HC Deb 13 November 1973 vol 864 cc437-67

Order for Second Reading.

1.10 a.m.

The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill deals with a unique boundary issue left over from the Local Government Act 1972. The villages of Charlwood and Horley lie to the north of Gatwick airport, which is itself contained in Charlwood parish. To the south of the airport is the substantial urban growth area of Crawley New Town and beyond. The group straddles the present boundary between Surrey and West Sussex which runs betwen Gatwick and Crawley, leaving the whole of Horley and Charlwood in Surrey.

When I studied this area in the context of the reorganisation of local government, I was convinced that it was right to put before Parliament in the course of the passage of the Local Government Bill the transfer of Gatwick airport from Surrey into West Sussex. It also seemed to make sense, if we were doing that, to move Horley, which contains about 17,000 people, and Charlwood, which contains about 1,000 people, into Sussex with the airport, although I did not look upon that as essential. When that was proposed, there was strong local reaction from Horley to stay in Surrey, even if it meant that Horley was separated from the airport.

In Committee an undertaking was given that if there were an overwhelming expression of opinion by the people of Horley that they wanted to stay in Surrey, even though it meant being separated from the airport, they should be allowed to do so. A similar assurance was given to Charlwood. Though there was a case for both parishes being in West Sussex, it was sufficiently evenly balanced for the local view to be decisive.

Unfortunately, the Surrey interests pursued their battle to retain the airport as well as Horley and Charlwood in Surrey right up to the Committee stage in another place, instead of arranging for a public opinion poll on the separation of Horley and Charlwood from the airport. Those interests were defeated in another place, and only at that stage, once they had clearly lost the airport from Surrey into West Sussex, were the local people faced with the choice between their county loyalty and their links with Gatwick. It was then that a parish meeting was held, followed by a parish poll in Horley which showed a heavy majority of those voting in favour of the area remaining in Surrey. Charlwood also pronounced by way of a parish meeting that it favoured staying in Surrey. Unfortunately, by that time we were at the end of October last year and the Local Government Bill had already received the Royal Assent. It was, therefore, too late to give effect to the promise which had been made, that by simple amendment of that Bill we would comply with local wishes.

There are, of course, other places where, I recognise at once, boundaries are not ideal, but where the situation is more complex and needs detailed probing before a new line is drawn, and the Local Government Act provides for these cases to be considered by the Local Government Boundary Commission. But I fear that the commission will not be able to give these matters consideration for some time owing to the programme before it to carry out its work of warding of districts and counties and so on.

What makes this case of Charlwood and Holley unique is the fact that a meaningful parish poll could not be held until it was quite clear that Gatwick was going to Sussex, so that the residents were directly faced with the dilemma that they could either stay with Surrey or stay with the airport but not both.

We had given an assurance, and in the event have been unable to give effect to our intention by an amendment of the Local Government Bill itself. I do not think it would be fair or reasonable in these circumstances to say to Horley and Charlwood that they must use the permanent procedure under the Local Government Act and ask the Local Government Boundary Commission to review the boundaries.

No change under that procedure could take effect before 1st April 1974, when the new authorities come into being—the reorganisation date—and so the area, involving some 20,000 people would have had to move into West Sussex on that date and then move back into Surrey later. That would cause administrative disruption and involve considerable personal difficulties for the local authority staff serving the area, and it would be a Gilbertian situation deserving of some ridicule.

Fortunately, the local authorities concerned in this affair on both sides of the county boundary came together and presented us with agreed proposals for a new county boundary. This new bound- ary will leave the airport in West Sussex but transfer almost all the inhabited parts of Horley and Charlwood, about 18,000 people, on the northern side of the air port, back into Surrey, as they have stated clearly they desire.

I should emphasise that the boundary was agreed by representatives of all the local authorities involved at county, district and parish level. I have accepted their proposals, and they are embodied in the Bill. The boundary line is shown on maps deposited in connection with the Bill and on smaller scale maps which are available in the Vote Office.

The contents of the Bill itself are straightforward. Broadly, there is provision for a new county boundary line, for consequential changes in the district pattern in Surrey, for parish government in the transferred areas, for the retirement of councillors affected, and for new electoral arrangements. I do not think any of these will cause any difficulty in the localities concerned, and they will merely be carrying out the wishes expressed by those localities. The Bill also contains the normal consequential and supplementary provisions.

The Bill does not touch in any way the existing authorities. I refer to those which are in command until 1st April 1974. The provisions are drafted entirely in terms of amendment to the pattern of the new authorities coming into effect on 1st April next.

Provision is made in Clause 1 for the new county boundary and for consequential changes in the district pattern. The part of Charlwood now returning to Surrey is to be a new parish forming part of a new district of Mole Valley in accordance with the wishes of the parish council. The part of Horley now to be returned is to be a new parish forming part of the new district of Reigate and Banstead. The new parish of Salfords and Sidlow, created by the 1972 Act, will go with Horley into the district of Reigate and Banstead. If we are not to have a sort of Bangladesh situation in that parish, it is necessary for Salfords and Sidlow to be transferred to that district.

I must enter one caveat. The new county boundary provided for in the Bill contains no provisions for possible future changes at Gatwick airport. The boundary was agreed between the local authorities concerned, and they were anxious to establish a sensible workable line which will clearly delineate their mutual responsibilities. Any decisions about the airport will have to be taken in a far wider context.

The boundary proposed now represents the agreed view of the local authorities in regard to a line, which gives effect to the wishes of local opinion and provides a satisfactory boundary for the provision of local government services.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

I am rather puzzled about this, and I wonder whether the Minister can help me. I understand the Minister to say that what is being proposed is in line with public opinion. But were not these submissions made in the period when we were discussing local government reorganisation, and was not a special plea made in this House on behalf of influential persons in the Guildford area, and, indeed, in Surrey in general? Why did not the Government then acquiesce in those reasonable submissions? Why is it that following legislation on local government reorganisation the Government have now taken the view that separate measures are necessary?

