§ 3.1 p.m.
§ LORD WADE rose to call attention to the need for democratic regional government; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in raising this subject of democratic regional government, I am undertaking a somewhat formidable task because it covers a wide field. If I may change the metaphor, the subject is something of a hot potato—local and regional government. I propose to limit my remarks to England; my noble friend Lord Ogmore will have something to say about Wales. As to Scotland, the devolution of responsibility of government to Scotland is so important that I think it really deserves a day to itself. Of course, I shall welcome any contributions from noble Lords North of the Border, and I am well aware that the National Plan covers Scotland. Liberals have far-reaching proposals for Scotland, and I do not think I could do justice to them in the course of this speech. Further, I should not like to create any misunderstanding by appearing to regard that great nation, Scotland, as a region.
§ I should like to draw attention, first of all, to the need for regional development, on which I hope there will be a large measure of agreement; secondly, to certain aspects of regional policy which have not yet been fully thought out, or at any rate not yet been adequately implemented; and, thirdly, to the more controversial subject of creating democratically elected regional bodies in contradistinction to advisory councils and boards which are really an arm of the central 707 Government. I believe that eventually we must have elected regional councils of some kind, although I would not necessarily accept the boundaries at present laid down.
§ I am not a separatist. Regions cannot be independent. Certainly they cannot be financially independent. There must be close co-operation between region and region, and between the regions and central Government. Again, in advocating regionalism I do not wish to strip the local authorities of their responsibilities. I want to bring some of the activities of Central Government nearer to local government. As to regional development, this does not mean just "dishing out" money to the regions. It requires some positive, and at times dramatic, policies, bringing new industries and new life into the regions, and in a way that makes the people of the region feel involved.
§ To-day, there is a serious lack of balance in Britain. We see this in the differences in the increase in population as between one region and another and in the availability of employment. This has a number of adverse effects. As to the South-East of England, owing to the population drift and to natural increase, there is a rapid rise in the number of people living in that part of England. That is a continuing process, and it has been calculated—and I am taking my figures from the South-East Study—that by 1981 there will be 21 million people living in the South-East of England. It is a pat platitude to say that this is a crowded Island, but the crowd is most unevenly spread. If this country were a ship instead of an Island, it would topple over and sink, being so over-weighted in one corner.
§ This imbalance has many unfortunate consequences. In the South-East we see rapidly rising land prices; we see the cost of houses going up; we have packed commuter trains and congested roads. It may be that the standard of living is somewhat higher, but those living in this part of England have much discomfort to put up with. Then again, the lack of balance makes it more difficult for the Government of the day to deal with our periodic economic crises. If deflationary policies are necessary, this tends to create unemployment in some of the regions 708 before it has had much effect on the South-East. Again, if the policy is to boost the economy, the South-East tends to be over-heated before some of the other regions have derived any benefit.
§ It has been said that the South-East, and London in particular, is the inflation leader. Certainly, there is great unevenness in the distribution of affluence. And while to some extent this is to be expected, I think it is really greater than it might be. Within the confines of the City of London—I am referring to the City and not the area of the Greater London Council—there are more individuals earning over £1,000 than there are in the whole of Wales.
In the South-East, and in areas such as the Midlands, we have this rapid rise in population, while in other parts of England the position is quite different. It is quite different in the North, in the North-East and in the West, where there is a net decline. In an Adjournment Debate recently in another place, Mr. Peter Bessel had an interesting comment to make about Cornwall. He said:
To most people, the West Country means Devonshire cream and thatched cottages, Cornish pasties and piskies, legends of King Arthur, Glastonbury, Tintagel and Dozmary Pool, quaint place names, forgotten saints, picturesque fishing villages, moorland beauty and blue seas. To those who live there it is all those things, but it is also an area of high unemployment, of an ageing and declining population, where opportunities for youth and enterprise are rare.
§ I am sure it is the intention of the Government, by its regional economic planning, to rectify, or to help to rectify, this state of affairs. And so the regional councils which are advisory, and the regional boards, which are composed of officials from different Departments, have been set up. The boards, I imagine, are in the nature of inter-departmental committees at regional level.
§ If I may turn aside for a moment, I am somewhat bewildered to-day by the number of Ministries which are concerned, directly or indirectly, with the development of the regions; and I am not so naive as to imagine that all Her Majesty's Ministers work together continuously in blissful harmony. Where there are differences, whether they seep down into the region and affect the regional boards, I do not know; nor do I know whether these boards will be able to remedy these differences; but I 709 hope we shall all agree on the need for regional development. The last Conservative Administration, after a great deal of delay, recognised the need. It may be contended that the policy of the present Government is in line with the policy of the last Government. I think in particular of the setting up of the Scottish Council and the North-East Development Council. I will not enter into the controversy as to whether there has been a fundamental change of policy between the present Government and the previous Government in this respect. I am more interested in learning what progress has been made during the last year.
§ It is just over a year since Mr. Brown made his statement in another place—namely on December 10, 1964. I shall look forward with great interest to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord Mitchison. If I am critical, it is because I believe that if this debate is to be useful it must be critical as well as informative. Can we be assured that the studies initiated by the regional councils will not be overtaken by decisions at Whitehall? Again, can we see in these regional councils the germ of some regional body which will be democratic, in the sense that it will eventually be elective, and not merely what I would call the arm of the Central Government pursuing the policy of the Central Government with merely a regional flavour.
§ The main theme of my speech is that the people of the regions should participate in exciting new ventures in the developing of the regions. There is little sign of this at present, and no great public interest. This is partly due to the fact that the regional councils are not in any way accountable to the people of the regions. If I were to carry out a private opinion poll in Yorkshire and ask what influence the regional board or the regional council were having on the development of Humberside, I doubt whether I should find more than one in a thousand who knew what I was talking about. Of course, if I spoke to the people of Hull and asked if they were in favour of a bridge across the Humber they would know what I was talking about, and most of them would be. I think that the building of a bridge across the Humber should be one of the first steps in carrying out the development of Humberside. But if one were to pursue it a little further, one 710 would find that the reason for the delay lay with the Minister of Transport in London, and not with any regional body. May I ask how many submissions to the Yorkshire Regional Council have been made on the subject of Humberside, and the bridge in particular, and what is being done about it? I am afraid that I did not give previous notice to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, of this particular question, but I hope he will be able to reply either to-day or on some other occasion.
I have several other questions to put to the Government. How many of these councils and boards have now been set up? What has been done about the South-East region? Surely it is most important that there should be a council for the South-East to complete the picture. Again, what importance is attached to the meeting of regional chairmen? The Guardian on November 20, 1965, reported a meeting of the chairmen of all the regional economic councils and boards. The meeting was addressed by Mr. Austen Albu and the report concluded:
Mr. George Brown, First Secretary, also attended the meeting for a short time. It is proposed that similar meetings should be held from time to time. The next one will not be until next year.
That does not seem to give an impression of great urgency.
§ What influence have regional councils on communications in their regions? Have they been asked to undertake a survey, and, if so, when will they report? The Labour Party, in its Manifesto at the General Election, said that no major rail closures would take place' without a regional survey. Has this idea been dropped? Moreover, have the regional councils had any say in the matter? Further, are the regional councils consulted about pit closures? Surely they have a very important effect on regional prosperity.
§ After that shower of questions, may I pass for a moment to the field of physical planning? What relation is there between the activities of the regional boards and councils and town and country planning? Town and country planning is closely bound up with economic development of the regions, although the responsibility does not rest with the First Secretary; that is, with 711 the Department of Economic Affairs. When the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 was placed on the Statute Book, it was hoped that there would be a land use plan prepared for the whole country. We have waited nearly twenty years for this—and are still waiting.
§ I should like to make it clear that I am not in favour of nationalisation of land. I have never thought that that would be a good idea, and I am rather sceptical about the Land Commission, but I think a plan for each region, showing the existing use and broadly the intended use, say over the next ten years, would be of great benefit to many people, especially professional people advising clients of possible development. At present it is far too much of a gamble. There are some who say, "Let us try to get planning permission for this piece of land. It does not matter what kind of permission we get, so long as we get planning permission for something, and then we can sell it." There are others who are appalled at the delay. They regard town planning as a mad jungle which only the experts would care to penetrate. Meanwhile, Whitehall is choked with 12,000 planning appeals a year.
§ I believe that the regions could help to solve this particular problem and a group of Liberal candidates in the North-West region have put forward the following proposals. First, that the regions shall assume the primary responsibility for town and country planning with delegated authority to reformed local government units for strictly local matters. Secondly, that local appeals shall lie to an independent administrative tribunal established at regional level. And, thirdly, that Central Government planning powers should be restricted to adjudication on inter-regional differences. I would wholeheartedly support that idea, and I think that many who are concerned with this problem would welcome reform along these lines. But even those who do not accept it must admit that there is a great deal of confusion and wearisome delay.
I think that the absence of a regional land use plan accounts for some of the criticisms of regional studies—and there are criticisms to be made. For example, according to the Midlands New Towns Society, the Government's West Midlands
study has displayed "a most signal failure" in the lack of even the broadest plan for the redevelopment and modernisation of the region's conurbation. The Society continues:
We appreciate that the study is not a master plan but how can we begin to know such factors as the real ceiling capacity of the conurbation for population, the amount of industry it can contain for efficient operation, what the town planning design implications of the journey-to-work pattern are, what the 'opening-out' might mean for open spaces, if we have no tables showing the acres of land available, what land is derelict, what is white land, areas of low density development, or expected housing replacement?
That is rather technical, and that is the kind of questions the experts put.
§ But the wider issue is one to which I have already referred, and I come back to my original theme. To what extent should these regional councils be democratically elected? The last Government, the Conservative Government, came out against democratic regional government. According to a report in The Times of March 16, 1964, Sir Keith Joseph, who was then Minister of Housing, said that he was in favour of strong regional arms of Central Government but that he did not believe in regional government, in the sense of regional representative councils. I shall be interested to know what is the view of the present Government.
In May, 1965, there was an article in the Socialist Commentary, strongly critical of regionalism, and it contained this statement:
Regionalism will win few votes, for there is no large-scale support for it, and it will certainly arouse fierce opposition from Labour stalwarts. It is not therefore part of Labour's programme, nor likely to be.
I do not know whether Socialist Commentary represents the views of Her Majesty's Government. I am well aware that there are objections to this idea of democratic regional government. I have read with great interest a letter from the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I am taking careful note of all the points they have made. But I should like to put the case for regionalism and to consider the question, how will these advisory councils develop?
§ They may be composed, as at present, of busy men who do not have a great deal of time to spare, and if so they will be comparatively ineffective. On the other hand, a council may be dominated 713 by a chairman who is a very forceful personality, who will gather to himself great power, and who will not be in any way accountable to the region. I see dangers in both possibilities, and that is the dilemma. It is a dilemma which must be faced, as the future pattern is all the time being laid down. Decisions are being made which will have far-reaching consequences.
On page 84 of The National Plan, we have this statement:
The future of the regions for many years ahead will be largely determined by many of the basic decisions about investment taken during the plan period".
It then goes on to refer to planning
for the 1970s and the 1990s, in line with the strategy for regional development.
This is important, but it is not fully appreciated that not only are regional councils not elected; they meet in camera, and no one except members of the council is allowed to see the agenda. It is not available even to clerks of the county councils. No minutes are published; there are only such statements to the Press as the council thinks fit. I do not think this is good enough.
That there should be elected regional councils has been advocated by Liberals for a number of years. Some useful pioneering work has been done in this field, and others are now coming round to this view. The Tyneside Fabian Society booklet on regional government contains this statement:
We consider that efficiency and democratic control can be reconciled by setting up elected Regional Councils, with considerable powers and resources.
A booklet published by the Conservative Political Centre, written by Mr. William Rees-Mogg, entitled Liberty in 1984, contains the following statement:
The chief instrument of local government in the future is likely to become a regional authority. These regional authorities should be large and should have direct democratic representation.
Then A Report on Regionalism, published by the Acton Society Trust—a very interesting document—comes out in favour of the elective principle and contains this statement:
As a field of governmental activity which intimately affects the lives of all citizens, regional planning requires regional participation of a more democratic kind than the planning councils allow for.
This is not just an academic point. For example, should the fate of Cornwall be determined by decisions made in Bristol, without the clerk of the county council knowing anything about it?
§ My Lords, all this, of course, is bound up with the thorny problem of local government reform. The Boundary Commission has just announced its proposals for South-East Lancashire. The Minister of Housing is apparently in favour of the Tyneside project. There is a movement for city regions, or what are called "conurbation regions "—a horrid expression. But if these experiments are to take place, I think it all the more important that attention should be given to the regional councils to which I have referred; otherwise, we shall get a new kind of imbalance—the difference between those parts that come within the city region, and those parts of the country that come outside. Of course, we cannot do everything at once, and the noble Lords replying for the Government may say this. Therefore, may I conclude with five practical suggestions?
§ First, pending the reform of local government the principle of indirect election should be introduced for the regional councils. They should be elected wholly or in part by local authorities in the region, but those nominated for election should not be limited to councillors and county councillors. Secondly, there should be a much closer link with the local authorities, by the regional councils sending to the clerks of the county and borough councils and other local authorities, if they wish it, a copy of the agenda before a meeting of the regional council is held; and the clerks should be allowed to submit items for consideration by the regional council.
§ Thirdly, there should be open sessions at which the Press and members of the public would be admitted. Fourthly, when the levy on development values is introduced, the amount of the levy should be varied according to the region, so that development may be encouraged in those regions where new development is most needed. Meanwhile, further consideration should be given to the possibility of raising revenue regionally, although I recognise that this proposal involves many practical difficulties. Fifthly, town and country planning appeals should be dealt with by 715 an independent administrative tribunal, at regional level. The Central Government should be concerned only with regional differences. In this way I think that planning appeals could be speeded up.
§ I have indicated the kind of steps that could be taken—steps that would be in the right direction—but in my view, the elective principle for regional councils is the essential factor. There are those who will say that you can choose better people if you pick them rather than have them elected, but if you follow that line of thought to its logical conclusion you get rid of democracy altogether. I believe that if regionalism is to succeed we must take the risk—I believe the worthwhile risk—of democratic procedure. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for his very interesting speech, and for giving your Lordships the opportunity to look at our institutions of government—local, regional and national—with a view to seeing how best they can meet the needs of the people in changing times. I assumed from the terms of the noble Lord's Motion that he did not intend to cover Scotland, and I welcome his recognition of Scotland as a nation and not as a region. I was grateful to him for what he said on that score.
I do not myself propose to deal with the problems of Scotland in my speech, except as illustrations. I took the noble Lord's Motion to apply to England and perhaps to Wales. I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, is going to speak on the Welsh aspect of the Motion later on. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, said that the people should participate in exciting new ventures in developing the regions. What I think we have to consider is how they should participate, and whether it is necessary that they should participate through regional government.
My Lords, I should think there would be a great measure of agreement, certainly in your Lordships' House, with the Conservative statement of aims as set out in the booklet, Putting Britain Right Ahead, when it says: 716The community tasks which are best tackled over a larger area are growing in number all the time. We believe that there is now a need for further development in the structure of local government to meet this. But if larger authorities are needed in order to handle these tasks, we must also see that they are subject to proper democratic control.The first question which seems to arise out of this Motion, and that quotation, is: How large should these larger authorities be? Should we now commit ourselves to dividing the country into regions, each with its own democratically elected authority? For surely this is what democratic regional government must mean.
There is, of course, nothing new about regions in the sense of regional divisions of central Government. Regions were not invented by the present Administration. Most Government Departments are organised on a regional basis for the purpose of administration. Where Government has been granted powers to permit or refuse certain acts or activities by way of licensing, or to grant or refuse a right—to acquire goods or to build, for example—there is generally a measure of delegation of authority to regional divisions. For this purpose, of course, the need to control the use of resources of manpower and materials in time of war requires a high degree of development of regional organisation. In certain circumstances regions have to be prepared to act independently of the Central Government in time of war; and the last war left a legacy of regional organisation of which Government have availed themselves as required. For example, the Board of Trade has used it to issue industrial development certificates through its regional controllers, and also for many other purposes, including encouraging exports.
In the last decade—that is to say, in the 1950s—there was little formal contact between the senior officials in the regions, although no doubt there was day-to-day individual contact as circumstances required. Indeed, the administrative regions of the various Government Departments did not always coincide; and I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, whether he can tell us to what extent Departments concerned with development—for example, the Board of Trade and the Ministries of Housing and Local Government, Labour, and Transport, the Post Office, et cetera 717 —have adjusted their regional divisions to a common pattern.
