, I believe that water never divides. An estuary or a river, such as the Thames, the Nile or the Mississippi, always unites, and I believe that the Tamar is a unifier in South-West England. I understand my hon. Friend speaking so movingly, because I feel the other way about our authority.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) called this a "sponge" of a Bill, but I remind the House that sponges sometimes mop up, soak up, eradicate or erase blots and other things which should be gone. In my case, and I am sure that I now speak for all the Humberside Members, with perhaps one exception, this linking is something we have desired for some time. Courage has been shown where the Minister has cut across county boundaries.
There is to be an uneasy combination with Hull, Grimsby, Immingham, Scunthorpe and Goole, and the backwoodsmen from the bush in East Yorkshire and parts of Lindsey. I must be fair, since the 306 Minister has given his consent to the building of the Humber Bridge, so that we now have a viable organic body.
The Secretary of State has said that uncertainty had bedevilled local government since the war. The Labour Government when in power talked also of the need for local government reform. A Bill produced by them would have been quite different from this one. We find often in our debates on housing, education and local government that both sides of the House want change, but it is when we come to the terms—as with the European Economic Community—that the differences arise. The terms are unacceptable to my constituency, but in a local, geographical sense we accept the good thing we have been given in the shape of the new authority.
Shall we experience much change? I welcome the demise of aldermen. We have suffered in Hull as the people in Stoke have suffered. When the Conservatives get into power in big Labour bastions for one short year they are likely to axe 10 or 15 aldermen. So out with the aldermanic bench.
Secondly, a multiplicity of small councils will disappear. These have been a hive of bumbling bureaucracy in the past, despite many line public servants with whom we have worked in harness, particularly the clerks of rural district councils who have many fine housing achievements. I see this change as essentially a process of area mergers, mainly on a county basis. It is imperative that we should get out of the existing situation in which our cities are throttled by too much urbanisation and that monster the motor car. We want change. We have changed our dwelling habits and our social behaviour and, in my view, the two-tier system of county council and county district will meet many of the difficulties.
I leave it to those better qualified than myself to talk about the intricacies of planning functions, the division of powers between counties and districts, public transport, highways and so on.
Regarding the shape of the new authority, I quote from a letter which has been sent to me by the Town Clerk of Kingston upon Hull:It was unanimously resolved as follows:—That is unequivocal. The letter goes on to say:'That this authority, in view of its previous expression of opinion regarding the 307 linking of the north and south banks of the river in the light of the construction of the Humber Bridge, welcomes the proposals of Her Majesty's Government contained in the Local Government Bill for the County of Humberside.'It was also decided 'that having regard to the fact that the three major authorities in the area (the East Riding, Kingston upon Hull and Grimsby) are at present responsible for education, social services and libraries, the Government be invited to declare the Humberside County to be a metropolitan area.'I hereby invite them to do so now.
It has been said on this side of the House that Humberside should be a growth area. The Minister will remember that not more than two years ago a team of top Whitehall planners visited our area and said that the Government of the day—a Labour Government at the time—must by 1972 make up their mind about the future of Humberside. A decision has now been made about the Humber Bridge, but we were told then that before the end of the century £2,000 million would be spent on development and that an additional 750,000 people would come to the area; so we are expecting something. We expect to develop the socio-geographical patterns which the Government take as a basis for designating our area as a development area.
I firmly believe—and I say this with the Shadow Minister listening—that the new scheme is much more balanced than the one put forward in the Labour Government's White Paper, where Hull completely dominated the whole of East Yorkshire. That was utterly lopsided. Although Hull will now be the capital of the administrative area, we have a much more balanced area which is an entity and, once the bridge is up, not only economically viable but much easier to administer.
On the matter of county districts and county councils, the "us and them" syndrome, many hon. Members have inveighed against the downgrading of towns like Plymouth, Norwich, Oxford, Derby and Nottingham. The larger cities will be losing many services, particularly education. Those county boroughs have a fine and ancient history and it is 308 thoughtless of the Government to give them housing and little else beyond perhaps emptying dustbins. They are dignified cities with a long past, and they need more than this. On Humberside I think that Hull and Grimsby should be given full metropolitan district powers, in particular the addition of education. We should be designated a metropolitan area. Perhaps our best analogy is with Tyneside and Sunderland. If they can become a metropolitan area, surely we can, with a good future.
The Government have made their choice, and it is applauded by the vast majority of people in Humberside. There are, of course, some who object; it would be a miracle if there were not. There have been some clownish comments. One gentleman who should have known better—Lord Halifax, the Lord Leiutenant of East Yorkshire—sent a telegram to the Minister on behalf of the East Yorkshire County Council. I felt that this was somewhat out of order, and so did many other people. I beg the Minister to pay no attention to those comments from the backwoods of Lindsey and East Yorkshire.
Last of all, let me leave this thought with the Government. Humberside, particularly with the addition of North Lincolnshire, is not really Yorkshire. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to think about this. At present, we come under the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Economic Planning Council. Our hinterland, however, extends far beyond the places which have determined our pace of development for some years, namely, Leeds, Sheffield and even Halifax and Barnsley. Our economic hinterland extends to Nottingham and Liverpool, quite apart from Derby and Birmingham. Therefore, we wish to ask for an economic planning council for Humberside too. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks about these matters and really does something about them, he will earn the gratitude of people on Humberside.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) since he has achieved exactly what I have in mind for my area.
I am sorry the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) is not 309 present because he will be my oponent in the next election and I thought that we might at least have been in agreement on this matter tonight. I am surprised that he attacked the Plymouth City Council. I would remind him that the city council has changed hands four times since I have been the Member of Parliament; it has twice been Socialist and twice Conservative. Whatever the political complexion of the administration, it has done an excellent job in rebuilding the City of Plymouth from the ashes to which it was reduced in the last war. It was the worst-blitzed provincial city, and everybody will agree that it is now a great city in its own right.
It is unfortunate that following the debate on the White Paper changes have been made in regard to Cardiff and Humberside in particular but no action has been taken to change the status of Plymouth. Attention has been drawn by the Association of Municipal Corporations to the fact that, outside the metropolitan areas, cities and towns are in danger of rural domination. This is particularly appropriate to Plymouth, since, for example, the social services there obviously need to be completely different from the services needed in the rest of the country.
The hon. Member for Sutton mentioned the estuarial concept. Since the Minister has accepted in the White Paper a Tyneside, a Teesside, a Merseyside and a Humberside, there is surely a good case for a Tamarside. One-fifth of the total population of Devon and Cornwall are clustered round the River Tamar area and 53 per cent. of the people in Saltash go daily over the Tamar Bridge to work in Plymouth. Surely this should give equal priority with Humberside for a Tamarside conurbation.
Today, unlike some of my hon. Friends, I am not suggesting that the principles of the Bill are wrong but, unfortunately, these principles have not been put into practice in regard to Plymouth. Representations have been made by the city council, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the interest he has taken and the time he has given to discussing this problem, which has the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House and Members of the House of Lords. Therefore I am surprised the Government have not taken action.
310 I should like to quote what has been said by the Devon County Council:In some Government decisions too little regard has been had to the special character of Devon and the policies that might well be suitable for other parts of England but which have very little relevance in the South, must have been imposed there purely for the sake of uniformity.This is unfortunate.
There are difficulties recognised by the county in regard to administration. There are problems of distance and communications, the lack of interest between seaside resorts and the agricultural hinterland, and the problems involving expensive administration. It must be remembered that Plymouth is 43 miles from Exeter, and the time that will be wasted in travelling is impossible to quantify. These are very real factors in the increasing costs of administration, and certainly administrative costs in Devon County will be very high indeed. In the summer the crowding of roads by holiday makers makes it difficult for quick and easy travel. Furthermore, there is no community of interest between the industrial town of Plymouth and the county.
A Ministry circular from the Welsh Office of 3rd November said:The proposed East Glamorgan County would lack the essential community of interest which would make it an effective unit of local government.This applies to the City of Plymouth. We have no community of interest, and never have had, with the County of Devon. The Maud Report understood this.
Plymouth since 1439, when it was the first borough to receive its charter from Parliament, continued to build itself into a city. The three towns of Devonportor—Docktown—Stonehouse, and Plymouth, Sutton were amalgamated into a city in 1928.