Mr. Page

That was an admirable speech as an "intervention" in my remarks, but I have already explained my reasons. I understand that there was a reaction in Horley and Charlwood against the move into Sussex and that it was thought it was an evenly balanced question whether they should be in one area or the other. Local opinion could have come down on one side or the other. We gave a definite undertaking during the Bill. It may be that one ought not to give these undertakings during the course of debates, but when they are given it is the Government's responsibility to keep their promises. Because the decision of the local authorities did not reach us until a week after the Royal Assent, we are now trying to carry out those undertakings in the Bill.

The Bill is best characterised as a tidying-up operation. It proposes what we would have asked Parliament to do by amendment of the Local Government Bill if that had been possible at the time. It opens no new questions of principle, but gives effect to undertakings which were generally welcomed when originally given. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.25 a.m.

Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)

Both this House and the other place have considered the two parishes of Charlwood and Horley for many hours. There has been a long and seemingly unending series of discussions about these two parishes.

It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that in Standing Committee on 27th January the Under-Secretary gave what I thought was a somewhat tentative undertaking that there would be a local poll, which was offered, and that the Government would consider the result of that local poll.

On Report on 6th July, at 10 o'clock in the morning, after an all-night sitting—these matters always seem to come before this House in the early hours of the morning or in the other place at 10 o'clock at night, which for them is the early hours of the morning—there was a full and vigorous discussion following an amendment moved by the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair). We were regaled with not a cricket match but a tournament between Surrey and Sussex, the knights of both shires coming to this House with their lances at the ready to defend their particular county interests. At the end of the debate there was a Division which the Government won by 42 to 24 votes.

The Government were adamant in that debate that these two parishes ought to go into Sussex and that Gatwick airport should not be divided from them. In that Division, not only my predecessor and my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin), but my Chief Whip, Deputy Chief Whip and two ordinary Whips went into the Lobby with the hon. Member for Dorking in support of his amendment that these two parishes should go into Surrey. Therefore, I can give a clear undertaking to the right hon. Gentleman that at this stage we do not seek to oppose the Bill.

When the matter went to the other place my noble Friend Lord Garnsworthy moved an amendment on 11th September which engendered a full and long debate—I repeat at 10 o'clock that night. For the other place to start a debate at 10 o'clock at night is a rare event. At the end of that debate the position of these parishes was worse. Whereas the Division in this House had been 24 to 42, in the other place the result was 14 to 61 in favour of the Government's proposals. Again, the Government said that these parishes must go into Sussex and that there could not on any ground be a division between them and Gatwick airport. They said that it would be illogical, damaging to the county interests involved, and prejudicial to the economic interests of the area.

We were on the side of what was then the rebels but is now the angels, both in this House and in the other place. But still the Government persisted, despite the undertaking given by the Under-Secretary in Standing Committee, that they were right.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the argument was sufficiently equally balanced for local opinion to make a difference. He went on to say that a meaningful poll could not be held until after the Local Government Bill went through. The right hon. Gentleman knows how many meaningful polls were held before that Bill became law. He knows how many discussions there were, and how many facts and figures were presented to hon. Members in Committee, as they were to the right hon. Gentleman, and yet the Government did not bend one whit to those meaningful polls.

Mr. Graham Page

I did not say that a meaningful poll could not be held until the Bill went through. I said that it could not be held until Surrey had been defeated in another place in its effort to get Gatwick airport back to Surrey. It was then that the public had to choose between their county loyalties and the aerodrome.

Mr. Oakes

That is a curious argument, that if a meaningful poll is conducted and the result is presented to the other place before it takes a decision on the matter in question it should regard that expression of opinion as of no accord, but if a similar result is presented to the House after the Bill has been debated the Government will present another Bill to the House to make a change in what was proposed earlier. I am not disagreeing with the right hon. Gentleman, because he is being democratic, and I ask him and the Government to be equally democratic in other areas of the country where people would dearly love to have a meaningful poll because they find themselves in authorities, counties or districts where they do not want to be.

Mr. Leadbitter

The question of a poll related to the Bill raises an aggravating problem. May we take it, from what is now being proposed, that, in spite of the Local Government Act's only recently having become law, if a poll held in an area of contention shows that public opinion is in favour of a change the Minister will introduce a Bill to give effect to that? Are we seeing the beginning of a new practice? If a poll in my area shows that the people want metropolitan county status, will the Minister do for us what he is doing for these two parishes?

Mr. Oakes

My hon. Friend has anticipated what I was going to put to the Government. The Bill provides a precedent. We are altering boundaries not by the Local Government Boundary Commission, which was established for that purpose, but by a Hybrid Bill.

The Government have reversed the arguments which they defended in Standing Committee, in the House on Report and in another place, by seperating Gatwick from these two parishes. I am not opposing the Bill, but the Government are reversing their previous arguments, and, of course, this is just the day to do that. If ever there was a good day for the Government to present this Bill, this is it. This is the day on which the Government who wanted lower interest rates have seen the bank lending rate rise to 13 per cent. This is the day on which the Government who were committed to growth and bursting us out of a terrible economic situation have introduced one of the severest states of emergency and credit squeeze in our history. If ever there was a day for reversing Government policy, this is it. The Charlwood and Horley Bill fits in very well with the reversal of the arguments on those other matters.