My Lords, what led to the establishment of formal groups was the special problems of the North-East, and the brilliant work done by my right honourable friend, Mr. Quintin Hogg, in setting up the necessary machinery and initiating the steps to deal with them. I think it is worth while for the House to look for a moment at the historical background, and then to see where we are now. Of course, he had the example of Scotland; and, indeed, this example was a great spur to the North-East. In Scotland, there has long been a considerable degree of self-government, based upon strong national feeling, and a separate system of law and local government. There are also strong independent voluntary organisations, notably the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), over which my noble friends Lord Bilsland and Lord Polwarth have presided with such distinction; and also, of course, the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
What was needed in the North-East was to establish something of the same sense of community interest; and here again the setting up of a voluntary organisation, the North-Eastern Development Council, in 1961 contributed a good deal to this end. Of course, I know there was a background to that, too. But more formal arrangements for collective planning and executive action at Government level were also needed. In Scotland, more formal arrangements for such cooperation had existed for some time, and came in due course to be known as the Scottish Development Group, composed of senior officials concerned with development. But for England there is no doubt that Mr. Quintin Hogg was the chief architect of regional arrangements as we now know them. His was the driving force which led to the White Paper of 1963, with its emphasis on a growth zone and on a higher share of national public investment in the region. Noble Lords will remember that it was raised from a level of 5½ per cent. of the national public investment to 7 per cent. It was he who brought together into one group, with its own headquarters' in Newcastle, the senior officials in the North-East concerned with development, including, I believe, a representative of the Treasury.
718 Both Scotland and the North-East are now reaping the benefit of these measures, coupled with the financial help given by the last Government, in the way of loans and grants to factories setting up in development districts for buildings, plant, machinery and working capital, which it is estimated provided for 150,000 new jobs in development districts between April, 1960, and June, 1964. For this, my noble friends, Lord Eccles and Lord Erroll of Hale, and my right honourable friend, Mr. Maudling, share the credit. Mr. Maudling's free depreciation allowances, introduced in his 1963 Budget, and unfortunately reduced in value by Mr. Callaghan's last Budget, have also helped the development districts, those in Scotland and the North-East, in particular, a great deal, and it is largely in consequence of these measures that the levels of unemployment in Scotland and the Northern Region have been reduced at a more rapid pace, proportionately, than unemployment has fallen in other parts of the country. One noteworthy result was the surge forward of industrial activity in Scotland in the fourth quarter of last year from 124 to 132, according to the Index—that is to say, by 8 points.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude too readily that because this regional exercise of central government powers has succeeded in Scotland and the North-East, it can be equally successfully exercised in any particular group of counties that one chooses to call a region. Nor would it be reasonable to suppose that, because you have instituted an inquiry to cover a certain area, you must necessarily, in consequence, establish an elected authority to cover the same area.
But the activities of the last Government in regional planning were not, of course, confined to Scotland and the North-East. The South-East Regional Study was commissioned in 1961. In the same month as the White Paper on the North-East was published, Mr. Heath initiated studies of the problems in the North-West and the West Midlands regions, the results of which have recently been published. In Wales, the Welsh Office was the co-ordinating body, and the last Government reinforced it with a Survey and Development Division. In the South-West, it was the four counties and two cities which set up a committee 719 themselves to study the area's problems, with the co-operation of the Government; but this area is not co-terminous with the South-Western Region which has now been established by the Government. Two counties have been added to that, I understand—Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.
These, then, my Lords, were the foundations laid by the previous Government to deal with regional problems of growth, development and adjustment. The present Government have formalised regional arrangements by re-forming the development groups as boards and by adding consultative councils. In another place, on November 4, 1964, in the debate on the Address, Mr. George Brown stated the Government's intentions in these terms:Our regional plans will take their place within a coherent national framework. We shall draw up regional plans together with the people of the regions themselves, after full consultation, and we shall be setting up effective machinery in the regions for this purpose." [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 701, col. 228.]He went on to say what the machinery was, and then he said:Our second main intention is to ensure that regional plans reflect regional needs and regional views and experience." (col. 229.)Later on he said:The planning boards will need to collaborate with the local authorities upon which must rest so much of the responsibility for implementing the regional plans …It is against that background that we are discussing the noble Lord's Motion today, and it is important to recognise that the steps so far taken do not amount to regional government. At present regional government, democratic or otherwise, does not exist. What does exist is a degree of de-centralisation of the central Government's executive powers, so that the officials of the Departments concerned in planning and development can come together at regional level.
As I see it—and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who is going to speak next will tell me if I am wrong about this—each board is intended to do three things: first, to study the problems of its region and produce proposals which have to be fitted in with national purposes; second, to work together with both the local authorities in their region and with 720 the industrialists to obtain concerted action to implement the plans in the fields of communications, housing, training, education, the use of manpower and land and so on; and, third, where new problems arise (for example, on the advent of a great new interprise) to study the implications for each authority and seek to get them put into effect. Broadly speaking, that seems to be the way they are expected to exercise their functions.
No doubt in some cases the implications are unwelcome to particular local authorities who feel they would have liked to participate in the discussions and in the decisions. Will the noble Lord tell us to what extent the local authorities are being brought to the consideration of proposals before they actually are finalised by the boards and before, of course, they are taken to the councils? It is really the representatives of the people, chosen on a constituency and not on a local authority basis, who at present decide the issue in Parliament. This is not the case, so far as I can see, in the regional boards; and I should like the noble Lord to confirm this—because if the regional boards are reaching final decisions on matters of this kind, then there is a strong case for a degree of democratic control.
As a democratic safeguard under the system it would be possible, of course, for Standing Committees, similar to the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees, to be set up in another place for each of the regions. It would equally be possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has suggested, for the regional councils to be composed of representatives of the county councils and cities, with or without the addition of men and women to represent both sides of industry, the professions and universities. I was not quite clear from the noble Lord's proposal whether he wanted all these persons to be elected, for he used the word "nominated" in regard to those in the county councils.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, I think they should all be elected; although I would not quarrel with the proposal that some should be nominated. I think all should be elected, but that the names nominated for the election should be limited to county councillors and other councillors. That is what I meant to say.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. I would suggest to the noble Lord, that there is no reason to suppose that the advice that the regional boards would receive from the council would be intrinsically of less value if the various interests, local government or otherwise, were to choose their own representatives than if they were to be nominated by the central Government, as they are at present. This would be a form of indirect representation; and if those interests were to choose their own representatives, then the members of the councils would be more responsible, in the sense that they would be responsible to the bodies which chose them and not simply to themselves; although I am not doubting that only responsible persons would be nominated.
There is a good deal to be said for putting one or other of these ideas, or, perhaps, both, into practice. But it still would not make the present arrangements regional government. Regional government implies the insertion of an additional tier in the system of government—national and local—and a further set of periodical elections. The extent to which people would take an interest in these elections would depend to a large extent on the kind of powers that were assigned to the regional authorities and the extent to which they affect the lives of the people—and manifestly affect the lives of the people. The powers could be taken away from the county councils or assigned by the central Government. In the one case we should have a kind of bloated county council; in the other, a sort of provincial Government on the Canadian pattern. It is for those who advocate regional government to state precisely what functions and powers the regional authorities should exercise. Perhaps I may point to the experience (about which we all know so well) in Scotland. For a long time it has been considered whether Scotland should have a separate Parliament of its own. It has never been possible to get agreement on what exactly should be the powers to be exercised by the Scottish National Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Wade, rather suggested that they should get powers over land use. I think there is a strong case for this; but it is a little difficult to justify regional authorities for that function alone. They may be given the pre- 722 sent central Government's powers over New Towns, but even that would not be sufficient reason for having a separate set of elections. The very essence of government is the power and responsibility to decide on the raising of money, whether through taxes or rates, as well as on the spending of it; and I thought, if I may say so, that the noble Lord skated a little too easily over this. He mentioned it just in his concluding remarks. How would the regions raise their money? Would the regional authorities make levies on the local authorities and get grants from the Government; or would they have separate taxing powers? At a time when the whole rating system is being looked at it would he convenient to look at the whole system of raising money. It might not present great difficulties, except for the fact that the experience in other countries where there is a series of taxing authorities is not very good. It leads to a great deal of confusion and, I suspect, also of evasion.
We may get to regional government; it may come to pass. I do not think we should dismiss it out of hand. But have we reached that stage yet? Ought we not to proceed as we are now proceeding, by modernising local government? I do not think there is any dispute between the Government and the Party on this side of the House, at any rate on this matter; although as far as Scotland is concerned there has been some considerable delay in dealing with the proposal, put forward by the previous Administration, for local government reorganisation. I do not think there is any basic disagreement about the need to modernise local government. But ought we not to proceed in that way rather than by assuming that the regions which have been the subject of particular studies are the right units of local government?
Let us look again at Scotland. There have been studies for the Central Belt, for the Borders, for the Highlands and for the North East—all areas with different characteristics. A Highlands Development Board has been set up. Are there to be four regions in Scotland, with populations ranging from a quarter of a million to 3½million? Or are we to reorganise local government along the lines proposed by the last Administration, so as to produce manageable, 723 efficient and relatively homogeneous local authority units? And does not the same apply in England and Wales?
I should like to quote the words which my right honourable friend, Mr. Heath, wrote in Crossbow. They seem to sum up the position we are now in. He said, after mentioning two problems:The third problem, which is much in everybody's mind, is the organisation of local government in relation to regional development. On this we should keep an open mind for the present. There should emerge from the regional studies a much clearer indication of whether local government boundaries as revised by the Boundaries Commission will really produce an organisation on the scale necessary to implement the proposals for regional development such as we will try to carry out. Quite rightly there are many doubts as to whether they will. But in the North-East the local authorities are now working together better than ever before. From this may emerge a desire for an organisation covering larger areas which would lead in a short time to a form of regional administration.My Lords, it may well be that new authorities with specific powers will emerge as the best solution for some parts of the country. If so it is undoubtedly desirable that they should be democratically controlled. We in this country do not take kindly to prefectures. Cromwell tried something like this, but the system was very short-lived. The real danger, as I see it, of regional government is that it would set up conflicts and tensions which in this small island would be detrimental to good central government. The whole direction of industrial policy, for example, rests on the maintenance of central control. The noble Lord referred to a lack of balance between different parts of the country. It is to rectify that lack of balance that we have central control, with the regions of course taking their part within that central control. It is for the Central Government to decide which parts of regions are in need of special assistance and, broadly, the kind of assistance there should be, although no doubt administration could be more decentralised than it is. It is for the regions in this way to propose, and for the Central Government to dispose.
It may well be that sooner or later regional authorities may be needed in an area with particular common problems 724 as the most efficient way of implementing national policy in that area. But when those problems are solved, as we hope that they will be, will there be any need for that authority to continue in existence? It is a question we should have to look at. I suggest that the right way to proceed is in the traditional British, pragmatic, empirical way rather than by devising Napoleonic schemes for dividing up the country with divisions which must inevitably be arbitrary, and certainly would be contentious.
I suggest that local government should continue to be kept as close to the people as is compatible with efficiency. I suggest that it is wise to ensure that local authorities are consulted, and manifestly seen to be consulted, in the formation of regional plans; and that it may well be desirable that the regional councils should be representative rather than nominated. But I, for one, would hesitate to recommend that we should commit ourselves at this time to a system of regional government in the whole of the Kingdom, even if we do find that we need more devolution in the functions of Central Government and more co-ordination in the functions of local government, in particular areas, even in all areas. My Lords, it is certain that, whatever forms of government we have, be they local, regional or national, they should in one way or another be controlled democratically.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, that the Government are very grateful indeed that he has initiated this discussion this afternoon? Naturally we shall listen with a great deal of attention and care to what is said during the debate. But the noble Lord, and I think the House, will understand that at this moment of time the Government could not accept the full implications of the noble Lord's Motion. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, was right when he said that local authority government has evolved over a period of time. From time to time we make adjustments, and one of the true facts of any adjustment is that it always arouses the deepest possible controversy. I think this is understandable, because local authority council work is done on 725 a voluntary basis. It involves a considerable amount of work for the members of a council, and it is only a spirit of pride of service which prompts them to do this work.
When we consider the extension of areas of government to regions I think we must consider very carefully the many implications and problems which will arise. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, when speaking of regional government did not in any way define the number of regions into which the country should be divided. That would be a very important matter. If we were to divide the country into nine or ten areas, as we have done for economic planning, we should have areas of considerable size. In itself that would cause great difficulty, not only in administration by officers but also in service by councillors. We all recognise that members of councils, particularly county councillors, have great difficulty in attending not only the meetings of the council but also the meetings of the subcommittees. So I think that one of the first things to find out is how we are to divide the country into regions.
I think we should then have to decide what should he the structure of the councils. Would they be on the present system of a general council with perhaps subcommittees, with chairmen doing most of the work? Or should we have, as in the United States and some other federal countries, a set-up which is a sort of cabinet system for government within a region? This is something which would have to be considered. If that were accepted, it would be quite a radical change in local government administration.
We should also have to consider, I suggest, whether the members should be full-time or part-time. We should have to consider—I think this point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Wade—whether the election of members to the regional council should be on the basis of one man, one vote, or whether the council should reflect the various interested authorities within a region. If we took the latter course we could hardly call it a straight democratic government, but at least it would be a move towards that. I think that we should have some difficulty in arranging a proper type of election, with all the issues that are involved in a regional set-up, on a basis of one man one 726 vote. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, drew attention to the problem of financing that type of government. I think that certainly the rating system would go and we should be committed to a form of regional taxation.
There is one other point we should have to consider, and I think this very important. What would be the relationship of a regional government to Central Government and Parliament? In this country we have taken the view that we should have a Central Government and Parliament with full power over the main issues, although it delegates its responsibility and the administration of its decisions. But if we were to set up a regional government in, say, the South-East of England, including London and covering an area stretching to Brighton and taking in the whole of Surrey and Kent, we should, I suppose, have nearly a quarter of the population under that government, and one region would be in a very powerful position if it were of a different political complexion from that of the Central Government. We might well have the kind of situation which does in fact arise in some of the federal States; and one would have to be very careful before accepting that, because I do not believe that we should weaken the power and responsibility of Central Parliament.
It seems perfectly clear that we have very little knowledge on which to base our judgment whether the present evolution of local government should proceed, or whether we should make a more radical approach to regional government. Your Lordships will be aware that, on September 22, my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government mentioned the possibility of a new look at local government. He said that there was a need for an authoritative analysis of the two main problems: the size and the functions of local authorities. As has been said many times in your Lordships' House, one of the great benefits of local government is that councillors are much closer to the electors than Members of Parliament, who have large constituencies to represent. On the other hand, there is a conflict between the small local authority, which has the benefit of this close connection between electors and councillors, and the obvious efficiency that arises from the size of a larger authority.
727 As your Lordships know, we on this side of the House fought for, and were successful in obtaining from noble Lords opposite, who were then in Government, an Inner London Education Authority. We felt that in this case a smaller authority would give greater opportunity for the children and for the staff. But we have to bear in mind the need within the civil service of local authority for men and women of the highest possible calibre, and I do not think we shall be able to attract these unless we can give them sufficient opportunity, either by having within our present system joint boards on which there is co-operation between various local authorities, or by creating larger authorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Wade, spoke of the economic planning boards and councils. I am far from saying that these are democratic bodies, but I hope that I shall be able to show the noble Lord that they are quasi-democratic bodies. The Government feel that it is not for the central Government to attempt to administer or plan over the nation as a whole. Certainly the final decisions will have to be made in Parliament, but we need to harvest the experience and enthusiasm of people within the regions. This is what the Government have attempted to do and what I believe they are now succeeding in doing within the regional boards and councils.
The Government have set up ten economic planning regions. All of them are different in character. In the North-East, for instance, we have a degree of unemployment, although not so had as it was when Mr. Quintin Hogg, then the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, set up the North-East Area Council, but there are still declining industries in that part of the country. In the Midlands, we have the complete reverse: a grave shortage of labour, bursting towns, and companies very short of skilled men and women. Somehow we have to make the proper balance between one region and another.
The Government's principal aim in setting up the new regional planning bodies was to ensure that regional considerations are given proper weight in formulating and applying a regional policy; to co-ordinate national and regional planning and to encourage local bodies whose interests overlap to adopt a regional 728 approach to common problems. I think the noble Lord, Lord Wade, would agree with us on that. Much of the detailed work involved in realising these aims will fall upon the economic planning boards. The distinctive contribution of the councils will be to bring the influence of experienced people outside the Government to bear on the processes by which decisions affecting their regions are made and to stimulate the widest and most constructive interest in the development of the regions on the part of those who live and work in them.
