HC Deb 17 April 1972 vol 835 cc121-89
Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 192, line 8, at beginning insert:

Greater Bristol


The county borough of Bristol.

District (b)

In the administrative county of Gloucestershire—

  1. the urban districts of Kingswood and Mangotsfield;
  2. 122
  3. the rural district of Warmley.

District (c)

In the administrative county of Gloucestershire—

  1. the rural districts of Sodbury and Thornbury'.

This Amendment seeks to correct one of the great anomalies thrown up by the Bill. The position of Bristol in the present local government reorganisation is uniquely humiliating. Bristol is by far and away the largest and most important city being reduced to a district council. Bristol's charter goes back to 1373. Besides a long tradition, we are extremely up to date and have the most progressive education and social services in the country. Yet Bristol is being stripped of most of its powers, and only after representations in Committee did the Minister agree that Bristol should be spared the humiliation of reapplying for her charter. Bristol's importance is recognised by the A.M.C. and Bristol is one of the great cities, with Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield, with permanent representatives on A.M.C. Committees, yet all the others have been given metropolitan status and Bristol is the odd one out.

Bristol is thought of as a prosperous city but recently ominous cracks have been appearing. Last summer nearly 800 men were laid off at Imperial Smelting. Bristol Piping closed down, affecting 250 jobs; Bendix Westinghouse 100; and B.D.R. 300. There is a growing loss of job opportunity. B.A.C. accounts department has recently moved to Weybridge, and there is danger of creeping decline. Action is needed, and I do not believe that Avon is the best way of dealing with this. Indeed, we are already hearing of internal stresses developing in the steering Committees which are beginning to work in trying to co-ordinate the new authority.

Apart from Bristol's need, I stress the need to maximise the growth in South Gloucestershire because the two go hand in hand. This is one of the great growth points in England, and it is freely conceded that some sort of metropolitan solution will have to be looked for in 10 to 15 years' time.

How realistic is the idea that we shall have a revision in the future? It seems to me that a major shake-up in the future is very unlikely. It has taken so long to get round to local government reform that the forces of inertia will be completely against doing anything, and things will be allowed to remain as they are. Surely if we are reforming local government we should make a thorough job of it. We should take account of existing trends and then have a period of stability in which things can settle down. Apart from the chanciness of reform in the future, I believe that delay in the creation of a metropolitan area will do great damage to local interests, to the South-West as a whole and also to the country at large.

I base a great deal of my case in saying this on the Severnside Study which appeared last year and which I do not believe has been sufficiently taken into account in formulating the local government proposals for this area. The Severn-side area to the north of Bristol has been a site of industrial and residential growth for some years and shows no sign of congestion. There is a great deal of flat land available for industrial expansion, and it is at the centre of a national communication network. Future population growth will be substantial even if there is some revision in the existing estimates.

The Severnside Study expressed the very clear view that opportunities for growth may not be exploited. The plan went on to outline three possible ways in which growth may be accommodated. The first is by sticking to the concepts of present development plans. When we think of large areas of North Somerset, including Weston-super-Mare, there is only room for small local development. Bath is out of the question for major development because of its unique architectural and historical qualities. Therefore, with this first suggested solution we can have only minor scattered development which will not for long accommodate the expected growth. So there would be great pressure to establish new areas for development in the green belt itself. If these were successfully resisted, people would eventually have to leave the area, to its great detriment and particularly to the detriment of Bristol.

The third possibility is major expansion to the north of Bristol, and the study plumps for this heavily. The north is chosen because apart from the usual considerations of marshy land, steep slopes and quality of agricultural land, there are two maps in particular, Nos. 9 and 10, in the study showing countryside conservation and nature conservation and showing the inexorable forces which go to pointing that there must be some change in the green belt and a development in the Frampton Cotterell area. I know that the right hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) will agree that Frampton Cotterell is a delightful village where one can lose oneself even after one has known it for 10 or 15 years. But when we talk of the Frampton Cotterell area we are, in fact, talking about the whole area to the north of Bristol delineated in the Severnside Study.

Either we concentrate here, as I say, or we have scattered development, leading to decline. The scattered development itself would put a strain on services. It would make for longer journeys to work and would create difficulties for shopping and entertainment.

8.0 p.m.

The alternative to scattered growth is a greater Bristol development, rising to a population of over 1 million. I believe that escalating land prices and growing pressure for land release make this Severnside solution imperative if we are not to have the desecration of superb Gloucestershire and Somerset scenery. Incidentally, it will also safeguard a great deal of first-rate agricultural land.

There is need for an early decision to this effect and an early start to planning. It is particularly necessary to safeguard the development opportunities by reserving routes and other kindred matters. In fact, a South Gloucestershire planning study approved in 1970 said that there should be no more land released for development in this area except as part of a greater Bristol strategy.

It is generally conceded that the local government structure in this area will be re-examined in 10 or 15 years. Will this really help? By the time it comes about, we shall have missed the boat. Will the new Avon county, if it is brought into being, and if it knows that it will have to lose this area in the long run, devote the time and resources needed to build up the essential early infrastructure for this great urban development? Why should it pour the massive effort needed into the area when, almost by definition, just as the thing is moving towards completion it will lose it?

I believe that the solution suggested in the Amendment is the best one to cope with the growth. In economic and environmental terms it is very satisfactory, and from the standpoint of rate of return on national investment in infrastructure, in things like the motorway system or the new Parkway station, it would give us the best return on money put in.

I readily concede to the Minister that there are three metropolitan districts in the Amendment, and in district (b), Kingswood and Mangotsfield Urban District Councils and the rural district of Warmley, the population in 1971 was only 78,000, while in district (c), the Rural Districts of Sodbury and Thornbury, it was 110,000. These are far below the population which the Government regard as acceptable for metropolitan districts.

I have separated districts (b) and (c)in the Amendment in order to emphasise the difference between them. The Kings-wood, Mangotsfield and Warmley area is largely developed, although there is still some space for which there are plans to give a projected growth of population to 101,000 by 1981. Sodbury and Thornbury are estimated to grow to 139,000 by 1981.

If these were separate districts, I should envisage a great deal of co-operation between them, since this would seem to be in keeping with the Minister's remarks on the new Clause regardingeducation services which we discussed last Thursday, and both areas already share a great deal of common services as part of the existing Gloucestershire County Council area.

If the Minister will not accept that these limited populations are viable, I point out that if districts (b) and (c) are merged they can produce a South Gloucestershire metropolitan district with a present population of 188,000, which is an entirely acceptable figure, and a projected population of 240,000 by 1981, only seven years after the new authority will have been created. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when he is thinking about it, because it seems to me that the merging of the South Gloucestershire area will produce a metropolitan district which satisfies the criteria which he spelled out earlier when dealing with another matter.

The solution which I propose is not only in the national interest; it would help the South-West as a whole. We do not hear much about it, perhaps, as compared with other parts of the country, but there is a great deal of unemployment in the South-West, and wages are in many cases pitifully low.

A metropolitan development in the Bristol-Severnside area would shift very slightly the national centre of gravity towards the South-West and, I believe, produce benefits not only by focusing more attention towards the South-West, but also, by concentrating expansion here, it would relieve the pressure and so help to preserve the many architectural, historical and scenic features of the South-West which will be one of the great attractions to help build up the service industries which must provide one of the great sources of future employment. It may at some time in the future, indeed, help to produce a balanced Severn estuarial authority. In parenthesis, I may say that we cannot help sometimes contrasting the treatment which Cardiff is receiving as compared with Bristol.

I ask the Government to look ahead, to create a metropolitan county, of two districts only if need be, to make sure that this important Severnside growth gets off the ground to help the prosperity of the Bristol area and the South-West, to make sure that the nation has the maximum return on its resources, and to envisage two metropolitan districts both climbing up to approximately the same sort of population figure, both coping with common problems and with different problems, but both working in harness for the good of Bristol, for the good of the South-West, and for the good of the country.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

My hon. Friends and I are grateful for the opportunity to debate the 53 Amendments which we have tabled and which fall within the compass of this debate, a debate opened so cogently and well by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) in moving his Amendment No. 6. Incidentally, it was very pleasant to see the Prime Minister here if only for a fleeting moment to pay attention to our debate.

In following the hon. Gentleman, I shall speak to other Amendments and speak for Somerset rather than for Bristol, although I shall probably make some reference to the points which the hon. Gentleman raised. Assuredly, I shall speak with vigour, for I have strong feelings on these matters, but I shall sepak with sincerity, and I do not doubt that others of my hon. Friends who take part will do the same.

The history of the West Country is a proud part of the history of England. Somerset, our county, has had its valuable share in it, from earliest times, lasting through many adventures, not excluding rebellion, and still less—alas—revenge. Many besides myself will be proud of long family connections and associations with the West Country. Somerset is my home. I am concerned to defend it and to preserve it.

It is not too much to say that to each generation in turn Somerset's natural beauty has been an inspiration, and each generation has left its mark on the county. Somerset has its own style, its proper local patriotism, its cohesion. These characteristics have real merit and advantage. At the very least, they are the basis for competent local government, working in sympathy with the wishes of the local people.

Those characteristics are too fine to lose. Neither should they be tampered with or interrupted, but rather should they be cherished and conserved by a Conservative Government.

But not so. It is proposed, by sudden administrative act, radically to change our county, to reduce its population by more than 200,000 persons, or in excess of 35 per cent., and to reduce its rateable value from £22million by £8 million, or by more than 35 per cent. This is indeed a very great step to take. I believe it to be wrong, unfair and, for many of the reasons advanced by the hon. Member for Bristol, South, unwise. This is the first opportunity in public to ask the Secretary of State to change his mind.

The Amendments stand in various names including those of the hon. Members for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King), Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), and Wells (Mr. Boscawen) and, broadly speaking, they describe four alternatives. I will summarise them shortly. In the first group of 11 Amendments it is good to see the Secretary of State's name on one of them, at least thereby indicating, I hope, that he agrees with 10 per cent. of our argument. The purpose of this first group is to retain in Somerset the whole of the present administrative county, plus the City of Bath. Consequent upon this Amendment the approximate population of Avon would be 610,000 and of Somerset 685,000.

In order to save time I am deliberately not spelling out each of the Amendments but I am sure the Minister will understand them very well.

In the second group of nine Amendments the Secretary of State is supporting one so that the proportion of his approval is rising. The purpose of this group is to retain the existing administrative county of Somerset, excluding the City of Bath, less certain parishes to the north and east of Bath and the parish of Whit-church all in the Bathavon rural district. The effect of these Amendments if they are accepted by the Government, would be to make the approximate population of Avon 704,000 and that of Somerset 591,000.

The purpose of the third group of 18 Amendments, one of which has the approval of the Secretary of State, is to retain in the administrative County of Somerset the Borough of Weston-super-Mare, the urban district of Norton-Radstock, the whole of Axbridge rural district, the southern part of Clutton rural district and three parishes in the Bathavon rural district which adjoin the retained area of the Clutton rural district and the urban district of Norton-Radstock, the so-called "green line" proposal of April, 1971. formulated by the county council. The approximate populations consequent upon these Amendments would be: Avon 798,000 and Somerset 497,000.

The purpose of the fourth and final group of Amendments, where the Secretary of State approves of one of the 15, is to retain in the administrative County of Somerset the Borough of Weston-super-Mare, the urban district of Norton-Radstock, the whole of the Axbridge Rural District Council and the whole of the divided parishes in the Clutton rural district plus the parishes of Nempnett Thrubwell. One of my hon. Friends was asking whether Nempnett Thrubwell existed and I can assure him that it does. Also included is Hinton Blewett in that rural district.

The approximate populations of Avon and Somerset consequent upon this fourth group of Amendments, the least attractive of all the Somerset Amendments, would be; Avon 810,000, Somerset 485,000.

In terms of population and common sense all these Amendments are better than the proposals of the Secretary of State. We have signed these Amendments representing as they do sundry attempts at improvement. They have one common theme which goes across party lines and across the area. The theme is that what is proposed in the Bill is wrong. I hope the Secretary of State will not be indifferent to such evidence of responsible opinion and will decide tonight that the remedies we are putting forward are constructive.

8.15 p.m.

We were encouraged when the Secretary of State first said that his original proposals were mistaken, as he did when he agreed that, apart from certain minor adjustments to boundaries, the Frome Urban and rural districts, represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells should be retained within the County of Somerset. That saved for us some 5 per cent. of our population. In my view he should go a great deal further, and I now proceed to the arguments in favour of doing so.

I must say that the change in local government is very much less comprehensive and is less of a reform than its more determined advocates sometimes pretend. For example, the south-eastern, the eastern, the southern and the western boundaries of our county are quite untouched. Yet I believe there are better arguments in favour, for example, of the Exmoor National Park area being contained within a single county authority, or of the extension of Somerset's southern or eastern boundaries than there are for the Secretary of State's proposals for emasculating our county. I leave that aspect and do not develop it now on the ground of time although it would be easy to do so and make an overwhelming case.