But the Government have introduced a Bill of a very rare type. It is rare for the Government to introduce a Hybrid Bill, which is a peculiar sort of being. It must come before the House for Second Reading in the ordinary way. Because the Bill deals not with the country as a whole but with only a very small section, it must go to a Select Committee to be rigorously and scrupulously examined before it goes to a Standing Committee of the House in the ordinary way of most Bills. That is right and proper. The procedure of the House is right and proper, because the perils of a Government introducing a Bill affecting a particular small area of the country and differentiating that from the rest of the country are highly dangerous. It is most perilous if a Government can introduce a separate law for a particular area. Therefore, the House rightly demands that when a Government try to do that with a Hybrid Bill it must be examined by a Select Committee as well as by a Standing Committee.

I know, from correspondence that I have received from my local party and from Dorking Constituency Labour Party, and from chambers of commerce in the area, that everyone in the area is not completely in favour of the Bill. I am not saying that in relation to the parishes. It is our duty, in this very unusual procedure, to see that their rights, in a case such as this, to present a petition to the Select Committee putting their point of view are safeguarded. Their point of view is entitled to be heard, and the Select Committee is the proper body to hear it. The proper time for that is not the Second Reading, because we do not oppose what a local poll has demanded. The sectional interests in the area would find themselves dealing with a local situation when the law of the country is different, and they have the right just as in the case of Maplin, to be heard. Those who oppose Private Bills have a right to be heard.

When the Select Committee has made its decision—there are some points about Clause 2 to which I shall refer shortly—the Standing Committee can scrutinise the Bill in the ordinary way. As my hon. Friend the Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) hinted at in his intervention, I wonder why the Government chose this area to introduce this Hybrid Bill. What is particular and peculiar? What are the issues between Surrey and Sussex that led the Government to go to the extraordinary length of introducing a Government Bill, sponsored by no less than the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Social Services? The hon. Member for Dorking has fought well and valiantly at every stage for his constituents. I could understand his introducing a Private Member's Bill. But the Government has brought in this Bill for one particular area supported by a vast array of senior Cabinet Ministers.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Hartlepools asked about other areas and whether this was a precedent. I hope it is. Can we expect that in relation to other areas that were highly contentious when debated in Committee, on the Floor of the House and in the other place ad nauseam, the Government will relent and introduce Hybrid Bills? I hope that a Bill dealing with Glamorgan will be introduced. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) will wish to speak on that in a moment.

Mr. Leadbitter

And Hartlepools.

Mr. Oakes

And Hartlepools. I have no doubt that, as is his wont, my hon. Friend will speak to that without my prompting him. In view of the highly contentious arguments that arose about Hampshire, I hope that the Government will introduce a Bill making Hampshire a metropolitan county. I hope that we have Bills about Plymouth and Lancashire. I hope that Herefordshire will rise from its ashes, phoenix-like, and become a county in its own right, again through a Hybrid Bill introduced by a Government who said, "We made a mistake. We did not listen to local interests at the time. They are still the same. Let us have a local poll, even after the event. We shall listen to that poll, introduce a Hybrid Bill and put right that which we have done wrong."

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

With respect, is not my hon. Friend being a little harsh on the sponsors of the Bill, who are the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Social Services? Since they have made such a dreadful mess of everything for which they are responsible, is it not true to say that this is about the level at which they ought to be involved, with nothing higher than this?

Mr. Oakes

They may be inclined to put right in this little Bill their errors in so many other fields.

The other issue is: what is the function of the Local Government Boundary Commissioners, if the Government are to act in this way? We discussed at great length upstairs the rôle of the commissioners, which the right hon. Gentleman agreed was precisely in this field where mistakes had been made. I can even remember the right hon. Gentleman saying that if a mistake had been made the boundary commissioners could put it right; if there was demand for a change and the lines had been drawn wrongly, the commissioners could put the matter right. This would seem to be a classic case for the Local Government Boundary Commissioners.

If the Government decide, as they have done in the case of this Hybrid Bill, to make an alteration in advance, I will not deny them that right. But I want that right extended to all the areas that I have been talking about, and to many others. This is not a Bill, at a quarter to two in the morning, about two parishes that were in Surrey and are now in West Sussex. I can see a number of my hon. Friends who have constituencies which are miles away from that area, and I know why they are here. They are here to talk about Bristol, Hartlepools and Brecon. These are issues which the Government raise when they bring in a Bill of this nature, and it is inevitable that they will—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. I am not quite so sure about that, because we are discussing a narrow issue and we cannot take into account what may happen in other parts of the country unless it is absolutely strictly related to what we are discussing.

Mr. Oakes

I quite agree, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Knowing my hon. Friends as I do, I am sure that they would not step out of the bounds of order.

Mr. Leadbitter

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. You have raised the question of having a debate on the narrow and specific points for determination in this Bill. But, with respect, we are talking about the means by which this Bill was brought about; that is, by a poll. We want to talk about the principle of how this position has been arrived at. I hope, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you will allow, while not too much of a general overall debate, at least a reasonable submission by hon. Members who might want to ascertain the intention of the Minister in order to see whether we may have an equal response.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said. The best thing we can do is to see how we get on. Meanwhile, I will take careful advice.

Mr. Oakes

Knowing my hon. Friends as I do, I am certain that they will not transcend the rules of order. But if they do, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you will quickly bring them to heel.

This is a Second Reading debate, although it may be related narrowly to these parishes. In a Second Reading debate concerning these two parishes any hon. Member is entitled to ask why the Government have done this for these two parishes and whether the Government will do the same for his area. Any hon. Member can ask "What are the factors affecting these two parishes which differentiate them from the local opinion and desires in my constituency?" Subject to your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that will be in order in a Second Reading debate. That point of view will be expressed at length from areas which feel bitterly that they have been put with areas with which they do not want to be put or that they have been divided in the most ridiculous way, as is the case with Glamorgan.