These boards will be composed of civil servants, as both noble Lords have said. They are members of Ministries which have their parts to play in planning in the regions—roads, housing, health, economic development and the like. I should make it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that the boards have no executive power as such. They are there to co-ordinate, and to do this we have decided to appoint as chairman of each board an Under-Secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs and, in the case of Scotland and Wales, a representative from the respective Departments.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I ask—because this is important—whether the noble Lord means that the boards cannot take majority decisions for the members in their several capacities to carry out? Have they no collective power at all?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, these boards are made up of civil servants whose duty and responsibility are to their Ministers in Westminster in the application of central Government policy within a region; but in order that the various Ministries can be co-ordinated within the regions, these boards have been set up as co-ordinating machinery between the various Departments in the region. It may be, for example, that information available to the Ministry of Transport would be of great benefit to the Department of Education and Science, and this information can be gained more quickly through this regional co-ordinating machinery. As your Lordships know, special efforts are being made to bring the boards under one roof.
The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, mentioned various aspects of their duties. 729 I would add one more, one which, in the view of the Government, is of vital importance. It is the massing of vital statistics within the regions. The Government have been surprised to find how little knowledge is available on which decisions can be taken, but we are already feeling the benefit from the amount of information which the boards and councils created some months ago have been able to pass to central Government. This will be an important function of the boards. The boards will also have power, after discussion with their councils, to employ research units within the universities. This is one of the ways in which we think we can get a speedier understanding of the difficulties.
Turning to the planning councils, I would say that these bodies are to be made up of about 25 members, all part-time, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, suggested, the councils are to be chaired by the most vigorous personalities that are available within the regions.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, I should not like to enter into personalities and I am not casting any reflection on any particular chairman, but I can think of one case where the chairman has a strong personality and at least of two cases where the chairmen are very distinguished gentlemen who I do not think have time to do the job.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I do not think that fear is shared at the Department of Economic Affairs, because we should not have selected them for this important task if we did not believe they could put their minds and their time to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Wade, naturally asked that these councils should be democratic. I would use the word "quasi-democratic". If you look at the latest council that has been set up, you see that industry, the trade unions, the arts and the universities are all represented, and in many cases a member of the council can claim to be an expert in more than one subject; he may be chairman of a large industrial concern and also a member of the county council. I would suggest that by the way we have selected the personnel for these councils we should obtain the widest possible experience that is available to us. It 730 may be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, to know that the average age of those appointed so far is 55—I think that is very good—and that at the moment, approximately one-third of the councils come from various forms of local authorities. These councils meet frequently, and we have been able to set up a form of liaison between the council and the board by giving power to the chairman of the council to invite the chairman of the board and regional representatives of major planning departments to sit with the council as assessors.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who wondered whether the chairmen were having enough contact with Mr. Brown and his Department: he more or less suggested that there was a considerable gap between the previous meeting and the next one. I think that I should say this to the noble Lord. The chairmen of all these councils will have direct access not only to my right honourable friend the First Secretary, but to all other Ministers. These councils are not set up merely as part of the D.E.A. machinery: their knowledge, experience and advice will be available to all our Ministries.
The noble Lord, Lord Wade, asked whether the councils had put their minds to transport closures. I understand that approximately 100 proposals were submitted by the Minister of Transport to various councils, and that the replies which have been received have proved of tremendous value to the Minister in making his decision. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wade, again, who asked what sort of achievements these councils have had in their short time of operation. As the noble Lord knows, some have been in existence for only about twelve months, and in the case of East Anglia, the council has only just been formed. But I can say to the noble Lord that 30 major problems have been submitted to the various councils, and replies and reports have been sent in various stages, because obviously some of these will take some considerable time. The noble Lord may have seen the Report, and particularly the comment in The Times (I think it was) on the Report, of the West Midlands Area, when they were asked to consider what steps should be taken to deploy industry within their area, and the setting up of their new 731 towns. They made radical and most interesting suggestions which are now being considered by the Government.
Then, again, the noble Lord, Lord Wade, asked about coal closures. The Government have repeatedly said that we owe a duty to the miners and their families in the areas in which pit closures are taking place. This, again, was one of the matters submitted to the councils and boards, not only as to the implications on regions affected, but as to the manner in which displaced workers could be re-housed and re-employed in the present regions, as well as in new ones.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I understand that this will be announced shortly. As the noble Lord, Lord Wade, will realise, we had to look at these regions where appointment was perhaps more vital and more serious, and in regard to the South-East we have had a useful study. As the noble Lord knows, the purpose of these councils is to seek information upon which policies can be made.
My Lords, is the noble Lord in a position to say when the South-Eastern Study will be published? I have asked two questions about this, and have received no satisfactory answers; but possibly it may be a case of "third time lucky ".
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I will ask my noble friend Lord Mitchison whether he is in a position to answer that question at the end of the debate.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but before he leaves that point I should like to ask him this question. He has told us of the relations between the boards and the councils, and the councils and the Central Government. Can he tell us what the relations will be between the councils and the local county councils? It is important that they should be kept in the picture.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I was coming to that, because we regard it as of great importance. The Government have taken the view that the members of the councils 732 should be in the closest possible contact with local authorities. I want to make it quite clear that none of the powers, responsibilities and duties of local authorities is in any way involved in the decision to set up the councils and the Boards: their position remains the same. Obviously the councils can submit information or pleas to the councils for consideration. The councils, in turn, will be asking the local authorities for assistance and advice, and the Government hope to see a two-way movement in the operation between the regional councils and the local authorities. Does that satisfy the noble Lord?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I think I should also say that the councils and boards that have been set up are in no way immutable. We believe that this is one of the experiments that the Central Government should undertake in the development of the regions.
I have just remembered one other point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade: he asked why these councils should not be in open session; why they should not submit reports for the public to read, and receive submissions (I think he said) from the local authorities on the matters under discussion. At the present stage, the councils are in fairly confidential discussion and negotiations with the Central Government. There is a great deal which the Central Government convey to the councils in the strictest confidence which, obviously, could not be disclosed to the general public. This situation may change in the course of time, but at the present moment the existing procedure is thought necessary.
Therefore, on those grounds, it would not be possible for reports to be made or meetings conducted in public. It will be entirely open to any chairman on any council, on matters which obviously do not fall within the confidential line, to make reports, to hold Press conferences, and to explain what the councils have in mind. I should not like the House to think, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, may have suggested, that we have some deep, dark cell going on deciding matters of regional and local authority policy without its being available and discussed in the open. That is not so.
733 In winding up one's speech, one tries to think of a tidy way in which to bring all the ends together. I do not propose to do that this afternoon, because this is one of those subjects which has no end. I do not myself believe that we shall ever undertake a major, radical change of local government, particularly through legislation. It will be one more of evolvement and adjustment, as we see from the various reports that we have in to-day's papers in regard to Tyneside, South-East Lancashire, and North-East Cheshire. The Government believe that our first priority is to get the right balance of industry and housing. For that we need information, and we believe that we can best get this from the boards and the councils. We have great confidence in them, and perhaps in twelve months time the noble Lord, Lord Wade, may decide that it is the right moment to have another debate. Perhaps then we could give him greater information, and, I hope, a very successful story.
§ 4.22 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ALBANS
My Lords, I am delighted to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for I am convinced that we should draw attention to the need for democratic regional government. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for the careful survey of the problems to be considered before a case for regional government could be established. The present position is confused, and when plans are under consideration it is difficult to find a satisfactory or democratic way of consulting people.
May I illustrate this point from a recent example from the diocese of St. Albans? The Northampton, Bedford and Bucks. Study has just been published. I appreciate the argument put forward there that large-scale planning is a necessity. This area lends itself to such treatment. Bedford Corporation is working for a larger borough, and would like to double the size of the borough and raise its numbers from about 66,000 to 77,000. For all I know, Northampton may have a comparable problem. But these two boroughs are in different counties, and three counties will be affected by this study.
Some form of regional direction such as does not at present exist would, I 734 submit, save many mistakes, and it is needed to solve some of the problems and tensions that must otherwise arise. A borough wants to enlarge its boundaries, the adjacent rural district council objects, the county council has divided views, and so no progress is made. Then the Press informs the public of the issue, and the Minister concerned orders a local inquiry, where the interested parties are represented by counsel. But the great majority of the people who will he most affected take no interest in these proceedings. If the people's views are to be known, I believe that a different approach is needed, and needed now, and that something should be done along the lines of taking a sample, as is done in a public opinion poll. Then this feed-back could be considered by the regional authority, which would be well placed to assess conflicting views on either side of county or county borough boundaries.
I was interested in an article in January, 1964, in an issue of New Society by Mr. J. W. Grove, Senior Lecturer in Government in the University of Manchester. Mr. Grove wrote that regionalism is not a new idea, but an idea that has received fresh support because of the resurgence of planning. Planning for land use, for housing, for roads, and for the drift to the South, are instances which confront us with the need to relate public services to the areas to be served. I quote his words:If this is to be done other than by centralised national direction, on the one hand, or by small-scale local co-operation, on the other, we seem to be pushed inexorably towards some form of intermediate government.Regionalism, though we do not give it that name, is under consideration in some of the Churches, and it will receive increasing attention as Anglican-Methodist conversations proceed. The Methodist districts do not coincide with our dioceses, and when we look further afield and consider the territorial coverage of other churches there is a most confusing overlapping of boundaries. Can an argument be sustained for a regional scheme of administration? So long as the diocesan office is within the diocese, its administration is more readily accepted by the parishes: but should this office move on to foreign soil the resistance would increase. Questionnaires from London, from the centre of centralisation, are too frequently suspect.
735 I look ahead to 1980, and I ask what progress Churches—and I think particularly of the Methodists and the Anglicans—will have made by then in the setting-up of a regional office where, under one roof, there would be a pool of shorthand typists, and yet separate executive offices. I believe that the advantages of a regional office would outweigh its difficulties. This is a course which we should consider. It would, I believe, help people to acclimatise themselves to the notion of regionalism, and it is important that our people are first consulted, for the basis of democratic regional government should be the good will of the people obtained beforehand.
In a Guardian pamphlet called A New Britain, published in 1963, it was stated that the trend towards regional government was now gathering momentum. The pamphlet sketched the lines such government might take. A group is established in the region, manned by senior officials of the development Departments brought in from Whitehall; that is, trade, transport, housing, public building, and so on. The development group works closely with the local authorities, and prepares a plan to present to the Central Government. This was the pattern that was tried successfully—and the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and other noble Lords have referred to this—in the North-East, when Lord Hailsham (as he then was) was in charge of affairs in that area.
The advantages of such a plan, it seems to me, are apparent. Civil servants in mid-career would be assigned to a centre away from Whitehall where they would be in closer touch with the problems of a region at different levels. Then top-level consultation in Whitehall would follow regional discussions. I should hope, too, that outstandingly able officials in local government, without losing their roots or lessening their obligations to their councils, would be relieved of some of their engagements, and so enabled to serve on regional boards.
It may be asked: Would this development still further reduce the responsibilities of local government? With our experience of New Towns in Hertfordshire, I see the regional organisation taking charge of large-scale development, leaving the local authority to deal with 736 detailed matter, such as planning permission. Given this practice, the region would ease the burdens of local authorities and of Whitehall. As the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said, one of its functions would be to pass information to the Central Government, and this is an important procedure. Central Government would be free to give more attention to major decisions of policy. I was thankful to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, say that regional considerations will be given proper weight.
With that thought in mind, can more be done immediately to put this intention into effect? Can there not be consultations now, and more frequent consultations, between all who have a part to play, so that those immediately concerned may be informed of what others are aiming to achieve and there may be a steady exchange of ideas and plans? The increasing penetration of social life by the Central Government requires a much closer link than at present exists with people who know the region. This fact is recognised, and regional boards have been set up; but they are advisory. Regional government requires strong regional councils with executive powers; and regional councillors should, in my opinion, receive a suitable salary and expense allowance. Large-scale industries centralise only what must be decided centrally and leave everything else to the regions. Does not this practice command attention?
In conclusion, my Lords, I see several questions which need our attention. Almost every organisation working in a given area, whether it is the Ministry of Health, or the Gas Board, a religious denomination or a voluntary body, has different boundaries. Administrative areas do not coincide, and yet many—not all—authorities have common interests and should be co-operating. At present, we face too many frustrated people and we waste too much time. Whatever Government policy may be in the immediate future, I hope that many of those who share responsibility for forming public opinion—the educationists, the Press, the Churches—will be thinking along the lines of much that has been said in to-day's debate. If regional administration is to be sensitive to humane and moral criteria, then the responsible agencies in society, Churches 737 and voluntary bodies, must pull their weight in seeing that the administration of the region keeps in close touch with the people of the region. This is essential to democratic regional government. I beg leave to support the Motion.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Wade, for putting down this Motion, and I feel quite certain that in time to come it will he recalled, long after recent more publicised debates in your Lordships' House have been forgotten, because, strange at it may seem from some of the speeches we have had this afternoon, the argument is no longer between regionalisation and non-regionalisation. Regionalisation is already here, and regional government will come in time, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has indicated. The question is by no means as black or as white as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, or the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, have stated. We are in the process of transition to regional government now, and these regional boards and regional councils are a stage in that development.
For the reasons that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans has given his most interesting and' valuable speech, this process is bound to be developed as time goes on. He has quoted the problem between the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church. There is a very similar problem between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists, and when these two new bodies have been formed there will be the joining up, I hope, of those bodies to form one united Protestant Church in this country. I do not suppose any of us here will see it, unless some noble Lords are much younger than I am, but I am sure it will come in time, and I sincerely hope it will.
The whole tendency in these days, whether it is in government or, as the right reverend Prelate has said, the nationalised industries or the Churches, is to put between the centre and the individual local authority, branch or church this body which is at once receptive to the ideas of the local people and knowledgeable of the problems of the main body at the centre, which is usually in London. As the right reverend Prelate has said, regionalisation is not 738 a new idea. In fact Mr. Gladstone, speaking at the Corn Exchange at Dalkeith on November 26, 1879, enunciated this principle in full. Indeed he went much further than the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, his fellow Scot, to-day. Mr. Gladstone suggested that there should be these regional governments, not only in Wales, in Ireland and in Scotland, but also in parts of England. Mr. Gladstone in 1879 was far ahead of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and I suggest to the noble Lord that he should try to catch up. I am quite certain that we need regional government—and I stress "government", but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has said, it is a matter of evolution. I am quite certain that we should aim at regional government to relieve the pressure on Parliament at Westminster, to increase efficiency and to stimulate local interest.
Wales, of course, is different from England in this respect. Wales is already far along the regional road, and I freely admit that the problem in England is much greater than it is in Wales. Obviously, England has 16 times the population of Wales, and, for various other reasons, it is a much greater problem in England; but in Wales we have found this is the answer to some of our problems and we are going ahead.
It is interesting to note that every one of the post-war Governments has pushed Wales along this road—or perhaps it would be more polite to say, has led her along this road. The noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir, was himself a very popular Minister for Welsh Affairs. First of all, I think in the post-war Labour Government Mr. Chuter Ede was the Minister responsible, then later on there was Lord Kilmuir—Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, as he then was—and Mr. Henry Brooke, and no doubt others. A Regional Council of Wales was appointed towards the end of the first post-war Labour Government's term of office, but it was expanded and developed by the succeeding Conservative Government and they appointed Lord Brecon as Minister of State for Welsh Affairs. In my opinion he did a first-class job within the terms of reference that he had, although they were limited.
Now the Labour Government have a Secretary of State for Wales and two other Ministers, and have now accepted part of the Report of the Committee on the status 739 of the Welsh language, to the effect that in Wales Welsh will be of equal status to English. So it can be seen that ever since the end of the last war every Government has, as it were, gone a little further towards regional government. There is no question in my mind that a Government will eventually take this step. I hope it will be a Liberal Government, but I do not mind what Government it is; if the public are not sensible enough to return a Liberal Government I will put up with one of the others. I am sure there will be a regional government with power, and elected by the people of Wales. That is only a question of time.
Why do we in Wales need a body of this kind? There are different reasons. First of all, we have traditions and a culture of our own, and problems of our own. One of these problems is the depopulation of rural Wales, and this has an effect upon the local authority situation. I remember the last time I spoke in your Lordships' House on rural Wales and Radnorshire. I looked into the position and found that Radnorshire then had a population of 18,000 (it is probably rather less now)—the population of a small English town. It was entitled to have 31 local authorities, but in fact it has not gone to that extent, and has 23. But 23 seems rather a lot for 18,000 people.