I turn now to Somerset as it is and as it is proposed to be in the Bill. Somerset currently has a population of 600,000 and is the fourteenth largest of the 45 English counties. It provides well a whole range of county services and it is the focal point of a number of regional local government services. It is the link authority between the northern and southern joint advisory planning Committees of the Regional Economic Planning Council; the headquarters of the consortium for method building: the headquarters of the South-West Children's Regional Planning Committee; the headquarters of the Road Construction Unit—and incidentally how good it is to see under the Conservative Government that road building in the West Country is really beginning to forge ahead; it is the headquarters of the Furniture For Local Authorities Group. These are all matters of substantial significance and they were all introduced at the behest of the central Government. That then is the present county. It is viable, competent, enthusiastic and working well.

The new County of Somerset as proposed in the Bill would have a population of 385,000 and would be the fourth smallest of 38 non-metropolitan county councils. It would have a rateable value of a mere £14 million. This change would create a substantial imbalance not least by comparison with Somerset's neighbours. Avon would have a population of 900,000 and a rateable value of £42 million, three times that of Somerset. Devon would have a population of 900,000 and a rateable value of £38 million; Dorset a population of 550,000 and a rateable value of £30 million; and Wiltshire a population of 500,000 and a rateable value of £20 million.

What does this mean in concrete terms apart from the obvious imbalance? The new county will not be a separate police authority and it might lose its functions as a fire authority. It would no longer be the base for a separate probation and after-care service, and all because it would be too small. The new county would be over-provided with staff, with accommodation and with expensive equipment, not least the computer which it has just obtained. It would certainly have difficulty in the future in obtaining staff of sufficient calibre to maintain the present standard of services. It would no longer be able to afford certain classes of specialist staff. It would inevitably become a second class county to the detriment of its inhabitants and directly contrary to the Government's professed intention of providing strong units of local government. I hope you will not think me old-fashioned. Mr. Deputy Speaker, when I say that I believe that only the best is good enough for the people of Somerset. We who have the honour to represent them are surely right always to insist upon that.

Compare our situation with the situation in general. The average population of the 38 new non-metropolitan counties is 699,000, almost twice what is proposed for Somerset. If the present boundaries of the administrative county of Somerset remained intact and Bath were included in the new county—the subject of one of our Amendments—it could and would be a strong and fully viable authority with a population of 685,000. It is for this sort of change that I am arguing and for which I am sure my hon. Friends will argue, for our chief criticism is that the Government's proposals will weaken Somerset too much.

What is proposed in the Bill is not inevitable. It would not be true to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not have alternatives. We suggest four alternatives in the Amendments. It is a matter of judgment which is chosen, but I have a great deal of sympathy with the line of thinking proposed by the hon. Member for Bristol, South. Perhaps it is right to regard Bristol as a special case. As the hon. Gentleman said, Bristol is substantially the largest existing county borough outside the proposed six metropolitan counties. It is certain to grow greater still. The hon. Gentleman quoted the Severnside Study. Whether we take that or anything else as a criterion, it is obvious that there will be a continuing development in the north of the proposed new county of Avon and that part of Gloucestershire which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) represents with such distinction, and which the Bill proposes to be included in the new county. That will happen whether there is Government support for it or not. It is the trend of the past 30 years. Everything is in its favour, and we shall see the population of that area continue to build up. This thinking has been endorsed not only by the study the hon. Gentleman quoted but by every subsequent examination.

It is possible to say, therefore, that the proposals in the Bill affecting Somerset run counter to logic and to every local inquiry and recommendation. I would put it in more commonplace terms and say that I truly do not believe there is the least community of interest between North Somerset and the proposed new county of Avon. There is every justification for regarding Bristol as a special case, as one requiring special treatment. As the hon. Gentleman said, sooner or later Bristol and the area to the north are bound to become a metropolitan area in effect. In that event the northern Somerset districts and parishes will almost certainly revert to being part of the old county, to which they wish to belong. It is surely better not to split them now. A much better case can be made for making Bristol a metropolitan area than can ever be made in logic for Teesside, Glamorgan or almost anywhere else in the United Kingdom I can think of.

But there are other extraordinary features of these proposals. In any case, there is not a satisfactory rural-urban balance in the new county of Avon, still less in the new Somerset. On the face of it, the inclusion of 175,000 acres of NorthSomerset and a population of more than 200,000 might appear to provide a rural-urban balance for Avon, but not so. Of the 210,000, more than half—107,500—will be urban dwellers, and there are a further 85,000 citizens of Bath. Thus, in the new county of Avon three out of every four residents will be urban dwellers, and out of the 73 councillors who may be elected to the new Avon County Council, 54, or more than 70 per cent., will represent urban divisions. So the whole basis of the Government's argument disappears. Indeed, it did not even exist.

I summarise the arguments so far: I urge my hon. Friend the Minister, for whose great experience, devotion and hard work in the cause of local government and other causes in this House I have always had the greatest admiration, to recommend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to reconsider the matter, because my right hon. Friend's pro- posals weaken Somerset to the demerit and disadvantage both of the authority and of the population; because they are not logical; because there are alternatives; and because his proposals do not meet his own declared objectives.

It would be possible to talk a great deal about matters of detail, like the divided Mendip parishes, but I do not propose to do that. However, a final point requires real emphasis. My colleagues and I have sought to persuade my right hon. Friend in favour of our arguments privately, in discussion and by memorandum and correspondence rather than by demonstration of any kind. We have led no public agitation. But do not let it be supposed that this means we do not feel keenly. We do, but we prefer the path of democracy to the path of open hostility of a kind which we are seeing far too much in our country in different respects at present. But I hope I have shown today—I repeat, for the first time in public—that the Government would be unjustified and unwise to proceed further with these proposals. I beg my hon. Friend to have them reconsidered.

In the county we have seen the arguments develop without ourselves publicly pressing the case in which we believe out of loyalty and friendship towards the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister. It would have been very easy and very popular to do so. Therefore, local opinion when expressed can be regarded as genuine and heartfelt. I and others have sent my right hon. Friend a number of examples from the police, the farmers, women's groups, and local authority workers. There is a long catalogue. If that is not enough, a vote has been taken among those electors living in that part of North Somerset affected by the Government's proposals. Of the 155,000 people canvassed, 115,000 voted. That is 74 per cent., and a representative example, we may think. Those who are for the Government's proposals numbered 17,000, or 15 per cent. Those who were for Somerset were almost 100,000, or 85 per cent. So local opinion is overwhelmingly against the proposals. It would be wrong to ignore that opinion. Indeed, I am fortified in this view by what is written in the White Paper "Local Government in England", Cmnd. 4584, issued in February, 1971. Paragraph 8 says: Local boundaries…should be understood and accepted as sensible by electors. I repeat that it would be wrong to ignore public opinion in this area.

8.30 p.m.

None of us in Somerset is in any way unreasonable. Indeed, I am in great sympathy with the strategic purpose of the Bill and voted for it on Second Reading in the hope that my right hon. Friend would agree in the meantime to reconsider what was originally proposed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development will give an assurance that we shall have that reconsideration. I hope he will say so clearly and, if he is able to, will define what he proposes by way of amendment. That, I hope, would be a radical change, which would be a victory for common sense and good sense, qualities with which I firmly associate him.

For myself, I shall vote for Amendment No. 6 in default of such an assurance. That is our only way to protest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, unless you wish to allow us to have votes on any other of this group of Amendments. It is not for me to recommend them to do so, but I hope that some of my hon. Friends will follow me in this regard. Those who cannot bring themselves to go that far will not, I hope, vote against us but will abstain.

Many courses influence our actions in this House. We constantly have to profess several loyalties. When they come into conflict, especially in personal terms, that is a sad thing, but in this regard unhesitatingly and with conviction I shall do in the interests of my friends and neighbours what I know to be right.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

I support Amendment No. 6 and the eloquent advocacy of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks). I am delighted that hon. Members on the Government side from the rural hinterland around Bristol and further west have added their names to the Amendment. I am sorry that Conservative Members who represent Bristol constituencies have not added their names. I think that is unfortunate, but no doubt they have their motives.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

There are some of us who have come here today to listen to the arguments and make up our minds in the light of those arguments.

Mr. Palmer

I am glad that hon. Members have come to listen to the arguments. It is a good practice if it can be followed. But I have known speeches made in ignorance of the arguments.

My hon. Friend has referred to Bristol and its great historical importance and the tremendous status it has always had in the life of our country, going back to ancient times. There is no need for me to enlarge on that truth. Until the end of the eighteenth century, Bristol was the second city of the land. The memoirs of a traveller staying at Bath in the eighteenth century which I once read referred to "the metropolis". When I read the book I thought she was referring to London but in fact she was referring to the metropolis of Bristol.

Without being too boastful, Bristolians can claim that Bristol was well known before Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester were even heard of. Therefore, when my hon. Friend and I with hon. Members opposite advocate that Bristol should have metropolitan status, we are continuing a tradition which comes down in the civic life of our country from the distant past. I agree that our argument would not constitute a case if Bristol had decayed as a city and had declined as an urban centre of first importance to the country. It is true that Bristol had a rather difficult period in the early years of the nineteenth century, particularly after the ending of the slave trade. Since then it has prospered steadily and is a prosperous place at the present time. It is true there are a few cracks here and there that we hope will have no permanent significance. For instance, there is the growth in the last two or three years of unemployment, which at one time we thought was a stranger to Bristol.

But broadly, Bristol remains as it has been over the greater part of its history—a city of strategic economic importance, of great commercial and industrial significance and certainly a city with a vast future. Its influence spreads out into the area immediately around. My hon. Friend made a useful observation when he said that Bristol's natural growth in the residential sense and perhaps in the industrial sense was to the north of the old city. He has great knowledge of these matters. He has fought a constituency in the area before coming to the House, and he served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill.

My present constituency, Bristol, Central, is disappearing as a result of reorganisation and I am developing my interests now well to the north-east, as the present Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) is well aware. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about Bristol's natural development to the north, and it was emphasised in the Severnside Study. The proposed geographical area in our Amendment is small, but it will have a developing population, and it makes a natural entity.

If the proposed change is made, it will largely answer, as the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) emphasised, those numerous critics of this curious and misnamed Avon County. I always think that "Avon" should be somewhere near New York, for its sounds rather like Winchester County which is a district outside New York.

If Bristol were given independent metropolitan status, that would answer critics of Avon and those who have so stoutly defended the continued existence of the historical County of Somerset. A solution of this kind would answer the many powerful criticisms.

The trouble about the proposed Avon County is that it will dilute Bristol without helping anyone else very much. That to me appears to be the weakness. It is neither one thing nor the other. I am sure that Bath would not be sorry to be free of Bristol. Weston-super-Mare is anxious to be out apparently. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) is here tonight, and has signed the Amendment. Somerset would retain its ancient strength in numbers and influence.

Bristol has had a long and rich experience as a county borough in modern times. In social, administrative and commercial terms it is a local authority which has had and continues to have a nationwide reputation. It would be a pity if this rich civic experience in managing in this concentrated urban area were lost by just hoping that by spreading its experience into the limited surrounding rural areas, everyone would gain; I should have thought that the opposite would be the case. I commend the Amendment to my hon. Friend and hope that he will make representations to the Secretary of State and take heed of the many vigorous minds and eloquent voices inside and outside of Bristol who would prefer to see a solution of this kind which would give renewed strength to Bristol and at the same time retain the ancient cohesion of Somerset.

Mr. Frederick Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)

We are discussing a fairly large collection of Amendments some of which are not entirely consistent one with another. They are nevertheless loosely connected. My Amendment No. 273—in page 198, line 9, after 'Thornbury', insert: '(except the parishes of Alkington, Berkeley, Hamfallow, Ham and Stone, and Hinton)'. is concerned with what could be described in comparison with the speeches of the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) as peripheral matters. However, they are no less important to those concerned.

I follow my right hon. Friend in his impassioned speech on behalf of Somerset. I have a considerable amount of sympathy here. In the country areas there is a great loyalty to the old traditions and ancient geographical, later administrative, counties. The Minister will remember that 10 years ago or perhaps a little more I was in a similar position to himself, endeavouring to pilot the Bill on London Government through the House. I have developed a high regard for his Department, for him and for his right hon. and hon. Friends. But, by God, they are urban! They do not understand the real depths of country feeling. I fervently believe that although it would be wrong to base local government entirely on these ancient boundaries, bearing in mind the enormous changes in population in both size and distribution have taken place since the present system was inaugurated at the end of the last century. But it would be equally wrong, bearing in mind the half-hearted enthusiasm of so many people for local government, to discard these deep loyalties which can make an enormous contribution when it is pos- sible to retain them on the basis of a sound local government argument.

I cannot fully support my right hon. Friend because the only feature that makes the new County of Avon at all acceptable to my constituents is the fact that without some part at least of Somerset they will not be utterly swamped by the urban element. This is the balance to which my right hon. Friend referred and it can be achieved in Avon, if Avon is to be the answer, only by the inclusion of parts of both Somerset and Gloucestershire.