I want, finally, to raise some points on parts of Clauses 1 and 2. I may be wrong, and I hope the Minister will correct me if I am. My reading of these clauses is that from an electoral point of view some councillors seem to retire as a result of the Bill but some appear to stay on for various periods whether at county, district, or parish level.

As a point of principle, the Bill should lay down clearly—if we do not do so, the Select Committee will—that new councillors for the affected areas should be chosen as a result of a further election I should like clarification from the Minister that all councillors at county district and parish level for all the areas affected will, because of the abstraction of the parishes to another area, be elected by fresh elections; otherwise it will be parliamentary intervention in local elections and the creation by Parliament of councillors in office who were not elected by those whom they will in future serve.

There is much in the Bill beyond the question of these two parishes. The Opposition do not oppose the Bill in principle. We certainly do not oppose local issues being heard. Indeed, we applaud a Government that will bring in a Hybrid Bill to give effect to local issues. However, we say that these two parishes are by no means unique. What are the special circumstances which entitle them to a separate Bill which is denied to many other areas? We raise the basic question why the Government have introduced the Bill in the way they have as a Hybrid Bill. I am certain that my hon. Friends who have stayed until this late hour and are very concerned about their constituencies will be waiting to hear the Government's answer to that point.

1.50 a.m.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)

Having listened with interest to the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes), I must say that his memory of past events seems a little faulty. If ever a mountain was made out of a molehill, it was the hon. Gentleman's speech about the transfer of these two parishes—I say that with due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair)—from West Sussex into Surrey.

I, too, remember well the occasion to which the hon. Gentleman referred, when the Local Government Bill was before the House on Report. After an all-night sitting, as the hon. Gentleman said, my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking made a powerful speech not so much about Horley and Charlwood as about the proposed transfer of Gatwick Airport into West Sussex. That was what the argument was about between my hon. Friend and myself. Horley and Charlwood came into it, but only to a small degree.

I found the hon. Gentleman's references to this matter remarkable, remembering the Opposition's attitude on the earlier occasion. They supported the proposal to transfer Gatwick to West Sussex in Committee and then opposed it on the Floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman can look up the debates if he doubts what I say.

Mr. Oakes

I was there. The hon. Gentleman says that we opposed it in Committee, but there was no Division in Committee. If I recall aright, my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) said at that time that he thought that there was some force in the Government's arguments. When the question was fully debated not in Committee but in the House, with speeches by the hon. Members for the constituencies concerned, he said—in an intervention, I think—"I have changed my mind, and my judgment is more mature now". There was then a Division, but there was no Division in Committee.

Mr. Hordern

If the hon. Gentleman will read the debates again, he will see that his right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford first accepted the Government's argument that Gatwick Airport should go into West Sussex. I happen to remember the intervention to which the hon. Gentleman referred, since it was an intervention in part of my speech in which I wondered whether the right hon. Gentleman stuck to the attitude which he had expressed in Committee. He said that he had changed his mind. I quite understand that, but there are two points to be made about what the hon. Member for Widnes has said tonight. First, he made a great deal of the proposal to shift Horley and Charlwood out of West Sussex and into Surrey, when the argument was really concerned with Gatwick Airport; and second, the Opposition changed their mind between Committee and Report on their attitude to the airport.

However, we are concerned here only with a relatively small area, and a small population at that. It seems to me that the Government have shown themselves to be particularly sensitive to the feelings of a number of people in Horley and Charlwood who want to remain in Surrey after so many years. From the planning point of view, the proposal does not make much sense. In its submission to the Secretary of State in February 1971, the Horley Parish Council said that the parishes of Holley, Charlwood and Gatwick Airport are inseparably bound together". And so they are.

Nor is it true that the wish to remain in Surrey is by any means unanimous. For example, the Horley and District Chamber of Commerce, which has nearly 200 members, is at one in wishing to remain with Gatwick and come now to West Sussex. Not only are there close links between Horley and Gatwick; there are close links between Horley and Crawley in my constituency. A large number of students from Holley attend Crawley College of Technology; they use the swimming pool in Crawley, the sports arena and the library. There is therefore a strong argument, on planning grounds alone for the retention of Horley and Charlwood within West Sussex.

That view is strengthened by the consideration that the future development of Gatwick has to be accommodated in West Sussex. There are good reasons, as the House knows, why this expansion cannot take place either in Surrey or in East Sussex. If it must occur in West Sussex, as is accepted by the county council, it seems only reasonable that the ratepayers of West Sussex, having to pay for the expansion, should be supported by the ratepayers of Gatwick and, in my view, of Horley and Charlwood as well.

The Government have said, however, that the wishes of the people of Holley and Charlwood should be respected, and, whatever the logic and strength of the planning arguments, both the Crawley Council and the West Sussex Council have agreed not to oppose the transfer of Holley and Charlwood to Surrey. This decision will have been taken at some cost to their ratepayers and I know that it has met with some opposition.

In these circumstances it would not be right for me to oppose the Bill, as these are matters for the elected representatives of the ratepayers to decide. Anyway, one does not often see such a triumph of sensibility over sense. I congratulate the Government on sticking to their word. The people of Horley and Charlwood have good reason to be grateful to the Government for carrying out their wishes and, with some notable exceptions. I am sure that they will be.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It may assist the House if before calling the next speaker I say something about the nature of the speeches that hon. Members may like to make. My first instinct, which originally brought me to my feet, following consultation with the learned Clerk I now find to have been correct. In other words, it will be in order to make the sort of speech that the Minister made, or the sort of speech that the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) made, but it will not be in order to raise problems connected with, say, Bristol, or the Hartlepools, or parts of Wales and so on in any detail. I am sure that hon. Members will understand that ruling and I hope that they will help me.