The South-West Economic Council and the Hunt Report said they believed Plymouth should be the growth centre of the South-West, and this is what Plymothians have been led to believe when they rebuilt the city. It is now a city with a suburban hinterland with people commuting daily to their work in Plymouth.
It is regrettable that no concessions have been given in view of the all-party support in this House and in the city council.
311 I understand my right hon. Friend's difficulties on this matter as he considered that this matter should be looked at from his point of view logically. The Labour Government in 1966 extended Plymouth's boundaries to Plympton and part of Plymstock, which proved beneficial to the inhabitants though they protested at the outset. Now they are very satisfied and benefit from this amalgamation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) arranged a plan or plot to see that the Bill did not go through. Unfortunately, it did not come off, but I was the only Conservative Member to vote for the Bill. This is a situation in which I have found myself from time to time. Plympton has accepted the benefit, and if the Government had been firmer concerning Saltash and Torpoint and with the Cornwall County Council they would have re-acted in the same way because they are both authorities whose people earn their living in the City of Plymouth.
Paragraph 8 of the White Paper says:And above all else, a genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be seen to be taken as locally as possible.How can this be done when we are 43 miles away from the area which is now to run our business? Many businessmen and busy housewives, and particularly the young men and women, will not be able to journey to meetings and functions in Exeter, and such functions left to the local district will not attract men and women of the right calibre. There are many other points I could make but I hope I shall be able to deal with them in Committee. There are questions of youth employment, magistrates' courts and other important points.
Since 1945 12,000 new jobs have been provided in Plymouth. There have been built a polytechnic, a college of further education and college of art, a teacher training college, St. Marks and St. John, and the new regional hospital, all of which serve the region not just the City of Plymouth. The Department of Employment also covers the towns of Saltash and Torpoint.
Plymouth has always been antiestablishment; it was for Cromwell and against the King. The guns are still 312 trained from the Citadel on the City of Plymouth.
Sir Francis Drake was Mayor of Plymouth and its Member of Parliament. It is said that, when there are likely to be difficulties, his drum is heard rumbling. I think that we shall be hearing it again in the near future.
I know that my right hon. Friend is sympathetic and understanding of the difficulties in the area, but, unless I get a satisfactory answer, I am afraid that I shall be forced to vote against the Government tomorrow night.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
I shall not be able to pursue the points raised by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and discuss the advantages of Plymouth. But perhaps I might point out that her speech, like so many today dealing with individual constituencies or individual boundaries, would have been better made in Committee if the Government had followed the precedent of the London Government Bill in 1963 and given us four days on the Floor of the House to discuss individual boundaries. It is a matter for considerable regret that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have not followed that excellent precedent but, instead, intend to push the whole detail of the Bill upstairs to Committee.
There is general agreement on the need for local government reform. Reorganisation is long overdue, and nowhere more than in the area of South-East Lancashire or, as we must learn to call it, the area of Greater Manchester. None the less, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I am satisfied neither with these proposals nor with the manner in which the Government are permitting us to discuss them or, rather, not to discuss them in detail.
I do not wish to spend very much time on boundaries, although the latest quirk of the Secretary of State's pen has meant that I no longer live in the new metropolitan county of Greater Manchester, since the Turton Urban District Council is to come into the area of the new Lancashire County Council. Like the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) I believe that the solution for North Lancashire would be a metropolitan area with metropolitan districts.
313 I wish to raise three matters which cause me concern in the new arrangements proposed in the Bill, in the hope that the Minister can clarify the situation.
The first matter concerns the size of wards in the new metropolitan districts. In Clause 8(b) the Bill lays down that these should be three-member wards and, in the view of the earlier consultative document sent out by the Secretary of State, a metropolitan district council will have a maximum membership of 80. If one allows such a council 81 members, that will permit 27 wards in a metropolitan district. Given that in Schedule 11 we are told that there should be equality between wards, one can arrive at the quota in each ward by dividing the population of the metropolitan district by the magic number 27. If one does that for the districts in the new metropolitan county of Greater Manchester, we find that in nine of the existing local authorities in five of the nine metropolitan districts of Greater Manchester the populations will no longer make up even one ward in a metropolitan district. The urban districts of Abram, Aspull, Black-rod, Milnrow, Tottington, Wardle, Whitworth, Lees and Bowdon, possibly in my constituency Little Lever, and what is left of Ramsbottom will not make up even one ward in the new metropolitan district. So these communities, which are known to the people who live in them, will not only disappear as authorities; they will not have the sense of being represented by one ward in the new authority. Can the Minister assure us that something can be done about the situation, particularly with these authorities which have populations of only 4,000 or 5,000 and which are only half the size of a ward in the new authority?
This disappearance, even as wards, of those communities is a strong argument for the Minister looking again at the possibility of community councils in England as well as in Wales. The argument is strengthened by the ludicrous position that we have in the Manchester district in that the parish of Ringway will be able to keep its parish council, whereas the City of Manchester will not have any urban parish councils within its boundaries. The parishes of Haigh, Shevington and Worthington will remain, whereas other authorities which have 314 existed for many years will disappear completely.
As the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Fidler) pointed out earlier, surely it would have been preferable to apply the proposals for community councils to England as well as to Wales.
There are even more ludicrous examples in the non-metropolitan counties, where one may have a non-county borough surrounded by rural districts with parishes which will remain, but non-county boroughs like Stratford-on-Avon, Berwick-on-Tweed and others of great history which will disappear, while the parish councils round them will remain.
The Secretary of State spoke about the short time-lag before parishes can be set up. I hope that he will remove that time-lag altogether so that we can have community or urban parish councils in the new authorities from 1st April, 1974.
The third point that I wish to raise concerns the provision which occurs towards the end of the Bill in Clause 237, dealing with the possibility of differential rating within the new proposed authorities. Clause 237 gives the Secretary of State power to make orders in respect of various matters. He can require a new county council to issue different precepts for different parts of its area, or a new district council to levy differential rates in different areas… by reference to the circumstances of existing rating areas wholly or partly in the area.The idea of differential rating was resisted in the Greater London Bill, and I am surprised that we have not heard more from the Secretary of State about why it is put forward in this Bill. What will be the policy of the Secretary of State? Will he take the initiative in this matter, or will he rely on requests from individual authorities? If he intends to follow the latter policy, is not there a danger that it may be the area of the former smaller authorities where rates will rise most sharply and which perhaps could benefit from differential rating but which may be out-voted by larger authorities in a new area? Can this point be clarified before the end of the debate?
It would have been helpful to have heard more about how long these 315 differential rates will be permitted to continue. Will the period permitted be three years, five years, or perhaps even 10 years? Do the Government anticipate providing a specific grant to pay for this reduction in rates in some areas of the new authorities, or will the burden be loaded more heavily on the other areas of the authorities? This power to rate differentially within the new authorities needs to be examined more carefully.
I believe that, although these points can be and no doubt will be examined in Committee, they require further clarification. I hope that we shall hear something further on all of them before the end of this debate.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
On the whole, this is a good Bill, and I shall support it. From the point of view of my constituency it is not ideal, but I welcome the fact that our new county is to have the name "Cambridgeshire". It is essential that everyone concerned makes this big new county work. I am confident that we shall succeed.
I wish to make one main point and two brief subsidiary ones. My main point is to ask whether we have the balance right between the county councils and the district councils. Let us accept that the sizes of the first and second tier bodies will be more or less as my right hon. and hon. Friends have suggested. In the light of that, let us examine the proposed split of functions.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House want to make local democracy work better. In passing, I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the ombudsman. We want local government to work in a way which will attract the interests of the citizens involved and will also attract members of high calibre in both tier authorities but it will not work, and instead we shall have frustration, if the balance is wrong. It is on this point that I still have considerable doubts.
On the one hand, we are still not proposing to give enough functions to the second-tier authorities, many of which are large, responsible and experienced bodies, while, on the other, too many functions which, concern the everyday life of local communities will still be left with the relatively remote county councils. I 316 am speaking principally from the standpoint of towns and cities.