It may be that there is merit in the concept put forward by the hon. Member for Bristol, South for a metropolitan county but not on the boundaries suggested by him. It would be a farce to include parishes east, south or north of Chipping Sodbury. It has always been my ambition to become Lord Sod of Sodbury and to sign myself "Sod". If we look at the map and observe the parish to the north of Thornbury with which I will be concerned later and the parishes to the west, it will be seen that this is a nonsense in a metropolitan area.

8.45 p.m.

But what depresses me in the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, South is the assumption that unless we include all that is required for the development of Bristol within the same local government area we shall not have good planning, conservation of what matters or proper development. I am alarmed at this. I was particularly alarmed by the Minister's comments in Committee when he replied to the debate on Amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) which had been sent to him by the Gloucester County Council. Having discounted the very strong cases for the parishes in the Thornbury Rural District, my hon. Friend the Minister turned to the parishes included in the Amendments concerning the Sodbury Rural District and said: With regard to the parishes of Sodbury, however, including places like Badminton, in the proximity of the Cotswolds, I should like to have a look at them again and study not so much the social aspects as the geography, because from the point of view of amenity we may not have made the right choice here."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 20th January, 1972; c. 829.] I took it, I hope wrongly, that he implied that, because these parishes were divided from the rest of Avon by the escarpment of the Cotswolds, we must preserve them and could preserve them only if they stayed in Gloucestershire.

I hope that my hon. Friend did not mean that because, in terms of local government—and I suppose I have been playing about with it as long as he has—the escarpment of the Cotswolds have no relevance whatever. It does not form a barrier between the social movements of people, between the education arrangements, between the travel-to-work areas or between the medical and hospital organisations. They are beautiful hills, but they are not mountains. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give an assurance that he intends to preserve a reasonable form of town and country planning. I shall not comment on his most recent efforts in that direction, although I confess that they fill me with alarm.

As I have said, I am concerned with the small country parishes in the north of the Thornbury Rural District. The case which I wish to make for them has little or nothing to do with the cases made by the hon. Member for Bristol, South and my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton. They are part of a wedge which stretches from Thornbury well into what will be the new County of Gloucester and out of the County of Avon. My hon. Friend the Minister has a sizeable correspondence from me on this subject and I know he will not complain that he has not been properly briefed. He also knows the views of some of my constituents who have written to him direct in no uncertain terms. He knows too that I have found his replies unconvincing.

As I say, geographically these parishes form part of a wedge running into the heart of what will be the new Gloucestershire—some of us would unkindly call it "the Gloucestershire rump". These parishes are not alone in this respect. There are parishes in this wedge, such as the parishes of Tortworth and Charfield, which I have not included, not because they do not have a case—indeed, perhaps they have a more arguable case—but because I have taken the view that it is right to put forward a plea for the minimum area for which there are sound local government arguments in the hope that my hon. Friend will accept my restraint as a good excuse, if that is what he wants, to give me a generous response. These parishes undoubtedly look more to the north, to Dursley, than to Thornbury and correspondingly far more to Gloucester than to Bristol. They have made a wholly convincing case on local government grounds.

I accept my hon. Friend's argument that local government has had the uncertainties of reform hanging over it for far too long. I do not suggest that he should postpone bringing in his reforms until all these peripheral problems can be studied by the appropriate commission, but it is right that where strong local government arguments exist they should be taken into account now. I have made it clear to my constituents that despite my sympathy for the traditional links that have been mentioned I am not prepared to put forward any argument based purely on them, because if one bases an argument purely on them there is never scope for reform. But it is something of value, to be preserved, where there are also local government arguments.

I challenged my constituents to produce local government arguments, and I believe that they have done so extremely well. First there is the educational argument. The catchment area for the schools spreads right across the proposed boundary, and people look far more to Dursley and to Wotton-under-Edge than to Thornbury. In terms of employment from school, the pupils almost invariably obtain employment from the Dursley and Sharpness youth employment service and find little of any value from Filton, 18 to 20 miles away, as opposed to three-and-a-half miles, or four miles to the north. There is a teachers'centre at Dursley which provides not only in-service training but also copying equipment, record library, workshop and other facilities. Again the alternative is 18 or 20 miles away on the outskirts of Bristol. The technical college is in either Dursley or Stroud, and not in Thornbury or Filton.

Then there are the medical services. The local clinic is at Dursley, five miles away, and not at Thornbury or Filton. The public library services are similarly situated.

More outstanding is the pattern of the travel-to-work area. By far the larger number of people who live around Berkeley go to Dursley or Oldbury. Equally, considering the number of people in the Thornbury area who work in what will be the new Gloucestershire area, by far the greater number live in Berkeley and work there.

The same goes for the social pattern. I have been at some pains to ask people where they find their entertainment and have discovered that they find it in such humdrum spheres as darts clubs and school cricket teams. They go north wards, round Dursley.

I have absolutely no vested interest in this matter; very much to the contrary. This is a good, strong Conservative area. If I win my case ultimately it will go from my constituency. But my constituents have made their case and it is my duty to put it forward. I believe that it is a strong one, which should not be brushed aside and left to commissions of inquiry, because the criteria which Maud was at such pains to set out all indicate that these parishes look to Dursley and Gloucestershire, and not to Bristol. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will be a little more flexible than in the past and take it from me and my right hon. Friend that in the countryside these traditions go very deep. I firmly resist such proposals—as I have in other areas—where there are no local government arguments, but here there are.

Turning to the question of the parishes in Sodbury I was horrified that it should be thought that they had the better case. If my hon. Friend knows these areas as I do he will know that the people look not to Bristol but to Bath. The people shop in Bath. They get their entertainment in Bath. The education system looks that way, and the hospitals look that way. I can assure my hon. Friend that the escarpment of the Cotswolds is not very high.

Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)

I shall try to follow Mr. Speaker's injunction to be brief. There have been some good speeches in this debate. We all listened with emotion to the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Mem- ber for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). Naturally, I agree with my colleagues who represent Bristol that the Bill involves some sacrifice for our city. For several centuries she has been a corporation, and under the Bill she will become a mere district. The largest cities in the country are to become metropolitan counties, but not Bristol.

Nevertheless, if one accepts, as I do, the central point of the Redcliffe-Maud Report and the White Papers issued by both Governments—that there should be a new unity between towns and their surrounding countryside in large but conveniently-sized areas—one reaches the conclusion that the boundaries of the County of Avon set out in the Bill are about right. I therefore support the Bill's proposals and am against all these Amendments. The Bristol City Council accepted and confirmed these proposals.

In spite of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton said, there is a close affinity between Bristol or Bath and the parts of North Somerset or South Gloucestershire to be included in Avon. For example, many of the men of working age are commuters by car or train who earn their living in Bristol or Bath and many of the women go to those cities for their shopping. Therefore, Avon will provide a natural unity and a community of interest, with Bristol and Bath as the urban centres of the rural hinterland.

Mr. Palmer

The hon. Gentleman would not seriously suggest that there is any natural affinity between Bristol and Bath? They are not twin towns. They are surely very different in spirit and in temperament. That is the feeling that one always has.

Mr. McLaren

I was not saying that. I was saying that there are parts of the County of Avon which look to Bristol as their natural centre and other parts which look to Bath. So one would have a harmonious whole if one had the two cities and the surrounding country area. It would not be a good idea to lump together Bristol and the whole of the present Somerset, since this would isolate South Gloucestershire and produce an over-large and unbalanced county.

It is objected that the new Somerset would be too small and not financially strong enough, but I understand that its rateable value would be no less than that of Cornwall, which attaches great importance to its own independence, or that of the new Gloucestershire.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

The point about Cornwall surely is that it is staying as it is. The difficulty about Somerset is that its size is being substantially reduced. Therefore, all the services—the computer and everything else—which have been set up, must now be set down again.

Mr. McLaren

There is force in that, but inevitably, in a local government reorganisation in England and Wales, there are bound to be substantial changes in the boundaries.

I have great affection for all my hon. Friends who represent Somerset constituencies and regret their plight. However, the "Save Our Somerset" campaign is based largely on local patriotism and sentiment.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

What is wrong with that?

Mr. McLaren

Nothing at all. It is a natural and laudable sentiment, but it is still sentiment.

Somerset is a lovely county and we think, for example, of the west front of Wells Cathedral, of Cadbury Hill with its Roman camp and excellent ramparts and its equally excellent last ditches in which to die, which is what the men of Somerset are doing. I have a friend who lives in Somerset. She has lived there all her life and wrote to me a letter containing this passage: How dare they interfere with county boundaries and destroy the shires! Near here is the three-shires stone where Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire meet and Alfred raised his standard against the Danes. He was presumably brooding on the integrity of the boundaries of Somerset when he burnt the cakes.

We are tonight debating Amendments tabled in the spirit of Alfred. I shall reveal to the House an embarrassing secret about my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). He is called Alfred. It is his first Christian name, but he keeps it dark. When his parents and godparents chose it for him they must have had an intuition about him. Perhaps they felt that he would rise up in his place in Parliament, a second Alfred, and fight for Somerset. They cannot have been disappointed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare has an Amendment down to take his constituency out of Avon. I do not know Weston-super-Mare, though I read the local newspapers. I have the impression that the elected representatives of Weston-super-Mare Council want to go into Avon. I read, for example, that Alderman David Driver, Chairman of the General Purposes Committee, said: 'As far as Weston Council is concerned, we have made up our minds and that is it.' There was a very big majority voting in favour of going into Avon. There has been talk about a referendum having been organised by the "Save Our Somerset" campaign and——

Mr. du Cann

I must intervene to correct my hon. Friend on a matter of fact. The referendum to which he is referring was not organised by any campaign. It was conducted, under reputable auspices, by Somerset County Council. It was, therefore, conducted in a totally distinterested spirit and can be said to have been in precise contradiction to the point which my hon. Friend is making.

Mr. McLaren

I am not really concerned with who organised it. A referendum was conducted and, as we know from what has recently been said in a wider context—the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) has been reminding us of this—if one wants to arrive at the wrong answer and collect together a lot of no-men, one need only organise a referendum. It is a most unsatisfactory guide.

When the Bill is shortly passed and the new county councils are elected, any bitterness that now exists will evaporate. I feel certain that the new counties will receive loyal support and develop their own identities and that the boundaries set out in the Bill for our part of England will be seen to have been wisely and successfully drawn.

Mr. Robert Adley (Bristol, North-East)

In following my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) I am conscious that in this debate we are possibly ploughing a rather lonely furrow because during the debate, and not necessarily the debate only on this Amendment, the opposition to the Government will rightly find much greater expression than will those who generally support the Bill.

I listened with great respect and interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield), whose constituent I am, speaking about the six parishes he mentioned. My right hon. Friend at great length and very cogently pointed out that their case was based on real local government issues. I am reminded of a conversation I had many months ago with the vicar of Keynsham, who told me the sad story that due to Keynsham's present position in Somerset he had over that weekend been unable to obtain the services of a doctor for a mentally sick person who had called on him and that a three-hour delay ensued. This is one of the problems which, hopefully, the creation of a new county based on a more realistic geographical pattern can solve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) and I have tabled Amendment No. 38, in page 198, leave out lines 5 to 39. If that Amendment, which would create one county out of Avon and Somerset, had been given serious consideration either by the Government or the Bristol City Council, and by Bath City Council and the Somerset County Council, it would have been possible for those six parishes mentioned by my right hon. Friend, looking genuinely north as they do, to have been excluded from the enlarged county. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend admit that it was his ambition to become Lord Sod: he is perhaps that mysterious character of who Adge Cutler once sang "The Man who put the 'sod' into Chipping Sodbury".

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West has answered the point about why Conservatives in Bristol did not support this general Amendment, in that we have listened not only to the elected representatives on the Bristol City Council but to its officers, and have made up our minds on the basis of what they, amongst other local authorities in the proposed Avon area, have told us. The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) seemed to seek to give the impression that Bath did not support the creation of Avon, but this is not my feeling.

If I may say so, I can think of no one in the entire House to whom I would less rather be opposed in any argument on any given subject than my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). If I may say so without sounding presumptuous, I have the greatest possible respect for his ability, his knowledge and his integrity. None the less, I am sure he would not respect me if I did not on this occasion say what I thought was right for local government reform in our area. In passing, I congratulate my right hon. Friend not only on the presentation of his case but on the way in which he has led and conducted the entire campaign, of which he himself spoke. He has handled a not-too-good case extremely well and has made the best of what must have been a difficult job if one is talking about local government.

Mr. du Cann

There is nothing wrong with the case.

Mr. Adley

When my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West mentioned referenda, my right hon. Friend interjected to say that, to use his words, the Somerset County Council was totally disinterested in the referendum. I do not propose to comment at length on that, buton the way the question was worded. As a Somerset friend said to me, "If asked the simple question did I wish to change my notepaper or leave it as it is, I would vote to leave it as it is."

I believe strongly in the principles behind the Bill. The Bill is right in its attempts to try to merge town and country. I believe that the creation of a new county in Avon will be an event which the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said was missing from the Bill. I noted his words carefully. He said "There is no great new pulsating excitement for local government." But I believe, seriously, that the creation of a brand new county can bring a great deal of excitement for the future for those who serve in local government in what is becoming known as the Avon area.