1.57 a.m.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

If I were a parishioner of Charlwood and Horley, I should be congratulating myself on three or four scores. I should congratulate myself that so small a segment of the total local government seats could be regarded as so important as to command the number of names shown to be supporters of the Bill. I should frame it and keep it for ever, because it may be unique for a Bill of this size to be presented in this way.

Secondly, I should congratulate myself on having won a battle—by whatever pressures and influence—so leading the Government to sponsor a Bill. I should congratulate myself that at long last the Government which had won the election in 1970 partly on the pledge to give more local democracy and had then promptly proceeded to filch it had shown themselves prepared to keep that promise in one small instance, and I do not wish to discuss what pressures might have been used.

It is not so in other parts of the country—not in Wales, for instance. Herefordshire sent a mass of documents to the House and is represented by a Minister of State. How fortunate to be a parishioner of Horley and Charlwood and win this battle when a Minister of State has failed to win it for his county!

Out of this debate we shall distil a principle. The Minister displayed overwhelming tenderness for the feelings of the people and talked much about the community spirit and the proclivities of the people—while hatcheting great counties in three parts and so creating an abortion of local government. That has happened all over Britain. Inside those counties they have created enlarged district councils with fewer functions. Some of the amalgamated district councils have made representation after representation through the House, through their elected representatives and through whatever pressures they could bring to bear so as to stay in the very circumstances in which the parishioners of Charlwood and Honey have decided they want to stay.

Many Labour Members will now say that if this is a precedent, then, by whatever methods were used to bring it about, they give due warning that they will bring every possible pressure to bear to ensure the reversal of some of the policies which have been applied to our local government areas. I say that not in envy of the two parishes. I congratulate them. I congratulate them, above all, on winning a democratic battle which can impart to the rest of us who are concerned about our local goovernment areas the will to win. If it can be done, by whatever devious means, on behalf of some people, when we fight and then fail to achieve our objectives we shall at least expose the dichotomy—to put it at its kindest—which has been created on the Government benches. We shall see that it receives due publicity.

2.1 a.m.

Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)

For other reasons than those advanced by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans), I welcome the Bill. I thank the Minister on behalf of my constituents and all the local authorities from parish to county council, on behalf of the local government services and the voluntary agencies, which supported the two parishes in their determination to stay in Surrey.

I am glad to thank the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) for his support of the Bill and for the concern and understanding which he and his predecessors have shown when considering the case of the two parishes.

When the Local Government Reorganisation Bill was introduced it proposed the transfer from Surrey to West Sussex not only of Gatwick Airport but also of the two parishes. That proposal caused sharp and prolonged controversy in the area.

In Committee the Minister insisted that the airport should be moved to West Sussex. However, he gave a pledge to respect the wishes of the two parishes if they indicated clearly that they wished to remain in Surrey. That is what makes the Bill unique. I do not think that in any other case was there such a pledge that the wishes of the people would be taken into consideration by the Government. It was only because those expressions of opinion were made too late to be incorporated in an amendment before the Bill received the Royal Assent that we are now faced with an amending Bill. Each parish, in its own way, made plain its preference for staying in Surrey. The Minister accepted those indications as sufficient. Now, by the introduction of the Bill, he is seeking to redeem that pledge. The Bill has been brought forward only after considerable local discussion over the line of the new boundary. It is inevitable in such changes that there should be disappointment on both sides and there has been some in this case. I recognise that. But in the end agreement was reached by the elected local authorities concerned on both sides of the border and the Minister was given an assurance of their support before he introduced the Bill.

This local agreement is an outstanding example of good neighbourliness in action. In that I pay tribute to the concern shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) not only for defending the legitimate interests of his constituents but also for the patience with which he has listened to the case put up by my constituents and their locally elected representatives.

If, as I hope, the Bill is given a Second Reading tonight and passes through its stages in the next few months, the people in the area as well as the local authorities on both sides of the boundary will be spared further uncertainty and a great and unwelcome administrative dislocation. Now that responsibility for Gatwick is passing from Surrey to West Sussex I hope that the passage of this Bill into law will be another important milestone in the close co-operation that has developed between the two counties in dealing with the difficult problems that result from the rapid expansion of the airport.

The pledge was given at the Committee Stage of the Local Government Bill and is now embodied in the Bill. I hope it will be given a Second Reading tonight.

2.7 a.m.

Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

The Minister is having a rough time of it just now. Yesterday he was dealing with a major measure on local government and tonight he has to present this hybrid Bill which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) said, is a most astonishing way of proceeding. The whole of the right hon. Gentleman's case in presenting the Bill hinges on this issue being unique. The Minister knows that only if he succeeds in convincing everyone that it is unique can he hope to stem the torrent of criticism which will flow from areas which are extremely dissatisfied over the treatment they received when the local government boundaries were changed and which will generate enormous pressures for further change.

The right hon. Gentleman was given the able support of the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) but there seems to be nothing here to differentiate it from a number of similar issues on a much larger scale in other parts of the country. I do not wish to be churlish about the Bill because, as my hon. Friend said, a number of us voted in favour of the amendment when it was before the House. So in welcoming the Bill we are only being consistent with the view we have expressed before.

We feel that the Bill does not go far enough. Here is a special Bill, introduced by this weight of very high ranking Ministers, to deal with an electorate of 18,000, and the explanation to justify it is most unconvincing.

The Minister referred to a parish council meeting and to a meaningful poll which was held in Horley in order to discover the wishes of the electorate. Perhaps I may compare the details of that poll with those of another, because during the Report stage of the Local Government Bill the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) referred to a poll which had been taken in Somerset. In that poll, 115,000 people voted out of 155,000, or 74 per cent. of the electorate. Those in favour of the Government's proposals were 17,000, or 15 per cent. Those against were almost 100,000 or 85 per cent.