The whole of that region is declining in population, and the situation was recognised by the late Government. They said, "We have got to have a new local government structure for Mid-Wales", and they set up a Commission to look into the whole question of Welsh authorities. This again is an argument for the Council of Wales, which would, as it were, relieve a great many of these areas of the heavy burdens they have to carry now with the two-tier and three-tier local government system. Then there is a comparative decline in Wales in heavy industry. The coal and steel industry does not play the same dominating part in Wales that it did years ago, and, as my noble friend Lord Wade said, so far as the coal industry is concerned, the closing down of pits has meant great social problems in many parts of Wales. These problems the Welsh people would like to handle themselves.
740 Then there is the question of development of Welsh culture, which is affected by the distribution of population. The old culture of Wales was a rural culture, and basically the poets and musicians were affected by the rural traditions such as you can still see if you look at the sort of poems and songs written fifty years ago. But to-day that is no longer the case. The Welsh culture is very largely affected by the Anglo-Welsh, as they are mistakenly called, by the people who no longer, unhappily, can speak their own tongue. The most famous example of that was Dylan Thomas—possibly, and I think certainly, the finest poet that not only Wales but England and Scotland have turned out over the last fifty to sixty years.
We find, too, that in all sorts of ways—small ways perhaps—that the Welsh point of view is being ignored by Whitehall. I will give one example from my own experience. Some of your Lordships who have been here for a number of years will know that I have been for many years a Governor of the Commonwealth Institute. I have taken a great deal of interest in it, and in the last ten to fifteen years have spoken many times in your Lordships' House of its problems. All the Governors have been very anxious to extend the work of the Institute to Wales, and in the time of the last Government we persuaded Lord Brecon very kindly to chair a meeting of all representatives of the educational authorities and similar bodies in Wales. They unanimously backed the desire of the Governors to extend the work of the Institute to Wales. Incidentally, I think the work of the Institute is one of the most valuable agencies in overcoming some of the ignorance which the people of this country feel towards immigrants.
For the last five or six years, however, we have had no favourable response from the various Ministers of Education, including the present one. Irrespective of the wishes of the people of Wales, as enunciated by this meeting, no favourable response has been given, and the people of Wales are unable to have the benefit of the Institute's assistance. We originally asked for £3,500 a year. We have now, owing to the cost of living and inflation, increased to £5,000 the amount asked for. Your Lordships will see that it 741 is not a matter which would, either in the time of the last Government or this, have had much effect on the balance of payments. A sum of £3,500 was too much for Mr. Harold Macmillan and the other Conservative Prime Ministers, and it is too much for Mr. Harold Wilson. This is the sort of irritating thing which I think affects us in Wales. After all, most revolts—though I am not suggesting we are going to revolt: we get what we want by constitutional means—have arisen not over big things but small things, little tiny things. And that is the sort of irritating matter we have to contend with.
Finally, I agree with my noble friend Lord Wade that if we are going to have regional government—and I think we ought to—a democratic basis for the council, or parliament, or whatever it may be, and satisfactory powers are essential. Otherwise the ministerial grip of Whitehall will be too firm on the region, and, secondly, I think the "big boys" will try to muscle in and throw people out. Mr. Emlyn Hooson not long ago gave some figures about Liverpool and his constituency, Montgomery, which at certain times of the year not only has plenty of water but is submerged under it—it probably is at the moment. The people there have to pay 6s. in the pound for water. They provide most of the water for Liverpool, where the people pay only 2s. This is the sort of thing I think the Council would look into. We are very happy, or at any rate reasonably happy, for Liverpool to have Welsh water, but we feel that they should pay for it, and should not make large sums out of it when, for water on their doorstep our people have to pay three times what those in Liverpool have to pay.
I also feel that acceptance of this principle would prevent the possibility of Ministers in Whitehall throwing off these boards people whose faces they do not like. At present, in the case of nationalised boards, or boards in particular areas, regional boards, the members have a very short "life"; and at the end of that period—three years or whatever it may be—as some of us have found, to our cost if the Minister does not like your face or your politics, or for any other reason, he can throw you off and no one can say him nay. I do not feel that we shall get the best out of 742 people if they are in that position. That is all I want to say, except once more to thank my noble friend Lord Wade, and to express the hope that in the course of time—not too long a time—the Motion put down on the Paper will be fully carried out.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I was rather glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, assured us in his closing phrases that Wales was not going to revolt. At one time I had visions of U.D.I. for Wales being paraded round this Chamber, but then, as he said, the Welsh are not a revolting people. I had the pleasure of living among them for a few years when I was young. I am also glad he solved that mystery about what Gladstone really did say in 1879. I have been wondering for fifty years what it was, and now I know. We certainly do live and learn.
I want to bring the House back to the terms of the Motion before your Lordships, because we have heard precious little about that from the Liberal Benches this afternoon. The Motion says:To call attention to the need"—and I underline the word "need"—for democratic regional government".We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wade—and parenthetically I thank him very much for giving us the opportunity to have this debate this afternoon—something about the desirability, in his view, of regional government, something about its theoretical attractiveness, something about the advantages of big areas of local Government. But what we did not have was any proof of the need for local Government. In fact, the noble Lord did not try to pretend to prove the case. Like the old Duke of York, he led us up to the top of the hill and then he led us down again; and then he finished up by saying he was content for the time being with indirect, not democratically elected, regional government. His idea was that representatives to the regional councils should be elected by the county council and other organisations in the region; and he would go even so far as to require the George Brown regional council to send a copy of its agenda to the clerk of the various county councils. That is 743 not my idea of democratic, directly elected regional government.
The noble Lord, Lord Wade, completely ignored the position of the existing local authorities. He said, pending the reorganisation of local government—which I suggest was completely begging the whole question as he had paraded it before us on the Order Paper this afternoon. The whole Liberal plan, as published in one document after another, is a plan for the fundamental and basic reorganisation of local government; for establishing regional councils as the top-tier instrument of local government, for abolishing county councils, and for severely demoting county boroughs. Why is the noble Lord, Lord Wade, so secretive about the real objects behind the Liberal advocacy of regional government?
I suppose, in accordance with recent custom, I should declare an interest in this matter—not a financial one, unless we include as "financial" the fact that it has cost me many thousands of pounds during recent years, in time and trouble and worry devoted gratuitously to local government which I might have employed far more profitably at my craft of writing.
I have perhaps, in a way, a regional mentality, because for fifteen years I have been Chairman of the Labour Party's Regional Council for the eight Eastern Counties, and a year or so ago they published a booklet of mine which was a social and economic study of the eight Eastern Counties. I have also a county council complex. For twenty years I have been an alderman of the Essex County Council, Chairman of the Council, Vice-Chairman of the Council for many years, Finance Committee Chairman for many years, Fire Brigade Committee Chairman, Leader of my Party on the Council for twelve years, and so on. I have also an urban district council outlook, because for some years I was leader of my Party on the liveliest urban district council in the country, and chairman of its finance committee. To complete the biographical story, I have a deep interest in county borough or city government because, before being elevated into the more rarefied atmosphere of journalism, I was a local government official in 744 charge of the costing system in one of the big departments of the Birmingham Corporation. So I have served with all kinds of local government organisations at all tiers, and I have a warm affection for all of them.
I wonder whether, in advocating regional government, the Liberals are mainly concerned with its intrinsic merits, or whether they are trying to use it as a vehicle to transport into law some of the other ideas that they have in their mind, but about which they have not yet been able to convince the electorate. In the absence of information from the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I have had to refer to one of the Liberal publications on regional government. I see that one thing that is implicit in the Liberal idea of regional government is the single transferable vote. That is something that ought to be settled independently and separately by Parliament, and not just shuffled in by a side door as one clause of regional government. Similarly, it is suggested in their book that the regional council should be financed by the Central Government. Surely that would make them the kept harlots of Whitehall—a most undignified position, without any real independence at all, and always at the dictates of the whims and fancies of Whitehall.
Furthermore, they suggest so far as revenue of the lesser local authorities is concerned, that this should be raised by site value rating. That, again, I submit is something which should not be dragged in by the back door as an accompaniment to regional government, but should be openly put before the country and debated in both Houses of Parliament. It is also suggested in this Liberal statement of regional aims that members should be paid full-time salaries. I have always been against salaries for local councillors. I am still against it. I do not think we want burgomasters in this country.
Finally, this same yellow book issued by the Liberals tells us that the regional system can be used in order to sweep away your Lordships' House and replace it by a new kind of second Chamber, with its members elected on a regional basis. There is a great deal more behind this plan of regional government than the innocent explanation that we have had from noble Lords on the Liberal 745 Benches this afternoon. I think all these things that I have mentioned should be the subject of separate, independent debates and legislation, and not be slipped in as fringe benefits, or something like the plastic flower that one gets with a bottle of detergent from the grocer.
What is behind it all? I think that we had a glimpse a couple of years ago, when the Liberals announced their policy for regional government, because a Liberal was quoted in the Guardian as saying:This thing is on our side. Regionalism properly nurtured could shatter the whole status quo of British politics.Now we see what really is behind it. All those things that I have mentioned might in themselves be desirable, but I do not think that when they are added up they establish a case for regional government.
It is true that regionalism conforms to the current fashionable idea of bigness. But there is such a thing as being too big. The Liberals have told us in their book, although they have not told us this afternoon, the kind of regional council they want, and the kind of services which they think it should administer. One of those services is education. I personally think that education on a regional basis would be too rigid, and that there would not be sufficient flexibility. In that respect, it differs from the Liberals' regional education policy, which is so flexible that it changes its mind every year. I really wish that they would make up their minds as to what they want.
For example, in 1960, in this statement of regional educational aims, they said that the county councils and county boroughs should continue to exist, and also that they should continue to exist as the education authorities. They went a little beyond that, I quite agree. They saidAt least in some parts of the country we need a confederation of counties, or a regional body which, among other things, should deal with education.That was a reference to education, in a supervisory broad way. But were these regional confederations to be directly elected? Were they to be the democratic institutions of which the Liberals tell us? Of course, they were not. They were to be nominated from the lesser area local authorities. They were to confine themselves to the overall planning of education 746 in the regions, and were to leave the executive and administrative work to the county councils and to the borough councils. But now the Liberal policy is to abolish the county councils altogether and severely demote the county boroughs.
However, I do not want to interrupt the story of the Liberal education policy. That was in 1960. I move to 1961. Here they did a shuffle. They said that education was not to be carried out by local authorities, but by regional boards. Were these regional boards to be elected? Of course they were not. They were to be nominated. They were to be responsible to, and financed by, the Ministry of Education. That again would make them completely the tools of Whitehall. Then, in 1962, the yearly change came round again in regard to Liberal regional educational policy. The 1961 boards, they recalled, made no provision for democracy. So in 1962 the primary and secondary education was to be administered as locally as possible through boroughs or urban district councils. Their present regional picture of the educational system is that the regional councils should take over from the existing local authorities. They would still leave the detailed administration to the local authorities, except that, in the meantime, they would have put on the scrapheap the county councils which have the finest educational officials and machinery in the country. So we do not know where the Liberals are from one moment to another. If we were to-day to adopt the policy which they are putting before us, what guarantee have we that they would not change it to-morrow?
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, when we study the noble Lord's speech in Hansard to-morrow, are we going to be able to identify the Liberal Party publications from which he has been paraphrasing so freely? We should like to be able to do
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
Most decidedly. I should have thought that these Liberal publications would have been read by noble Lords and that they would identify the passages. The ones from which I have been quoting so far—and there are others—are Current Topics, September 1963, price 2s.; and the Liberal Handbook of 1960, price 3s. 6d. I will lend my copy to the noble Lord.
747 I must move on, and I must say that I am not pretending that the local government system at present is perfect. There is much wrong with the areas of local authorities, there is much wrong with the division of operations between various local authorities, and perhaps there is something wrong with the overall scope of their duties. For instance, it is a matter of argument whether hospitals should be more closely under local government supervision. Even though they are run by professionally dominated committees and boards, very efficient though they may be, the general public have little say in running them—and it is the general public who ultimately become the patients. Despite all the criticisms which we have heard about local government, despite the criticisms in which we ourselves indulge, it does work. I think that is due to the gratuitous service of thousands of dedicated people and of the work of local government officers of a very high calibre indeed.
There is one matter about which there is no disagreement among us, and that is that the personal, domestic services which affect the man and his family in their home are best administered as near as possible to the citizen himself. It is very convenient if he can jump on a bus and go round to the town hall or council office and put his grievance immediately before the official or the councillor who is in a position to give him an answer. But there are some other services which require a bigger area if they are to be efficiently and economically administered and if the authorities are to be able to engage officers of the necessary high quality. I refer to police, the fire brigade, ambulances—and the education services, provided that there is a fair measure of delegation. These services can be well administered by the larger county boroughs and county councils.
There is yet another group of services for which still bigger areas could be very useful indeed—main roads, main drainage and sewerage, and, above all, the overall conception of town and country planning. This is the point at which war breaks out between the county councils and county boroughs and keeps them in a state of permanent non-co-operation. With the growing population and with inter-area migration taking place in all parts of the 748 country, towns are having to look beyond their own immediate borders. They plant down overspill communities in the middle of county council areas, thereby dislocating the administrative machine and calling for county expenditure on the provision of schools and other services. They indulge in schemes of expansion and the annexation of land which hitherto has belonged to the county councils. They thereby deprive the county council of revenue and throw the county council administration right out of balance. This tension between these two major authorities in this country is going to grow year by year. Something must be done to try to rationalise the situation between them.
It is easy to say, "Let's have a region", but, as my old friend Joad used to say, "It all depends on what you mean by 'a region'". The regions, as we know them now, the standard regions of the Ministry of Labour, the quite different regions of many of the other Whitehall Departments, and now the economic planning regions associated with Mr. George Brown often overlap on the map. There is still a further overlapping when one looks at the regions of the gas, electricity and hospital boards. We have to face the fact that what is a workable area for one service, even a local government service, is not necessarily a workable area for another service. You cannot carve up the country into a number of standardised regions for all purposes without sacrificing a good deal of efficiency. What might be good for one service might he very bad indeed for another. Moreover, the "George Brown regions", of which we have heard so much this afternoon were set up for the specific purpose of economic planning and have nothing whatsoever to do with the administration of local government, which is a quite different matter. So I would dismiss all the known regions, whether they be the George Brown regions, or the Whitehall regions, from consideration here—and, in any case. regions of that kind are far too big for local government.
I can see one remedy. It is no more than a vision, but it is something that might come about when the moving populations have settled down and when within the next few years Mr. Crossman's high-powered commission has sifted all the wisdom of the experts. I shall be 749 surprised if it is welcomed by anybody, but I want to try to look ahead. The scheme is that we should merge the county borough and the administrative county in which it is geographically situated: that is, merge them for purposes of top-tier local government. We should merge, for instance, the city of Leicester with the county of Leicestershire, and we should make it the Province of Leicester. We should merge the city of Nottingham with the county of Nottinghamshire and make it the Province of Nottingham. These provinces would not be too big for the purposes of direct democratic election, thus bringing the ratepayers and the citizens into immediate relationship with the council which they elect.
I think that it would do something else: it would be a form of reorganisation which would preserve the local spirit of patriotism, which is not to be despised and which the traditional ideas of regionalism would be likely to wreck. In some cases there would be two or three county boroughs in a county to be merged with that administrative county. In other cases you would have to take more than one county as a unit for merging purposes, because some of our counties are very small indeed, both in acreage and in population. Some counties have so many county boroughs and such large populations that we might have to divide those counties into two provinces, or probably even more.
There is some merit in this idea. It cultivates that spirit of togetherness which we want to see between town and country. It recognises that large numbers of people work in the towns and travel to their jobs from their homes in the country. It recognises that people in the towns use the roads in the country. It recognises that people in the country use the schools, colleges and evening institutes in the towns. It recognises that country folk go to town to do their shopping and farmers go there to do their marketing. There is a natural affinity between town and country. The one thrives on the other; the one sometimes suffers for the other. But I consider that the marriages which I have suggested would give the new units of local government administration a bigger population, a bigger rateable value, a wider 750 area for town and country planning purposes, and would also give them officers of high calibre. I think that the difficulties and jealousies that are associated with town and country planning would be done away with—at least, they would be more sensibly dealt with. I think we should get a more comprehensive and less self-centred view of the affairs of the whole county, or province as I now call it, and there would be an end to the need for cities to covet the territories of their counties. There is hardly a county borough in the country to-day that could put its hand on its heart and say, "We have no territorial ambitions". All the surrounding counties know that, and all their planning is hamstrung because of that factor.