On the local issues, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South really brought out the local issues that he felt should have been taken into consideration when formulating the Government's proposals. Considering shopping habits, transport patterns, such mundane things, perhaps, as the listener-ship of local radio, entertainment habits and travel to work areas, clearly Bath, Bristol and Weston-super-Mare and their hinterland are inextricably interwoven.

This is not just something being built around Bristol. Avon is a natural area, both in physical and social geography. It is a well balanced area. The fact that Bristol will have less than half the total population should certainly be some reassurance to many people that one city will not dominate the whole area.

There is a myth growing that Bristol has a rapidly swelling and expanding population, and those who have supported the Amendments have used those words quite freely in order to show that Bristol is growing and will swamp the whole of the area. In 1951 Bristol's population was 443,000. By 1961 its population had dropped to 438,000 and by 1971 it had dropped again to 425,000. Therefore, that is one myth that should be nailed. There is a need to see this argument not just in terms of Bristol but in terms of the creation of a new composite county of which Bristol is a part. Any change which could possibly lake place in the Avon boundary, to be worthwhile, will run the risk of severely upsetting the balance which is so difficult to attain.

I do not wish to continue for too long. I certainly would not like any of my hon. Friends, most of whom are also close personal friends, to think that in any of my remarks I have anything whatsoever against Somerset. The whole point of the Bill is not that one should be against somebody but that one should look forward constructively and try to formulate new ideas. I married a Somerset girl, and they grow 'em good in Somerset. The new Somerset, based as it will be around Taunton and the Somerset levels, Wells and Yeovil, and the Mendip plateau, will be a very viable and more delightful county, possibly, than it is at present.

In the last few days, everyone in the Chamber will have been inundated with letters from all over the country pleading special cases. I have received letters from Gosport, Southampton, Beverley, Cleethorpes, North Lincolnshire and Plymouth, to name but six places where the local authorities concerned have made impassioned pleas to Members of Parliament seeking to change boundaries pro- posed by the Government. Some of these cases are very good. I happen to believe that Plymouth has a particular difficulty geographically. I do not propose to develop that case, certainly not with my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) sitting behind me. But as we are dealing with a Local Government Bill, I must point out that I have also had one letter, and one letter only, imploring me to support the Government. It states: Dear Mr. Adley, I understand that the Report stage of the Bill is likely to take place very shortly. In view of the amendments which I am advised have been put down in relation to the southern boundary of the new County of Avon as proposed by the Bill, and your concern in these, I would like to confirm that the. Borough Council adhere firmly to the decision that they have previously conveyed to the Minister that in their view the boundary line as proposed between the Avon and Somerset counties is soundly and appropriately drawn. They are strongly opposed to any suggestion of varying the boundary line so as to include the borough in the new Somerset county area. That letter is from the Town Clerk of Weston-super-Mare which, like the councils of Bath and Bristol, supports the creation of the new county.

9.15 p.m.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) mentioned Mangots-field Urban District, which also supports the creation of the new county. I believe that this new local authority will be sensible and reliable and will serve its area well.

I return to the argument that Somerset will be too small, because it is clearly an argument which is worrying. The argument about Cornwall is relevant, and I believe that a new Somerset can gain strength. Just because it happens to be reduced in size does not necessarily mean that it will be reduced in quality of life.

If the view is taken that size is all important, why is everybody so opposed to the creation of a really big authority, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare and myself proposed? That proposal has been rejected, not only by the Government but also by the Somerset County Council. I find the attitude hard to understand when one moment it is said "We will be too small" and the next moment it is said "We do not want to be too big either".

As regards planning, the respective merits of the Gloucestershire County Council and the Somerset County Council have been mentioned. It is possible to make a case to the effect that in the past the Somerset County Council has not always taken as much account of local feelings in the north of the county as it might have done. I think of the way in which the county council has allowed Lulsgate airport to develop. I think—not that I opposed this—of the way in which the county council has sold off a large slice of land to Bristol for the development of the Bristol West Dock. I do not know to what extent the local people in that part of Somerset were consulted by the county council about that matter. It is not always that one hears the county council referred to in the most glowing terms in Somerset.

I believe that the new County of Avon based on the tripod of Bristol, Bath and Weston will, with these three authorities working together as they have been for many long months, produce a unit which will surprise us all by its efficiency and cohesion.

We have heard that the growth area is likely to be to the north of Bristol because the Severnside Study said so. I do not believe that the Severnside Study will dictate the growth areas of the Bristol-Bath sub-region. The opening of the new Avon bridge and the extension of the M5 will be equally significant in terms of population growth and population movement as anything that may have happened in the past few years.

I understand the feelings of my hon. Friends and how deeply they feel. I know why they feel that way. If they win on this issue tonight we will support them in future. If the Amendments are defeated we hope that Somerset and Avon, Devon and Cornwall, and Dorset and Wiltshire can all live together and have a glorious future.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I am afraid that I do not share, nor do my hon. Friends, the hope of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) that these proposals will light the new flame that I suggested was needed in local government. Alas, no. Our verdict on the Bill is that it is something of a mess and that there is little coherent principle in it.

We accept that anyone introducing proposals for local government reorganisation is bound to face much criticism irrespective of whatever proposals he brings forward for change. Therefore, it seems to us all the more important that there should have been recognition of certain issues which could have overcome local pressures—issues which seem to be of such importance as to rank much higher than some of the local influences, even though these local influences are right and proper.

Listening to this debate and to some fairly lengthy contributions, I felt, as my hon. Friends have said on several occasions, that many of the fears which have been expressed might well have been met, particularly fears and anxieties on planning grounds, had there been any proposals in this reorganisation for some kind of regional structure. This is what we need in this area. Therefore, we have to adopt all kinds of compromises and unsatisfactory solutions which I fear will prove in time to be only temporary.

I admit that it takes some courage, if that is the right word to use, to intervene in a debate of this sort, coming as I do from the North of England. However, I respect the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) and of hon. Members opposite in their concern about the future of the great City of Bristol. This is perfectly proper. Certainly one would feel this, coming as I do from Tyneside, about any proposals to demolish or limit the powers and authority of my own City of Newcastle.

I fear that the proposals of the Government seriously limit the kind of contribution that that great City of Bristol can make and has made. This must be a matter of great concern to all of us, and this is one reason why I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South and the proposals that he put forward, even though it would be possible to take objection to the detail of some of them. It might well be more logical to think in terms of two districts within a metropolitan area, rather than three as has been proposed. Certainly the Minister cannot say that he finds it impossible to make any kind of exception for Bristol because understandably he has considered special cases already. He has indicated that he will give special thought to the position of the Isle of Wight, which is a special case. There are, of course, hundreds of special cases. This is one of the difficulties about the Bill. I can quote places in the North of England which have not been adequately dealt with.

The Amendment moved so effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South, and so vigorously supported by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), carries great weight with me, and, if there is a Division on the issue, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support it.

I find it a little ludicrous that it should be suggested that it is the Government's objective to merge town and country. That is a laudable objective, but it could be achieved more adequately by some kind of regional machinery, and it is precisely what has not been done in many ether parts of the country. One could give many examples of boundaries having been drawn very tightly, particularly in the metropolitan counties listed in the Bill.

The Minister cannot, therefore, rest upon that sort of case. He will have to answer the practical points which have been put from both sides of the House. For my part, I consider that the proposal moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South merits the support of the House.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

A de-date involving Somerset, the West Country and Bristol is a debate, one imagines, into which North country angels would fear to tread. But the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Benkinsop), if I may so put it, is no fool in local government, and he made some telling points on the matters which concern us.

I had originally set for myself the rôle of sweeper-up—I think that that is the football term—for the Somerset team, but anyone who sweeps up after my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) does not have much to do. There were, however, some points emerging from the speeches, particularly those of my two hon. Friends from Bristol, which must be answered at this stage.

I must at the outset comment on a remark which figured in all the Bristol speeches, with the exception of that of the hon Member for Bristol. South (Mr. Michael Cocks)—it fell from the hon. Member for Bristol. Central (Mr. Palmer), too—namely, the reference to the rural hinterland. It may sound a superficial objection, but it is a matter of real concern to a lot of people in Somerset that that expression, the "rural hinterland", should be used, as though the villages and countryside were but an appendage to the towns. The word "hinterland" is rarely used in a flattering sense, and its connotation of a minority rôle emerged, perhaps subconsciously, during the speeches.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) stressed the need for a well-balanced approach, but he could not understand why, on the one hand, we said that the present proposals left Somerset too small, and why,on the other, certain of us were opposed to his proposal for a greater Somerset or a greater Bristol, which we regard as too large. That is what we mean by a well-balanced approach, taking the middle road.

I was provoked somewhat by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) and his invitation to die in the ditches of Cadbury Camp. If Cadbury Camp be the symbol of Somerset, which I do not accept, I can only say that I could tell him some much more enlightening stories about Alfred, wholed his great revival from the heart of my constituency. I cannot forbear to point out that the Clifton suspension bridge, a well-known symbol of Bristol, is not used only for the passage of transport, and certain Bristol people find that it offers a wayout of their problems, whether of local government or otherwise. However, I make that point only in passing in reply to the suggestion about what we might do on Cadbury Camp.

This is a difficult problem, and its complications can, I suppose, be measured by the number of meetings which the Secretary of State and the Minister have been courteous enough to have with Somerset Members, by the amount of discussion we have had on it, and by the space taken on the Paper by our attempts to amend the Bill's provisions.

9.30 p.m.

There are over Bristol, as there are over several other places in the country, but in few to quite the same extent, irreconcilable problems. It is impossible to marry the main principles of the Bill and achieve the objectives that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister are working to.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, I support the principles of the Bill. I voted for its Second Reading. But there are contradictory principles over the problem of Avon and Somerset. Paragraph 29 of the White Paper makes it clear that we must seek as far as possible to preserve existing county boundaries. At the same time we are looking for a good urban-rural balance. To achieve that with Bristol and Somerset is impossible, and therefore one of them had to go. My right hon. Friends had to decide which one it should be. They chose the urban-rural balance and the Avon principle and, sadly, the principle of preserving county boundaries was abandoned with a vengeance.

Somerset finds itself not merely slightly reduced but traumatically truncated, from being fourteenth largest county to the fourth smallest. A county that has always been small is adjusted to that, and its staff is organised on that basis. But what is the prospect for Somerset now? It is the base for many operations that transcend the simple county boundary. It has been used by national Governments as a good base on which to expand and develop regional schemes. Suddenly a substantial county authority is to find itself having to think small. Suddenly some of its best servants will have to consider their future, and a serious disruption will take place.

Faced with a conflict between two major principles in the Bill, have we no alternatives? We have, and my right hon. Friend spelt them out in some detail. There are four essential proposals. The first is that which the Government made originally, which has been modified by the addition of Frome in Somerset. My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton has clearly stated the problems that poses for Somerset. If it is to be the solution, it is at the expense of Somerset.

The second possible solution, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East put forward, is the Greater Bristol proposal or the Greater Somerset proposal, incorporating Avon and Somerset into one authority. That has its attractions, but they tend to diminish the further down into Somerset we move. They could not have my support, nor, I believe, my right hon. Friend's, because the other great principle with which it comes in conflict is that we are seeking a balance in local Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is seeking to establish authorities of sufficient scope to provide the necessary services and range but sufficiently local and sufficiently close for people to be able to identify with them. I believe that a greater Somerset, a merging of Areas 25 and 26, would not meet that last principle.

The third proposal, which is very much in line with the Amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol, South, is to have Bristol essentially as a metropolitan area and Somerset as it is. This runs contrary to one of the essential principles which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East put very fairly concerning people who are involved in an area, the travel-to-work patterns, the commuting distances, the shopping areas, the entertainment facilities, and their being within a recognisable area. There is a strong case for establishing a certain urban-rural balance with Avon albeit not to the same extent.

This brings me to the fourth alternative which is a valid compromise and which more satisfactorily meets the conflicting claims of the two authorities. My hon. Friend the Minister will know, as we know, that it is impossible to satisfy all the criteria by which the local government reform is being introduced. In the situation of Avon and Somerset something has to give and there must be some measure of compromise. I suggest that the fourth series of Amendments constitute the compromise arrangement that would give a tolerable balance to the situation. It would give additional size by the addition of Weston-super-Mare. The balance of Axbridge Rural District Council and the additional changes to the line to the east would increase the size of Somerset to 465,000 and give it a rateable value of £17 million. It would provide an addition of virtually 20 per cent. of the population to Area 25—Somerset—while reducing the population of Avon by only 8 per cent.

It would enable a number of facilities that Somerset County Council has established in Weston-super-Mare to continue to be available. It would have the support of the regional hospital board. It is a base for fire, police and health and social services and it seems to me that it greatly minimises the disruption.