My right hon. Friend has several times said that his aim is to allocate to the second-tier authorities the functions which mainly affect the character and life of the locality. I do not think that he has achieved this aim as well as he could. There is a danger in this situation with too few powers given to relatively large second-tier authorities. The danger is either that at the lower level there will be resentment and apathy or that tension will lead to a perpetual battle between the second-tier districts and the first-tier county councils, with the second-tier body being called on by some community in a city or country district to take up with the other authority a problem which it has been impossible for the locality to raise through the normal channels. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to look carefully at this point both in Committee and on Report.
I instance three examples only: primarily, traffic management, one-way systems, car parking, and so on. It seems a highly unsatisfactory situation if, as the Bill apparently proposes, large cities and towns will have virtually no say in these matters.
Secondly, there is need for clarification of the respective planning functions.
Thirdly, will my right hon. and hon. Friends look again at the question of libraries to see whether there is scope for leaving some responsibility for this service with well-developed urban authorities which for years have been running their own libraries excellently?
I beg my right hon. and hon. Friends to keep open minds still on the division of functions. I hope that before the Bill leaves the House we shall see the transfer of more of the meaningful local functions to the second-tier authorities.
I wish to touch briefly on two other points. One concerns the machinery for elections, which my right hon. Friend has mentioned. I am still not convinced that the ideal system is to have one election for the whole of a county council every four years and elections in each of the other three years for a third of the district councillors. There is considerable risk of excessive swings of control at county council level, especially as in future years there is likely to be more party political 317 activity in the county councils than in the past. I ask my right hon. Friend to look at an alternative scheme under which 50 per cent. of the county councillors could retire every two years, dovetailing in the intervening two years with a similar 50 per cent. retirement and reelection of district councillors.
My last point concerns staff. We all know what devoted work they do in the local councils. They get more kicks than ha'pence. In making these changes we owe them the maximum consideration. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend's pledge about consultation.
I want to draw particular attention to the staffing of the new county authorities. Clause 243 provides for joint committees during the intervening period to discuss the machinery for the changeover. This is excellent. However, I suggest that the joint committees should not be confined only to the existing county councils and county boroughs. In the setting up of the new county council staffs it is essential that there be equal consideration for the existing staff of borough councils. I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will do everything they can from Whitehall to ensure absolute fairness in the consideration and making of staff appointments.
The success of this reform will largely be judged by the extent to which real power and decision-making can be shifted from London to the areas. I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about this matter today. But there has been some disappointment—I must emphasise this—at certain of the trends which we have seen in the last year or two. I hope that from now on my right hon. and hon. Friends will consistently put their weight, through this Bill and in other ways, in the direction of transferring more of the power from London to the people.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
I should like to mention two points at the start. First, I propose to follow the example set by several hon. Members who have spoken. I shall be very brief. I have only one point to make, but it is extremely important. It is, in fact, of cardinal importance. Nevertheless, the House will be glad to know that I do not propose to take more than six or seven minutes.
Secondly, with my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) I 318 suffer from a disadvantage in that I want to talk about a Bill within the Bill, the Welsh Bill. I have not had the advantage of hearing anyone talk about the Welsh Bill from the Government Front Bench. This is a simple example of the practical difficulty which will increasingly face us as we discuss the Bill in Committee. I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Ifor Davies) who, in an intervention, said that feeling in Wales was deploring this unhappy shotgun marriage. I am sure that most English Members would deplore it. I am certain that all Welsh Members deplore it.
I am one of many people in Wales who are bitterly disappointed with the proposals set out in the Bill—at least, the Welsh part. I am disappointed not just at some specific proposals or at the detailed mechanism for putting them into effect but at what we see as a tragic failure, certainly in Wales, to rise to an occasion calling for a truly radical approach, for a root and branch measure, a great measure, which would in time be recognised as marking a great historical turning point.
The Secretary of State set the tone of the Bill when he gave us a recital, a catalogue, of its contents with little snippets of reasons why this function went here and that boundary went there. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) caught the whole thing when he called it a great big sponge of a Bill.
What we have got in fact, despite the size and complexity of the legalities, is not much more than some tinkering with boundaries and tinkering with functions: on the one hand, should the parish of Llanddaget be in Clwyd or in Gwynedd and, on the other hand, who is going to look after the cemeteries? And this at a time when the thread which has been running through our politics in Wales constantly since the war is now tightening more strongly; when the sense of nationhood, which has become steadily more articulate and steadily more self-confident over the years is now demanding and, from some quarters, receiving increasing recognition.
Many of us at this time of what might be called—not too fancifully at that—technological determinism and economic centralism believe that the great problem 319 facing industrial society for the next several decades is that of reconciling our centralist tendencies with the libertarian traditions of social democracy; and increasingly we in Wales suspect that glimmerings of solutions are to be seen in the politics of small nations. That, I believe, is the deep-rooted reason for a move in Wales now expressing itself by a demand for an elected Welsh Council. It is a failure to sense that mood, evident I think in England but much more politically so in Wales, and to translate it into an effective radical reform of local government involving the establishment of an elected body representative of the whole of Wales, that I and many people like me find so depressing about the Bill. In my view, it would have been a great move or step forward, an anti-centralised move, to propose the setting up of a body which could speak to Whitehall with the considerable authority that a nationally elected council would automatically carry. One feels that in Wales we have to hand, ready-made, a completely new dimension in local government which could blaze a trail towards a genuine regionalism in the rest of England and Scotland.
I do not wish to take up time elaborating on the merits of regionalism, and I do not want to discuss the practicalities or difficulties of making this radical change in our conception of local government and its relationship to the central Government. I have no doubt that there are many people in Whitehall who can list the difficulties. Indeed, if the Civil Service will forgive me, I have heard it said that the definition of a civil servant is the man with the difficulty for every solution.
The Secretary of State for Wales has missed the opportunity, and it puts me and many of my hon. Friends in quandary. It is high time that the structure of local government of our two countries, England and Wales, was reformed. Most people are agreed on that, and no one wishes to be perversely obstructionist. At the same time, the Secretary of State for Wales, first of all in having the Welsh package wrapped up with the English package, and secondly in omitting the key principle which so many Welshmen now demand, has made it very difficult for us to accept 320 any part of the Bill, even though some of its provisions are to be modified here and there in Committee. It is not a question of our wanting to reject the good on the grounds that it is not perfect, but rather one of a basic disagreement with the Welsh part of the Bill. If the House will allow me to be so bold, that is the part that counts in Wales.
One is aware of the unsettling effects on local government, on the councillors and on the officials, that a continued haggling in this matter has already produced. One is also aware that if the Bill becomes law it will commit the country, and rightly so, for many years—indeed, for decades. Equally, one recognises that the Bill will, no doubt, be improved in many of its detailed provisions in Committee. But none of this removes the basic opposition felt on this side of the House to the failure to provide in the Welsh part of the Bill for a reorganisation based on an elected Welsh Council replacing, amongst other things, many of the numerous, permanent and ad hoc nominated bodies, advisory and executive, which have proliferated so alarmingly in the field of public services in Wales since the war.
I ask the Secretary of State, even at this late stage, to include some provision if only for an embryo elected council with a minimum of responsibilities which might in due course develop naturally—evolve, as I believe it would—into an authoritative National Welsh Council.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Woodnutt (Isle of Wight)
It is odd that hon. Members opposite have complained that there is no underlying principle to the Bill. Its most acceptable feature is the universal application of the two-tier principle of local government. This is the underlying principle of the Bill.
To my mind, single-tier local government is an anachronism and it is right that county boroughs should form part of and contribute to the life of the counties of which they are a geographical part. My quarrel with the Bill is that in the Isle of Wight this principle has not been applied. The island is a separate land mass, a separate administrative county, and it will become a second-tier authority, having no community of interest with Portsmouth or 321 Southampton and very little with the County of Hampshire.
My right hon. Friend is aware of the special position of the Isle of Wight. At the moment it is an administrative county with two borough councils, three urban district councils and one rural council. This is far too many councils. It is absurd that there should be five local authorities looking after 500 miles of roads. It is equally absurd that in an island of 94,000 acres and 109,000 people, there should be no local authority responsible for the roads and that most of them should be controlled from Hampshire.