The Minister spoke just now of a "meaningful" poll. But what treatment did he afford to the statistics of the Somerset poll? In the course of his reply to the right hon. Member for Taunton, the Minister said that it seemed to him that a total poll of 62 per cent. in favour was surprisingly low compared with other referenda which had been presented to him in the course of local government reorganisation. The Minister brushed aside that poll as being "surprisingly low", but how does it shape up with what he has presented to the House tonight?

My information is that Horley poll, which the Minister has described as "meaningful", was a poll of some 35 per cent. of the electorate and that the majority of those who wished to stay in was three to one. I accept that that is a handsome majority. But to refer to 35 per cent. as a "meaningful" poll in this context when he dismissed a 62 per cent. poll as "surprisingly low" and hardly worth considering in the general context of local government reorganisation seems to be a contradiction which I am sure that the Minister, being an honest man, will agree is undesirable and unworthy.

If a poll of these dimensions is meaningful, it opens up all the boundary changes which have been pushed away into the background. My own city of Bristol did not want change. We had good services. If we had to have change, we wanted metropolitan status. Against the wishes of the people, we have had county status foisted upon us. Several problems are boiling up already, and I referred to them briefly last night. We should like to see a hybrid Bill introduced in our favour.

I believe that the Minister realised tonight that he was skating on very thin ice, and I want to refer to what he said about why it was that other areas would have to wait some time before boundary changes could be considered. He said that the Boundary Commission would be fully occupied in the next few years working on the re-warding which had followed on local government reorganisation. If the Boundary Commission is so tied up with re-warding that it cannot get on with the job which is its main purpose, I suggest that the Minister should either enlarge its membership or set up some other body to perform one or other of these functions.

It is ludicrous to try to fob off people's legitimate aspirations by saying "I'm sorry. We set it up, but it is incapable of carrying out the functions for which it was set up. It can do only one thing at a time. It is doing re-warding, and boundary changes will have to wait." That is an unsatisfactory answer.

If I continued any longer I might be tempted to do that which I must not. I welcome the Bill in its limited way, but the Minister has not convinced the House that the case is unique. He has laid up a great deal of trouble for himself.

2.15 a.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

The principle we are considering goes far beyond the mere question of this hybrid Bill. The Minister has introduced nothing new. I have before me statements made in another place by Lord Garnsworthy, when speaking on last year's Local Government Bill. He said: I have an interest to declare in that I have been for many years a member of the Surrey County Council and for some years now have been an alderman of that authority. Lord Garnsworthy has a remarkable reputation for his service in that county, and he weighs his words with great care, as he did in that speech, when he did not speak for his party but spoke from personal experience. He continued: The proposals under the Bill for the alteration of the Surrey boundary along its frontier with West Sussex mean an intrusion into the county of Surrey which shows up on the map like a sore thumb. It involves the transfer of the greater part of the parishes of Horley and Charlwood including Gatwick Airport from Surrey to West Sussex. That is a proposal which some 87 per cent. of the 18,000 residents involved have rejected."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 11th September 1972; Vol. 335, c. 137.] The poll that the Minister talks about is no different from, nor is it clearer than, that determination of the residents of those areas at the time we were discussing the Bill reorganising local government. Therefore, why was there the opposition of the Government in Standing Committee to the will of those two parishes to the extent of 42 votes for the Government and 24 against? What has happened since? If the Minister was not persuaded by the kind of vote that Lord Garnsworthy mentioned—87 per cent.—when we were discussing that Bill, it is obvious that any other expression by the residents of the area could not have motivated a change of mind. There must be another element.

What influential people have expressed to the Minister the need to make a change? [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) laughs, but I am in full agreement with him. He knows that during discussions on the reorganisation of local government hon. Members on both sides of the House armed with briefs expressing the opinions of localities, time after time went to the Minister. Some opinions reflecting views different from the proposals were heeded, but others were ignored, as happened in this case. The Government at that time knew that 87 per cent of the people in these parishes did not want to be moved into West Sussex. Lord Garnsworthy was correct to express his concern. For the Minister to call upon the will of the people to justify the Bill leaves him open to the charge that influential people have brought pressure to bear upon him to bring in the Bill.

I shall now ask another question—

Mr. Graham Page

Before the hon. Gentleman asks another question, I shall answer the one he has asked with a definite "No".

Mr. Leadbitter

If the Minister makes that answer, why has he taken so long to change his mind? When the Local Government Bill was in Committee, 87 per cent. of the people expressed their view. The Minister knows of the pressure from Guildford, Woking and other areas in Surrey which wanted the airport to remain in Surrey. They had a good argument then and have a good argument now.

At that time the Minister could not see how the airport and the parishes could be dealt with separately. Now he finds that he can deal with them separately. The Minister has been inconsistent. By introducing a Bill to deal with two parishes he has created a precedent which I and other hon. Members may have a right to follow in calling upon the Government to give equal support for majority opinion in other areas arising from discontent with the effect of local government reorganisation. That involves serious trouble for the Government.

Sir G. Sinclair

Some of the misunderstanding of this situation—it is not misunderstood in the area—arises from the fact that originally both parishes wanted to stay with the airport, but always on the basis that the airport would be retained in Surrey. They fought for that, but when the Minister insisted that the airport should go into West Sussex a new situation was created. It was then that they were given a pledge that they could make a choice in the completely new situation of the airport having been moved—in the Government's view, beyond recall—into West Sussex. The new situation brought a new approach to the problem of the two parishes, when they decided that they would rather stay in Surrey than go with the airport, with which they have had some natural affinity.