My hon. Friend will list a number of objections to that proposal. The first of these no doubt would be that it will upset the urban-rural balance. I wonder whether at the end of the debate, having listened to the speeches, he could continue to hold that view. The urban-rural balance is a fairly mythical concept when one considers that Weston-super-Mare is being included as part of the rural balance. The Minister will know from his recent visit that a town, able to stage a most successful Conservative local conference, can hardly be considered as a rural area. He should consider too that the population of Bristol proper is dropping and the population of the periphery is increasing, whether the immediate suburbs of Bristol can be classed as a rural area.

An examination of these points shows that the rural balance is a very tenuous argument. We are left asking where the line came from. We appreciate that it has never been changed since the Maud Report, with the minor exception of Frome, and no one has ever been able to discover who takes responsibility for drawing a line. It was originally in Maud, endorsed by the Labour Government, and endorsed again by my right hon. Friends. Its paternity has disappeared and certain of its findings were extremely dubious, even when they were originally put forward. There are considerable grounds for thinking that the line is already six years out of date.

It is pre-Severnside study, and all the demographic factors which have been produced since indicate that the changes in the area enable a substantial alteration to be made to the line. If these alterations were carried out and they made a small initial dent in the Minister's concept of the balance, that dent would be very rapidly repaired within the next five years.

I sincerely hope that the alternative I am urging will be acceptable. Many of us on this side of the House, particularly hon. Members from Somerset, find themselves in an acutely difficult position on this issue. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton said, we have sought to conduct this discussion and present our case responsibly, in the conviction that our case was amply good enough and argued itself, and that my right hon. Friend would be able to find some of our suggestions acceptable. Our feelings, although moderately expressed, are none the less as strong as any that have been expressed more vocally and more forcibly in the county. My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development is aware of the strength of feeling.

I believe that there is a compromise which could meet the principles more accurately that my hon. Friend has been seeking to maintain throughout this understandably difficult Report stage. If we do not get a measure of concession, or agreement by my hon. Friend that compromise is possible, and if we are not allowed to vote on the alternative I favour, then regretfully, to show my feelings on this matter, I shall vote in support of Amendment No. 6.

My final point should be taken by my hon. Friend as being no departure from my position. At the very least, if no concession can be made on the main "green line" proposal with which he is familiar, the split parishes in the present proposals must be amended. The proposal in this regard is a nonsense. Any impartial observer reading the Bill for the first time and finding that the parishes are to be determined by consulting the contour map and establishing a line between the 500 and 800 feet contour, which cuts right through a series of parishes on the edge of the Mendips, will agree that this concept must be amended. If no alteration or concession is possible, then there must be some understanding about the financial situation of the future reduced county of Somerset, either by equalisation grant or rate deficiency grant or by whatever means my right hon. Friend thinks appropriate.

Mr. Wiggin

It would be right and proper, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to convey through you our thanks to Mr. Speaker for selecting Amendment No. 6and the kindred Amendments, because this is the first proper opportunity we have had of debating the difficulties of Somerset and Avon. Among the mass of Amendments in this group, basically seven alternatives are offered to the Government. I will address myself principally to those to which I have put my name. The first, which would overcome the majority of our difficulties, is to join together the proposed County of Avon and the existing County of Somerset. The second is to take the Borough of Weston-super-Mare and the rural district of Axbridge and return them to their rightful place in Somerset.

Shortly after publication of the White Paper in 1971—which seems in this context a long time ago—I suggested the proposition of a greater Somerset. On reflection I think that one should also have suggested a greater Gloucester or perhaps even a greater Wiltshire, to take into account Bristol or Bath.

9.45 p.m.

We have to apply ourselves only to the proposal of the Amendments. The merits of the proposal to amalgamate Avon and Somerset are self-apparent—a county of 1,300,000 that would be the fourth largest in population and rateable value. It would be a completely new county. All the critics of the existing Somerset County Council and Bath Council or Bristol Council would be answered by the creation of a totally new authority set up, I suspect, in totally new buildings. Whilst it would still contain the merits of the old boundaries, it would possess excellent communications with a motorway from north to south and east to west.

Geographically, it would be larger than the existing County of Somerset only by the area of Bristol and the rural districts surrounding Bristol that are already part of the Amendment. It would be the seventh largest in terms of area. I agree that this is big, but it is some way down the league table. Unhappily, vested interests in Bristol and Taunton fear that their old empires will be substantially destroyed, and the support that this proposition could have had has not been forthcoming.

The police will be forced to adopt an authority almost exactly the size of a combined county. It would have made a powerful gateway to the West and have had a substantial influence on regional planning. This proposal has been supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), who is prevented from speaking but who has made public statements favourable to the idea.

We turn to a compromise, one we have suggested many times, that the Borough of Weston-super-Mare and the Rural District of Axbridge be put back in Somerset. We have put forward this suggestion in the general belief that it was a reasonable alternative. It was carefully thought out and argued. It did not destroy the principles of the Bill and we all felt it was something the Government could perfectly easily adopt.

It would have given nearly 20 per cent. more population back to Somerset and lost only some 9 per cent. to Avon. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East, who strained my friendship somewhat by reading a letter from my own town clerk, said that the borough council had declared itself for Avon. It is perfectly true that it adopted that position and voted in favour of Avon. Those councillors are town people and that is the way they look at the matter and what they think.

Despite the expenditure of a substantial amount when this so-called referendum was being held—I prefer to call it a public opinion poll as a referendum results in certain powers when the result is announced; as does a plebiscite—when the Borough of Weston-super-Mare spent a substantial sum on advertising Avon, 70.7 per cent. voted for Somerset and in the Rural District of Axbridge 90.4 per cent. of those who returned their cards were in favour of staying in Somerset.

On Second Reading my right hon. Friend said: 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."—[Official Report, 16th November, 1971;Vol 826, c 235.] I hope that that point has not been forgotten and that my hon. Friend will bear that statement in mind.

We have made it demonstrably clear how the people of Somerset feel about their ancient county. Weston-super-Mare is an important centre for Somerset. It tends to be forgotten that in the County of Avon it will be tucked away in one corner. It will be geographically in the wrong position. For many years it has been the largest town in Somerset. The recent Severnside Study has envisaged no large-scale development in the borough. A sample census as recently as 1966 showed that only 6 per cent. of the journeys to work originating in the Borough of Weston went to Bristol.

I was attacked for quoting that figure on the basis that it was out of date. A couple of months ago the county council planning department investigated the future of Weston and came out with a comprehensive document in which it proved that as a result of recent censuses only 4 per cent. of the journeys to work originating in Weston now go to Bristol, a reduction of 50 per cent. in six years, proving my point that Weston is a centre of its own which does not look to Bristol, Bath or Taunton.

It is the centre for a number of local administrative operations—the area planning office, the area offices for health and social security, divisional education and weights and measures. It is the headquarters of one of the three divisions of the fire brigade and the police divisional headquarters. A new technical college has been built there and we hope to start on our new hospital in 1973 or 1974.

The Rural District Council of Axbridge—and I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that 90.4 per cent. of the population said that it wanted to stay in Somerset—completely surrounds the Borough of Weston and it would be quite indivisible from it. To divide it so would be bad local government. The problem in all this is the City of Bristol, with a population of 426,000, and nearly half a million if contiguous built-up areas are included. It is obviously something which does not fit anywhere. The difficulty has been getting Bristol organised.

Somehow the Minister has found a solution for Teesside and for Cardiff. I would like him to look again to see whether he can find a solution for Bristol. We have heard a lot of talk about balance. Balance of what? Is it balance of town and country or balance of Bristol versusthe rest? What is the position about balance, whatever yardstick is used, in the remaining parts of the County of Somerset? It will be a rural desert, a rural plain without the necessary urban balance, without the essential rateable value. It will be the fourth smallest non-metropolitan county in England.

When these proposals were first announced I said that Somerset would be relegated to the fourth division. It becomes abundantly clear when we look art; this that it will be difficult even toget into the fourth division. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King) asked how the line originated, who supported it and for what reason. I have yet to find an answer to that. The Clerk to the Axbridge Rural District Council wrote to the Department of the Environment and received a reply on 19th April, 1971, before the Bill was published and when the White Paper was still being constructed. The reply said: The proposed boundary between Area 25 and 26 in your neighbourhood was arrived at after consideration of such factors as population, natural grouping and administrative convenience. It is abundantly clear from any study of the line that it was chosen by someone with a pencil on a map, without any regard for population, natural grouping or administrative convenience. The fact remains that all the local authorities that have been consulted, including the Borough of Weston, although for different reasons, have criticised this line as being wrong and impracticable and say that it should be reorganised. True, we have had some minor concessions. It is better than the line that went through Pontin's ballroom but it is ludicrous to split the four parishes.

Sir John Wills, who is one of my constituents and an Alderman of the County Council, who comes from an old Somerset family, has written: The most anomalous situation of all arises in Burrington, whose limestone gorge Burrington Combe is a living demonstration that its parish is part of the Mendip escarpment. This will be divided at its lowest point, with a few yards of the Rock of Ages dividing at the same time one part of the historic Burrington Common from the remaining parts. The other result of this quite arbitrary dividing line will be that the Commoners of Burrington will be living in one county while most of their common, but not all of it, will be in another. The four divided parishes should be put together again and returned to Somerset.

A point which has not been raised—and it is of vital importance to the majority of my constituents unless the Amendment is passed—is what is to happen to the area north of the Government's line between now and the creation of the new County of Avon. Already we hear that this or that school will not be developed and cannot be planned because the new authority will have the responsibility for it. Roads, libraries and all the other functions of top-tier authorities which are at present the responsibilities of county councils are in question. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give an assurance about this matter because there is substantial disquiet in my constituency on it.

The four Somerset Members have been very reasonable in the way they have tried to persuade the Government to change their mind. The Government's proposals have caused considerable turmoil and ill-feeling in our constituencies, and particularly in mine, and the Government appear to be inflexible except in a very minor way. As far as I can see, they have tabled no Amendments in this respect. I have always said that if Avon were to exist its boundary would have to encroach into Somerset. By saying that and that I would not support any proposal to retain Somerset's existing boundary, I have incurred the wrath of my constituents in Clevedon, Yatton, Cleeve and other areas.

However, in view of the Government's totally intransigent attitude, I am bound to say, having listened to the arguments, that I am persuaded that Amendment No. 6, although it may be open to substantial criticism, would allow the County of Somerset to remain as it is, which is the will of the people. Unless the Government propose some very substantial changes, I too will join my right hon. and hon. Friends in supporting the Amendment.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)

I find it very difficult to sweep up for the Members representing Somerset after we have heard such an able defence of the county and of its people. The Government cannot be unaware of the strength of feeling and dismay in Somerset as a result of their proposals in the Bill. Those Members who intend or wish to support the Government's line in rejecting the Amendment should realise what they are doing. They are presiding, or seeking to preside, over the demise of a proud and long-standing county—one of the most beautiful in England if not in the world—which has provided a rich culture in the life of our country. That is what the Government intend to bring to an end. I hope that hon. Members realise what they are doing by taking such a serious step.

More important than the countryside, buildings and culture of the county are the people in it. They are capable and hard-working and are organised to provide a sensible, well-run and competent range of county services, together with many of the regional services which we require in the South-West. They have, with the City of Bath, one of the most efficient police forces in the country.

I am therefore extremely disappointed, as are my friends in the county, that the Government have made no concession to the careful arguments put forward and the reasoned attitude that we have adopted towards their proposals—proposals which would downgrade the County of Somerset to that of second-class status.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Local Government Bill may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Murton.]

Question again proposed, That the Amendment be made.

Mr. Boscawen

By "second-class status", I mean that the county will be unable to provide, alone, services as efficient as those that it could provide before. It will be a county that will have stolen from it one-third of its area and one-third of its population. I remind hon. Members that the one-third of a population, largely rural-orientated, will be having a forced marriage with a population of about 15 persons to the acre.

My first reason for rejecting the Government proposals is that they break up the focus of loyalty of many thousands of people towards their own county. The focus of loyalty to a county is of the greatest importance. My hon. Friend, the Minister, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have shown little regard for the feelings of the people in this matter—feelings of loyalty that go back for many hundreds of years. These things should not be tampered with unless there is a very good reason, and I do not believe that there is a very good reason on this occasion. Nor do I believe that we shall achieve a better solution as a result; in fact, by truncating Somerset we shall achieve a bad, unwise and impractical solution. It is still worse for the minority of rural Somerset, which will be forced into a marriage with Bristol.

The sole reason given by the Government for their proposal is that they must make Avon into a county large enough to provide a rural balance. Many of my hon. Friends have explained that the idea of a rural balance is nonsense, and that it does not exist in this case. In order to achieve a rural balance between Bristol and the hinterland it would be necessary to go out into the County of Somerset, which we believe would be quite impractical, and would provide quite the wrong solution. Bristol is a special case, and must be treated in a special manner. The rural hinterland surrounding it must be kept as small as possible, thereby keeping Somerset large enough to carry out the indispensable services efficiently, and to make the best use of its existing staff, accommodation and equipment.

Amendment No. 41 provides the best compromise solution. There may be others, but at least that does not detract too much from the County of Avon, and it gives a much better answer in the case of the County of Somerset.