In this provincial council, I would have a senior town and country planning officer from the Ministry as a special adviser to the town and country planning committee, so that he could see that the needs of both town and country were properly co-ordinated; and all development plans, of course, as now, would be subject to the approval of the Minister. Under this form of provincial council administration, I suggest that traffic management would be much improved; that we could have bolder housing schemes conceived on the lines of the consortia that we have heard about for the whole of the new province as distinct from the individual authorities; and that we could visualise the education service on a much broader basis. I think that many of the major conurbations, would become self-contained provinces of their own. I think that would be better than creating a series of adjoining county boroughs, and I do not want to say anything, one way or the other, about the schemes which will shortly be coming before the House. I cannot see much enthusiasm for this idea, but I am looking ahead.
I think that the big county boroughs are quite rightly proud of their all-purpose autonomy. They set a very high standard of administration, and some of them are very progressive and imaginative. But the system that was devised in 1888 is not necessarily the system for to-day. And if the county boroughs would only look at it from this point of 751 view, it could really be regarded as promotion for them, because some of them would dominate the provincial councils into which they would be merged. They would still administer all the second-tier services in their existing areas, just as the lesser authorities in the province would continue to administer the second-tier services in their areas, though many of the local authorities would certainly have to be merged. I do not think that the pride and dignity of the county boroughs and the county councils need suffer much. It would be no more a case of the county swallowing the city than it would be a case of the city taking over the county. It would be a marriage which should be to the benefit of both. I think that the co-ordinated administration would lead to better management. There would be a healthy exchange of town and country ideas, and it would certainly give a blood transfusion to some of the more sluggish of the counties. This new provincial council would be directly elected, the area would not be too big, and I think that the more politically-conscious town and city areas in the province might help to rejuvenate the sleepy country voters.
If the county councils and county boroughs dismiss this idea out of hand—though I think they may come round to it in ten years—there is a second, more modest scheme which could be put into operation immediately. It is a substitute, and very much a second-best scheme; and it is that the county council and the county borough should retain their present titles and responsibilities; and that there should be a nominated provincial planning corporation, consisting of representatives of the county councils and the county boroughs. These provincial planning corporations would carry out a limited number of large area duties, particularly the duty of development planning. It would be more than a loose joint committee of the kind of which we have so many. It would have very strong statutory powers, and again I would have one of the Ministry's officials as a coordinator of planning, sitting in on the town and country planning committee.
I think that something has to be done about local government in the next ten years—something drastic, something fundamental. But I am against the idea 752 of the Liberal Party's regions. I think they would be too unwieldy. I think they would get bogged down in a sea of paper, of which there is already far too much in local government. Some of the small localities would tend to be overlooked, and I do not think there would be any guarantee of real unity in town and country planning matters, because there would always be the possibility of two or three of the big counties in the region ganging up against one of the others. And would these regions be democratic? Our experience has shown that the more remote the seat of government may be from the electors, the smaller is the poll. We know that it is only 35 per cent. in the case of county councils—even without making allowance for the hundreds of county council seats which are uncontested each three years. I am quite sure that the position would be very much worse, and the poll very much lower, if we had these regions. They might be democratic in name, but I doubt very much whether they would be democratic in nature.
There is just one more thing I want to say about the Liberal Party's plan. It suggests that the councillors should be highly paid on a full-time basis. If we once start the principle of paying councillors a full-time salary, who is going to be able to resist paying full-time salaries to the full-time Members of your Lordships' House? Do we want that? Then, who would be attracted to serve on these regional councils by these comfortable (I will not use the word "high") salaries? It would not be the young executive type. He, perhaps, would already be one or two rungs up the ladder of promotion. He would not want to sacrifice his professional and vocational career for the sake of three or four years' service on a regional council, which might end as suddenly as it began. I think it would attract ladies of leisure and retired gentlemen, like myself. They are the only kind of people who could spare the time to travel hundreds of miles to the regional seat of government; and if the regional council is going to be really effective and democratic the members will have to go there fairly often, not once every three months.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, would the noble Lord explain why he thinks that there are more ladies of leisure than men of leisure?
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I did not say that there were more ladies of leisure than men of leisure. I said that there would be ladies of leisure and retired gentlemen. I employed a different description. I should be the last person in the world to suggest that ladies lead a leisurely life—at least, not the kind of ladies whom one wants to know.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, my noble friend is referring to the fact that he is opposed to the payment of councillors. Would my noble friend not agree that there are many first-class, working-type persons in this country, who would make excellent local councillors but who are discouraged from putting their service at the disposal of the council—the country if you like—because they do not get paid for it? Would the noble Lord not agree that there is something in this part of the Liberal Party's proposals?
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, my noble friend talked about the working men. They would not be getting £2,000 a year salary for serving on the council, and that is the kind of salary envisaged in the Liberal Party's proposals. The proposals of the Tories and the Bow Group, of course, go even further than that, with £2,000 for the rank-and-file councillor, £4,000 for chairmen of committees, and £5,000 for the chairman of the council.
Members serving on councils already get recompense for loss of working time, but the amount of compensation paid under that provision is often not as much as a man would earn for a day's work. I do not mind stretching my elastic conscience a little way. I would agree to a sensible figure that would recompense a man for his loss of his wages; but I do not want a professional salary to become the attraction. And, my Lords, if we do get all these ladies of leisure and retired gentlemen (I do not criticise them; I come into the latter category myself), are they quite the kind of people we want to usher in this new, revolutionarly, dynamic form of local government? I do not think so.
In the meantime, my Lords, apart from spectacular major reorganisations of local government—which I agree must wait for a few years—I think there are some less spectacular ones which deserve some 754 attention fairly soon. We have too many councils that are far too small. There are 48 boroughs with under 5,000 population, 35 with between 5,000 and 10,000, and 30 with between 10,000 and 15,000. Among the urban district councils the situation is even worse. There are 124 of them with fewer than 5,000 people; 128 of them with between 5,000 and 10,000, and 90 of them with between 10,000 and 15,000. These populations are not large enough to sustain a really effective and efficient form of local government. Then several of the county boroughs are also far too small for the all-purpose privileges and duties that they enjoy at the moment. There is one of them with under 50,000 population, and there are 32 of them with from 50,000 to just over 100,000 population. I am wondering whether they ought to be allowed to continue as county boroughs.
There is something else that needs attention. A population of 100,000 now will put a borough on the list of possible candidates for elevation to county borough status. That might have been all right at one time, when a town of 100,000 was a nice concentrated community, but I do not think it is appropriate in the conditions of to-day. In my view, the population of a borough ought to be nearer 200,000 before it qualifies to apply for county borough status. I do not think that any new county boroughs should be created, because, so long as this threat is hanging over the heads of county councils, the county councils will be frustrated in proceeding with their proper development.
There is just one more thing, my Lords. I do not want any major alterations of a patchwork nature to be made by the Local Government Boundary Commission until we get this really gigantic, revolutionary scheme of reorganisation about which Mr. Crossman talks: because if we make too many of these patchwork alterations now, they may well vitiate the grand master pattern that we hope we shall be able to see in eight or ten years' time. Fundamental changes will be needed then, and I hope that the Minister, when he draws up the terms of reference for his high-powered Committee, will impose no limits whatsoever.
755 There is just one more reason why I do not want to see many big changes in local government at this moment. I think this ten-year moratorium which has been hinted at is an extremely good idea. I lived through the Greater London reorganisation. The noble Lord, Lord Tangley, is not here, but had he been here I would have said that, although I suffered under it, and my Party suffered under it, I think it was an imaginative and a spectacular conception. But we in Essex are still suffering from the hangover of that reorganisation, and that suffering will continue for many years. Our officers are having to carry an enormous burden. The competition from new authorities has sent salaries soaring; all our main departments are seriously understaffed, and many of our senior officers and members have found their health in ruins. That is not a mere figure of speech: their health has been ruined. And, of course, there is an extra burden of rates which will continue for a long, long time, quite apart from the penny in the pound compensation which the Greater London Council is to give us. I do not want to see a similar disorganisation in local government thoughout the whole country during the next few years.
I believe that in the next few years George Brown's regional councils will have a specific task to do in trying to get the economy of the country on its feet, and I should not like to see the community distracted, the local authorities distracted, the Ministers distracted and the Members of both Houses distracted, from what T regard as the main task to which we ought to be devoting our attention.
§ 5.26 p.m.
My Lords, I do not claim that insight into the minds of the Liberal Party, still less of the Welsh, which the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, claimed, to explain why the noble Lord, Lord Wade, put down this Motion. All I know, as a simple Englishman, is that I very much hope it will not persuade the Government or anybody else to produce a major element of local government reorganisation at this time; because to do so would, in my view, merely add confusion to a situation which is already far too confused.
756 I do not for a moment deny that there is a case for larger units of local government, if only to conserve and to economise in those specialists of which we now have a national shortage. But the machinery for making these larger units of local government surely exists already, in the shape of the Local Government Commission, which has been engaged in just this sort of work for the last seven years. However, I would remind your Lordships that whenever any drastic recommendation has been made for the merging of two counties or for the merging of a county borough with a county, it has raised such an immense commotion that I do not think that one single county borough has so far been merged—except possibly in the Special Review Areas.
Nevertheless, the machinery for creating those larger units is there, or perhaps I should say was there last week. I do not know whether it is going to be there next week, because I have heard a strong rumour that the Local Government Boundary Commission is to be wound up in the near future. I do not know whether that is true—it certainly has not finished its work yet—but what I think is public knowledge is that it has no chairman and no deputy chairman, so unless it has some reinforcements I should imagine that the Local Government Boundary Commission must fold itself up very soon. I do not know whether we shall hear anything about this question from the noble Lord who is going to reply.
But, my Lords, surely the important thing to remember, in all these questions of local government reorganisation, is a point that has been made by other Members, such as Lord Leatherland and, I think, Lord Ogmore, who have local government experience. It is that 80 per cent. of all the important decisions are taken in Whitehall—or, perhaps I should say are controlled from Whitehall, either by direct control or by indirect financial control. To give a simple example, we in East Sussex have a very fine, planned new system of railways. It was drawn up in fairly close consultation with the Ministry of Transport, and I think it embodies all the latest ideas. But it has one rather serious defect, in that 90 per cent. of it exists only on paper, and it will continue to exist only on paper until 757 the Minister of Transport sees fit to allocate us more money. That would be the position however we were grouped. So, unless you are going to have a sort of heptarchy of regional Chancellors of the Exchequer and regional Ministers, I am afraid that many of the suggested reforms of local government will simply be a case of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
It has often been said (it was said by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, a moment ago) that the present units of local government county boroughs are not large enough to carry out the requisite planning. But that, surely, is an argument for having a regional study and a regional plan. That, as has been pointed out, was stated by the late Government and was continued by this Government. I think the idea of having a master plan in which all are to play a part, great or small, is much more attractive and feasible than the idea of having these large regional authorities so far removed from the man in the street that the name "local government" would have very little meaning.
But although this idea is logical and attractive, it seems difficult to put into effect if the curious history of the South-East Study is any guide. I believe my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said that this was commissioned by the late Government in 1961. The first that we heard about it in the Provinces was, I think, in 1962; and the scheme was not produced as a basis for discussion until 1964. It consisted of a large number of statistics, some of which were out of date before it was published, and also a number of specific suggestions—for which we were grateful, because we are always grateful for anything specific in the local government world. But the question of discussion became largely academic, because as soon as there was a change of Government, the present Government withdrew it; and for the last 14 months, although I have asked various questions about it, we still do not know when it is going to appear. So this document, which was going to play such an essential part in our thinking and planning and in local government boundaries and so forth, has, except for this fitful appearance in 1964, not been with us at all.
I expect that one of the reasons for this continued delay is that the word 758 "planning" means something so different from what it did a few years ago. Then, when we talked about planning, it was assumed that we meant town and country planning and, in particular, the Act of 1947, which, if I may say so, was a very good Act and which would have been a better one had the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, managed to incorporate in it some of the views that he has expressed now. But that is by the way. Now the word includes, as has been stated, economic planning, as well. We had a debate the other day on the National Plan in which "planning", in the old sense, hardly got a mention.
But now that planning has become much more comprehensive, touching on practically all forms of new human enterprise, private or public, it has become increasingly more complex; and that is perhaps the reason why we have, or are in the process of having, no fewer than four Ministries to deal with it. We have a Ministry of Housing and Local Government; we have a Ministry of Economic Affairs, which I understand has taken over the preparation of these studies; we have the President of the Board of Trade, with much extended powers; and, finally, we have the Land Commission. In regard to the latter, may I remind the House of what Mr. Crossman said about it in the debate on the Address? He said:… the creation of the Land Commission will affect the whole planning system. It will influence local planning and national planning, and I should not exclude the possibility that once again Ministries in Whitehall will be subject to further revision and re-adjustment. Such things have happened before in the history of Whitehall and it will be quite right in this case, because the new Ministry will have an enormous effect on planning powers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons), Vol. 720, No. 3, col. 489; 11/11/65]Where, my Lords, are we going from here? We have four ministerial planners but no plan. Although we have so little final decision over our local government matters, I suppose that we shall still be expected to take the initiative in such things as schemes for expansion of towns, with all the social services that go with it; schemes for comprehensive redevelopment; schemes for starting up trading estates, and so on. But what we want to be able to do really is to go to somebody and find out whether there is any regional or national reason why we should not 759 carry out such schemes, or what modifications we should put into them. Must we really get clearance from four Ministries on these matters, with the strong likelihood that we shall be getting different and conflicting views at some point or another? What we do not want to do is to spend much time and money on, say, starting a large scheme of comprehensive redevelopment, only to find out that the Land Commission is going to take it over from us. We do not want to start a trading estate only to find that the President of the Board of Trade is going to attach such conditions to it that it will become perfectly non-viable.
I cannot see that that will be regional planning at all. At the present moment it seems likely to happen. In the old days we dealt with one Ministry, with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, on practically all planning matters. It is true that even in those days the Board of Trade, with their separate powers of location of industries, might have caused some confusion; but that Act was administered with a light hand. And it was quite easy to evade so that latent possibilities of conflict did not really arise. Now it will be a different matter. Must we deal with four Ministries or is somebody going to be a co-ordinating factor? What part will be played in the regional boards, which I heard to-day are simply to be projections of Whitehall? I ask these questions without much hope of getting an answer; because I do not think anybody could answer any questions at the present moment.
I should like to give an example which recently occurred in my own county. The county river board wanted to put up an office and chose for that purpose a small town called Burgess Hill, which is just inside the area controlled by the Board of Trade for the purpose of office development. So permission had to be sought; and the river board were told that they could not have offices there. So they moved to Brighton, a town about seven miles to the south—and, in passing, I may say that it was not quite apparent to us what great national purposes would be served by moving the River Board office from Burgess Hill to Brighton.
But then the Burgess Hill Council, who had a scheme of comprehensive redevelopment in a fairly advanced state, wanted 760 to know what they could do in the way of offices. That was a reasonable thing to want to know, since two years earlier the Location of Industries Bureau was sending offices to Burgess Hill. So they arranged, through their local Member of Parliament, to send a deputation to the Board of Trade. A very courteous letter came from the Board of Trade to say that they did not see any point in receiving this deputation. They would not have known what to say to them were they to come. It was pointed out that it would depend on the town map; and I suppose the town map would depend on the regional survey, as commented on by the regional boards, neither of which bodies at present exists.
That is only a small case; but if you multiply it all over the South-East, and add to it the uncertainty about the role of the new Land Commission, the uncertainty about the future of the Local Government Boundary Commission, the uncertainty arising from some of the more apocalyptic pronouncements of the present Ministry of Housing and Local Government, it is hardly surprising that the most senior local government officials—very responsible people, who are not inclined to exaggerate—are now saying they have never been through such a bewildering time in their lives. There is too much uncertainty at the present moment. I think it is a bad thing. It is bad for local government, and bad also, I should have thought, considering that it now embraces so many industrial projects, for the economy of the country.
I am sure that when the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, replies, he will give us a most courteous and soothing speech, in which I shall be surprised if there is a glimmer of hard information. I expect that we shall be told that it will all work out for the best if we wait a little; and of course that may be so. But, my Lords, the world does not stand still, and I would guess that the time it all works out will coincide with the time for another change of Government; and I suppose that the new Government will immediately scrap two of these Ministries, and we shall have to start all over again.
That is the kind of thing we encounter in local government. I suppose that we go into the work of local government with 761 a vague idea of doing good. In my lifetime experience of local government, which is now getting quite long, I have discovered that we have a continuous "wind of change" in Whitehall. I sometimes wonder whether all Governments and Shadow Governments, particularly a Labour Government, realise that a continually changing wind is not the best sort of wind to help us to get anywhere. Meanwhile, I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, that if we have any more major changes in local government at the moment, we shall all go raving mad.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, mentioned the confusion in which the local government system operates at the moment, and I think that this is one of the reasons why men's minds are turning towards some rational system of regional local government. Both the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, and my noble friend Lord Leatherland cautioned against haste. I think that is wise, because the changes which will have to come must be rational; but they must also be far-reaching and such decisions cannot be reached in a hurry.