In addition to those authorities, we have in the Isle of Wight a joint river and water authority. In this respect it is quite unique in the United Kingdom. It was recognised when the larger water and river authorities were set up that it was not practicable or desirable for an authority on the mainland five miles away to be responsible for the island's water and its three rivers. Now it is proposed that the Isle of Wight shall be a second-tier authority to the County of Hampshire. I wonder how it is that thinking has changed since the Department accepted the need for an independent joint river and water authority. It has changed to the ludicrous extent that the island's refuse disposal is to be a function of a county council based on Winchester. My imagination absolutely boggles at this. I have visions of the island's effluent being carted off by ship or by air and probably dropped on my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett).
My right hon. Friend understands the unique position of the Isle of Wight and I am grateful to him for recognising so quickly after the production of the White Paper that the circumstances of the island, separated as it is from the mainland by the Solent, are exceptional, and I thank him for agreeing to consider exceptional treatment to meet the exceptional requirements.
It is clear to me, however, that because of the island's isolation, many of the functions at the moment allocated to county councils will be more efficiently carried out if they are transferred to the island's control. I do not propose taking up the time of the House in going through these functions, and I am grateful to my 322 right hon. Friend for setting up a working party to consider them. Nevertheless I am of the opinion that when the working party's work is finished it will come to the conclusion—I know that my right hon. Friend does not agree with me at the moment—that the Isle of Wight should have the separate status of a county with not more than two district councils.
The Isle of Wight is the only major local authority in England and Wales which is based on an island. There are no road links, and it is not infrequently cut off completely in winter, and always during the night. To join it with Hampshire is the geographical equivalent of joining Somerset with Monmouth, and there is not the equivalent of a Severn Bridge across the Solent.
Assuming that the Maud Report is a basis for expert opinion, the Isle of Wight fulfils all the criteria perfectly except for population size, but the Bill already ignores this in several cases. The new Hampshire will be 50 per cent. larger than the one million ceiling advocated. At the other end of the scale, Powys in Wales is to retain county council status with a population smaller than the Isle of Wight and a total rateable value of only £2½ million, compared with the island's £5 million.
If the Isle of Wight does not secure special treatment, it will be the only island treated in this way. The Bill excludes the Isles of Scilly and I understand that the Orkneys and Shetlands are likely to be treated specially. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are independent. Yet the Isle of Wight has more resources per head of population than any of them.
Without doubt, the major argument against absorption by a mainland authority is that the democratic principles cherished by us all would no longer apply in the island. We travel from the island to Winchester and back and it is a very difficult journey, taking eight to 10 hours both ways. Does my right hon. Friend believe that it will be possible to persuade elected representatives of the requisite calibre to undertake this travelling for a meeting in Winchester which could last only an hour and a half? In fact the Isle of Wight would become disfranchised if our people had to go to Winchester.
323 Two years ago Mr. Speaker joined me in an intrepid adventure across the Solent in a hovercraft. He said afterwards that he would not do it again if I paid him. At least the journey was fast. For those who, like Mr. Speaker, prefer the more conventional ship, it takes nearly two hours to do the journey both ways between Cowes and Southampton.
This is not the first time that the Isle of Wight has had to fight for county status. In 1888, against enormous local opposition, including that of one of my predecessors, Sir Richard Webster, the island was made part of the County of Hampshire. The marriage did not work and in 1889 it became a separate county.
Our case today is vastly stronger, supported by an excellent record in every field of local government. The island's change to comprehensive education was among the smoothest and quickest and our development of social services on a Seebohm basis is equally rapid. Resources are well above the average in relation to need. I urge my right hon. Friend to avoid making the same mistake that his predecessor made in 1888.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Sir Alfred Broughton (Batley and Morley)
We are told that the purpose of the Bill is to improve local government. It is true that administrative efficiency and economy are of the greatest importance. Therefore, when we study the Bill we should ask ourselves two questions. First, will these measures make for greater efficiency and economy? Second, if they do, what will be destroyed in that process?
In trying to answer those questions, I have come to the conclusion that many old and well-known towns will lose their councils and their independence. Their individuality, which has enriched life in England, will be destroyed. Their civic pride, which has been built up over centuries, will lessen and could disappear. These are my fears after reading the Bill and studying the problems in my own constituency.
I should like to put before the House by way of illustration the case of one of the non-county boroughs in my constituency, that of Morley. This, I believe, is typical of some other non-county boroughs. Morley has a strong sense of 324 civic pride. Local government is good and the people enjoy their independence. The Bill proposes that the place should be one of a number of existing administrative areas to be joined with Leeds. This proposal is not welcomed in Morley, which would gain no benefit. At present, Morley has 40 members on the council. If it were merged with Leeds, there would probably be four Morley representatives on the metropolitan district council. Leeds rates are considerably higher than those of Morley and no doubt they would all go up to the higher level.
The Mayor of Morley was anxious to know the strength of feeling on this matter. With the assistance of colleagues, he organised a poll on 9th October. Many citizens subscribed towards the expenses, so that there would be no charge on the rates. The poll was well organised by the mayor and many volunteers. Polling stations were established throughout the borough and there was at least one in every ward.
Nearly 14,000 people voted, which is a little above average for the number who vote at municipal elections and considerably higher than the number who vote at county council elections. Of that number, 13,740 voted "No" to union with Leeds, while 212 were in favour. The mayor immediately informed the Secretary of State for the Environment of the result of the poll, but apparently the information had no effect because the Bill was published and it proposes that Morley should merge with Leeds.
If this merger comes about the Government will clearly be acting against the wishes of the people. They do not want government by remote control. The local people want to have control over affairs in their immediate area and to be able to attend at least to minor local problems.
I do not want it to be thought that this is a stick-in-the-mud borough which does not want any change. That is far from the truth. It is a progressive town and its people are ready to accept change if it will bring improvement.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I will curtail my remarks, and Mr. Speaker has called for short speeches. I have spoken about this problem facing a borough in my constituency first because I thought it was 325 my duty to do so, and second because I thought it would serve as an illustration to the Government of the strength of public feeling against the Bill.
I have made it clear that the proposed changes will not meet with the approval of my constituents in Morley. There is nothing for them to gain and much for them to lose.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
It is a Conservative principle to pay due attention to tradition and sentiment and make changes only when they are deemed to be really necessary. I suggest that the Government have not yet satisfactorily made a case for the transfer of North-East Essex to Suffolk, particularly from a financial point of view.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) in asking the Government whether a proper cost analysis has been made of this transfer. It appears that what has swayed the Government has been the fact that local authority representatives have said that most people in the area want the change. This does not apply to my constituency of Harwich, where there is quite a majority against the change.
The reasons for that opposition are simple and clear. The majority believe that they will be worse off financially because of the move. They point out that although there will be general grants to take the place of the wealth from industrial Essex, the new county will be poorer than Essex and for some time the part taken over will have to suffer while Suffolk catches up with the amenities which North-East Essex now enjoys. They feel strongly that this will create another period of uncertainty for educational change, because Essex has a two-tier educational system while Suffolk has a three-tier system. They do not believe that the new county will be able to compete with the second-to-none education facilities which North-East Essex at present enjoys in the County of Essex.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) has stated the case clearly on behalf of Essex County Council and I think I can leave it to my noble Friend Lord Butler to state the case for Essex University. I want, however, to put forward some arguments for the change, because there is a considerable 326 body of opinion for it. The supporters point out that the haven ports have much to gain by being under one county authority, although local interests challenge this contention strongly. There is a strong feeling, particularly in the rural districts, that the interests of North-East Essex are much more similar to those of Suffolk, both in the rural and in the industrial aspects. They point out that Essex will not be interested in the port development at Harwich once the Foulness development gets under way.
They say also that Essex may be more interested in the Mappin Sands port development scheme than in the future port development of Harwich and that ratepayers are likely to be better off once the transitional period is over, as most of the money from industrial Essex now goes back to the industrial parts. They point out what a long time it has taken for the county to modernise the road between Harwich and Colchester and that even now the bypass to the Navy yard has still not been started. These are the main arguments for the transfer. Against this, my fears much depend on the financial argument, because I believe that the Government may not be able to allay the real fears of those who say that North-East Essex will suffer financially in the short term if the change is made, not only in roads but in education and amenities.