Reasons have been put forward why the bringing back of the Boroughs of Weston and Axbridge rural district into the County of Somerset would greatly improve that county, in particular the area of planning, which is very important. We have in Somerset some of the main quarrying areas for the supply of materials for our roads. They have posed very difficult problems of planning. The Somerset County Council has done great work on the planning of quarries and it is essential that many of the quarries are kept in one county, which means drawing the line between Somerset and Avon as far north as possible.

We in Somerset know a great deal about conservation, which has been of a high order. We shall be providing the playground for the wealthy tourist centres of Avon if the line is drawn as proposed, but we will get back far fewer benefits. It is regrettable that the County of Avon, by keeping the Borough of Weston-super-Mare, will be getting the rich pickings of the tourist trade while Somerset will be left to go cap-in-hand for the rate support grant. This is the sort of relationship which exists between the pimp and the prostitute and which is being forced on a virtuous county. I deplore the Minister's immorality in this respect.

Amendment No. 6 does not produce the best solution for the area but at least, by being defeated on it, the Government would be given the opportunity to think again and produce a better solution for our area. The County of Avon is not a good idea as it stands and it should be killed tonight. That is why I shall be voting in the Lobby.

Mr. Graham Page

May I go back to the beginning of the debate and deal with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks)? Throughout, my hon. Friends have said that they might support that Amendment in order to impress their point of view on the Government. First, let me again quote the White Paper on metropolitan districts. It says that the metropolitan pattern is suitable only where a county is divisible into districts all of which are populous and compact. Yet we have here, in "Greater Bristol" as the hon. Member called it, a Bristol which would have 70 per cent. of its population in the city and the rest, 187,000, in two other districts of 110,000 and 77,000. It would by that means just avoid being a two-district county, although the hon. Member suggested that as an alternative.

Practically everything that could be wrong with this proposal is wrong. As a county area Bristol would be divided from its area of influence to the southwest, which the Avon boundary now in the Bill includes with Bristol, since the Amendment would exclude all North Somerset.

Furthermore, Bristol would account for nearly 70 per cent. of the county, overwhelming the others on the county council. Such a relationship would be keenly resented, I think, by Bristol neighbours. The tactlessness of the hon. Member in calling it "Greater Bristol" underlines his attitude towards the whole county.

Mr. Michael Cocks

Perhaps what the hon. Gentleman is describing can be attributed to the wishy-washy compromise that is being forced on us. Perhaps I have gone too far the other way.

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman thinks our proposal is wishy-washy. His proposal is utterly ridiculous and goes against everything we discussed in Committee. He admitted that the smaller districts are too far below the criterion we have mentioned as being that which should be applied in deciding the minimum population for education and the personal social services. His proposal does not stand up to any of the tests.

The whole point of this debate centres on a dispute over the boundary between two counties. It is suggested, on the one hand, that we should favour one county in the drawing of that boundary, while on the other hand it is suggested that we should favour the other county.

Not only the future of Somerset is at issue, but the future of Avon, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) pointed out. He admitted that he wishes to destroy Avon. We have decided that there shall be a County of Avon and that, I think, is generally accepted, although the boundary of that county is in dispute and the influence of Bristol within the county may be questioned.

I therefore propose to address the remainder of my remarks to an acceptance of the principle of an Avon County and to see where the right line between the new Avon County and the new Somerset County should be drawn.

It is important, for two reasons, that the area of Avon should not be reduced further. The first is that the area of influence of so large a town as Bristol, with its population of 425,000, should not be divided between two counties. This goes to the root of the dispute.

The alteration northward of the line from that which now appears in the Bill would, in my view, divide the area of influence of the built-up area of Bristol. A county boundary should—this is what we have tried to do in drawing it—reflect the patterns of life today and for some time ahead for the best administration of services and it should not separate parts of the same growth area. This is the first essential point.

Secondly, it is essential that Bristol should not account for as much as 50 per cent. of that new county. On the basis of the first consideration to which I have referred, the Severnside Study suggests that Bristol and South Gloucestershire should go together.

It also suggests that Bristol should be in the same county as both and that the towns of Weston-super-Mare, Clevedon, Portishead and Radstock, within the sphere of influence of Bristol, should go together. I speak of the "influence of Bristol" and this influence will undoubtedly grow with the M5 link.

The second consideration to which I have referred also concerns the balance between the new districts of Avon within the County of Avon itself. There is evidence that many of the Somerset areas in Avon already see Bristol's share of the county, which is 47 per cent., as too large. If that share is increased by moving further territory out of the County of Avon, the county will be regarded as subordinate to the Bristol district.

10.15 p.m.

If I have got the argument correctly from Somerset, it is mainly that the new Somerset as now set out in the Bill will be too small in population to be a viable county. This is certainly untrue. The new Somerset, with a figure of 385,000 population, would have 135,000 more than the minimum population needed to sustain an efficient administration of the education and personal social services. It is very likely that this new County of Somerset will reach a population of 400,000 in the next couple of years; it will take only an increase of less than 2 per cent. a year to reach this.

As has already been mentioned, the new Somerset will be larger than Cornwall, larger than Salop and larger than Northumberland, and in rateable value per head it will be slightly better off than the present administrative county's £36.8. Somerset, as I understand it, tends to take the line that the new county's population will present the county administration and the machine of administration within the county with great difficulties, that there will be difficulty in the continuation of the Somerset county administration as we know it now, and that it will not be able to attract the high quality of officer it has succeeded in getting in the past or, it was suggested, retain its computer.

I am not prepared to decide local government boundaries on the basis of the ownership of a computer by a county, but I do look quite seriously at the question of whether we are reducing the county in size so that it will not in future be able to attract the right officers. I think that in this case that argument is quite untenable. The attractiveness of the place, rather than Somerset's size is surely an important reason for people coming to work for the Somerset County Council.

There is, of course, the powerful argument that the local people do not want to be in Avon——

Mr. du Cann

Before the Minister moves on to that point, perhaps he will let me question him on the subject of staff. He was suggesting that the county would be able to afford the present high levels of staff. Will he tell me how, for instance, he thinks that with a very much lower rateable value we can afford the same organisation in the county surveyor's department, or the county education department or the county architect's department? In my judgment, it simply will not be possible in the future.

Mr. Page

It does not depend on the size of the population or the rateable value whether one can employ the qualified and expert officers that a county council requires. Anyway, the reduction is not as great as all that. Some of the exaggerated phrases used about destroying Somerset are not true on the figures of either population or rateable value.

I was about to deal with the point that the local people concerned do not want to be in Avon. I observed that the Somerset County Council held a referendum in North Somerset last winter, when 62.4 per cent. of the electorate—that is 45.8 per cent. of the population; less than half the population—expressed the preference for Somerset as against Avon when asked: The Local Government Bill now before Parliament proposes the inclusion within the new county of Avon of the greater part of North Somerset with some 210,000 people, together with Bristol, Bath and South Gloucestershire. Would you prefer to be in the new county of Somerset or in the new county of Avon? The person was required to put a tick in a little square below that question. The poll results do not support the argument that the county boundary in the Bill should be altered, but merely show that 62 per cent. of the electorate very naturally expressed a preference to stay in the same place, in Somerset. What it does not show is that they actively disliked the prospect of being in Avon—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Indeed, when one considers the intense pro-Somerset propaganda and people's natural tendency to be loyal to what they have already, that 62 per cent. is surprisingly low compared with other referenda which have been presented to me in the course of this local government reorganisation.

I ought now to deal with the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield), Amendment No. 273. The effect of his Amendment would be to transfer five parishes with total population of about 5,400 people from the northern end of Avon to the new Gloucestershire. It is sought to incorporate those parishes in the new Gloucestershire, chiefly on the grounds that their strong economic, employment and educational links, as my right hon. Friend clearly explained, are with the centre of Dursley in Gloucestershire.

Conversely, he pointed out that many Dursley residents work in Berkeley. I am told that Berkeley power station employs about 1,000 people. The Hinton parish contains Sharpness Docks, which forms part of the Gloucester Docks and Canal System. It seemed to us, in drawing the boundary to the north of Avon, that the Sharpness Docks represented the right northern boundary, as the docks were part of the dock set-up of Severn-side.

Mr. Corfield

My hon. Friend will recall that there were also docks at Gloucester, so the arguments work equally that way.

Mr. Page

But looking at the pull of work and the development in the north of Avon at present, it would appear to be as strongly to Thornbury in the south as to Gloucestershire in the north, or to Dursley in the east.

This issue was discussed in very great detail at the consultative meeting which I held at Bath last September. I do not think that there is any ideal boundary in a case such as this. My right hon. Friend's argument might have been applied just as much to transferring Dursley into the new Avon as to transferring Berkeley into the new Gloucester. It has seemed right in this case to retain the boundaries of the rural district council without splitting it. It may be right for the Local Government Boundary Commission to review this in due course. But it is right, for the purpose of the Bill, to retain the boundary of the rural district council.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) offered, as always, regional government as the solution. This is no solution whatever in this case, although in many instances I go along with him in some arguments on those lines. On the other hand, I appreciate most sincerely the work of my right hon. and hon. Friends upon the various solutions which they have put forward and the arguments with which they have supported those possible solutions to the problem of the line between the two counties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) inquired about the transition period. That is in the hands of the Joint Committees now sitting, which will deal with those problems and, I am sure, will deal with them satisfactorily. What we are mainly concerned with here is not a short-term matter of the transition between the existing local government and the future local government but the long-term solution. I put forward to the House the Government's solution as being better than any of those which have been put forward in the Amendments today.

Mr. Wiggin

We are in the slight difficulty that Somerset is now not co-operating on the joint Committees.

Mr. Page

Perhaps when the decision of the House is made today Somerset will be put out of doubt as to whether to take part in these Committees. I hope that in future it will take part. In other areas which will be affected by Amendments on the Notice Paper there has been some reluctance to take part in the joint Committees. I hope that when the House has finally come to a decision the joint Committees will continue to work out the solutions for the transition period.

In trying to solve the problem we have paid great attention to the great loyalties to the areas in which people live—in this case the great loyalty to Somerset; we do not under-estimate that in any way. Loyalties in culture, environment and sport are clearly factors which we must take into account. However I am not sure that that type of loyalty is an essential ingredient of effective and efficient local government. What we want is interest in the area in which people live and work and participation in the affairs of government in the area.

For that purpose we must look to the past trend of development and how the area will develop in future—not only industrially, but residentiallyalso—the trend of work, of shopping, of pleasure, of leisure, and the general pattern of development and life in the area. I am convinced that Avon is a county with a balanced structure and that it does not materially damage Somerset. To talk of Somerset in future as a rural desert is an exaggeration with which I cannot agree.

I do not believe that the reduction in size of Somerset to its new proposed size will destroy the county in any way. There is no question of choosing between which county to hurt. There is no question of the demise of a county, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wells suggested. There are two counties here which we believe will fit the pattern of life and work and provide good local government.

Mr. Tom King

If my hon. Friend is not able to accept the other Amendments, surely he is not leaving the dotted line across the contour and will make some comment about that and the extraordinary anomaly of the split parishes.

Mr. Page

The line drawn in the White Paper went along the top of the Mendips. On studying that and discussing it with people in the area, it was decided that it was wrong to leave the line there. It was wise to put it, not along the valley, because that would split residential development, but up along the side of the Mendips and use a contour for that purpose. It cuts some parishes in half,

but it does not cut any reasonable development, either residential or otherwise. If this needs tidying up, this is just the sort of point which the Boundary Commission can deal with at a later stage. From a local government point of view, although it may be a little distressing for a farm to be cut into two counties, this is not an essential point from a local government point of view.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 172, Noes 177.