I think there is no doubt—and this comes out of the general sense of the discussion—that at the moment there is agreement throughout the country that the system of local administration which we now have is not one which is suitable to solve the problems we are facing. There must be wider powers given to these local administrative units, and I suggest that their range must also be widened geographically. I imagine that the mood in which we are to-day is not dissimilar from that which existed before the Acts of 1888 which were mentioned earlier and the Reform Bills of the 1840s. On both those occasions, as our economy grew and developed, the local administrative machine was not strong enough or capable of solving the problems of local communities which resulted from economic change. We are facing the same problems to-day and must in due course find our own solutions.
Mention has been made of the work of the Local Government Commission, and there is of course no doubt that this work is of the first importance. Any of us who have worked in a major conur- 762 bation must know the nonsense which exists when it is quite impossible to tell, for instance, where Manchester ends or Salford begins. There is a great deal of talk of local powers. It is said that the Salford Volunteers fired on the Manchester Volunteers during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria. That is a bit of local folklore which I was told when I was a boy. Nevertheless it is a nonsense in these days, and it will not he solved until there is a single administrative authority covering each great conurbation.
I was glad to read this morning of the report made for the creation of a new authority for the Manchester area. But although this brings benefits to these accidental conglomerations of towns, the benefits which are coming are being paid for by other local authorities. The creation of a Greater Manchester Authority means the loss of very substantial and important areas of territory and of rateable value to Cheshire and South-East Lancashire. This means that the country is paying for the solution of the city's problems. The hard fact is that we cannot separate the towns from the surrounding countryside; and this is where I agree with my noble friend, Lord Leatherland.
Just a simple illustration, again from Manchester, is provided by the chronic problem of Manchester regarding water supplies; it has to send its tentacles into the Lake District in order that its inhabitants shall not die of drought. This shows that we cannot simply separate a conurbation from the surrounding country and think that we have solved the problem. It must be solved in a wider context. Again, we cannot separate local government from its economic base. The two must be the same thing. The Department of Economic Affairs has created its nine or ten regions, and I think we are all agreed in principle that there must be an inter-relationship between local government and economic planning.
I am now going to make the main point of my speech. We have to see regional government as a whole, town linked with country and both linked with the underlying economic base. I suggest that when we are taking this long and deep think about what should be the future of local government, we should not reject the 763 idea of a federal system for our country. We should take a deep breath and consider a federal organisation for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We started as a Federation and there is no reason why we should not become one again.
I suggest that perhaps as a starting point for such a federation we should use the economic regions of the Department of Economic Affairs. On this economic basis we could build a structure which basically would not be profoundly different in the detailed sense from what it is now. Within these regions, provinces or whatever you like to call them, local government units would continue to exist and operate, but the overall co-ordinating unit would be something much wider. The sort of thing which I have in mind is the Canadian Province mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, or, more particularly, the German land government of which I have had some experience.
I should like to offer to your Lordships the German example of how their affairs are managed to-day. When I went to work in Germany at the beginning of my working life, I was immensely impressed by the richness of the culture of quite small provincial towns in Germany—the theatre, the local newspaper, and the general cultured atmosphere of any town whose English equivalent would have been culturally dead. The reason for this in the 1920s and 1930s was the carry-forward of the old tradition of small dukedoms and principalities which made up the German Confederation. Although many people have laughed at these petty States, nevertheless they did decentralise government and brought substantial opportunities for the average citizen to express himself which were denied to him in other centralised societies.
Following the war, when the Allies started to organise Germany, they were able to proceed rationally without worrying too much about local susceptibilities. We had Germany at our mercy and we reorganised centrally and, in the field of provincial government, in the way we thought best. Our objectives were to ensure the decentralisation of Germany's economic power. We did not want to see too much power at the centre of the new 764 Germany. But in the process of decentralising Germany's economic power, we created a very effective system of regional government.
The German land is a very efficient piece of social organisation. It is democratic and broken up into small administrative units. It has a centrally elected land Government and its own civil service, and perhaps more important than anything else, it has its own system of tax collection. The federal fiscal system is based on tax collection by the provincial governments, who then pass the money upwards to the Federal Government. So the land Government in Germany is self-financing and subsidises the Central Federal Government.
Because these provinces were created largely without argument and without compromise, they were all based upon a pretty sound economic area and have a strong and vital tradition of their own, which is growing and developing. My noble friend Lord Shepherd expressed concern that if we had some sort of system like this in the United Kingdom, some of the larger units might dominate and over-influence the smaller. This has not been the German experience. Nord-Rhein-Westphalen, which contains the Ruhr, and which would be as big as the East Midlands Region of the United Kingdom, in point of fact does not dominate Hesse or any of the smaller agricultural lãnder. One interesting point, which my noble friend Lord Leatherland thought was worrying when put forward in a Liberal pamphlet, is that the lãnder governments meet at the head of affairs in an Upper House, the Bundesrat, which performs a function not dissimilar from that of your Lordships' House. So, the provincial governments meet at the centre in an organisation of their own.
I suggest to whoever is now indulging in the long, long thoughts which will lead to our new form of regional government, that an honest definition that the goal of this country is a federal system might be worthy of consideration. The advantages of it that I see are that these units would be big; they would be able to pay substantial salaries to their chief executives; considerable power would exist at the regional capitals and, as a result, lively minds would be attracted into the business of regional government in the United Kingdom. I believe in 765 decentralisation as a principle of administration, and I believe that the more centres of government there are in this country other than London, the more the United Kingdom as a whole will be better administered and richer in intellect and culture. I think also that within this federal framework the aspirations of the Welsh and Scottish peoples may find suitable representation.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I would first join those noble Lords who have expressed thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for the opportunity which his Motion has given us of discussing local government. I thank him, too, for the clear and interesting manner in which he introduced it. I hope that the noble Lord will not be annoyed with me if I say that at times, as I listened to him, it seemed to me that there was a confusion of thought in what he said. These regional planning boards and regional planning councils are not agencies of local government. It seemed to me that at times the noble Lord spoke of the councils, at any rate, as though he thought they were, and was proposing that they should be made elective instead of appointed bodies.
It is perfectly clear, of course, that these bodies are a part of the machinery of national planning. National planning may or may not be a good thing. It may or may not last us for ever. On these matters I have nothing to say. But it is clear that so long as national planning exists in its present form, bodies of the character of these planning boards and planning councils will be essential for the work of preparing and carrying out the National Plan. I think that one must realise clearly that these bodies are not local government agencies at all, and cannot be transformed into local government agencies. I hope that the Government will be very careful to see that they are not so transformed. Unfortunately, bodies of this nature very soon begin to develop ambitions, and I have already seen one or two observations by chairmen of these bodies which seem to suggest that they would welcome a transfer to them of some of the functions of the local authorities.
As I see the picture, the local authorities will continue to function, and they 766 will be the principal executive and administrative bodies working under, and in accordance with, the directions they receive from these planning councils. Perhaps I ought not to say "directions". It would be more correct to say that they will function as the executive and administrative authorities in conjunction with, and subject to the advice of, the regional planning authority.
The creation of this new structure of administrative machinery outside and above the system of elected local government has—or will have, when these new bodies get down to their work—introduced a new and important element into the part which local authorities will play in physical and economic planning. The existence of these boards and councils will remove from the field of local government a substantial volume of the work of economic planning which falls to local authorities at the present time. I make no complaint of that, because it seems to me that that is a necessary and unavoidable consequence of the existence of a National Plan. Provided that the executive functions of management and administration are not removed from the local authorities, but remain with them, because those are the functions which they are best able to perform, I do not think that there is any serious ground for complaint about the activities of these new bodies.
Now I should like to turn for a moment to the problems of local government reorganisation. We seem to have lived for years in an atmosphere of local government reorganisation, and apparently that process has not yet been brought to finality. It is a most depressing experience to look back over the manner in which this problem has been handled during the last twenty years. I remember that in 1944 a Commission was appointed, under the chairmanship of Lord Reading, to inquire into London local government. Almost the first thing the Labour Party did when they came to power the following year was to put that Commission to death. It had hardly begun its work before it was wound up.
Then there was appointed in 1945, by the Coalition Government, just before they went out, a new Boundary Commission which was to survey the boundaries of local authorities all over the country and make recommendations 767 for more convenient and more efficient local government. That Commission worked for some years. It then produced a report which was entirely outside its terms of reference. That report was current for a year or two, and nothing was done. Then the Labour Government, I think perhaps rightly at that stage, decided to wind up the Local Government Boundary Commission. And that was the end of that. Then the Royal Commission on London Government was set up and did in fact produce a report, and that has been acted upon.
I was rather alarmed the other day to hear the Minister say that at one time he thought he ought to wind up this Boundary Commission; but I am glad to say that he thought better of that and expressed himself appreciative of the work the Commission had done. I hope that the reports of the Boundary Commission will now be acted upon, and that we shall carry out their recommendations, even though they may not provide for everything that some of us think ought to be provided for.
I am not going to speculate to-night about what ought to be done. But there are one or two things that I am sure ought not to be done, and I should like to make a brief reference to them. In the first place, I hope that we shall not be induced to extend what is called the "two-tier system". The "two-tier system" has always seemed to me to be an unsatisfactory arrangement. It was introduced originally by the Local Government Act 1888, and its purpose was to make it possible to provide expensive local services in areas which did not possess the necessary resources to pay for them. For this the "two-tier system" was extremely successful. It brought police, good roads, schools, and many other things, into the rural areas which would not have been able to provide such services from their own resources. But in recent years there has been a tendency to try to extend the "two-tier system" into urban government. Of course, London has been the outstanding example of this, where a great urban area has been governed by two quite different authorities in respect of different services.
I see from time to time proposals that in some form or another the "two-tier system" should be introduced into the 768 conurbations. I read a leading article in The Times this morning which made use of a phrase which aroused a certain misgiving in my mind—it spoke of "an urban county". An urban county is an anomaly of local government that ought not to exist, and I hope that no one will be encouraged to advocate the creation of urban counties in any part of the country, even in the conurbations for which they are sometimes suggested. It is a most unrewarding type of administration.
I said a moment ago that these regional planning boards and regional planning councils which are being set up all over the country are channelling off from the local authorities important sections of their work. I hope that they will not be allowed to grow into local government agencies. Somebody spoke of inserting a third tier into the "two-tier system"; and the third tier, as I understood it, was to be the regional council. What the local authorities need, and need more than anything else, is a certain period of rest from this turmoil and uncertainty in which they have lived for the past twenty years.
I hope that the Government will now proceed to carry out the Boundary Commission's recommendations. I hope, too, that the noble Lord who is to speak at the end of the debate will give us an assurance that these new regional planning councils will not be entrusted with executive or administrative functions. I hope he will be able to give us an assurance that the intention of the Government is that these councils should continue to be advisory. I have no doubt that in that capacity they will make a useful contribution to the work of national planning.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, I apologise for coming into the House rather short of breath, but the Consolidation Committee upstairs has only just concluded. This matter is one which has preoccupied local authorities for many years. In order to save the time of this House, I would only urge that, instead of trying to demarcate the suggested regions by rigid lines, wherever possible the boundaries of local boroughs should be extended far beyond their existing limits. This, at least, would make some approach towards the wider regional divisions which 769 the noble Lord, Lord Wade, suggested in his opening speech. I think that our aim should be to establish a much wider planning authority, and to extend the amenities enjoyed in the townships to include, wherever possible, not only an existing or potential green belt, but also several miles beyond it. This would assist the additional development of suburban areas in the periphery of some of our big towns, and might tend to avoid the drift of population into them from some of the surrounding villages.
If I may cite the example of Oxford as a good instance, here the proposed extension of boundaries to the new ring road appears to be quite inadequate, and ought to include an area of at least a mile or a mile and a half of the periphery beyond the ring road to facilitate new planning developments well removed from the overcrowded centre of the city and the university area.
The case of the Bilston, Wednesbury and Tipton areas in the West Midlands is another good example. Here the Local Government Commission propose to absorb five non-county boroughs and seven urban districts into five self-contained county boroughs. This plan would appear to be completely illogical, and would create almost as many new problems as it attempts to solve. Surely the only logical solution is to incorporate this densely populated area, crying aloud for proper development, into one large continuous county unit which can be administered efficiently as a whole. The most emphatic comment on this abortive proposal came from an article on regional government in 1963, which said:The refusal of the Local Government Commission to recommend the creation of continuous urban counties in the West Yorkshire conurbation, and in the Birmingham and Black Country conurbation—as they were perfectly entitled to do, and have in fact done in the case of Tyneside—will perpetuate for years to come the difficulties under which these areas already have to labour.Why do we always have to wait until the machinery of local government breaks down, or becomes completely out of date? All I wish to plead for now is for a wider vision and a livelier sense of imagination to project our plans forward to the next two or three decades into something a little more alert to the urgent demands of our growing population.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, the subject of our debate to-day, for which we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is obviously one of great complexity, as well as of urgent importance, and conflicting opinions are quite naturally strongly held. Perhaps I may begin by assuming that there is general agreement on the need for some change in the general structure of local government, which has served this country for so long but is now, in some respects, inadequately equipped to cope with the modern problems of community life.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government, in his extremely interesting address to the Association of Municipal Corporations last September, quoted Sir Edwin Herbert's words, in which Sir Edwin said:What is true of the evolution of the species is true of the evolution of human institutions. A whole civilisation may disappear because its structure is inadequate to withstand the pressure of its physical environment or the pressure of other civilisations. The same law holds good for local government. I mean, of course—and this is what I like—autonomous self-government.The Minister in his speech then added:That is what we mean by it: the right to run it yourself. That is what I am talking about: not administration, but autonomous self-government.He went on to finish the quotation from Sir Edwin Herbert, which I think is relevant to our debate:The conscious and deliberate ordering of its affairs by a self-conscious community through the medium of its constituted organs of government. For such an institution to survive it must conform to the law of all life. If it accurately assesses its environment and successfully adapts, it will survive. If it fails in this grim task it will atrophy and die, and its functions will either not be performed or pass into the control of some other institution.So the present Government have attempted, or are attempting, to modernise local government in this country. We have the country divided into regions, with the new machinery of a dual organisation, consisting, as we have been told this afternoon, of an economic planning council and an economic planning board. The economic planning board consists, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has emphasised, of civil servants under the chairmanship of a representative of the Department of Economic Affairs. The 771 economic planning councils comprise representatives of industry, the universities, local authorities, commerce and the trade unions. The councils are expected to give advice on the regional problems arising in connection with the work of the boards. In passing, one may notice that originally in Parliament the title was "Advisory Regional Councils", but the adjective has now been dropped, though presumably that is still a correct description.
In considering, however, the relationship of these boards and councils to the regional councils already established, the danger immediately occurs to one that their functions may extend ultimately further than the original intention. The present regions cut across so many other regional arrangements of industry, commerce and government. They do not necessarily reflect any community of interest whatsoever, and their only relationship to local government is that they follow local government boundaries.
When talking about physical planning, the Minister of Housing and Local Government mentioned the necessity for local planning authorities to work together over more than the boundaries of any one, probably two, of them. That is why, I am informed, the Association of Municipal Corporations regard it as urgent to establish what are the right geographical areas for co-operative responsibility for at least some of the local government services. The trouble is there are no standard regions. They differ with departments, and regions for economic planning purposes are not the same as other regions. Even in the present county organisation frustrations are felt in non-county boroughs and districts. This is not the fault of the county councils, and often their membership is quite large enough already.
Even under present arrangements, a town with 60,000 population can be, or is, without a single elected representative on thirteen county committees. A survey carried out by the non-County Boroughs Committee shows that the average town had no county councillor on 6 county committees, and that, taking 40 towns as a typical sample, 12 had no representation at all on the county planning committee or the county highways committee, and 772 24 none on the then standing joint committee. The representation on a regional elected body would be likely to be worse than that.
What is needed at the present time is surely a strengthening of democracy at the local level, and the Association of Municipal Corporations has been urging that reform of local government will get nowhere if it is based on the destruction of counties and county boroughs. The practical way, surely, is to work out schemes of co-operation between types of authority, and so improve administrative efficiency, encourage democracy and, as the Liberals desire, establish a check on the usurpation by the regional machinery of local government responsibilities. The danger at the present time is that there is insufficient understanding of the difference between economic planning and physical planning. Thus, when the National Coal Board decides that a number of pits must be closed for economic reasons, the economic planning councils, in trying to consider the implications for their regions, immediately come hard up against the responsibilities of the local authorities.