As my right hon. Friend knows, my constituency is a low-wage-earning area and has a larger number of retired people who are by no means well off. Indeed, 15 per cent. of the owner-occupiers of Clacton draw rate rebate and other seaside towns in North-East Essex are in a similar position. This is the highest percentage of rate rebate in the country. The price rises of the last few years have hit the retired very hard and there is real fear of further price rises because of our entry into the European Economic Community.
I cannot possibly agree, therefore, to any change that is likely to put up rates or take away educational facilities from a low-wage-earning part. I therefore want to hear from my right hon. Friend whether he intends to make any transitional financial arrangements to cover the temporary period of difficulty.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that the 327 rate support grant arrangements, which make allowances for the low rateable value of certain authorities, would not meet his case and that special arrangements would be needed in the circumstances he has outlined?
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because it underlines clearly the case I am making to the Government.
I want to hear what transitional arrangements can be made in addition to give the rate support grant and what can be done for education, both from the financial and from the educational aspects. I want to hear the Government clearly state their intentions about the road between Colchester and Harwich. There is a growing feeling in Harwich itself that we are simply being used as a political shuttlecock and that the Government are more interested in the development of the Felixstowe area than in helping the Port of Harwich. People in Clacton feel that the Government do not realise the genuine fears of loss of amenities. I hope that my right hon. Friend will allay those fears. Without further concrete financial assurances as regards amenities, roads and education, I fear that it will be very difficult to convince the majority in my constituency that this move is justified.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
Not one Conservative Member representing the County of Derbyshire has been in this Chamber at any moment during the whole debate. I hope with all my heart that the Tory-controlled Derbyshire County Council at Matlock takes very careful note of that, because I am, unfortunately, speaking on behalf of that Tory-controlled council.
One of the aims of the right hon. Gentleman when he formulated his proposals for county boundaries and for a two-tier structure of local government was to avoid the mistake, made by the Royal Commission in formulating its proposals for unitary authorities, of including within metropolitan districts great tracts of the surrounding countryside. The Secretary of State very wisely set out to draw his county boroughs much more tightly around the metropolitan areas with the object of precluding the indefinite 328 sprawl of the big cities and obliging them to look for some other solution for their future growth problems in a regional and not a parochial setting.
My concern is to call attention in the short time available to me to one area where the Secretary of State appears to have lost his way in pursuing this objective and largely to have ignored the criteria which he himself laid down in the White Paper, Cmnd. 4584. This is the north-eastern fringe of the County of Derbyshire which the Bill proposes should be transferred to the South Yorkshire Metropolitan County. This involves Dronfield, with a population of 16,000, and the parishes of Eckington and Killamarsh, with a combined population of 16,000, in the Chesterfield R.D.C. Paragraph 32 of the White Paper prescribed that the boundaries for the metropolitan areas should include all the main area or areas of continuous development and any adjacent area into which continuous development would extend. It added that it might be right to include closely related built-up areas as well.
Dronfield, Eckington and Killamarsh are islands in a green belt, a green belt which was deliberately designed to prevent the coalescence of various freestanding communities between Sheffield on the one hand and Chesterfield-Staveley on the other. None of these areas is part of the main areas of continuous development that will comprise the South Yorkshire Metropolitan County and in particular Sheffield District (c). None of these can constitute an adjacent area in which large continuous development will or even could extend.
Dronfield has seen a substantial private development in recent years, but the available areas are committed and likely to be built up within the next few years. Eckington and Killamarsh are most emphatically not areas into which continuous development will extend for a number of reasons. First, Sheffield has no need of these areas for development, continuous or otherwise. Some years ago, in 1967 to be precise, Sheffield formulated its own proposals for development to deal with its overspill. As a consequence, some 5,000 acres of Chesterfield R.D.C., containing a population of 33,000, were transferred to Sheffield on 1st April, 1967. That was under an order made by my right hon. Friend the then Minister 329 of Housing and Local Government. All Sheffield's needs will be accommodated within that transferred area until the late 1980s at the least. Sheffield's plans for development now before the Secretary of State are wholly contained within that transferred area. Sheffield Corporation acknowledged as recently as 20th September, when the Minister for Local Government met local representatives of Sheffield and other authorities, that Sheffield had no proposals for development in either Eckington or Killamarsh.
Secondly, a major part of the present boundary between the parishes and the enlarged Sheffield comprises the River Moss and the River Rother. There will be a permanent divide between any new developments in the already enlarged city and Eckington because the land here is parkland of high amenity value, which all the authorities, including Sheffield, agree must be preserved.
§ Mr. Robert Redmond (Bolton, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) to read his speech? He is not doing it very well.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
A little tolerance is called for, especially as time is so short. The hon. Member had hoped to have longer to speak.
§ Mr. Swain
It proves that I can read, which the hon. Gentleman may not be able to do.
The boundary between Sheffield and the parish of Killamarsh is the River Rother, with which there are associated substantial areas of washland to contain periodic flood water. Here again, therefore, there is no possibility of continuous development, quite apart from the fact that the development of Killamarsh will be strictly confined in accordance with the town map proposal. Four-fifths of the land area of these two parishes is shown as white land in the town map. I would remind the Secretary of State that it was as recently as March of this year 330 that he confirmed that town map. We are left with the rather vague point in paragraph 32 of the White Paper that:It may be right to include closely related built up areas.It will be seen from the description given of the areas involved that they are anything but metropolitan in character, and, since they have no relevance to the needs of the new South Yorkshire Metropolitan County, I submit that there can be no case for their inclusion. Neither the Secretary of State, in his various published documents, nor the Minister, at the meeting on 20th September to which I referred, has put forward a single argument to substantiate the inclusion of those areas in South Yorkshire.
It is obviously desirable that the boundaries of the new local authorities should be clearly and easily identifiable. The present boundary, following either the roads or the rivers to which I have referred, clearly falls into this category. If, however, Dronfield, Eckington and Killamarsh were transferred to South Yorkshire, the county boundary would follow the southern boundary of these areas, which are for the most part field boundaries and impossible of identification without a map.
Paragraph 29 of the White Paper also provides:Where possible, existing county boundaries will be retained in order to keep the maximum existing loyalties and to minimise the administrative problems.The transfer of this fringe area to South Yorkshire would create needless administrative problems. If there were some overwhelming reason why these areas should be transferred, then we would have to accept the administrative problems. But when there is no conceivable justification for it, it only produces a gratuitous complication and needless tensions for those who are to have the job of trying to make the new system work on the ground.
The Secretary of State can have had no regard to the existing loyalties of the communities concerned, although they were stressed at great length in the representations which the Derbyshire authorities made to him in writing and again verbally at the meeting on 20th September. The Eckington Parish Council, although it knew full well that the proposed move was anathema to the 331 vast majority of its residents, carried out a referendum earlier this year, to which 70 per cent. of the electorate in the parish responded. Over 95 per cent. voted for staying in the new County of Derby and less than 5 per cent. voted in favour of joining the new South Yorkshire authority. Killamarsh Parish Council similarly organised a referendum of households. Of 2,583 replies received, 2,390, or 92 per cent. of those voting, favoured remaining in Derbyshire. Less than 8 per cent. favoured transfer to the South Yorkshire authority.
Clearly, the wishes of the inhabitants and their existing loyalties are being ignored by the Minister, who heard the case being made out in Sheffield in September.
I promised to sit down at five minutes past nine. I apologise for reading my speech but, as the time was so short for making out such a vast case for the County of Derbyshire, I thought I would get through it quicker this way. I am sure the House will appreciate the brevity and clarity of my case.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
The debate so far has shown abundantly that two days, or one and a half days as it has now become, is far too short a time for a satisfactory Second Reading debate on a Bill of this magnitude and complexity. It is two Bills in one document, one for Wales and one for England, each resulting from two separate sets of inquiries and reports, each proposing two distinct sets of reforms. The obvious thing to do was to publish two Bills and have Second Reading debates and the normal stages on both of them, making for ordered debate and giving hon. Members from England and Wales more time to raise points on the general principle in their respective counties, dealing with their local government systems and points of detail about local arrangements.