Mr. Leadbitter

The hon. Gentleman is right. There is no division between us. As we have said, we accept that the opinion of these two parishes has brought about a response which their earlier submissions did not. Lord Garnsworthy went on: The transfer of the airport would accentuate the difference. The people of Horley and Charlwood have made their wishes known. Surrey has shown that it has the expertise and the experience to deal with the many problems which spring from the existence of the airport and on its own it has handled many of them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 11th September 1972; Vol. 335, c. 140.] In other words, while the parishes have succeeded in persuading the right hon. Gentleman that the division between them and the airport by the new boundary has produced partial satisfaction, it has not removed their original determination that the airport and they were intrinsically part of Surrey. In that sense, the hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement.

Do I take it now that the right hon. Gentleman is amenable to future opinion polls arising from the difficulties which have been exacerbated, and which were foreseen, by the early effects of the Act? Many contentious arguments are creating great difficulties as we approach 1st April. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that if people say in a poll that they want a certain situation he will respond? Does this precedent create the possibility of a whole series of new submissions? I am not convinced that the poll itself has motivated him. He is a highly intelligent man and of considerable integrity.

During the proceedings on the Local Government Bill the Minister surprised me with his willingness to listen; he acted with a great deal of statesmanship. Are we now to assume that matters will in future be dealt with in the way in which they are being dealt with in the early hours of this morning?

Can the Minister honestly say that no other consideration has motivated him in the way in which he has acted? He knows that the will of the people in these two parishes was known to him when we discussed the original legislation. That will has not altered. If he was not open to an appeal then, he surely should be open to an appeal now.

I feel that another factor may have played its part in this situation. I suggest to the Minister that certain influential people must have pressed upon his Department, it not personally on the Secretary of State for the Environment, the need for this Bill.

Sir G. Sinclair


Mr. Leadbitter

The hon. Member for Dorking says "No". I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that if a right hon. Member claims to be acting with integrity, one does not question him when he says: "These two parishes must go to West Sussex". But when, some months later, 80 per cent. of the population say, "We want to stay in Surrey", he changes his mind. Either the right hon. Gentleman's judgment is greatly at fault—and I should be reluctant to take that view—or we must assume that some new factor has entered into the situation to change his mind. That is the simple conclusion to be drawn.

I have a right to say to the Minister that if there are new factors he should tell us about them. I have argued the case for Hartlepool and in view of the ruling that has been given I shall not pursue that matter further. I merely ask whether this is to be regarded as an isolated case or whether we shall again be brought here in the early hours of the morning—a time when perhaps hon. Members are not able to be here to make the weight of their views known—to discuss some other similar measure. If in future there is a further poll, will we be faced with another hybrid Bill for another area? The Minister, in reply, should give the House an assurance that we are not to carry out government in this way. It is a bad way to do it.

I hope that the Minister and the hon. Members for Dorking and Horsham (Mr. Hordern) will bear in mind that the Opposition have at least shown consistency. From the beginning we wanted to follow the will of the people. We applaud the fact that they have succeeded, but we do not applaud the inconsistency demonstrated by the Department. For that reason we will not oppose the Bill. However, for the reasons I have outlined, I hope that the Minister realises that by opening the door in this respect he might have some difficulty in rejecting others who have similar claims on the basis of public opinion.

2.36 a.m.

Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)

I congratulate the residents of Charlwood and Horley on achieving their aim. They must feel very pleased to see such an evening, or morning, as this arrive.

There are times when polls can be useful. Some hon. Members believe that a poll of the electors of Charlwood and Horley concerning the county and the district boundaries affecting them should have some credence and that the Government should act on the results. There are hon. Members who believe that polls have their uses in Northern Ireland. Others believe that a poll of the people of this country on the question of membership of the EEC should be used as a guide to Government action. Further, there are those who believed that the Government should have acted on the polls conducted in the areas of South Breconshire which were proposed to be transferred to other authorities.

The Minister mentioned parish meetings. I suggest that Charlwood and Horley were not the only places at which parish meetings were held concerning boundaries. There were parish meetings all over the country, but not much notice was taken of them.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned that the Boundary Commission would be dealing with boundaries in other areas. I fail to understand why the commission did not see fit to deal with this area. I believe that something was said about its taking too long. But will not delays occur in other parts of the country?

The Minister said that a poll could not be conducted in time. A poll was conducted in Breconshire in time. Whereas 20,000 people are affected in this Bill, 15,000 are affected in Breconshire. Therefore, the figures are reasonably comparable.

Reaction in these areas was said to be particularly strong. There is nothing unique about that. There was almost violent reaction in my area.

The right hon. Gentleman said that undertakings given in Committee should be carried out. I remind him that the Minister of State, Welsh Office gave an undertaking that he would look at the arrangements in Breconshire. What happened? Nothing. We had no note from him on Report.

In Committee on the Local Government Bill a new Clause 20 was moved in my name—although I did not serve on the Committee—which provided: Notwithstanding any changes proposed in this Act, the boundaries of the present administrative county of Brecon shall not be varied until a referendum has been held to ascertain the wishes of the electors"—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now developing an argument about Breconshire. I said that such arguments would be out of order. If he will return to his former remarks he will be all right.

Mr. Roderick

I think that I have said sufficient about the boundaries for the Minister to realise what I am driving at. The new clause was turned down by the Minister because he felt that there was no relevance in considering it. Indeed, the Minister of State, Welsh Office said that he would leave it to the Boundary Commission. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that he has embarrassed the Minister of State, Welsh Office because his constituents wanted changes but he could not accept them? The people in Herefordshire will not appreciate the passage of the Bill, because they have been left out in the cold.