Division No. 126.] AYES [10.30 p.m.
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Galpern, Sir Myer Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Garrett, W. E. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Armstrong, Ernest Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Atkinson, Norman Golding, John Murray, Ronald King
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Grant, George (Morpeth) Oakes, Gordon
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) O'Halloran, Michael
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) O'Malley, Brian
Benyon, W. Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Oram, Bert
Biffen, John Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Orbach, Maurice
Bishop, E. S. Hardy, Peter Oswald, Thomas
Blenkinsop, Arthur Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Horam, John Palmer, Arthur
Body, Richard Huckfield, Leslie Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Booth, Albert Hughes, Mark (Durham) Pavitt, Laurie
Boscawen, Robert Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pentland, Norman
Bradley, Tom Hunter, Adam Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) James, David Prescott, John
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Janner, Greville Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) John, Brynmor Price, William (Rugby)
Buchan, Norman Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Probert, Arthur
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Johnson, Walter(Derby, S.) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Judd, Frank Roper, John
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Kaufman, Gerald Rose, Paul B.
Cohen, Stanley King, Tom (Bridgwater) Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Concannon J. D. Kinnock, Neil Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Lawson, George Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Crawshaw, Richard Leadbitter, Ted Sillars, James
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Sinclair, Sir George
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Leonard, Dick Skinner, Dennis
Dalyell, Tam Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Small, William
Davidson, Arthur Lomas, Kenneth Spearing, Nigel
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Loughlin, Charles Spriggs, Leslie
Davies, Ifor (Gower) McBride, Neil Stallard, A. W.
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) McCartney, Hugh Strang, Gavin
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) McGuire, Michael Swain, Thomas
Deakins, Eric Mackie, John Tinn, James
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Mackintosh, John P. Tomney, Frank
Dempsey, James McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Urwin, T. W.
Doig, Peter McNamara, J. Kevin Varley, Eric G.
Dormand, J. D. Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Vickers, Dame Joan
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Wainwright, Edwin
Duffy, A. E. P. Marks, Kenneth Watkins, David
Dunn, James A. Marquand, David Weitzman, David
Dunnett, Jack Marsden, F. Wellbeloved, James
Eadle, Alex Marshall, Dr. Edmund White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Edelman, Maurice Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Whitlock, William
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mayhew, Christopher Wiggin, Jerry
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Meacher, Michael Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Ellis, Tom Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Evans, Fred Mendelson, John Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Mikardo, Ian Woof, Robert
Fisher,Mrs. Doris(B'ham,Ladywood) Millan, Bruce
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Foley, Maurice Milne, Edward TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Ford, Ben Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Mr. Joseph Harper and
Forrester, John Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Mr. Donald Coleman.
Adley, Robert Haselhurst, Alan Raison, Timothy
Allson, Michael (Barkston Ash) Havers, Michael Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Hawkins, Paul Redmond, Robert
Astor, John Hayhoe, Barney Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Atkins, Humphrey Hiley, Joseph Rees, Peter (Dover)
Awdry, Daniel Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Holland, Philip Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Balniel, Lord Hordern, Peter Ridsdale, Julian
Bell, Ronald Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Hunt, John Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hutchison, Michael Clark Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Blaker, Peter Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Rost, Peter
Bossom, Sir Clive Kaberry, Sir Donald Royle, Anthony
Bowden, Andrew Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Scott, Nicholas
Braine, Sir Bernard Kimball, Marcus Scott-Hopkins, James
Bray, Ronald Kinsey, J. R. Sharples, Richard
Brewis, John Kirk, Peter Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Brinton, Sir Tatton Kitson, Timothy Shelton, William (Clapham)
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Knight, Mrs. Jill Skeet, T. H. H
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Knox, David Soref, Harold
Carlisle, Mark Lane, David Speed, Keith
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Spence, John
Chapman, Sydney Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Stainton, Keith
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Loveridge, John Stanbrook, Ivor
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Luce, R. N. Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) MacArthur, Ian Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh. W.)
Cockeram, Eric McCrindle, R. A. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Cooper, A. E. McLaren, Martin Stokes, John
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Stuattaford, Dr. Tom
Cormack, Patrick McNair-Wilson, Michael Sutcliffe, John
Costain, A. P. Maddan, Martin Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Crouch, David Mather, Carol Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Crowder, F. P. Maude, Angus Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Mawby, Ray Tebbit, Norman
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen.James Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Temple, John M.
Drayson, G. B. Meyer, Sir Anthony Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Elliot. Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Emery, Peter Miscampbell, Norman Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Eyre, Reginald Mitchell, Lt. -Col. C.(Aberdeenshire,W) Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Farr, John Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Trew, Peter
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Moate, Roger Tugendhat, Christopher
Fidler, Michael Money, Ernle Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Monks, Mrs. Connie Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Monro, Hector Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Fookes, Miss Janet Montgomery, Fergus Ward, Dame Irene
Fortescue, Tim More, Jasper Warren, Kenneth
Fowler, Norman Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Weatherill, Bernard
Fox, Marcus Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. White, Roger (Gravesend)
Fry,Peter Mudd, David Wilkinson, John
Gibson-Watt, David Neave, Airey Winterton, Nicholas
Goodhew, Victor Normanton, Tom Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Gower, Raymond Onslow, Cranley Woodnutt, Mark
Gray, Hamish Page, Graham (Crosby) Worsley, Marcus
Green, Alan Parkinson, Cecil Younger, Hn. George
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury. St. Edmunds) Percival, Ian
Grylls, Michael Pink, R. Bonner
Gummer, Selwyn Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gurden, Harold Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Mr. Michael Jopling and
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Proudfoot, Wilfred Mr. Oscar Murton.
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. du Cann

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of that extremely close result, would it be in order for me to ask the Minister if he would be good enough to reconsider the future of Somerset?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is not unprecedented with a vote as narrow as that for the Minister in charge of the debate to state the Government's intentions.

Mr. Speaker

However that may be. I intend to call the next Amendment

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

I beg to move Amendment No. 301, in page 192, line 8, at beginning insert—


District (a)

The county borough of Hartlepool.

In the administrative county of Durham,

the rural district of Stockton.

In the county borough of Teesside—

the urban district of Stockton;

the urban district of Billingham.

District (b)

The county borough of Teesside, with

the exception of urban districts of Billingham and Stockton.

In the administrative county of Yorkshire, North Riding—the urban district of Guisborough, Loftus, Saltburn and Murske-by-the-Sea and Skelton and Brotton.

In the rural district of Stokesley, the parishes of Castlelevington, Hilton, Ingle by, Burwick, Kirklevington, Maltby, Nunthorpe and Yarm.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment we are to take the following Amendments:

No. 61, in page 199, line 36, at end insert—

The Amendment to that Amendment—sub-Amendment (a)—in line 6, leave out from beginning to end of line 8.

No. 68, in page 200, line 15, column 2, leave out 'Teesside and Tyneside' and insert: 'Cleveland and Tyne and Wear'.

No. 85, in page 201, line 44, column 2, leave out 'Durham and Teesside' and insert 'Cleveland and Durham'.

No. 102, in page 203, leave out lines 5 to 19.

Mr. Leadbitter

The Minister will not be surprised to find Amendment No. 301 on the Order Paper. Before I begin to deal with it in detail I should make it clear to the House and to my colleagues from the region concerned that I will not argue the question of boundaries or new boundaries. I will not repeat the arguments we had in Standing Committee about the rural areas of the North Riding of Yorkshire. I will argue the case for a metropolitan status within the present recommended boundaries laid down by the Secretary of State.

The arguments which were put from both sides of the Standing Committee concerning the proposals for a non-metropolitan county were sufficiently strong to cause the Minister to change them and to issue a new consultative document. Even before the Committee stage, areas north of Hartlepool were withdrawn. All of this showed that the Minister accepted that there was a problem in establishing a non-metropolitan county on Teesside. The hon. Members for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) and Cannock (Mr. Cormack) have made a further plea to leave out the remaining rural areas in the Stokesley rural district, which are included in the Secretary of State's proposals, and I support them. In Standing Committee we were consistent in this argument. For different reasons we sought to achieve the same ends. Between us we have persuaded the Minister to produce a more reasonable boundary. I hope that he will go that little bit further tonight in answer to the plea from the two hon. Members.

My submission that the county should have a metropolitan status arises in part from the generally accepted difficulty of creating a non-metropolitan county in a highly urbanised area, situated around one of the most important river developments in the United Kingdom. The National Ports Council says that this is one of the 15 major river and port establishments in the United Kingdom. The problem persists, and I hope that if the logical steps are taken we shall have a complete urbanised area.

The position originally proposed in the Bill as early as February 1971, has been altered by the Minister, and he has been pressed by argument to make the boundaries as they are now proposed. I agree with the steps that have been taken. While I have not got all I wanted, I gained more than I expected up to that point in Committee. The Minister's co-operation was appreciated.

10.45 p.m.

But the urbanised areas of Teesside and Hartlepool are now seen to fit not into any accepted pattern of boundaries, taking rural areas into account, to justify a non-metropolitan county. Whereas the Minister had an argument in the beginning on a non-metropolitan basis, he has conceded the point when the criteria have gone. He showed considerable concern during the Standing Committee proceedings, which brought difficulties for him, about the dominance of the Teesside County Borough. He continually exposed the increasing weakness of his case for a non-metropolitan county. He said: It would be wholly wrong, whether this is a non-metropolitan or a metropolitan county, to divide again the County Borough of Teesside…it has made all its investment in a county borough of that size, and it would be wholly wrong to tear it to pieces…"—[Official Report, Standing Committee D; 20th January, 1972. c. 816–817.] Later he said: One result of concern among local authorities in the Teesside County has been for them to suggest that Teesside County Borough might be divided into separate districts in the new county…I think that this would be nonsense…having developed it as one county borough it would be an enormous and unnecessary upheaval for it to be split into districts merely to get a balanced county."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D; 25th January, 1972, c. 941.] Those firm commitments have been destroyed. To avoid the possibility of going into Durham, Teesside County Borough volunteered its own demise. Fragmentation suddenly became respectable. Where division was invalid to achieve a balanced non-metropolitan county, it suddenly became a condition to hang on to the remains of the original proposal, which by no stretch of the imagination could be described as a balanced non-metropolitan county.

Here is the serious illogicality of the position. The Minister was emphatic that Teesside County Borough should not be divided. He said that it would be a nonsense even for the sake of a balanced non-metropolitan county. But, since that debate in Committee on 20th January, the county borough itself, to save itself from going into Durham, has said that it will separate, that it will fragment. The Minister, despite what he said earlier, accepts that proposition. We now have a non-metropolitan county which is not a balanced county because the rural elements, part of the major criteria for a non-metropolitan county, have been removed. Where the metropolitan borough had not to be divided for the sake of a balanced county, it is now to be divided for the sake of an unbalanced county—a remarkable situation.

On 9th March, the Minister issued new guidelines to the Local Boundaries Commission-designate. He said that the proposed new county, to be named "Cleveland" under the Secretary of State's Amendment, …should be divided into not less than four new districts with populations comparable as is reasonably practicable having regard in particular to the pattern of local government before the establishment of the Teesside county borough. Now we have the remarkable situation in which we are told about the difficulties of division when I argue for a metropolitan base in an urbanised area, but then go back to pre-1968, before Teesside County Borough was created, and decide that within four years of its creation it can be swept aside and fragmented only for a non-metropolitan county situation, not because the Minister thought of it first but because certain people in Teesside County Borough found that this was the only way to persuade him to keep them out of Durham, which is a case for which I have never argued. Therefore, we now have the division made official. On population figures, it cannot even be one district in the new county. It cannot even stand as one district.

The Minister said, when dealing with the effect of leaving out the Whitbys and the parish of Stokesly, that the Teesside County Borough would remain not merely with 63.3 per cent. of the population of the county but with 70 per cent. He was concerned about its dominance over the rest of the county. But the rest of the county has largely disappeared. We are left virtually with Teesside County Borough and Hartlepool. In withdrawing from his previous argument for keeping the county borough intact, his population argument led to a further conflict of reasoning. He told the Standing Committee: Where we have a compact population, a continuous build-up over a small area, the area is a candidate for metropolitan status."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 20th January, 1972; c. 816.] Where is that candidature now? Tees-side and Hartlepools together have a population of 503,000 and an area of 127 square miles but one area will have a population of 597,000 and that in an area of 426 square miles. The issue of compactness is not in doubt. With the rural areas taken out, Teesside is admitted to have 70 per cent. of the population and Hartlepools more than 16 per cent. of it. There could not be a better illustration of compactness, but the Minister refutes that argument.

He went on: It may seem to be a small movement of percentage but removing the country areas from the town areas changes the nature altogether. The town and country argument was a strong argument for this county."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 25th January, 1972; c. 942.] Now the country has been taken out and the town left; how can there be a strong argument for a non-metropolitan county in such circumstances?

Teesside County Borough has already virtually come to an end, for it cannot carry on any long-term planning because the Local Boundaries Commission-Designate is already receiving from authorities in the area proposals for districts, of which there are not to be fewer than four, which means that they must be based on the complete dismemberment of the county borough.

When I first discussed metropolitan status, it never occurred to me to talk about dismemberment of Teesside County Borough. I argued then that Hartlepools, which in 1967 was made up of an amalgamation of Hartlepool, with its 800-year-old charter, and West Hartlepool, a township with a remarkable record in shipbuilding and other achievements and created in the middle of the 19th century, could hardly be re-organised so soon after amalgamation.

The Maud Commission was sitting at that time—something else that I opposed. Certain academics and others who think they know it all produced a compromise of the most remarkable kind. But at least in my part of the world we were consistent. We told the Labour Government that they could hardly produce an amalgamation of such importance in 1967, and in 1968 the amalgamation of five towns on Teesside, and then plan for their dismemberment in four years, giving them functions and status totally inconsistent with their records and achievements.

11.0 p.m.

I say "Take this creation and use the geographical situation, utilise the river and port base for a metropolitan district north of the Tees, including an amalgamated Hartlepools and a metropolitan district south of the Tees, including the newly-formed Teesside borough". That is the logical step which we have consistently put forward.

We have come up against the problems of population and compactness. The Minister has put himself in this position through his reasoning. In the White Paper at paragraph 31 it says: The metropolitan pattern is suitable only where a county is divisible into districts all of which are populous and compact. Paragraph 8 says: And, above all else, a genuine local democracy implies that decisions…should be seen to be taken as locally as possible. If that were not enough the last sentence of paragraph 13 reads: The Government must seek efficiency, but where the arguments are evenly balanced their judgment will be in favour of responsibility being exercised at the more local level. I want to test some of those arguments because I say that we have an area which is populous, compact, which can be divided into districts with a population and rateable value stronger and more viable than the majority of districts in the present proposals for metropolitan counties. I emphasise that.