Many of those points cannot possibly be made between now and 11 o'clock tomorrow evening. The House will be poorer because that time has not been provided. For a Bill of this magnitude and detail—251 Clauses and 30 Schedules—affecting as it does the daily lives of every member of the community, an adequate Second Reading debate is essential 332 if representative democracy is not to degenerate into a Government-managed farce. A Second Reading debate certainly deals with principle but it is also the essential preparation for the vital Committee stage, when hon. Members raise points of detail to which Ministers may give thought before Committee stage.
Almost all the speeches, and I have heard most of them, have raised points of local detail and advisedly so. There are a great many other pressing points of local anxiety and local suggestion, similar to the ones we heard in the eloquent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain). I listened to every word of his speech and enjoyed every word. [Interruption.] The hon. Member's read philippics are as attractive as his impromptu remarks. The Committee stage is the rub for the Government. They do not want two separate Bills because they do not want to confront the Welsh Grand Committee with a Welsh Bill. They are terrified of the prospect.
I do not know why the Government are afraid of facing my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas), who is the most demure and reasonable debater in the House. There are 36 Members from Wales on the Welsh Grand Committee. To the Committee are added the two Welsh Ministers who emerge from the Celtic fastnesses of Hendon, South and Hereford to tell us in the Committee what the Conservative Central Office thinks is best for Wales. We do not always listen. In the Welsh Grand Committee there is a massive majority against the Government and they are afraid that if they follow the established procedure of the House enshrined in Standing Orders 62 and 72 and commit a separate Welsh Bill to such a Committee, they would have to make changes that Wales wants and they do not. This is their conception of democracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) forcefully made that point.
Cannot the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for the Environment arrange for those parts, Clauses and related Schedules, of this inclusive Bill to be committed to a Welsh Standing Committee with added Members? If there is a limit to the number 333 of Members who can be added, the House can do anything it likes to facilitate the proper consideration of legislation. If the Government did that, the two Bills would survive even the attentions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West but they would certainly be changed and, as we think, for the better. In any case, the Minister will always have the longstop of the Report stage and the conscript fathers in the other place. As it is, the Government are perpetuating a procedural fraud, and that in itself is reason enough for us to ask the House to throw out the Bill.
Our second objection is that this massive proposal on structure and function is presented without any indication of what the financial arrangements will be. It is true that in government we did not produce a separate paper on finance to accompany the White Papers and reports which we authorised. But we certainly would have given the House and country some indication of the financial shape of things at the time that we produced a Bill.
The Government have produced a Bill which they intend to become a Statute within the next few months without giving the country or the House any indication of the financial implications beyond their academic, speculative Green Paper, which is good for a W.E.A. seminar but of no help. It is a very good document of its kind, but the Minister will understand me when I say that it does not lead us anywhere. When the Government, of whatever party, present a Bill on structure and function, they should ensure that it is accompanied by a rational statement of how the new structure and functions are to be implemented—and that means money.
We are legislating in a vacuum. If all we do is to redraw boundaries and reallocate functions without reconstructing finance, the essential problem of local government in most of England and certainly the whole of Wales is not perimeters but pounds. Any hon. Member could produce a fine map showing where the boundaries should be, but it would be meaningless unless the financial means of implementing it were available. Unless something radically different is proposed, the kind of anomaly with which we are trying to battle in the Bill will surface again in a very short time, 334 no matter what we do with the boundaries or with the reallocation of functions.
The special problem in Wales is that geography and the history of industrial development and settlement have so concentrated population that it is almost impossible to organise viable units on norms of population. This is always the basis which, in my experience, Whitehall takes for local government reform. Always one starts, in the case of Wales, with a norm of 40,000 for districts and 250,000 for counties. We are all guilty of this figural fixation, but it is an unreal criterion. We should identify the communities. We should, of course, insist that they should be above a certain figure, that population should be reasonable between two points, and then organise the finance to enable them to perform the functions which we think that those units are best suited to perform.
Let me take two examples of the kind of difficulty in which we find ourselves with this Bill because we proceed on this basis of the statistical norm. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), whom I very much welcome to the debate, and who, perhaps may speak tomorrow, and others in the House—indeed, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) has already mentioned the problem—will know that in order successfully to reach the norm of 250,000 people we have in Mid-Wales under these terms—and this is not the first Government to think to do this—to find three extensive counties—and then obtain only 100,000 population. This is no solution to the problem of county or district government in that part of Wales. Less than half of the norm is achieved in Mid-Wales under this system, but, even if it were achieved, in comes the distortion of acreage. This is an area one-fifth of the entire area of Wales. In comes, too, the distortion of communications and of transport, and, despite the extraordinary attempts by the formulae to assist rate yield, unless there is a complete change of approach in areas like this we shall never have what we call viable units.
In my own county of Caernarvon, if I may briefly instance an example of the difficulty, we are now to have the whole of South Caernarvonshire as a district of 335 27,000 people. I am a ratepayer in that district—a major one since this Government came to power: my rates have shot up, as have the rates of all of us. Even with the increased rates for which this Government are responsible we trace the future on that population basis with understandable anxiety. The right hon. Gentleman will know that Criccieth and Lleyn Councils have voiced their concern about the future. On the other hand, south Caernarvonshire is a natural community. It works, lives and moves as a community. The population is not up to the norm by the amount I have suggested, but if the objective is to create local government which is suited to the community then we should look further than considerations of population and even rateable value and provide means in these cases whereby this can be done.
My third objection to this Bill is that it comes when another crucial report on government is imminent. I refer to the Crowther Commission's Report. For some reason hon. Members on that side of the House seem to think that the Crowther Commission has had nothing to do with local government, but if it has had nothing to do with local government in its deliberations then it has been flying in the face of the remit given to it. That remit specifically says that the Commission is to have regard for local government matters. When the Crowther Commission reports it will have regard for local government—it is inescapable. Any commission dealing with decentralisation and devolution is bound to have regard to local government factors.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) pointed out, we in Wales hopefully expect the Crowther Commission to report in favour of an elected national council for Wales. This can be compared with the kind of overall regional administrative council which many of us on this side—many English Members, and certainly many Scottish Members—would like to see for natural regions in England. In Wales, we hope that ours will be national as well as regional. The regional authority is in line with progressive thinking, and Crowther, we think, is likely to report in favour of it. The Government, we hope, will accept it. If they do not, there will be uproar in Wales—let me tell 336 the right hon. Gentleman now. Wales is unanimously in favour of a presidial authority which will bring its life together in a meaningful unit.
If the Crowther Commission is so to report, surely that report should be before us so that we can look once more at the possibility of unitary authorities subserving that kind of overall authority. I am not saying for a moment that this is the solution, but surely it is not right to dispose of the proposal for the unitary authorities before Crowther has reported. We should like to see what he has to say about regional arrangements, and have another look at the whole question of unitary arrangements.
It may well be, of course, that the Government have decided beforehand that "there ain't going to be no elected council for Wales". If so, I say again that the Secretary of State, who has a special responsibility in these matters, must be very careful that he does not arouse feelings of very dangerous resentment. Let him concede to moderation what he will have to surrender to extremism. Let him take time by the forelock in Wales and meet rational and reasonable aspirations in good time. I say this because I have a high personal regard for him, and I know that he is as anxious as I am that Wales should be a happy, united country marching progressively towards the right kind of evolved status.
Our next objection is that in important particulars the Bill is alarmingly vague. It is impossible in this short time to pinpoint more than one or two instances of this vagueness, but I will mention a few. We need far more information about what are called the "concurrent planning powers". If, and I emphasise the conjunction, planning is to be a divided function, the line of demarcation must be absolutely clear. I am not saying that planning ought to be a divided function—I incline the other way—but if it is to be a divided function let the line of demarcation be absolutely clear.
The two great enemies of meaningful and acceptable planning—and planning always must be acceptable; it should be a help and not an exasperation to people—are delay and anomaly. Let the Government be careful in allocating planning powers that there is not this middle blur between the two tiers which will 337 lead, on the one hand, to further delays in decision and, on the other hand, to anomalies, the inconsistent decisions as between cases and counties which have bedevilled much of the planning procedures in both countries.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
The right hon. Gentleman says that he is inclined to having planning at one level, not at two. Will he kindly say at which level?