Again, if houses are to be provided, and industry attracted to and accommodated in new areas, responsibilities fall straight away on the local authorities. These are not merely the local planning authorities; they are the housing authorities, the water authorities, the highway authorities, the sewerage authorities, and all those who have the actual responsibility. The economic planning boards, of civil servants, readily realise this and are conscious of the need to carry the local authorities with them. The economic planning councils, suddenly realising the true state of affairs, tend to suggest that they should be given the responsibility if anything is to be done. If they comprised directly elected representatives, the clamour would probably be worse, but the exercise of assumed responsibility would surely be less effectively accountable.
My Lords, another significant aspect of creating a form of democratic government at the level of regions as we know them for the purposes of economic planning may well be, if care is not exercised, that some of the responsibility of Parliament might be taken away. If economic planning councils serve simply 773 to make articulate regional feelings for the purposes of national economic planning, they can quite happily exist under a system which means that the National Plan itself is a matter for debate in Parliament. If they begin to have executive responsibility, as I understand the Liberal Plan envisages, in such large areas, then they must have a standing which elevates them to a position of regional parliaments, and what can legitimately be described in the present system as the creation of "little White-halls" would then become what has been called by one authority "the creation of a series of little Westminsters".
If we review what is happening, we have, on the one hand, the concern of local government associations that regional organisations might take away some of the functions of local authorities. On the other hand, the Liberal Party has argued for more radical reform, pressing for elected regional councils with executive power. I suggest that this is going altogether too fast, whatever may become possible or desirable in the future. We surely do not want to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of an illusory facade of democracy. At present, for the dual organisation of an economic planning board and an economic planning council we have on the first the senior civil servants in each region who are concerned with such matters as the location of industry, land use, housing and transport. The Chairman, as has been said, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is an Under-Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs, and each region has a de facto regional capital.
On the economic planning councils the representatives of industry, the trade unions and local government are all chosen, I understand, as much for personal qualities as for their representativeness. The fact that they are appointed gives less offence, surely, to local authorities than elected councils would and having no mandate they can hardly be accused of being a "third tier of government". Moreover, as they are advisory they can render valuable service in the formulation of a national plan but they cannot obstruct its implementation, as elected councils could.
As the Lecturer in Government at the University College of Swansea, Mr. Frank Stacey, has said, in a most interest- 774 ing analysis of this new machinery, they make possiblea unique interaction between civil servants, representatives of local authorities, industrialists, trade unionists and university and other experts, and in addition their own contacts can 'sell' agreed regional policies to those who will be affected by them in local government, industry and the unions.The trouble about introducing the elective principle is that election would not produce the range of occupations which appointment permits, nor would it ensure that the ablest people were chosen. It is also safe to say that the great majority of those who have been appointed to the councils, from industry and from the universities in particular, would not consider putting up for election. It is true that if, as seems likely, the regional councils and planning boards come to play an increasingly important part in the life of the regions the demand for directly elected councils may become irresistible. But that, surely, is a matter which must be left to the future.
It may be that elected regional councillors would have enough to do in the devolved functions of the Central Government in the fields of economic planning, physical planning, transport, and so on, without taking away any of the powers of local authorities. Of course the present appointed economic planning councils could well be retained as advisory councils. I understand that the present economic planning councils have got off to a good start in their present form, and that is why I think the noble Lord, Lord Wade, wants to go too far, too soon, and thereby, as I said before, put a facade of democracy before the overriding need for efficiency. As the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, it is surely reasonable to ask that the present tentative new arrangements should be given a fair trial.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONSDALE
My Lords, in rising to speak in this debate on the noble Lord's Motion on the need for democratic regional government, I shall endeavour to make a practical contribution as to how the idea of regional economic planning can be furthered, and perhaps show that regional government as such is unnecessary. Regional planning can obviously proceed without regional government and as an aid to local government, but the ultimate concept of fully democratic regional government will 775 obviously involve regional administration as well, which must entail either an extra tier or must replace many of the functions of local authorities, or both.
I must state an involvement in that I had the honour to be appointed by the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs to the Planning Council for the Northern Region, which covers Northumberland and Durham, the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cumberland and Westmorland. So far as I know, I was not appointed in any capacity as a nominee of any organisation. There are 26 of us on this planning council, and our chairman, and we seem to come from every branch of commerce and public life. Now that we have really got down to work, our functions as a Government advisory body which can also encourage and help local authorities have become apparent, as although my own experience of local government is limited, I believe we are proving effective in this direction.
It can be argued that local government requires drastic overhaul and reform into much larger units. This is probably necessary in the conurbations when so many services ought to be common for many districts which have no logical boundaries, but fortunately these conurbations in terms of acreage or square miles only cover a small proportion of these islands. Very much the major part is embraced by cities, towns, villages and country districts, each with their own peculiar problems, their own distinctive needs and their own particular patriotisms, which in so many ways are the country's strength and which maintain individuality. On balance it would surely be a loss to the institution of democracy if there were fewer opportunities for fewer people to be elected to manage the affairs of their districts and therefore of the country.
Leaving aside the conurbations, the argument goes that many services should be organised at least on an area basis to achieve economies of scale and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. We all know of towns or county boroughs or counties whose highway departments or roads and bridges departments are very efficient, and of others who get into difficulties at the first fall of snow, let alone in implementing major road improvements. But the necessary 776 efficiency and necessary participation in the national and regional plan can surely be achieved by co-operation with neighbouring authorities. This, I believe, is the real path the economic planning, councils have to play, to encourage cooperation between local authorities, in addition to their work of reducing the National Plan to a regional basis, or forming a regional plan and making it comprehensible to local authorities in the region. There are many examples of joint boards or joint committees of local authorities, and yesterday we saw the proposals of the Local Government Commission for Merseyside and South-East Lancashire, which propose a system of joint boards and joint committees to run essential services for large areas.
In our own Northern region, as an example of how the economic planning council is encouraging co-operation, there are three airports, Tees-side, Tyne-side and Carlisle. Tees-side and Tyneside have very effective airport committees. Carlisle Corporation and its ratepayers have found that Carlisle Airport is too heavy a burden to run. So the economic planning council has convened meetings of all local authorities in the catchment area of Carlisle Airport to form an area committee to assume responsibility for Carlisle Airport. This, of course, involves authorities in South-West Scotland, so it entails not just co-operation in the region but co-operation across regional boundaries. I hope that your Lordships will agree that regional government is unnecessary, but that regional planning is helpful and can achieve the same ends by encouraging co-operation between local authorities and other public bodies. This is not to say that improvements in regional economic planning are not necessary or not possible in these young establishments.
Up to the present the concentration in the Northern Region has been upon achieving an economic revival, which has not gone beyond the study of the immediate ancillary necessities of good communications, housing, port facilities and recreational and cultural facilities to make these available to attract people to the North. The donkey work is performed by the regional boards, and they are made up of detachments from the main Ministries; I will not go into that. But ultimately equally necessary for the 777 planning councils is study and encouragement of the regional, educational, health and hospital opportunities and facilities, to mention a few of the social problems.
Much more important is the reorganisation of the State boards and the national services on a regional basis. This has been touched on, but I want to make a little more of it. In the Northern Council we have been studying the effects of the Ministry of Power pit closures. This perhaps answers Lord Wade's question. This is something that has been done positively by my Council, at least. In Northumberland and Durham the pit closures do not seem to present an insuperable problem, not only because of alternative employment and retraining facilities which are, or will be, available, but because consultation is easy as the pits in those two counties comprise the Northern Area of the National Coal Board, which is entirely within the region. In the case of the Cumberland coalfield, the situation is a great deal more difficult, and I hope the noble Lord opposite will take note of this. We must consider people as individuals, consider also the health of towns and villages, and not rest merely on planning and moving people about in groups. Not only is the Cumberland coalfield, where five pits employ 4,000 people, a tenth of the working population there, isolated by distance from the other side of the region and from its retraining facilities, but it is administered from Lancashire by the North-West Division of the National Coal Board in the North-West Region. I hope that in the reorganisation of administration of the National Coal Board, they will fit the coal industry to the regions where common employment problems exist.
The same goes for water resources. Again, because of the isolation of West Cumberland, where the coalfield is situated, and because of its small population and relatively few opportunities for alternative employment (and there is no opportunity for employment in more profitable pits because all the five pits are in the "B" or "C" category and so are subject to imminent closure, or have an uncertain future), there has to be a crash programme to attract new industry into West Cumberland. And because of the isolation the only real "selling" point to attract new industry 778 is unlimited supplies of water. It is only a short distance away, forming under the Lake District hills at anything up to 200 inches a year, and 90 per cent. of it runs away to the sea. The problem there, of course, is that so much of this is spoken for or so much of it is being surveyed by the North-West Region and Manchester to supply half Lancashire; and with river authorities which cross regional boundaries and in view of the interests of other regions it is very difficult to make a plan for West Cumberland. So one hopes that the work of the river authorities and of the Water Resources Board will be looked at from the point of view of integrating them into a regional system.
While believing that drastic reorganisation of local government is unnecessary and inappropriate, I believe that members of the planning councils should perhaps be democratically appointed. After ten months, and to the extent that the work of our planning council has become apparent, I personally feel more honoured than ever at having been appointed by the First Secretary; but in some respects I feel a little embarrassment. The local authorities are suspicious that we might abrogate some of their responsibilities. It is not so; we are advisory and we wish to help them. On two occasions recently, Questions have been asked in another place about issues in the Northern Region—Questions which elicited immediate and positive replies. As we all know, such Questions are asked only as a result of public concern. In these cases public concern could have been satisfied some time before if our activities had not been classified.
Regional councils should perhaps conduct their full meetings with the Press present, and I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that our work is so restricted that it could not be arranged for us to have the Press present at full meetings. I agree, however, that the Press should not be present at the committee meetings. We have many working committees now. This is very much the way that local government works. But as regards the democratic appointment of members, which is towards the end of obtaining public confidence, I do feel it might be better if members of the planning councils were appointed by 779 elected bodies; for instance, county councils or county council associations, or borough councils or groups of town councils, or the T.U.C., or various industrial trade associations and the university councils. They are all elected bodies, and they can appoint direct to the planning councils. In that way we could still obtain breadth of experience and skill, and leave Parliament to determine beforehand the numerical and sectional structure of the planning councils. I believe that these two factors would create a better image of these planning councils.
I cannot agree with the noble Lord's Motion for democratic regional government in the full sense; but I do feel that these young regional planning organisations could be strengthened and their organisation improved. These are early days, but I think a useful step has been taken by their establishment, and this, at least in the North, seems to be a general view.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, I make no apology for confining my statement to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, made up of the seven counties. We have not touched upon what some noble Lords might regard as this rather peculiar area. The noble Lord who introduced this debate is fully aware of this and I have his blessing to speak about it. I think we are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord that we have had a chance of hearing these fine speeches by knowledgeable people. This is a matter in which I personally am extremely interested; I know that many other noble Lords, are, too, and that a great many noble Lords are considerably involved in local government.
The first Report of the Working Party and the White Paper on the reorganisation of local government in Scotland was carefully studied by everybody who had anything to do with a Highland county council. Both the White Paper and the Report of the Working Party were opposed, for many and, I think, varied reasons. We do not know what the present Government have in mind for the future, but, quite briefly, I wish to try to impress upon Her Majesty's Government and all noble Lords certain fundamental factors as they apply to the Highland counties, of which my own is a good example.
780 Let us first take a basic difference between a Highland local authority and the great majority of local councils in the Lowlands of Scotland and, I suppose, in England also. In the South, the area to be administered is comparatively small but with a large population; while exactly the opposite is true of the Highlands, where we find a vast area with a small population widely scattered. That in certain circumstances some amalgamations are desirable is beyond dispute; and indeed, this we have already carried out in the case of police forces, and made similar arrangements with other departments. We have also made recommendations affecting the various water boards.
One proposal in the Report suggested a two-tier structure, which has been mentioned by other noble Lords and which, so far as we can make out, followed closely the existing structure in England. This, in itself, immediately placed the proposals under suspicion by Scottish local authorities, who are extremely jealous of their existing rights and privileges. There appears to have been a difference of opinion about the setting up of new all-purpose authorities, as against the two-tier structure. But, in either case, our two great objections are, first, that there would require to be considerable delegation to committees and sub-committees; and secondly, that there would not be adequate provision for burgh representation.
As I have already suggested, the Report indicates that the all-purpose authority theory postulates a densely populated area. The whole idea is entirely out of character for the Scottish rural areas, and especially the Highlands of Scotland. We find no difficulty in our present boundaries, or with the functions being carried out by the local authority. If local government areas were to be enlarged in the Highlands, travelling and subsistence expenses would be greatly increased, and the officials, instead of doing their jobs, would spend most of their time travelling. Again, these larger areas would operate detrimentally against the degree of local representation by the members. The great distances that a councillor would have to travel would result not only in greater expense, but also in a considerable lessening of local interest in their local government. My county council are also of the opinion that the wrong type of member 781 would be recruited as a result of setting up the first and second tier authority. The semi-professional type of member is likely to emerge, and it would destroy the voluntary nature of the present membership. Politics would become a major factor of the new authority, and would accordingly colour the decisions which at present are reached on an independent basis.
One of the main functions in local government is education, a matter which was hardly touched on in the first Report. One wonders what ideas, if any, the Government have on this important subject. Would Her Majesty's Government consider the following suggestion: to create a Highland body, though possibly the existing Highland and Islands Development Board could do the job, whose function would be the allocation of funds to the various local authorities in the Highland area, based on the particular requirements of the area concerned? The advantage of this would be that the allocation of monies would be dealt with by a body with a specialised knowledge of Highland requirements.
We were, and are, opposed to this Report, or any which might resemble it, on the grounds that the drastic measures envisaged are for us not justified; that the present system, with minor alterations, is satisfactory, and that local government would cease to provide adequate means of representation of local views. The proposals are not suitable for implementation in the Highlands of Scotland, at any rate while the seat of Government is still in Whitehall.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, may I first, in the few minutes that I wish to address you to-night, say how greatly I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, in introducing this Motion. I am sure we are all grateful to him for putting it down. I am afraid that is as far as I can go with him, because I personally do not believe in regional government, for these reasons: if you introduce another tier into the present two-tier system it will, I think in every case, increase the cost of running local government, which I am sure we all want to avoid. To-day, local government is costing the country a great deal of money. An article appeared last Sunday in the Sunday Times which 782 stated that local authorities, through the rates, put up about 46 per cent. of the money, and the rest, 54 per cent., is put up by the central Government.
In my own area of West Suffolk, the council on which, up to two years ago, I served for nine years—I am no longer a member—receive, as we are a rural council with a large area of derated property (the same idea applies in East Suffolk and Norfolk), a large rate deficiency grant; and the percentage there is that the central Government provide about 71 per cent. and the local county council the other 29 per cent. If one introduced another tier into local government it would enormously increase the cost. It would mean, as has been said in our debate to-day, that county councillors would have to travel much greater distances to attend meetings. I doubt very much whether you would get good people to travel long distances of 40 to 50 miles. In East Anglia for example, they may have to travel 20 or 30 miles, and they can spend half the day working in the county council and half the day at their own business or profession. But if they had to be away all day long at council business it would be very difficult to get them to do it.
I can speak from my own experience. During four or five years of my time on the West Suffolk County Council I was asked to serve on the joint fire authority which covers the administrative county of East Suffolk, West Suffolk and Ipswich. My home is at Newmarket, and I had to travel something like 50 miles to Ipswich, do a morning's work for the fire authority, and then take a meal before travelling back home. The journey often took an hour-and-three-quarters or two hours according to the amount of traffic on the road. Nearly a whole day had gone for an hour's meeting. That is one of the reasons why I feel it would be a mistake to have another tier and to have regionally elected government. One wants local government especially in the rural areas to be as near as possible to the people it serves.
Recently the whole of East Anglia was investigated by the Boundary Commission, and I had the honour to serve for nearly three years on our local boundary committee. The question which was before the Boundary Commission was whether the administrative counties 783 of East and West Suffolk should be amalgamated. West Suffolk has a population of about 130,000 and East Suffolk of about 250,000. After exhaustive inquiries, the Boundary Commission came to the conclusion that West Suffolk was well administered, and the two county treasurers were asked to work out what the saving would be, if any, in amalgamating those two administrative counties. They decided, after exhaustive tests and consultation, that it would save under a ½d. rate to the ratepayers. Therefore the Boundary Commission, in their final recommendation, which is now before the Minister, recommended that no amalgamation should take place.