The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt), when referring to polls, said: They were not democratic at all. They were polls: perfectly properly conducted, but polls. On all past experience of referenda of this sort, not only on this side of the Committee but on the opposite side, we have had a clear understanding that referenda as such were alien to our system of government. Later the hon. Gentleman said that Government cannot be carried on on the principle of referendum."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, Standing Committee D, 15th March 1972, c. 2766.] The right hon. Gentleman altered the boundary of Teesside as a result of a referendum, and he is dealing with another area this evening. Will the right hon. Gentleman, in exchange for our support for the Bill, suggest to the Secretary of State for Wales that perhaps there is another way of looking at polls, because we are getting a different response from the Government. We are happy to support the Bill—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is now out of order. He must drop that line of argument altogether.

Mr. Roderick

I conclude by saying that we are happy to support the Bill because this is the sort of thing that we wanted to see throughout the debates on the Local Government Bill. As many hon. Members have said, we wish that it were possible to extend this idea.

2.42 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I hope that I may have the leave of the House to reply to the debate.

The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) raised the question of a poll referred to in another place. I could not accept that poll, because it was not on the same point as the one to which I referred. The debate at that time concerned the movement of the airport and the two villages with it. It was not about the question of the transfer of the two villages back to Surrey. The poll was not taken in the formal statutory manner that I had requested. It is there- fore wrong to say that at that stage we were aware that a proper poll had been taken of the views of the people of Charlwood and Horley about whether they wish to be in Surrey if Gatwick Airport was in West Sussex.

I shall now deal with the question which the hon. Gentleman put and the insinuation which he made in it, because I resented it very much. The hon. Gentleman asked what influential people had persuaded me to change my mind. I have not changed my mind, and no influential people have tried to persuade me to do so.

The hon. Gentleman accused me of being inconsistent. That remark was unworthy of the hon. Gentleman, because I am trying to carry out an undertaking which was given by a Government spokesman.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I would be amenable to future opinion polls. The answer is "No". That is not the point of the debate. There was a clear statement that the matters were so balanced that if there were a proper expression of opinion in these two comparatively small areas it would weigh with us—we hoped before the Bill received the Royal Assent. If we could have made this change by an amendment to the Bill we should have done so, and it is extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should abuse me for carrying out that undertaking.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) quite rightly questioned the programme of the Local Government Boundary Commission as I had described it in my opening speech. I did not express it properly. The commission has a job of work to do in re-warding, but I gave an undertaking to the House during the passage of the Local Government Act that a certain number of points would be put to the commission at a very early stage. That still holds good. I cannot remember how many points there are, but there are not more than a dozen. The commission will deal with them at an early stage. The commission is now considering its future programme and hopes to make an announcement about it. We gave some extra work to the commission by asking it to make decisions on some further successor parishes, which has caused the commission a little inconvenience, but I hope that it will make public its programme soon and indicate how these other boundary matters will be dealt with.

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) referred to debates and divisions in both this place and another place. In all those cases, what we were discussing then was whether Charlwood, Horley and Gatwick should be moved one side or the other side of the county boundary. We never debated in this House the point of this Bill: whether it was right to divide Horley and Charlwood, on the one hand, from Gatwick Airport, on the other hand. It was made quite clear in the undertaking that it was on that decision that we would act.

This is where the whole of the case which I am trying to present is totally different from any of the others. There is no question that we shall now consider polls which may be presented to us, and no case for comparing this case with others which have involved major matters of principle, such as Glamorganshire, Breconshire, Somerset, whether Avon should have metropolitan status, Herefordshire, Teesside and Hartlepools. All of those are matters of considerable, major principle, and even Hale, if I may add that one.

No local government principle is involved in this particular case. I have said that the matter was evenly balanced. The only principle involved is the carrying out of a pledge given by the Government. I hope that the House will let us carry out that pledge as a matter of particular importance; not as a matter of principle in local government but because we are honouring an assurance solemnly given to those people in the area in the process of the passage of a Bill.

The hon. Member for Widnes asked about the electoral position and the elected councillors. Perhaps I may summarise this matter quickly. The county councillors elected to West Sussex for Charlwood will retire and there will be a re-election for that area when it is within Surrey. The same applies for county councillors who were elected to West Sussex for Horley. They also will retire. The district councillors elected respectively for Charlwood and Horley in the district of Crawley will retire.

The parish councillors will continue because there is no difference in their electorate. The Charlwood parish councillors will continue and there will be no need for any election there. In two of the wards of Horley, councillors will continue but in the third ward, where there is an alteration of boundary, there will have to be a re-election. The parish councillors of Salfords and Sidlow will continue without any further election. All this appears in Clause 1(9) to (13).

I hope that I have summarised the Bill intelligently. I appreciate that it is a little difficult to understand as the clauses are drafted, but that is their effect. I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Ordered, That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Eight Members, Four to be nominated by the House and Four by the Committee of Selection:

Ordered, That there shall stand referred to the Select Committee—

  1. (a) any Petition against the Bill presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office at any time not later than the seventh day after this day, and
  2. (b) any Petition which has been presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office and in which the Petitioners complain of any amendment as proposed in the filled-up Bill or of any matter which has arisen during the progress of the Bill before the said Committee,
being a Petition in which the Petitioners pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents:

Ordered, That if no such Petition as is mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) above is presented, or if all such Petitions are withdrawn before the meeting of the Committee, the order for the committal of the Bill to a Select Committee shall be discharged and the Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House:

Ordered, That any Petitioner whose Petition stands referred to the Select Committee shall, subject to the Rules and Orders of the House and to the Prayer of his Petition, be entitled to be heard by himself, his Counsel or Agents upon his Petition provided that it is prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House, and the Member in charge of the Bill shall be entitled to be heard by his Counsel or Agents in favour of the Bill against that Petition:

Ordered, That the Committee have power to report from day to day the Minutes of the Evidence taken before them:

Ordered, That Three be the Quorum of the Cornmittee.—[Mr. Graham Page.]