§ Mr. Roberts
Speaking in particular of Wales, I would incline to have planning given to the county authorities. I should not wish to press that point too hard, given a two-tier system in England, because the second-tier districts are so much stronger in England than they can possibly be in 80 per cent. of Wales. In Wales generally I would say the county authority.
The Secretary of State said that there have been talks between the county authorities in Wales and the Countryside Commission about the future administration and control of national parks. There are two views on this. Those who lay paramount stress on conservation and amenity wish to see joint boards everywhere. All I say is that in Wales this is not on; it will not do. All the national park authorities, which are all J.A.C.s at the moment, want to see local, elected control over the national parks, and so do the people. Whatever these discussions lead to—a special committee on the analogy of the local education committees, with a national parks officer on the analogy of the directors of education or chief education officers—we shall want to examine the results of this so-called compromise to see that local authority control is effectively a fact now and for the future.
Our friends who naturally and rightly look to these areas for leisure and pleasure, and whom we are very glad to welcome, must understand that what is to them leisure is to us livelihood. National parks are not deserted Red Indian reservations for tired Manchester stockbrokers. They are populated areas with a life of their own. Under the present system of joint county control, which will become a unit county control at least in Gwynedd and Dyfed, this can continue with benefit to everybody.
338 I have time to mention only briefly another strong objection to the Bill. We have heard from my side of the House from more than one of my hon. Friends—and indeed an impartial and experienced local government administrator of the status of Baroness Sharp has voiced this disquiet in another place—that there is a pervading stench of gerrymander in the Bill. The Swansea gerrymander is a classic one; it deceives nobody.
The transfer of 16,000 industrial people from Brecon to Glamorgan is, in our view, a deliberate attempt in future to affect parliamentary representation. But it will not work. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) will see to that.
Then we have the creation of this extraordinary Tory suburban county around Cardiff. And this from a Government which say they want to unite town and country! They are certainly not doing so with the new Cardiff county. They are creating a completely unreal county for political purposes. This is their only chance of ever being able to say "At last in Glamorgan we have won a county council." The gerrymandering is there in the transfer of population and districts for no other apparent reason. I suppose what they would like ideally would be to transfer the Rhondda to Reykjavik. In the absence of anything so radical, they are pottering about making a mess of a famous county—a county which has led not only Wales but Britain in education and the social services. We shall fight this Bill in Committee, on Report, and afterwards in the country because we consider it to be a thoroughly bad Bill.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)
I at once refute utterly the allegation of gerrymandering in the preparation of the Bill. In fact, it has been well proved by the speeches today that this is not so and that the allegation cannot stand. We had a speech alleging the same sort of thing from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) and, very soon afterwards, a speech from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) saying that in 339 the new county there we on this side of the House have chosen against our political friends. There is no gerrymandering in the geography of the Bill.
The right hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts) said he would have liked to see two Bills. I assure him he very nearly had two Bills, but not so neatly divided between England and Wales. Almost at the last moment, Her Majesty's Stationery Office told me that there were not long enough staples to pin the Bill together and asked whether we could not have it in two volumes.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why we had not made a statement about local government finance before introducing the Bill. Of course the money must be found for the performance of the functions we have been discussing in the Bill. But it is not as if we were creating new functions. What we are talking about in the Bill is the allocation of existing functions. It is not essential to decide the source of finance for those functions when allocating them between the new authorities we are creating in the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman then asked why we had not waited for the Crowther Report. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) agreed in the debate on the White Paper that we should not wait for Crowther but should proceed. When announcing the establishment of the Crowther Commission the Leader of the Opposition, then Prime Minister, made it clear that the urgent reform of local government would not be held up to await the Crowther Report. That was three years ago and now we are getting on with it.
The right hon. Gentleman complained that in certain respects the Bill was vague and he picked on the one subject in the Bill which is perfectly clear, namely, the clear demarcation between structure plans and local plans. Structure plans will be prepared by councils and local plans by districts. The county and the districts work together in the preparation of the whole planning structure for the county and for the districts. But the demarcation is clear. It could not be clearer than is it in the Bill.
The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) began by condemning my right hon. Friend in robust phrases for producing a Bill which, he said, 340 contained many compromises. He described it as a blurred and tepid sponge. Then the right hon. Gentleman congratulated my right hon. Friend for meeting so many of the points that he himself had put forward, about aldermen, allowances, local plans and about Humberside. These are what he calls compromises in the production of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman went on to urge my right hon. Friend to make further compromises, presumably to make it even more blurred and spongy, about traffic management, rural weighting of metropolitan area boundaries, and so on.
The right hon. Gentleman's one contribution which intrigued me was his proposal for councillors at the age of 18. He asked why we had it at 21 in the Bill. The matter was debated in the House in 1969. All that we have done is to repeat the position as the last Government left it after that debate. That is not necessarily the final answer. I am intrigued with the proposal, and we shall look into it. However, in this respect we are merely consolidating the existing law.
A significant point which has emerged during the debate is that no one seriously has urged the previous Government's unitary system, except perhaps the hon. Member for Sutton. Indeed, no one could plead for a return to that unitary system idea who wanted closeness between councillors and the citizens. No one could plead to go back to the unitary system, with its massive authorities which would have been so remote from the people.
§ Mr. John Silkin
The hon. Gentleman and I must have been listening to a different speech when I was speaking. I suggest that he reads HANSARD tomorrow.
§ Mr. Page
The arguments which I have heard today have been based on our principal reform of the two spheres of government between the county and the district. The complaint has been that we have applied that wrongly, either geographically or from the point of view of functions. That has been the main argument throughout.
It would be foolish for any Minister embarking on local government reform to hope to get agreement at local level on what that reform should be. If it is anything at all, reform must be change, 341 and change in local government must involve instances of taking from one and giving to another. The one from which an area, a function or a power is taken will obviously react unfavourably, to say the least. It is necessary that some areas lose their independence and their individuality. I thought that that point was made powerfully by the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Sir A. Broughton). We have to recognise that feeling throughout the country where some old-established towns are merged into others.
Despite this obvious fact, we invited comment on our proposals in the White Paper from local authority associations, from individual local authorities, from councillors, from staff, from organisations, and from ordinary citizens—[AN HON. MEMBER: "But not from Members of Parliament."] I hear one of my hon. Friends saying, "But not from Members of Parliament." if he knew the number of hours that I have spent discussing it with hon. Members inside and outside the Division Lobby, he would not make that remark. We have discussed it on the proposals in the White Paper and on the circular which accompanied the White Paper, both on boundaries and on functions.
I doubt whether any reform put before Parliament has had more constructive discussion in the formative stage than this local government reform. There has been discussion between the Government and those who will be affected by it and those who will have to implement it.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Does that argument apply to the completely new proposals about the South Glamorgan County which had never seen the light of day until the Bill appeared?
§ Mr. Page
The right hon. Gentleman tries to attack my Achilles heel because I cannot, and do not intend to, talk about Wales. The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to talk about it tomorrow. I assure him that the discussions which we had with all those authorities influenced the decisions on the contents of the Bill and on the boundaries, functions and structure of local government. I do not deplore that, as did the right hon. Member for Deptford, who seemed to think that it was wrong that we should have absorbed these ideas from those we consulted.
§ Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)
The Minister states that it is not up to him to talk about Wales. Will he tell us why the proposal for the new County of Humberside has only seen the light of day in the Bill now published?
§ Mr. Swain
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman went to Sheffield to discuss the South Yorkshire metropolitan district with seven authorities from Derbyshire and Sheffield. The case made out by Sheffield for the inclusion of these areas into the South Yorkshire metropolitan district (c) took 3½ minutes. The Minister took more cognisance of a 3½ minute statement than of 2½ hours actual honest representation.
§ Mr. Page
I thought that was an extremely good meeting. The hon. Gentleman attended that meeting and put forward a very good argument, as he did today. We took account of the argument which was put forward on that occasion, and we moved one area, Barlborough, from one district to another.
As local government would not be local government if everybody's views upon it were identical, I make no pretence that the discussions which we have had have brought before the House an agreed Measure. It is obvious from the debate that it is not an agreed Measure from the point of view of the boundaries. The issues are for Parliament to resolve. We have brought to Parliament the best judgments which we can make after gathering all the facts and arguments put forward by local government interests. I mean that in the widest sense; not just local councillors. I hope that no right hon. or hon. Member will feel that we have been trying to legislate outside the House by carrying out these consultations. If ever there were a subject which Parliament must debate and upon which Parliament must be the judge, this is it. Those of us who have the conduct of this legislation through its next stages will approach the debates in that spirit. If that is not a hostage to Committee fortune, I do not know what is.
Having made that statement with sincere modesty, may I say, with just as 343 sincere arrogance, that I am absolutely certain that the principles on which the Bill is based are correct. It is the way which we have adopted and applied those principles which needs debating.
What are those principles? First and foremost, is that local government must play a greater part in the government of this country than at present. To do that it must have strength not just in a few large towns throughout the country, but throughout the length and breadth of the land. In giving that strength, we must remember the purpose: namely, to provide local government services, to expand them, to provide them economically, efficiently and effectively for the good of the people, and, in making that provision, to carry out the will of the people. That is best achieved surely by ensuring that the people look to their local councils and, indeed, to their local councillors as bodies and persons of importance in the matter of government in their everyday life. In carrying those principles into effect, the kind, size, and functions of the proposed local government authorities are interdependent. The kinds of authority, the county or the district, denote the area of the function. This is a chicken and egg situation. That part of the Bill which sets out the local government areas is both the parent and the child and the part which sets out the functions. The areas—I include in that term the population and the rateable value—must suit the functions, and the functions must suit the areas.
In the process of drawing the county boundaries—which is what we are concerned with in the Bill at this stage—a decision was involved on the areas of the metropolitan counties. It has been pleaded today that certain other areas in the country should have been chosen as metropolitan counties. It was not easy to decide which areas should have that term—which areas should have those functions which we have given to the metropolitan counties. In that case of selecting those counties it was not a matter of bringing town and country together. It was a matter of defining the boundary of a conurbation, the areas of towns built together beside one another, part and parcel of the same community.
Incidentally if the area should happen to include green belt, it will be none the 344 less green belt by that inclusion. The normal development for these conurbations will be in the neighbouring new towns, the neighbouring expanding towns, in the towns which can take a greater density in the neighbourhood. The normal development will not be by bursting the boundaries of the conurbation in an increasing urban sprawl. I thought that the urging on my right hon. Friend by the right hon. and learned Member for Deptford of a policy of Elizabeth I—
§ Mr. John Silkin
I did not. If the Minister is going to quote me he must really listen to my speech. I was saying that the point was that the attempts by Elizabeth I to stop building were total failures.
§ Mr. Page
Perhaps in the time of Elizabeth II we can do better.
I am sure that this is a defeatist attitude. If we carry out the logic of that attitude, that we cannot stop building, we shall never have any green belts at all. We shall never have any planning policy at all. This can be taken to the extreme and the defeat of our planning objectives.
Within the metropolitan counties we had to mark out the metropolitan districts. We looked for communities of about 250,000 people. In some cases a district was evident from the existing county boundary. In others it was a matter of merging together one or two districts which seemed to have the same community spirit. Then outside the metropolitan counties we had regard to the existing county boundaries. I admit that we based our decisions here on tradition, to try to retain the existing county boundaries. In one-quarter of the cases we have retained the existing counties. In other cases, counties side by side had developed unevenly, and the present reorganisation provides an opportunity to restore the balance. Take, for example, Hampshire and Dorset; there was an opportunity to try to restore the balance between those counties and their resources. In other cases we find that a border town or district looks more to the neighbouring county than the one in which it is set out, and the boundaries have been redrawn there.
In the balancing of the counties there have been cases of merger—between Cumberland and Westmorland into the 345 County of Cumbria, or by carving out a new county such as Teesside or Avon. In the latter case, where one is carving out a new county, there is a strong argument for basing it on the concept of estuarial development.
Those who have raised constituency points have raised matters of extreme importance, and I have tried to touch on the sort of principles on which we decided the boundaries. I hope that, in Committee, and necessarily on Report, because the Committee cannot include all those who want to put their points for their constituents, they will be fully debated.
I do assure my hon. Friends who have mentioned North-East Essex that there was strong support when I spent a day with local authorities in that area for the line which we have drawn now. However, if the view has changed there, of course we will go into this again. One could not help but be impressed by the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), particularly on welfare subjects, and the financial case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale). On all these, if the local authorities have changed their minds, let us consider the matter again.
Having drawn the county boundaries, the next geographical exercise is to sketch in the district boundaries. I cannot ignore that exercise by slaying that this will all he a matter for the Boundary Commission We are in at the start of that, having given the Commission guidelines, and we are in at the finish, having to bring before the House eventually an Order based on the Commission's report.
There will be some large districts, based on existing county boundaries. There will be some very small districts of about 40,000 where there is low population. There will be a number of medium-sized districts, and it is perhaps here that we have a great opportunity for reform—an opportunity to produce strength by the amalgamation of town and country and perhaps of several small towns to make one viable local authority.
I believe that the provisions of the Bill will enable us to create the right kind of authority for the functions which we are allocating to each, the county and the district. I stress again that there is no responsibily for these functions from one authority to the other. They are two 346 spheres of local government and not, although it is a convenient phrase, two tiers. The functions are allocated to each absolutely as their duty to carry out.
Of course there are provisions within the Bill for co-operation between the local authorities, for agency between them and there will be cases in which the country will wish to ask the district to carry out a function and vice versa.
§ Mr. Page
Clauses 100, 110 and 111 are those which allow the local authorities great freedom.
But the most important decisions which have emerged from all our discussions following the White Paper are those which have allotted to every district the functions which give it the complete power to create and to control the character of that district, with due regard to the general strategy of its county. The county will have due regard to the strategy of the region and the region to the national planning strategy.
I mention that hierarchy to show that interdependence in planning is not confined merely to district and county but runs through the whole gamut of planning. In the hands of districts we have placed functions which will enable them to control the character of their areas.
Coupled with planning powers, districts will have powers in housebuilding, house management, house and area improvement, slum clearance, town development, building regulations, the maintenance of unclasified roads, public transport undertakings, and environmental health, with all the subjects that are covered by that last heading. This is a set of functions far more related to the full government of an area than the county districts have ever known before.
It is true that in the case of the county boroughs it is less than they have had before, but the representatives of those areas will, in the county council, be sharing in the control of some of the functions which they have been used to 347 carrying out in the county boroughs. But for county districts it means more powers than they have ever had before in the full government of their towns and areas.
§ Mr. Braine
There is, of course, one exception. Are not highway powers being taken away from some county districts which are now exercising them satisfactorily?
§ Mr. Page
The county is already the highway authority through a great amount of the land. We are at present faced with a rapidly increasing crisis in transportation and traffic. Within a short time, unless something very firm is done, there will be a snarling up of the traffic. We must control it by having a much larger area than leaving it scattered through counties and many urban districts and boroughs. We must look at the whole question of highways in this way or the traffic will snarl up, at the same time leaving the representatives of the districts to look after those roads which 348 are, like residential roads, part of the character of those areas.
I was saying that these seem to be functions which will attract the best men into local government. I am sure that one of the achievements which will result from this Measure will be to persuade the public to look on their local councillor as someone who really does govern their lives. [Interruption.] The tragedy in local government today is that too many people look to their M.P. to act as a sort of ombudsman to the local councillor. This is a tragic position, and unless, through this Bill, we can achieve a greater status for the council and the councillor, we shall achieve nothing.
I am sure that we can put local government into that important position in the eyes of the public. This is what we hope to achieve by the Bill. We can go forward from today's debate confident that we have the right principles in the Bill, and with the assistance of the House and hon. Members in Committee we will get the details right. I hope that we will have good long debates in Committee because this is a matter for Parliament to decide. We have brought forward the best judgments and we are confident that the principles are right.
§ Debate adjourned [Mr. Hawkins.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.