I tell your Lordships that because just because a county is not very big does not mean that it cannot be efficient. We considered in West Suffolk that we were efficient, and the recommendation of the Boundary Commission bore that out. We have been able to attract very able men as officers in our authority. They are well paid, they are loyal, good men, and although we are one of the smaller authorities we have found no difficulty in getting good men to fill important posts. As there was great unrest during the three years that the whole of East Anglia was investigated and before the Report came out, I hope that we shall not be subjected to yet another upheaval. We want a period of rest during which the officers and members of the county council can carry on with their ordinary jobs instead of having to get out endless schedules and information for perhaps another high-powered committee such as we have heard mentioned in this debate.
I was encouraged by my own Front Bench, who said that they did not go as far as regional government, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, speaking as Government spokesman, when he said that they do not want to go as far as regional local government but are placing their hopes on these advisory bodies, the regional boards and councils. So long as they remain advisory—I understand they are advisory to the central Government—all well and good; but if they are going to interfere too much with the administration of local government it would not be a happy solution. They can play a useful part in consultation with local authorities. This was why 784 I interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, rather rudely I am afraid, to ask about the liaison between local authorities. Lord Shepherd replied that there would be the closest co-operation between the councils and the boards and the local authorities, but that those councils and boards would be advisory to the central Government. In conclusion, may I say that I hope we shall not go as far as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Wade—that is to say, as far as regional government. I do not think it would work satisfactorily, and I am sure it would cost the nation a great deal more money.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, I am sure that I am not the only noble Lord present who feels that we have had a remarkably interesting debate: the more interesting, perhaps, because some of us have been talking about one aspect of government other than central government in England, and others have been talking about some other aspect.
The Motion which we are considering, as I read it, is not about local government or its reorganisation; it deals with "the need for democratic regional government". I seem to have heard those words before. I was very glad to listen to such an able exposition of Liberal theory on this matter given by the noble Lord, Lord Wale. I am most grateful to him for having given us the opportunity not only of discussing that Motion in the narrow sense, but also of discussing the various other matters which were thought to arise from it. I think the best thing I can do is to try to make a comment or two on the various speeches I have heard and answer a few questions, and then to say at the end of the day the main points I have in mind.
I should like to begin the exercise by referring to what was said by Lord Wade. My difficulty about his idea has always been a very simple one. I have known, as I am sure he has, the difficulty of getting people to serve on county councils, and the further difficulty of getting people to vote in county council elections. If one is going to have a regional council and to get people to 785 serve on it, and to have such a council, for the present at any rate, as a tier above existing units of local government, then it seems to me that that difficulty is greatly aggravated. I understand that in all the counties of England and Wales in 1961 the average vote was 35.7 per cent. I have not been able to get the figures for 1964 (perhaps it was my fault for not anticipating this matter), but I think that is about the average figure at present. It is not a case of a difference between counties and county boroughs, because, surprisingly, although the county boroughs are a little better, they still have an average of only just over 40 per cent. The Greater London Council elections threw up a figure of 44 per cent., and that election was very much in the news. The matters giving rise to it had been hotly argued in both Houses of Parliament and well reported in the Press.
Therefore the conclusion I reached was that, if one is going to have democratic regional government, one has first to explain to people how one is going to ensure the "democracy". To put the matter bluntly, people are not as interested in county council elections as they are in General Elections. The possibility of their being interested in regional elections may be quite clear to the noble Lord who moved the Motion and to other Liberals, as well as to the right reverend Prelate, who spoke, I think, on the same point; but it is not clear to me. I can see all sorts of theoretical reasons, but I cannot see any way round this practical difficulty.
Like a number of other noble Lords, I have spent quite a time speaking at General Elections and trying to get messages over to the electorate, and I can only say that the task always seemed to me to get harder and harder as the years went on. They needed only to sit at home, and listen to the wireless, to hear the authentic gospel from some political leader of much more distinction than I could ever hope to be. I do not see why they should come to public meetings; nor, I am afraid, did they. And that was the situation with all political Parties.
I believe that one of our major jobs nowadays is to get people not necessarily to attend political meetings, but to take a really active interest in the government of the country. I think that 786 they take far more interest than the attendance at public meetings would lead one to suppose, because, after all, they have many other methods of informing themselves. I think that the general level of political interest may well be going up—I hope so—but I should not like to face the position with regional councils. It seems to me that, if you did establish such a body, and you then got a very low vote for the regional councillors concerned, two things would happen: first, you would have the difficulty I have mentioned in finding the regional councillors themselves; and, secondly, you would not get the best type of people to do what is, I believe, a rather special job.
But before I come to regional government from another angle, may I say a word or two about other speakers? The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who carefully explained that he could not be here but who I am very glad to see is here, made a speech which I thought showed that the two larger political Parties, shall we say, take much the same line about "democratic regional government". I am not sure that the reasons are quite the same. But I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wade will take it from an old friend that the moment when the promised land is a long way off is just the moment to raise your sights and look at something which may have many merits in theory and may, perhaps, become more possible in practice as the years roll on or as the Liberal or some other political gospel is more studiously phrased.
The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, wanted regional self-government for Wales, and something has also been said quite recently about Scotland. Both countries raise special problems. I might remind the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, that all Scots White Papers have printed on them, in Latin, to make it more difficult, Nemo me impune lacessit. There is a Scots equivalent which is far fruitier, but my Scots is not up to saying it in public. The noble Earl will no doubt know it well, and he will not expect me to put my finger in that pie or to bell that cat, as the case may be. As regards Wales, I noticed that the Regional Council for Wales was going to solve the old, old difficulty about the Liverpool water supply quite simply by referring it to the 787 Council for Wales. Liverpool was not going to get a say anyhow. That is one way of doing it. I just leave the matter like that, but I think I have illustrated some of the difficulties.
The noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, tore the Liberal Party to bits, I think. I do not know whether they felt as if they had been torn to bits, but the speech sounded very convincing and I think I must leave someone else to deal with it. The trouble about the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, is that he will not take me seriously. When I tell him things he says that I am being polite but am not really providing the answer. The answer is, however, sometimes one which cannot be provided, and that is partially so as regards the South-East Study. On August 4, Mr. George Brown said that he had already stated that decisions about the machinery for the South-East would have to await the review of policy for the South-East. He said that the first part of this review had been completed. He then spoke of two regional councils—the type of council which we have been talking about to-day—one in one part of the South-East area and the other in the rest of it. Beyond that, I am afraid, there is no information that I can give the noble Lord, because I do not have it and cannot get it.
I ought to say one general thing, with respect. The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, really wanted a quiet life, the continuation of local government activities much as they were. Of course, the less you do the easier it is to have a quiet life, and the trouble about what is happening now over local government and regional planning is that we have a Government who are trying to do some rather new things. I think, if I may say so, that these things had been sniffed at by the previous Administration, and that the Conservative Party have a good deal of agreement with us about these matters. But they are being done, if for the first time, and the essential point with which we are engaged to-day is this. In the past, we have always had local government which proceeded on a territorial basis, which faced up to territorial problems, at first within a very narrow territory and then perhaps within a larger one. That led to terrific squabbles as to what the territory should be, and what should be the respec- 788 tive powers of the district council, the county council and so on. But it was all done on the basis of the territory and the population of the territory; and that system provided the services.
It seems to this Government that there is another task which must be undertaken and which, in the nature of the case, is bound to be closely linked up with this. That task is to prevent the country slipping back, as it has been slipping back in recent years, in competition with other countries, both in its productivity and in its application of scientific discoveries; in short, in adapting itself to the really large changes by way of technique and discovery that are going on in the world.
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will appreciate that I am all for activity, but my complaint, as I said in the debate on the Address some months ago, when I was severely rebuked by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, is that I still think that uncertainty breeds inertia. I wish that we could get some clearer pattern of what we are to do. We are very obedient people.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, the trouble, surely, is that we are trying to do something which, in the nature of things, is new and certainly difficult. But it must he done, because if it is not done the country will continue to slip back and we shall have the uncertainty about employment, a lower standard of living, or the general increase in intellectual, cultural and practical poverty which we have had in the past.
I am trying not to be too Party political about the matter, but I am bound to be so a little, and I claim that this kind of task must be undertaken. But it is unlikely that it will proceed with the smoothness either of inertia or of slow motion, because the job must be done quickly. It impinges on what we are discussing to-day, because when you come to deal with problems within the regions—and for the moment I will leave the question about the regions not always being the same for all purposes, saying only that that ought to be so, that there are bound to be differences; but taking. if I may so call it, the "George Brown region" for these purposes—you find you have your existing local government structure, and you have got to use it. 789 Its functions are going to be at least as large as—as I see it, rather larger than—they have been recently.
Then, side by side with that, there is the question of dealing with the kind of thing I have just been speaking about, particularly some aspects of it. One aspect is that, if you are going to modernise your country and make the best use you can of its resources, you have to deal with something which has existed since the days of Cobbett, and that is the excessive growth of the Great Wen of London—or, as we call it nowadays, the drift to the South-East. Furthermore, you have to see that the other parts of the country are not only fully employed —here there are questions about women's employment on which I will not touch now—but also have the facilities available by way of buildings, apparatus, brain-power and universities. All such things must be available within the region so that they can make the fullest use of their own inhabitants and the greatest contribution they can to the move forward of the country.
For that purpose, we are going to have these regional boards, which will really be (as was made quite clear, I think, by my noble friend Lord Shepherd) an emanation from the Central Government in London and the appropriate Civil Service bodies. What is perhaps more important, there will be the economic planning councils, which will have serving on them people such as the noble Earl, Lord Lonsdale—who gave us, if he will allow me to say so, a very interesting speech—as well as many other varieties of people. Noble Lords have referred to composition. The councils will not be representative bodies, but bodies covering the different kinds of activity which go on in the region, the primary business of which will be to co-ordinate the intentions of the Government as expressed in the National Plan (and as expressed, of course, in the working out of the National Plan from day to day by Ministers and Parliament) with the local authorities.
It is not their business to replace the local authorities in any sense; it is very much their business to co-ordinate those two things—what is happening primarily in the economic field in the centre of Government with the affairs of local bodies. These bodies, representing local 790 people, will not only be able to give very valuable advice, but will be able, too, to see that the regional planning council (which, for these purposes, I suppose, is in one sense, at any rate, an agent of the Government) is not going to do things which better local knowledge might have prevented it from doing. The two things do overlap a little. People say, "Will you please undertake that it will never do any executive work?" I do not think you can give undertakings of that nature in a field of this sort. The council is not intended to be an executive body; it is intended to be an advisory body. It is intended to be a very high-powered advisory body to link up, in the framework of the National Plan, the Central Government, on the one side, with the local authorities and people in the region, on the other.
I have said that, but I must not stop without mentioning one or two of the other speeches to which I have listened with such great interest to-day. My noble friend Lord Winterbottom wanted a federation. If one looks at federations, one sees that there are very wide differences between the units that compose them and the centre of the federation, and they really depend on one thing: who keeps the residual power? The residual power used to be in one place in Canada, for instance, and in one place in Australia; hut in Australia they changed the place. All kinds of things depend on this, and I need not go into them all. It raises questions like States' rights in America, and many such things: and I do not think that is the way we look at this question in this country. I think that is really the answer. I do not think you could get it understood. It may well be that the tendency will be to decentralise—I am not sure about that—but I do not think it will take that exact form.
There was a very interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, who wanted me to undertake something or other. What was I to do? The trouble is I do not remember, although I remember at the time thinking that I could not very well do it.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I asked the noble Lord to give me an assurance that these planning councils would not be entrusted with executive or administrative functions.
§ LORD MITCHISON
They are primarily advisory, but there is a borderline between the two things, and it is not the sort of thing on which I ought to give an undertaking. In a marginal case some people might say, "They have been exercising executive powers". I repeat, they are not intended to be executive bodies; they are intended to be advisory bodies. I hope that will go far enough. There is one thing that it is fair to add, and that is that these things change. I have seen no signs of this one changing, but it may happen. I have no "stable information".
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, it was for that reason that I invited the noble Lord to give me an assurance.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I know, but my assurances would not last for ever. They certainly would not last beyond the next General Election, whoever wins it; and that is the sort of thing I had in mind by way of changes in the future. I have been as clear as I can about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, unlike the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, took the view that everyone was agreed on the necessity for a change. I rather think so, too. But may I say one thing?—and this is about the change in local government. At this hour of the night I am not going to be tempted to enter into controversies about two-tier and three-tier local government, or about the organisation of county councils, district councils and the rest of it. Even less am I going to be tempted to enter into arguments about particular cases
I think that the thing which underlies. this debate is planning. I hope that noble Lords have seen the exceedingly interesting Report by the Planning Advisory Group on the future of Development Plans. That Report really covers many of these questions. I am not going to quote it, but it is worth reading. What I think is significant is that it is addressed not only to the Minister of Housing and Local Government but also to the Ministry of Transport and the Scottish Development Department. That shows the scope of the Report; and in a Foreword my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government says that the Government must consider it but cannot yet be taken to accept it. It seems to me that one is bound to have that kind of approach in this compli- 792 cated world; but there have been hints or foreshadowings of a change which may well be on the same lines as what is said in the Report.
My Lords, I think I have dealt with nearly every speech. The noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, was really on a rather particular point, on which I could hardly follow him at this hour. There was no general question I was asked, I think.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I said that I did not agree with regional government, and that I hoped there would not be too much interference with rural county councils, such as those in East Anglia. We have been investigated, and now we want to carry out the recommendations of the Boundary Commission and not have another investigation.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I am much obliged to the noble Lord. He and I are, I think, agreed on regional government in the sense in which it appears in the Motion, and in the sense in which it was referred to by the noble Lord who moved the Motion.
That, I think, concludes the matter, although I should say that there are many Ministries necessarily concerned in this sort of question. That is unavoidable. The Ministry of Transport is one, and I could give a number of others. There is as yet no Land Commission, but there is a Ministry of Land and Natural Resources and I think I am allowed to say that the Land Commission Bill will be published very shortly indeed. I suggest that it may be easier to discuss matters connected with that Bill when it appears.
I would conclude by thanking noble Lords for listening. I hope that I have not taken up too much time; but it is difficult to strike a balance when so many points have been raised in the debate. I have tried to give a sort of rough idea of what appeared to me, and, I think, to the Government, to be the main points that arise out of this Motion.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he say a word about one thing mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, in his opening speech, the overcrowding of the South-East? Because it seems to me that if there is one thing that local government cannot do, it is to persuade people to live where they do not want to live.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, that is perfectly true. But, with respect, a great deal has been said about the South-East, not only in this Parliament but in the last. This problem is being considered. In a passage I referred to just now to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, it is clear that the South-East Study is still under consideration. It is, I think, one of the biggest demographic problems that we have to consider to-day. Everybody recognises that; but there is no magic answer. The South-East illustrates very well the need for this sort of regional organisation and there will be for this purpose two regions in the area which are described in the answer to which I referred and which shows how necessary is that kind of regional organisation.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, I should like to thank all those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has been an extremely interesting debate. I have listened to all the speeches and I will read them again in HANSARD to-morrow. I know that all noble Lords who have taken part have done so with great experience of the subject. I did not expect complete agreement—far from it. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not mention all noble Lords who have spoken. So far as the Front Benches were concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, I would say, was cautious but friendly; and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was friendly but cautious.
§ LORD WADE
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, replied with his customary charm and courtesy. I should like to tell him that there should be also a change in the voting system—but I will not start on that tonight. The noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, was emotionally critical; but most of his arguments seemed to be in favour of some form of regionalism.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I wonder if the noble Lord would permit me to say, in case his remark goes on record, that Lord Leatherland is not in favour of regionalism.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, I note that the noble Lord dissents.
It was suggested that some of the immediate steps that I put forward did not 794 go anything like so far as the ultimate aim. I know from experience that first steps are sometimes quite important. I was glad to find that the noble Earl, Lord Lonsdale, agreed with one of my first steps. Of course, great changes must take place—they are taking place—and we must be careful not to think only in terms of the conglomerations (to use the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom). I must admit that the planning councils are planning agencies. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, said that he hoped that they would not be converted into a position of having local government functions. That may happen. But if not, I think, sooner or later new councils will have to be created. In my view it need not involve taking away the proper functions of the local authorities.
This is a very complex subject. I am grateful to the noble Lords for the contributions they have made. So far as the general theme is concerned, I think that time is on the side of my Motion, but the future alone will tell. With that, may I once again express my gratitude, and beg leave to withdraw this Motion.
§ Motion, for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.