There are other strong grounds for making districts such as the Hartlepools a metropolitan district. The Minister was good enough to meet Members from the area before making his present proposals public. I should like him to listen carefully, because I do not want to misquote him. He said to me that he thought that the area would qualify for metropolitan status in about ten years. His knowledge of the growth of the population in the area makes such a prediction natural. We are responsible Members, anxious to establish our case, not on questionable criteria, not on the basis of a pressure group, or on submissions by powerful interests, or on petitions which misrepresent the facts, or on spending £10,000 in employing a specialist consultant, as did Teesside. We are concerned about devising a sound administrative local government for this area in which there have already been these reorganisations, in 1967 and 1968. Knowing that the growth in this area is running at about 10 per cent. every ten years, it is not sound local government thinking to say that we might achieve metropolitan status in ten years. Everybody knows that the area is not getting the chance to settle down. We must have stability and continuity. There must be an end to changes based on considering which are not related to the criteria for devising sound local government.

A more important consideration from my point of view is the record of towns such as Hartlepool. One expects a reasonable reaction based upon this record because it is safer in public life to rely upon the success of what has been done. It is bad enough to have to deal with failures, but in the case of a success story we must use the criteria which have helped to bring it about as a basis for measuring other requirements. As an all-purpose authority, Hartlepool can and does provide first-class social and personal services. It carries out local government and planning and development responsibilities at levels and unit costs which represent an achievement and efficiency which cannot be challenged. The education, local health and welfare, fire service, library, highway and housing services in Hartlepool are of the highest order and are provided at costs which the majority of larger authorities cannot match.

I could make the same argument for the local authorities which existed before the creation of the county borough of Teesside. I could make out an excellent argument about the achievements of Billingham, Eston and Stockton. Therefore, let us take care before we throw away the general fabric of local government as we know it in this area in exchange for something which is not only not yet tested but which many of us feel from experience cannot evoke the same responses in the community or match what has been achieved in the utilisation of resources.

The Minister's rigid argument about efficiency arising from larger local government units is not supported by the facts. There is no correlation between size and efficiency in public affairs. Such an argument is alien to the British character. Areas like Cambridge, Durham and our great boroughs have characteristics of their own. We cannot destroy those lightly, merely to fit in with some theoretical approach to the problem. If the White Paper says that we must deal with things that can be done at local level, let us say what we mean and do what we mean.

In Hartlepools we pose some additional evidence to press upon the Government the need to promote local government reorganisation which has some regard to the capacity and the resources of the area, and to the provision of those amenities and environmental conditions which are in the best interests of the people. Here is an exceptionally short list. The development of the central area of The Hartlepools is unique in the United Kingdom. Its new shopping centre is the envy of the North. There are its new colleges of further education and art, less than seven years old; its old people's homes and child care facilities; its increasing provision for the disabled and the chronic sick, as well as its youth centres. There is its new swimming pools, and the development of its open spaces and areas for recreation.

These are not examples of inefficiency, lack of viability, or remoteness from the people; they are outstanding claims for achievements that show the adequacy of resources and the enlargement and effectiveness of the democratic process, where remoteness from the people has no place. I doubt very much whether we get an enlarged and more effective democratic process purely by increasing the size of local authorities. Practice has shown that the larger the authority the more problematical is the effective democratic process.

There is no case for losing the powers that authorities such as Hartlepools have. There is every case for giving back the powers to the townships that make up the present Teesside County Borough, which will, oddly enough, be the centres of the new districts recommended in the report of the Boundary Commission.

My main argument is that we need a metropolitan base which can fit in with the criteria that the Minister has laid down. Therefore—if he will take note of this base—in my Amendment a metropolitan district north of the Tees—District (a)—will have a population of 221,000 and will also have a rateable value of £11,344,000. The population base south of the Tees, making up the townships which will themselves be the centres of the district—particularly Middlesbrough—will be 282,000, with a rateable value of £14,372,000. These factors—population, rateable value, compactness and resources—fit in admirably with the Minister's criteria for a metropolitan county.

I believe that the Government should think again. These population and rateable value bases compare more favourably with the other metropolitan districts. The areas are reasonably compact.

I want to say a word or two about our discussions in Committee. An hon. Member who criticises a Minister must be careful, since the same technique might one day be used against him. Having given these quotations in a critical way, therefore, I should like to congratulate the Minister on the way in which he has addressed himself to these problems. Ministers are not necessarily masters of their own fate when piloting through a Bill. I hope that the Minister will in return appreciate the logic of my argument. Since he himself believes that this area might become metropolitan in ten years' time, he might save us from that agony by saying that my argument has been well put, and that he accepts it.

Mr. Speaker

Well put—at some length.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Cormack

I want to speak to sub-Amendment (a) to Amendment No. 61, concerning seven parishes in the rural district of Stokesley.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) and I, in whose names the sub-Amendment appears, greatly appreciate the consideration which the Minister has shown as a result of our debates in Committee.

This small sub-Amendment merely says to the Minister, "Please think again about these parishes, and decide what likely development there will be within them." If my hon. Friend does this, he is likely to conclude that these parishes, in particular Kirklevington, Castlevington and Hilton, are small villages where future development is very unlikely and which are almost certain to retain their essentially rural character, which is much more in keeping with North Yorkshire than with the proposed Cleveland County.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks and I appreciate that the Minister may not be able to give a definitive reply tonight. Because we are so grateful for what he has done in the past, we should like him at least to say that he will refer the matter to the Boundary Commission so that the door is not closed. The people of these parishes will have good cause to thank him if he gives that assurance.

Mr. William Rodgers (Stockton-on-Tees)

In dealing with what is now to become Cleveland, the Government have reached the very summit of the muddle and incompetence which they have shown at every stage of the Bill. [Hon. Members: "No."] If they have not reached the summit on this, I await with interest the story still to be unfolded. If the Secretary of State congratulates himself on the story on this occasion, then his standards must be even lower than many of us suppose.

The original proposal was much different from that which will eventually appear in the Bill. The Secretary of State made a concession in the first published version of the Bill, and the Minister made a further concession in Committee which he is now anxious to withdraw. It is a remarkable story of amputation and plastic surgery which any hon. Member who has not read it in full could read with satisfaction and pleasure as an indication of how large a mess a Government can make of a situation of which they have no local experience.

We are aware of the commendable buccaneering conduct of the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack), who played his own part, perfectly legitimately, in supporting some of his hon. Friends. But the Secretary of State should know that no action of this Government has made more enemies of his friends than the action of his hon. Friend the Minister of State in Committee.

We are left with a situation in which, although the original solution was right, we are offered something rather better than what was offered in Committee. I suppose, that being the case, we must make the best of a botched-up job.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) was his usual persuasive self in his arguments to night. He was a robust, independent member of the Committee, and if I felt that he could persuade the Government that there should be a change in the direction he indicated, I would assure him of my full support. But if we are not to have a metropolitan county, then it should go on record that Cleveland County will be less than it should have been and that we could have avoided a great deal of pain and confusion had the Government made up their mind clearly in the light of local opinion and put firm proposals to the House in the first place.

If the Government are unable to accept the persuasive arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools—and nobody has been a greater, clearer and more determined advocate of his constituents than my hon.Friend—I hope the Minister will at least give an assurance that careful consideration will be given to the break up of districts within the new Cleveland County.

There is a strong case for three districts south of the river, but I shall be persuaded by my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn), of the wisdom of any decision that is finally reached. As for the North Bank, I hope that we shall see two districts. One possibility would be for the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools to be joined with the Stockton rural district. But if that is not an acceptable solution, then, leaving Stockton and Billingham as the other district, it might be possible to separate the Stockton rural district, giving part to The Hartlepools and part to Stockton and Billingham.

It is to be hoped that the Government will give more attention to the problem of the districts, for it seems that we shall end up with a solution that is totally within Cleveland County, and that is not desired. This will make nonsense of putting town and country together, but at least it will represent a solution which will last for some time.

Mr. Graham Page

I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) say, in effect, that it was strange for a Minister to be flexible and to listen to the debate in Committee. It was astonishing for the hon. Gentleman to say that to take the advice of the local authorities concerned before acting was incompetent of the Minister. If there ever were a case when Parliament worked as a debating chamber, wishing to be assisted by the views of the local authorities concerned this case affecting Teesside was it.

In the White Paper we originally said that a Teesside county would include certain of the Durham parishes in the Easington rural district. On reconsidering the matter, we returned those parishes to Durham County, which reduced the size of the new Teesside County and left it a reasonably-sized county.

On examining the matter again in Committee, the issue of the southern area of that county was raised. Considering Whitby rural district and Whitby urban district, it seemed that we should allow the local authorities concerned to reconsider the whole principle of the Teesside County as it had been set out in the Bill. Should it be reduced to a small size, should it remain the size it was in the Bill, or should it form part of Durham County in future?

Therefore, when these points were raised in Committee I thought it proper to put the matter before the local authorities concerned, and to take their view on the basis that I was being pressed to reduce the Teesside County as we had conceived it to an area in which one county borough within that county would be dominant. That did not fit in with our concept of either a metropolitan or a non-metropolitan county. The reply we had from the local authorities concerned was on balance in favour of retaining the Teesside County, and the authorities within that Teesside County made proposals which overcome the difficulty of the dominance of one particular district.

On that basis I informed the hon Members concerned—and my recollection is that I informed the Committee as well—that we would proceed with a Teesside County in a revised form. That revised form is in the Notice Paper now as my right hon. Friend's Amendment No. 61. Comparison of that Amendment with the Teesside County as described in page 203 of the Bill shows that if the Amendment is accepted we shall have removed from the county the urban district of Whitby, the rural district of Whitby, and the parishes of Crathorne, Great Ayton, High Worsall, Little Ayton, Low Worsall, Middleton-on-Leven, Newby Picton and Seamer. In removing those parishes of Stokesley we have, I am certain, not removed all the hinterland from Teesside, but have left a reasonable and proper area around a built up area of this sort.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) mentioned, we have left certain parishes; this emerged from the Amendment he put in the Notice Paper and to which he has spoken today. They are parishes which form part of the development plan for the area to the south-west of the county. It is true that the proposed development does not cover the full area of those parishes but it would be difficult at the present stage to which those proposals for development have gone to define the areas which may be developed in terms of any parish boundaries or rural district boundaries and to describe accurately in the Bill the proper area to include in this county.

In discussing boundaries in Committee we have often said that where one is dividing a parish probably the right thing to do is to leave it to the Boundary Commission to settle the exact line in future. In some cases we have been able to settle a reasonable line. Here, I think that the right thing to do with the five or six parishes mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock is to leave any division of them to the Boundary Commission. We have described the area by parish boundaries, but these may need to be tidied up by the Commission. I do not think that it makes any difference to the area as a local government area to leave that process to some date shortly after 1974.

We have reached the position now that by our discussion with the local authori- ties concerned, by our listening to the arguments put forward in Committee by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, there has emerged what we first called the Teesside County but which is now called the Cleveland County—a county which I am sure makes a useful local government unit as a non-metropolitan county.

11.30 p.m.

That brings me to the points raised by the hon. Member for The Hartlepools. In his proposition that this should be a metropolitan county, he quoted a number of my phrases in Committee. Again I say that our Committee discussions caused me to be flexible over the points I made from time to time. The hon. Member's quotations were from what I said on occasions in the early stages of our discussions, and I am sure that he will acknowledge that his arguments in Committee frequently persuaded me to change my mind, and that arguments from other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in Committee made me revise our original ideas. That should be so in Committee. But the hon. Member has not today persuaded me to change my mind and turn this into a metropolitan county, because such a metropolitan county would consist of only two districts which would not necessarily be of the right numbers, population and resources for metropolitan districts. Even if one got them up to the figure necessary for a metropolitan district, to create a county consisting of only two districts would not be in accord with our ideas for the structure of local government. That sort of metropolitan county might lead to great friction between the two districts.

We have said that where there is an area which is populous and compact and which can be divided into several districts of the right sort of numbers, compactness and population, a metropolitan district is the right thing. The hon. Member pointed out that I said at one time that this area might qualify in some ten years' time for metropolitan county status. I think that that is so. By looking at the growth, it may be that by addition of areas outside the present county it might qualify. I would think not. I would think that the growth would be within the county itself, without adding anything outside the county, to give it that qualification for a metropolitan county at some future date; that is to say, in the future one will be able to divide the interior of the county into the necessary number of districts with the necessary population. At present, however, it is quite impossible to say that this county would be right as a metropolitan county.

What we are doing in the Bill is to set up forms of local government. At this stage we are saying, "This area or that area fits into this particular form of local government. It may be that in future others will qualify for this or that kind of local government structure which we are providing for in the Bill." But at present, Tees-side County, as it was called—Cleveland County as we shall know it in future—is right as a non-metropolitan county, and would not qualify at present as a metropolitan county.

Amendment negatived.

Further consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—[Mr. Graham Page.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow.