HL Deb 09 March 1970 vol 308 cc622-86

4.58 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I should like to join in the general expression of thanks voiced to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and his colleagues for their Report on this extremely important subject. In his speech on Tuesday the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, revealed the thoughts of the Commission when dealing with this problem. All who heard the noble Lord, or who have read his speech, will be impressed by his frank admission that he was prejudiced in favour of two-tier government, but that after hearing arguments and over 2,000 representations which were made to them, the Commission realised how difficult it was to accept a general pattern for all the types of local government that we have in this country. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who would have spoken before me to-day, is unable to be present because I feel that it would have been helpful to hear from her about the approach of the Commission.

Like many other Members of your Lordships' House I must declare an interest, because my association with local government goes back over many years. As in the case of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield, local government was my first love and remains my love. I began in the days of the old board of guardians, and I remember the changes that took place when the old boards went out and their functions were handed over to the public assistance committees of the county councils. There was a general cry that this was taking democracy away from the people. But since then we have seen these functions go from the county council to the present social welfare organisations. Although the boards of guardians did good work for the poorer people, I feel that the benefits these people receive now are much greater than they were in the old days. When we talk about democracy in the administration of our affairs, I think that we must have things in the correct perspective.

Any change in the structure of local government is a highly controversial matter. When, like my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield, I first went into local government all those years ago, change was imminent and all the changes that have taken place since have become accepted. But every time there is a change in the pattern of local government fears are aroused among those whose powers are being abolished that it will prove to be a retrograde step. This attitude reveals a high sense of attachment to their work, and pride in it, among those who have been performing the duties that are the subject of change. This is a healthy thing in our democratic society, and one of the difficulties we inevitably face when change is proposed is to preserve that interest and pride in any new structure we may adopt. The present system has served the nation well, as has already been said on more than one occasion. But we must face up to the fact that the functions of local government to-day are vastly different from those obtaining when the present structure was inaugurated at the turn of last century. What was appropriate in those horse-and-cart days can no longer be efficient or satisfy the needs of our present way of life. All the many duties placed by Acts of Parliament on the shoulders of local government demand this change.

But, my Lords, although the need for this change has been apparent for many years, no Government have tackled the job until now. It has always been looked upon as a hot potato, and it was considered that the changes required would be so highly controversial that it would take many years before agreement could be reached. For this reason I warmly commend the Government for the way they have dealt with this matter. Early in their life, in May, 1966, they established the Royal Commission on Local Government. The Commission took over three years to investigate the whole subject—which they did fully—and to issue their findings. Again I commend the Government for so quickly making up their minds on the basis of what changes would be required. Several noble Lords have said that they felt that the Government have acted a little too precipitately. I do not think so. In my view, the Government have done a good job of work in conducting all the discussions they have had with so many vested interests and in taking a decision so quickly.

The task of administering town and country is tremendously difficult in itself, and those of us who have had experience of both kinds of local government recognise this. I speak as one who was in two-tier government (as it were) in my local area and then represented a city, which had final powers, for 21 years in another place. So I have something of a nodding acquaintance with the different interests and the difficulties in both tiers. Those who have been associated with urban and district councils must know how little real authority is vested in these bodies. Their chief functions are to collect rates and to undertake administrative work on behalf of the higher authority, the county council. Here I would pay tribute to the large number of men and women who have served so excellently on these local bodies, and who have so often felt extremely frustrated when, having taken a deep interest in their locality, they find that planners sitting in a remote place have been overruling all their points of view and that policies affecting their locality have been decided by someone else.

Then I come to the parish councils. It is interesting to those with knowledge of country life to find that elections of candidates for parish councils often awaken more interest in the villages than county council elections. Very often you get an 80 per cent. poll for a parish council, with such little power, as against only a 30 per cent. poll for a county council, with the tremendous power that it wields. It is important that I mention this because, somehow or other, in this new structure we have to preserve that sense of interest and of pride. Although the local councils suggested in the Government White Paper have been denigrated by some bodies outside this House (the Rural District Councils Association, for instance, quickly expressed the opinion that local councils were only an after-thought of the Commission; and noble Lords here have expressed doubt as to whether it is possible for these local councils to be effective bodies), the fact is that the duties defined in Appendix E of the White Paper considerably extend the powers that a parish council had previously.

We also understand from the White Paper that although these local councils will vary greatly in size, from a small local village to a local council of a town with a fairly large population, it will be possible for them to be split up and adjusted in a way that will enable them to meet the amenity needs of their local people. It is meeting these amenity needs, such as the provision of swimming baths, playing fields and so on, in this lower tier that can have an important bearing on preserving the interest of local people. Those of us still mixing among this type of thought know well the controversy that takes place over the provision of these additional amenities. It is a difficult problem, I agree, but I believe that the line which the Government are proposing, of not having, as it were, fixed units of numbers in these local councils, can do a great deal to preserve a healthy democratic interest. One thing about which I am a little concerned in the local councils—and I speak as a countryman—is that at parish level, although they will have power, by raising a rate or whatever form is adopted for raising the funds, to finance certain amenity projects, they may experience difficulty in accomplishing their objectives. This is something that I suggest the Government must look into further before they introduce a Bill.

The establishment of unitary authorities (and, in passing, I should like to say that I sincerely hope some other name than unitary authority will be found, because I think it is an unfortunate name) will, I feel, cut out the many spheres that exist to-day in local government. They will be able to take decisions themselves, and will have power to raise and spend money without having to approach a central Government. This is indeed a good step forward. At the present time, far too much expansion by local authorities is being held up or thwarted because of the difficulty in getting consent from the central authority. One appreciates that the central authority as outlined in the White Paper must of necessity have overall power where any development is going to affect the national economy and interest; but if these unitary authorities are able to spend according to their own priorities, as I have heard suggested, about a quarter of the cash which they raise in their own areas, that, too, will be a good step forward.

We have the difficulty of the densely populated areas and the establishment of metropolitan authorities. This is where it has not been possible for the Commission—or, as indicated in the White Paper, the Government—to accept a single line of approach. There have to be the two different approaches. Where you have densely populated districts there are so many services passing over the boundaries of local areas that there is constant friction, and it is common sense that there should be an overall planning authority like the senior body envisaged. I am pleased that in looking at the Yorkshire set-up the Government have not just accepted the proposals of the Commission but have indicated their agreement to the establishment of another metropolitan area in Yorkshire. However, on looking at the map I feel a sense of disappointment, and I hope that the Government will have another look at this before coming to any final decision.

The suggestion is the establishment of a metropolitan authority consisting of areas 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11—in other words, Bradford, Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield and mid-Yorkshire, centred in the Wake-field area. If this metropolitan authority is to be set up, I cannot for the life of me understand why areas 12 and 13 in the Report—that is to say, the Sheffield and Doncaster areas—have not been included. The interest is completely interwoven, and it is difficult to know when one is passing out of one area into another.

If your Lordships will look at the figures you will find that the five areas suggested for inclusion in this metropolitan area have a population of 2,207,000, expected to increase by 1981 to 2½ million. In the Sheffield and Doncaster area the population is 1,300,000, and is expected to increase by 1981 to 1,486,000. If you take the area, you find that there are 1,295 square miles in the first and 619 square miles in the second. Those of us who know the area (and those who do not know it will appreciate the fact if they look closely at the maps provided in the Report) are aware that the physical, geographical and general industrial background is all so bound up that if a metropolitan area is going to be established, it is common sense to bring in all those seven areas and not just confine it to the two. I hope that my noble friend, when he replies, will give me an indication that he is prepared to look at this problem again. As I understand it, the objects of this White Paper, and of the Commission, are accepted in principle by the Government, and they are prepared to discuss the question of boundaries and certain functions. Therefore I feel that I am perfectly justified in asking for a promise that the boundary changes will be considered.

I am sorry that the Green Paper on finance that we are ultimately to receive is not available for discussion to-day. Naturally it will be available before the Bill is presented. I should like to express the same remark with regard to the Report of the Crowther Commission. I think the Government are very wise indeed in rejecting the present proposals so far as the provincial councils are concerned. We have various Regional Development Councils; they are considering this matter very thoroughly, and evidence is being given to the Crowther Commission, too. The Reports of those two bodies have to be weighed up carefully. I hope that the findings will not be too long delayed and that we may be able to give further consideration to them in time for the proposed legislation. We have the White Paper on certain changes which are suggested in the Health Services. This is the opportunity for a revolutionary line of approach to harness and keep the goodwill of local people in administering the local services that are so near and dear to them, and, at the same time, to get the local service administrative machine into a much more efficient state. That would prevent the overlapping and the wasteful expenditure that takes place in the town halls and council offices because of the small size of the schemes. It is not always the most efficient machine that is most democratic and is able to keep the interest of the public. In our way of life it is possibly worth sacrificing a little efficiency in order to maintain the goodwill and interest of the people as a whole. This is a difficult problem; it is not something for which there can be any set pattern.

My Lords, I would conclude in the way that I began. I congratulate the Government in presenting the White Paper so speedily and outlining in principle its views, because it is necessary that this matter should be carried through quickly and that there should not be endless discussions which would prevent change from taking place. I hope that the suggested date of 1971 or 1972 for the legislation to be enacted and on the Statute Book will materialise, irrespective of which Government is in power after the next Election.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, towards the conclusion of his very interesting speech, the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, referred to the fact that the House must have been pleased to hear someone who had not an interest to declare. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, who has just spoken had an interest to declare and so, I am afraid, have I— albeit not a personal one. For twenty years I have had the honour to be President of the Urban District Councils Association. I am not going to make any special pleading, or anything of that sort, but the few remarks I shall make will be directed to the broad question of reform of local government. I do not speak officially on behalf of the Urban District Councils Association, but the views which I shall broadly express are more or less theirs, and have been made public from time to time.

There is one matter on which there is general agreement in the House, and that is that some reform is necessary. The proposals that are before us, both those of Maud and those of the Government, are not reform; they are largely destruction of much of the fabric of the present local government, embracing old loyalties and traditions which exist to-day. We all enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, the other day and, in passing, I should like to pay my tribute to the work that he and his Commission did. The noble Lord referred to the pockmarking of the face of England which must somehow be ended. He incurred a good deal of wrath later in the debate from the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, for that remark.

I do not believe that the right approach is to tear the thing up by the roots in order to reform local government. That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, and also, I thought, by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, in the latter part of his speech. To brush aside the things of the spirit in order to get a tidy plan on a map is, I suggest, a questionable approach to the problem of the reform of local government. It is certainly alien to the way in which in the past we have adapted our old institutions to meet the changing needs of time with considerable success. I believe that we have, by and large, the most stable political system in the world.

May I refer to an occasion in Westminster Hall, not many years ago, which many of your Lordships may remember. I should like to make a quotation from that occasion, which I think I may do without impropriety, because it will bring out the point that I am trying to make. In 1965, Her Majesty The Queen came down to Westminster Hall to receive Addresses from both Houses of Parliament on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the first Parliament of Simon de Montfort. I dare say some of your Lordships will remember this. It was a very moving occasion. There we were, the modern Parliament, sitting in the same Hall as the Parliament which first met there 700 years ago, with a Sovereign who was able to trace her own descent back as many centuries. In the course of Her remarks in replying to the loyal Address on that occasion, Her Majesty said these words: The evolution of our system owes much to the mixture of shrewdness and caution which prompted our predecessors, throughout the centuries, not hastily to devise and then discard new forms of government, but always where possible to adapt old forms to the needs of the present time". I do not believe there is anybody who would disagree with the tenor of those remarks made upon that occasion. I asked myself: does that mixture of shrewdness and caution characterise the present destructive proposals? I think not.

In that connection, I should like to refer to a leader in The Times, which appeared shortly after the setting up of the Royal Commission. I am sorry to have to quote again, but I must do so in order to bring out the point that I am trying to make. The Times said: Representative local government has intrinsic value not because it is part of our Victorian inheritance but because it is capable of engaging a broad section of the people in the active conduct of public affairs, of diffusing civic responsibility and of shaping administrative decisions in accordance with the wishes of those affected by them. All of this is of the essence of a free society …". The passage continues but it is not necessary to quote any more.

That brings out the next point I want to make. These proposals, in my submission, will not provide the opportunity for a broad section of the people to take an active part in the conduct of their local affairs; and for that reason, and the remoteness which characterises these proposals, I believe it is utterly wrong to destroy the second tier which is near the grass roots. Nobody wants to preserve every small existing local authority. We all know the arguments against that —the impossibility of getting good officials; although many of the small authorities in the past have had many good officials. There are the greater expenses of running services these days, and so on. There must be many mergers —and that is certainly accepted—including mergers between urban and rural authorities. Certain services need to be administered over wide areas, but there are others of a personal nature best administered, as in the past, by authorities in close contact with the people for whose personal needs they cater.

But there is more to it than that. These proposals recommend the abolition of every familiar unit of local government and put in their place a new set of large and remote authorities with no effective second tier with power nearer the grass roots; and I do not believe it is satisfying to people simply to be able, possibly, to have a job merely in an advisory capacity. They will have the feeling, I am perfectly certain, that if they advise a very much larger local authority they will receive a courteous note intimating that their advice has been considered— and then exactly the opposite will be done, and there is nothing they can do about it. I believe that the grass roots here have to be elected and have definite power. Tom, Dick and Harry ought to have a chance to give service in their own place and their own locality; and unless we have a fairly close second tier it is impossible for them to do it. Why should the bus driver, the tram driver, the trade union official or anybody else in his local area not be able to render service in his locality? I believe that this is one of the imponderables and one of the important things of the spirit to preserve in local government. So, my plea is for a viable second tier, not merely consultative but with power, so that a broad section of the people, as The Times has said, can be engaged in the conduct of their local affairs. Surely this is the path of wisdom and democracy.

I want to turn briefly to one other point, and for that I must quote a paragraph in the White Paper on the Reform of Local Government. Paragraph 67 says this: The Commission recommended, as did the Committee on the Management of Local Government in still more specific terms, a reduction in statutory control over the internal administration of local authorities. The Government accept this recommendation. Now we find that in the Local Authorities Social Services Bill, which has already had a Second Reading in another place, Clause 2 requires each local authority to establish a social services committee; Clause 6 requires the local authority to appoint a director of social services and to consult before such appointment is made with the Secretary of State, who may veto the appointment. Clause 7 requires local authorities to act under the general guidance of the Secretary of State. I cannot myself square this Bill which has just been introduced with the declared intention of the Government in their White Paper to remove statutory control from local authorities. It seems to me that here the Government have gone entirely counter to the policy which they themselves have laid down. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will be able to say a word about that. My Lords, in conclusion my plea is that, in going about this business of the reform of local government, we shall have—and I put it very succinctly—evolution and not revolution.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I suppose it is inevitable that some kind of parish prejudice should creep in and colour our approach to this problem. In my own case it may be thought that I am county council-minded. For 22 years, until I retired just over a year ago, I was a county alderman with a finger, at one time or another, in almost every corner of the county council pie— chairman of the council, vice-chairman of the council, chairman of a £60-million-a-year finance committee, chairman of the fire brigade committee, chairman of the local taxation committee, leader of the council and leader of the opposition—though I hasten to add that those last two posts were not held concurrently. But I was also the finance committee Chairman and Party leader of a second-tier authority—one of the fastest-growing urban district councils in the country. Long, long before that, when I came out of the Army at the end of the First World War, but before I degenerated into journalism, I was a local government officer with the City of Birmingham Corporation, perhaps one of the most outstanding examples of the all-purpose county borough type of authority.

With this admixture of experience, I feel that all my prejudices have cancelled each other out and that I can stand before your Lordships this evening almost as a virgin. Where do I stand? I am a two-tier man. But there is something further that I should like to make clear. In recent years, in my view, far too much mud has been thrown at the existing organisation of local government. For all its shortcomings, it has educated millions of children to a higher standard than ever before; it has built millions of houses; it has given greater care and consideration to the mothers and infants, to the old people and the orphans. It has provided us with a fire service and an ambulance service better than we have ever had before; it has given us, too, parks and playing fields, green belts and swimming pools, and many other amenities.

Having listened to some of the speeches in the earlier stages of this debate, and having read the two documents upon which the debate is based, I have a feeling that there is a great danger that we are going to be mesmerised into believing that the organisational shape of local government is far more important than the services which it is supposed to provide for the people. When all is said and done, my Lords, it is not the meticulously tidy, well-organised household that is always the happiest; and we do not judge our butcher by the design and shape of the fancy gadgets on his sausage machine; we judge him by the quality of the product that comes out at the end.

I have said something about the feathers in the cap of the existing system of local government, but I do not want to suggest that no change is necessary. As has already been pointed out, the existing system was framed for our forefathers, and things have changed very much since then. I want to congratulate the Government on having had the courage to set up this very intelligent Royal Commission, and on their determination not to shelve the question of reorganisation simply because difficulties have arisen or may arise. But the question is: is the policy set out in the White Paper the right solution? In some cases it is; in others I feel that it is not; and I shall say a word or two in a few minutes' time about those differences. In the meantime, I should like to digress for a moment or two to explain that for several years past I have been advocating a scheme of re-organisation which is different from that set out either in the White Paper or in the Report of the Commission. I have advocated this scheme persistently, in speeches and in lectures; in papers presented to professional organisations, in the local government Press and even, about three years ago, during the regional government debate in your Lordships' House.

Briefly, the scheme that I propose is this. Amalgamate the county councils with the county boroughs within their geographical areas—Nottingham with Nottinghamshire, Derby with Derbyshire, Leicester with Leicestershire, Southend with Essex. I used to call this new type of local government unit a "province". It is true that some counties would be too small to sustain that kind of treatment. In such an event they would be merged, and the large conurbations, obviously, would form provinces by themselves. I have always visualised about 30 of these provinces, each with a population of a million and a half, or something more. I have seen them administering all those big public services which require a good deal of elbow room; and, in so far as strategic planning, industrial planning and transportation are concerned, I have seen them working in close collaboration with the existing, though somewhat fortified, Regional Economic Councils. That is the policy I have been preaching all these years, and I am glad to say that the Government have walked some distance along that road, although, to my mind, not far enough.

At this point, my Lords, I part company with the White Paper. I have always felt that we must have a second tier of local government: a second tier to administer all those smaller services, more localised services, the on-the-door-step services which are too remote from the large, top-tier authority. I have not visualised, however, that these second-tier authorities should be the small bodies that they are at present. I have always had in mind a population of about 150,000, and sometimes more, but I am delighted that in the White Paper the Government have adopted this system for five of the most important districts in the country. There is a strong supposition that it will be adopted also for Scotland and for Wales, which means that 42 per cent. of the population of the Kingdom will be able to enjoy this boon of two-tier local government. It is a boon, my Lords. Otherwise, why have the Government adopted it? But we are told that 58 per cent. of the people must be content with unitary government.

Let us have a look at these unitary councils. It seems to me that many of them have been spatchcocked together in a higgledy-piggledy way, with neither rhyme nor reason. Local maps have been ripped up, communities have been spiritually raped. Let me look at the constituency represented by my local friend, the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. That constituency, a most historic unit, is being cut up into four pieces and divided between four different counties: part of it to East Hertfordshire, part to Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, part to Ipswich, Suffolk, and the remaining part to stay in Essex. I wonder what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Unitary Districts 42, 44, 50 and 51, would say if he were in the House this afternoon.

Then look at the way in which some of these unitary councils have been patched together. Take, for example, unitary council No. 41: Peterborough-North Fens. That is to consist of bits and pieces from no fewer than seven different counties: Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely; Lincolnshire (Holland); Lincolnshire (Kesteven); Huntingdonshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Rutland. What chance of a happy civic childhood has that council when it was conceived on such a hybrid patchwork bed as that?

Next I come to Essex, my own county. Harlow, the brightest jewel in the county's crown, is to be pitchforked into East Hertfordshire; the three seaside towns of Frinton, Walton and Clacton are to be pitchforked into Ipswich, Suffolk. Colchester, the home of the University of Essex, is to go into Ipswich, Suffolk. As I have mentioned, Saffron Walden is to be rent in twain and rent in twain again. Stansted—of holy memory! —is to go into East Hertfordshire; and Epping Forest, upon whose sylvan glades I gaze each morning from my bedroom window, is to go into East Hertfordshire. This is not mere parish-pump advocacy: I mention it because I know something about it. We in Essex have a proud spirit of county patriotism. Many of us, from the Lord Lieutenant downwards, have done our best to cultivate this. We have succeeded in some measure, and that is not surprising. At one time we were a Kingdom, with a King of our own; but that was before my time.

Let us look also at Yorkshire. Yorkshire is to have slices carved off its territory, put on a plate and handed to Lancashire. Is this not sacrilege? Where are the souls of the people who thought up such a suggestion? It is like grafting red and white roses on to rhododendrons. And, incidentally, why is the proud county of Lancashire, one of the most competent administrative units in this country, going to be carved up into seven separate parts? If I may lapse into the idiom of Lancashire I think that is one of the "daftest" suggestions I have ever encountered.

My Lords, I have another objection to these unitary councils; namely, the diversity in their size. Some of them are to be of under 300,000 people, some of them are to be of about a million people. Eight of them are to have under 300,000, and 23 under 400,000—and 23 is nearly one-half of the total number of unitary councils proposed for the whole country. I feel that these smaller councils will not be big enough to sustain many of the public services that have devolved upon them. Will they be able to provide a full range of education services—not merely primary and secondary education, but special schools, art colleges, technical colleges, commercial colleges, along with the speech therapists, school psychologists and all the other experts who are necessary to-day? I do not want noble Lords to tell me, "But this is being done already by some county boroughs that are smaller than these units." If I am told that, my answer to that will be, "You have already hoisted these county boroughs upon the scaffold and sentenced them to be hanged by the neck until they die. So that is hardly a legitimate argument to put forward."

Then what about the fire service in these very small unitary authorities? Fire risks are growing every day; more and more sophisticated appliances are needed: turntable ladders, machines for producing inert gases to pump on the fire instead of pumping water. What role are all these little councils to play in regional planning? What is the role they are to play with regard to main roads and main sewerage?

My Lords, let us put ourselves for a moment into a comparative mood. These little unitary councils—some of under 300,000 and nearly one-half the total under 400,000—are told that they are to be the education authorities. Yet the district councils in the metropolitan areas with two and three times as many people —500,000, 800,000, 900,000, or even a million—are told that they cannot be education authorities. I do not know which is right and which is wrong, but there certainly seems to be something a little incongruous about this proposal. The more I study this suggestion for the unitary authorities the more I come to the conclusion that the smaller ones will fragment our whole conception of strategic regional planning, while the big ones will be too big to carry out efficiently and economically those smaller domestic, localised services which can better be carried out by a two-tier authority.

Further, look at the whole lack of intimacy that will occur under the new system. A total of 30,000 councillors is to be reduced to 6,000. This inevitably means that most of the contact between the people and the authority will have to be conducted through the medium of the paid officials. I am not going to say a single word against local government officials. In the last three years I have been commissioned to write 36 syndicated articles explaining the good work they do and the fine way in which they do it. They are a grand body of men and women. Many of them are highly professionally qualified and they are dedicated public servants. But that is not what we mean when we repeat that oft-repeated phrase about "grass roots democracy". And it seems to me that the Commission themselves realised this at one stage in their deliberations, for they conjured up this fairy-like idea of the local councils: local councils with hardly any responsibility, hardly any duties—local councils which, if they want to provide an amenity, have to get the permission of the unitary council: and if they want to spend capital they have to get the sanction of the unitary council.

I am not going to waste any more words about these local councils; they are little more than eunuchs, and the White Paper itself seems to realise that. It tells us that under the new system, as a result of the execution of the 24,000 councillors, there are to be expected more grievances, more complaints, more injustices. So the Commission come forward with a proposal for appointing a team of 10 super-officials, the local ombudsmen, who are to take the place of the 24,000 dismissed councillors. This is hardly my idea of what we call local grass roots democracy.

My Lords, let me take the scowl off my face and break for a while into a smile. I think there is something good about the idea that the unitary councils shall marry town and country. But let us be under no misapprehension. Who is going to call the tune? The townsmen on the council will gang up into a solid block in defence of their own town interests, whereas the countrymen, scattered in their villages, North, South, East and West, are going to be unable to unite in a similar common front. I think some of the country districts are likely to get a raw deal, simply because of human nature itself.

Ought we not to realise that there are some big services which require big areas and big populations, and which there- fore justify the case for a top-tier authority? But are there not some more localised, more domestic services that can better be served by a second-tier authority? The Government have realised this so far as 42 per cent. of the population of the country is concerned. Why cannot we seize the logic of this and extend that principle to the whole country? We would then have more democracy and less bureaucracy.

My Lords, I cannot hold back the hands of the clock; French Cabinets can, but unfortunately I cannot. So I will have to give in catalogue form the few remaining points on which I should have liked to address your Lordships. We are told that one of the underlying ideas is that more power is to be given to the local authorities. Yet at this particular moment power is being taken away from them; they are to lose several of their health services, and they are to lose their docks and harbours. I am not criticising the decisions in these respects as a matter of policy; I am merely pointing out the contradiction. Then we are told that they are to have more freedom under the new system to plan their own expenditure, at the very moment when an order goes out from Whitehall saying that next year's expenditure is not to exceed this year's by more than 4 per cent.

Is the new system going to be more expensive for the ratepayers or not? There is a marked absence of evidence in the White Paper on this point, and it makes me suspicious. Is the new system going to give more opportunity to ordinary working-class men and women to serve on local councils? No. There will have to be daytime meetings and long distances to travel. We are told that the new system is going to give greater independence to councils. Yet they are not to have sufficient independence to appoint their own town clerk or chief executive officer, and there is a suggestion that similar restrictions will be imposed in regard to the appointment of other departmental chiefs as well.

There is nothing before us as to the financial resources which these new councils will be able to command; and, of course, the extent to which you can do any work at all is dependent upon the extent of your financial resources. I am not going to press this point. I realise that a Green Paper is to be produced. I appreciate that there is room for argument as to whether the organisational chicken comes before the financial egg, but if, in my domestic circle, I was planning the reorganisation of the sartorial equipment of a schoolboy son by sending him out to buy a suit and an overcoat, I should say in advance, "You can expect to receive so much money from the central exchequer of the family and the rest must come out of your own personal money box". That is what the councils would like to know with regard to the resources they are expected to command.

The last of the catalogued items concerns the redistribution of Parliamentary constituencies. We know that these normally follow the boundaries of local authorities. We know also that industrial towns usually tend to vote one way and country districts another. If the industrial towns are to be diluted by the adhesion of the country districts, we might find a very revolutionary, unfair and unjust disproportionate change in the Party representation in the following Parliament.

To sum up, I believe in two-tier local government with the top tier larger than the existing counties and with the second tier larger than the existing second tier. Finally, I would mention one passage in paragraph 9 of the White Paper. This says that there is no right solution to the problem of reorganisation. That confession of failure dismays me. We must find the right solution. I plead with my noble friend and his Ministerial colleagues to think again in search of this right solution. He knows that I make this appeal to him as one of his most devoted and dedicated followers.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Grimston, and others, I have to declare an interest. It is probably rather boring to your Lordships to hear this again, but I am connected with the Rural District Councils Association. Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, I think he, and not I, ought to be the President of the Rural District Councils Association, because he has put far more eloquently than I could many of the points which concern people in rural areas. I think he has covered the whole question of the tiering of local authorities very well and far better than I could. I had some points I was going to make but which he has made, and I will not weary the House by repeating them. The only advantage I have which no other noble Lord has had, so far as I know, is that I had excellent coverage in the Press of the speech I was supposed to have made on Tuesday of last week. It was not made by me, although it was a very good speech and I should like to claim all the credit for it; it was made in fact by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who is not here to-day, but I mention it to put the record right.

I have been a member of a county council and a rural district council. I am even an alderman, which is very disgraceful and not at all in fashion. About the only thing I agree with in the Redcliffe-Maud Report is that aldermen should be abolished, at least in the way they operate at present which allows political manoeuvring to take place. I think that there could well be honorary freemen in counties or boroughs or areas, so that people could still give to their councils the benefit of their experience, without their actually being aldermen, which to my mind is not really a democratic way for people to serve, although I am an alderman myself and I know of other noble Lords who are also.

1 will pass quickly from that rather controversial subject and deal briefly with one or two points which affect the country areas in which I am particularly interested. It is the view of the rural areas that local government as envisaged in the White Paper will become less local and more remote, and that in some areas where there is a sparsity of population it will be extremely remote. This reinforces the arguments which have been made by a number of noble Lords, that a two-tier system would be better. I think it would be better for the top authority, the unitary authority—and I do not like the name any more than does anybody else, but I have not been able to think of a more clever or better one; nor, I think, has anybody else— to be larger, so that they could deploy their resources in the provision of the services to which Lord Leatherland has quite rightly referred, where those services require large resources and large areas of deployment. If these unitary authorities were larger, then it would be more convenient for the district councils, the second tier, to administer many of the environmental functions affecting people, because people are more interested in how their own local area is administered.

I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, and others have said regarding who are to be the councillors on the new unitary authorities. I have thought carefully about this matter and have come to the conclusion that they will be people who have retired from work, who have independent means or who are going to be paid by their employers to spend a lot of time on council work. That is all quite laudable, but it does not happen very often. For example, the nationalised industries, in particular the railways, allow their men off for so many days of the year to serve on the bench; but if they exceed the number they lose a certain amount of advantage and the possibility of promotion. Therefore it seems to me that the councillors are not going to be grass-root people. Probably they will be people who have nothing else better to do and therefore go on the county council, or whatever it is going to be called—the unitary authority, I suppose.

Equally, it seems to me ridiculous to have three systems of local government working in the British Isles: one for England, one for Scotland and one for Wales. After all, all these areas cannot be self-supporting financially; they must have central Government financial assistance. It does not seem to me to be sensible to divide the country up in this way. As has been mentioned, half the population will have two-tier local government; the other half will have one-tier local government. It is with one-tier local government that there is going to be this element of remoteness. That is a most important point.

I quite agree that town and country must come together. In many ways there is far less division between town and country now than there was even when I first entered local government 25 years ago. There is more communication now. People go out for drives in their cars, there are more telephones and there is a better means of communication by television, local radio and so on. Therefore the objection that some rural areas might have to joining up with a nearby town is, I think, not valid, and has indeed been rejected by all the leading thinkers in rural administration. But that does not mean that we should put a whole block of the countryside into the same administrative pot as a town, with the result that, as the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, quite rightly pointed out, the town representatives would probably team up to outdo the country representatives. We must avoid that; we must not allow that to happen.

Whichever Government is in office when the legislation is prepared must keep an open mind about some of these problems. They must allow flexibility of thought and not impose a solution from the top; otherwise they will be doing something which will be greatly resented in many parts of the country. It will not work. It will cause a lot of upheaval. There will be a terrible loss to the people in those areas because they will not know where to go for their services and for the advice that they have previously been able to get from their local office or local councillors. It will take many years to put that right.

The problem is not so bad in regard to London, one of the largest cities in the world, but the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who has great experience of these matters, indicated in his speech that the London Government reorganisation caused a great upheaval which has still not finally sorted itself out. That kind of upheaval should not be brought about unless a proper solution has been found, and that will be found only by consultation between all the various interested parties.

I conclude by saying that there is a far wider measure of agreement about local government reorganisation than many will admit. To-day the speeches have shown that there is not a great deal between the various people who wish to see reorganisation brought about. It is a matter of consultation and of the sharing of knowledge between various people who have great experience in these matters. I think that the present Government were a little unfair to the local authority associations and the councillors in trying to rush this matter through. They did not give enough time for consultation. There may have been other, political reasons. It is not for me, speaking from these Benches, to say what those reasons were; but, whatever they were, I do not think they were good ones. I think that this might have been a far better White Paper if more time had been allowed for consultation and for the possibility of reaching agreement with the local authority associations, which was close to being brought about. I hope that in his winding-up speech the noble Lord the Leader of the House will bear in mind those points which have been made, far more forcefully than I could make them, from all quarters of the House.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, as it is fashionable to declare one's interest, may I say that I have been connected with the County Councils Association for many years; and, possibly nearer the mark, I have been directly engaged in the communications that have taken place between the associations at various times during the past twenty years and, on occasion, with Government Departments. Therefore I have seen the whole story as it has developed.

I have been struck most by the remarkable reversal of roles which has taken place since the publication of the Commission's Report. In the past, our dilemma has always been the point at which a town became large enough to become an all-purpose authority. The argument was whether the population for such a change should be 200,000, or whether it should be 50,000. One had the small town arguing the case for being given all-purpose powers at as low a figure as 50,000, although the association to which they belong would not really support that figure. But certainly people were thinking in terms of an all-purpose authority of 75,000, and in many cases of 100,000.

I think it ought to be borne in mind that there was a perfect right for a borough to apply for county borough status provided that a certain numerical status was achieved. In another place it was my duty on a number of occasions to oppose applications for county borough status because I felt that this would not make for good local government. Now we have gone full circle. We no longer talk in terms of these bodies at some stage or other becoming all-purpose authorities, and we have gone the other way in this amalgamation of town and country. We say that the larger authority now shall be a unitary authority or, to put it as we used to call it, the all-purpose authority. This is probably right, but having gone so far, I cannot understand the logic of the Royal Commission, or even the logic of the Government for that matter, because we had what was the basis of a unitary authority in the counties as they existed. Here they were, all administering these very services, and now they are proposing to split many of the counties up in order to be able to administer the same services. For the life of me I cannot see the logic of this.

I would argue that some boundaries might need adjustment and amalgamation, but it seems to me that there was something to build on, rather than to scrap the lot and start afresh with the new boundaries with all the upheaval that will be involved. It may be that the Commission felt that this would be leaning over backwards in favour of the counties and would create some upheaval and trouble among other local government units. But it would certainly have been the logic of the case, because there are units already in existence administering the services which it is admitted have to be administered on a wide basis. After dealing with the conurbation side, there was something that was ready made. One cannot really understand why the Government intend to split up the country, or why the Commission wanted the country split up to such an extent, with all the upheaval that would be involved.

If one looks at some of the unitary authorities—and I read very carefully what my noble friend had to say in introducing the White Paper—as I see it there is no question of dividing any of the unitary authorities. That is a very good thing. Their boundaries may be trimmed, but they are not to be made any smaller. The Government are willing to look at the desirability of some further amalgamation of some of the proposed unitary authorities, and it seems to me that, having had second thoughts about Hampshire and Yorkshire, at least they must have some second thoughts about Lancashire. What has been done with regard to Lancashire is quite illogical. To carry the boundary of Liverpool nearly up to Preston when there already exists, right across that part of Lancashire, a very fine local government unit based on what is already there does not seem to me to make sense. One might also suggest that, if there is to be a metropolitan area there Cheshire would have made a better metropolitan area than by adding part of it to Liverpool. It would have made a sensible suggestion centred, as it might have been, on Chester. However, these are details which might possibly be the subject of amendment at some stage.

I am very interested with regard to the proposal regarding the district committees to which the Government appear to be committed. They accept the idea that the unitary authority, with a complete centralisation, would not be democratic and would be too remote, and that therefore there must be some devolution—presumably of the actual day-to-day functioning—to district committees. It will be rather interesting to see exactly how this devolution will work.

If we look at this merely from the point of view of efficiency, a centralised local government is the answer. I have sat on many committees of all sorts and kinds, and frequently I have prayed for a committee of one so that we could come to some conclusion on the deliberations on which we had been engaged from time to time. The trouble is that the one might have been someone other than myself, and therefore I should find myself in disagreement.

But essentially local government is a question of compromise, and when it comes to the actual administration of local government politics are not involved at all. Each local authority tries to do the best it can for its area; and in spite of what has been said about the town hogging it and the country being left out, my own experience is that it does not happen precisely in that way. In the days of immobility probably this was so, but in these mobile days the townsman wants just as many amenities in the country as in the town and, therefore, he will be concerned to see that amenities are available throughout the whole of the area. I do not fear any difficulty from the fact that two or three towns may be the dominant partners in one of the unitary authorities.

I am concerned as to exactly what the district committee will be, what sort of area it will cover, and I hope that we may get some information from the Government as to how they think it will work before it is inserted in a Bill. If the district committee is to work, then first of all it must have some say in the preparation of the budgets. It really cannot just be told that they have a few odds and ends to attend to. It should have some say—not in the final stages of the budget—on the sort of things it wants in its area. It will not get all it wants, no committee ever does, but at least it should be done in that way. Is it proposed that there shall be committees at the district level which will be comparable with committees at the central level? If it is not, I can see enormous complications arising from the point of view of the chain of authority. It is equally important as to how the officers are to be controlled. I have some experience of local county officers serving on area health committees, and the question of the control of those officers has caused a good deal of friction. The officer usually tells the committee, "You cannot do that" because his chief has told him something different. His chief has taken his orders from the main committee, and therefore something cannot be done or ought not to be done. I should hate to get started on this new system of the district committees where the same thing might happen, unless we have some clear understanding as to where the chain of authority is to lie.

I am also concerned about the position of the district councils. I am all in favour of democracy and consultation, but it must be borne in mind that the planning authorities have throughout the years strongly resisted any idea of giving the parish councils a statutory right to be consulted on planning matters. They have had a right by agreement, where a planning authority has been willing to do it, but the planning authorities have always resisted any idea of a statutory right to consultation. I am aghast at what will happen if a unitary authority is going to be statutorily obliged to consult all the local councils as they exist to-day—I am not talking of how they may exist at some future time, but the Government's intention is that all the existing councils shall be there. Consultation will be difficult, if not impossible. If we are going to proceed with reorganisation on a decent basis; and if we proceed to reorganise the councils—whatever their ultimate functions may be—at the same time, so that we know precisely what the basis is going to be, then we shall have some bodies large enough to be consulted without gumming up the works too much; and they will be able to operate over a sufficient area to ensure that there is reasonable consultation.

Another problem with district councils will be precisely how they are going to appoint members to serve on the district committees. The first thing that the unitary authority will insist on—and they are bound to insist on this—is that the majority of the members on a district committee shall be members of the unitary authority. They will not accept, for example, that some non-elected members of the main body could be in the majority and could carry in the committee decisions which were against the unitary authority. They can carry decisions only within the policy of the unitary authority. Therefore, the representation from the district councils will have to be less, in total, than the representation from the main body to the district committee. I shall be interested to learn how this will work, with the multiplicity of councils that we have at the present time.

There is another point that I want to make: whatever form the district council takes, or whatever its powers, something must be done about it before the law is changed at all; and this ought to be embodied, so as far as the main ideas are concerned, in the legislation. I know that the adjustment of boundaries will take place differently, but we ought to have some idea about the size of these authorities, because we cannot have every authority—parish councils, rural councils and urban councils—all with a right to send a member on to the district committee. So I ask the Government to give us some idea as to where they want to go in this matter. We must also know much more clearly about the powers of these committees. I have said something on the possibility of amalgamating some of the authorities. Some of the unitary authorities could be made larger if there were effective district committees—in fact, I think it would be better if some of them were larger. For example, with effective district com- mittees I can see no reason at all for dividing Surrey. Surrey is a large county, but with effective district committees operating there would be no need to make many of the divisions which are proposed.

The other question is what exactly do we do with district councils, even assuming that we have reorganised them? Exactly what powers should they have? My view has always been, and the whole of my arguments throughout my negotiating career have always been, in favour of two-tier authorities, and I still consider that there is not much logic in changing that view. My view is that a two-tier authority is better, but that view has been qualified to some extent by the decision to take the local health functions away from local authorities. I am not arguing against the general idea that there should be an amalgamation of health functions; I think that is logical and acceptable. But I certainly think that those essential personal services should have been something for local government. Had it not been for the implacable opposition of the B.M.A., it is more than likely that we could have made a very good case— which the Government might even have accepted—for placing health functions under local authorities, which would have added much to the work and to the credit of local authorities. However, apparently the stage is set and there will be only a local health authority, which will not be a democratic body at all. It will probably function. A committee of one will usually function better than a committee of ten, so it will probably function quite well.

Then there is the question of the police, who have only recently been reorganised. They are now to be reorganised again. This does not make for efficiency, and it is extremely difficult for services of this kind if we keep on chopping and changing them about: who is going to be the chief officer of the new body and so on? This is very important in the case of the police and the fire service, if they are going to be changed around at frequent intervals. I hope something will be said about how they can be re-organised with the minimum of disturbance to the existing arrangements.

To sum up, I suppose that what I have said has damned the White Paper with faint praise. I was looking to the Opposition to see what sort of an alternative they would provide, but the noble Lord who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench gave me no guidance at all; in fact, he did not seem to have very many ideas about what the Conservative Party would do. That is understandable, of course, because any re-organisation of local government is not going to be popular. Therefore, the Opposition want to keep all their options open so that they can say that whatever the Government do is wrong, without having to declare their hand as to what they would do if they were the Government. But I hope that at some stage we shall be given some clarity from the Opposition as to where they are going and what they want to do about local government, if they want to do anything at all. If we can have that I shall be most grateful, because some of the things they said might have my support, and I should be very sorry to deprive them of my support if they give me the opportunity of showing it.

I am grateful for the way your Lordships have listened to what I have had to say. I hope that my noble friend will say something more about district committees and district councils, because, unless we know a little more about what the intentions are, these will remain matters of grave disquiet.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to speak on the Motion, That this House takes note of the White Paper Reform of Local Government in England (Command 4276), I assure noble Lords that I shall be brief. I would start by expressing my sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and his distinguished colleagues on their great work in producing this very important Report. I must first of all declare an interest, as I am a vice-president of the Urban District Councils Association and a past member of nine years standing of West Suffolk County Council. Also, I live in Newmarket, which is in an urban district council area.

I have given this great problem profound thought. I attended a two-day conference of the Urban District Councils Association last October in the Central Hall, Westminster, and I also attended the special meetings of the West Suffolk County Council and the Newmarket Urban District Council on this great matter. I have come to the definite conclusion that the whole of England should be reorganised on a two-tier basis. There should be strong main and district councils for the 58 per cent. of the area of England which the Royal Commission Report states should be reorganised on a unitary basis. The remaining 42 per cent. should be reorganised on a two-tier basis, as recommended by the Royal Commission, and the great conurbation areas of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool should be divided into metropolitan areas and districts. But I feel very strongly that the proposed unitary authorities would be far too remote to carry out all the main services, and I shall give my reasons for coming to that decision.

In the case of my own area, it is proposed to form a unitary area, No. 44, estimated to have a population of 750,000 people (Royal Commission Report, page 307). The area will be the seventh largest in the country, comprising 1,587 square miles, and will contain as many as 500 towns and villages. How can a chief education officer, for instance, keep in touch with his schools and their headmasters in such a large area, as he is able to do to-day in West Suffolk with a population of 165,000? Also, how will the members be able to keep in touch with their constituents, which is so important? Because under the proposals for a unitary authority, each member will have to look after some 8,000 constituents. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said last Tuesday: Beyond about 500,000 the danger of bureaucracy usurping power becomes greater and greater. We need to look carefully and critically at every case where the Commission propose to create by amalgamation a new authority greatly exceeding half a million population, to make sure whether so large a size is unavoidable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3/3/70; col. 244.] For my own area I should like to see two main authorities, one for the West and one for the East of the county, carrying out most of the main functions, with a strong second-tier authority with specific duties, such as housing and so on, laid down by Parliament, and not delegated from the main authority, because that would only lead to difficulties. It has been suggested that all the staff should belong to the first-tier authority, but I do not think that that will work, as there will be divided loyalty.

In conclusion, I should like to say a few words on the vital question of finance. The terms of reference that were given to the Royal Commission contained no specific mention of the need to consider the subject of local government finance—an omission which I think was unfortunate. But the Commission devoted a chapter in their Report to the subject, in the course of which they argued that the opportunity of reorganisation should be taken to examine and remove the existing shortcomings in the system of local government finance. The Commission expressed the view that although local rates are likely to remain the chief local tax, some new tax is also required to give local authorities a wider and more buoyant tax base. With that, my Lords, I thoroughly agree.

May I remind your Lordships that to-day the central Government contribute to local authorities some 55 per cent. of their total income; and that local authorities spend approximately £5,359 million, which is 30 per cent. of the total public expenditure in the country of £19,595 million, which is the provisional out-turn for the year 1968–69 as recorded in Public Expenditure 1968–69 to 1973–74 [Cmnd. 4234, page 65]. I should also like to point out that education takes nearly 50 per cent. of the total local government expenditure. In the provisional out-turn for the year 1968–69, the education bill amounted to £2,232 million, as recorded on page 50 of the White Paper on public expenditure. These are very large figures, and I only wish the Government had been able to issue the proposed Green Paper on local authority finance at the same time as they issued this White Paper on local government reform.

Already the Government are subsidising domestic ratepayers of this country to the tune of 5d. in the pound per year, and with the coming year's rates it will amount to the cumulative total of 1s. 8d. in the pound. Before we embark on such large scale reorganisation of local government I think the financial implications must be looked at very carefully. Most of the troubles of local government to-day have been caused by the continuous "Stop-Go" policy of successive Governments since the war on local authority services, and it is really a miracle that they have done such a good job in such difficult circumstances.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, like a number of other Members of your Lordships' House, I, too, have to declare an interest as a county alderman, which office paragraph 76 of the White Paper is to abolish. Having said that, in order to show that I harbour no ill-will as a result, may I join with others who have congratulated the authors of the White Paper on having produced such a clearly written and well-constructed document; and indeed congratulate the Government on their decision to seek a re-shaping of local government more in keeping with present-day requirements.

I have no wish this afternoon to pursue the future general structure of local government beyond extending a warm welcome to the proposal in the White Paper to provide for two additional metropolitan areas and expressing the hope that consideration may yet be given to establishing a two-tier system in other parts of the country where circumstances are appropriate, though not necessarily with the proposed metropolitan distribution of functions. The type of two-tier system, coupled with district committees, put forward by the County Councils Association with a promising measure of support from the Urban and Rural District Councils Associations, would seem to me to merit close examination as an alternative method of strengthening local democracy in the proposed unitary areas. But of one thing I am sure: that in any two-tier system of local government it is right that education should be the responsibility of the upper tier; and I warmly welcome the Government's decision to make provision for this in the proposed metropolitan areas.

But it is particularly in regard to paragraph 39, on pages 13 and 14 of the White Paper, that I wish to speak this afternoon, and to note with approval that, while the Government see no instance of a unitary area which could be divided into two without making one or both parts too small, or dividing tasks which ought to be dealt with as one, they, as the White Paper puts it, do not exclude the possibility of joining certain of their proposed unitary areas together, if in the course of further consultation with the authorities concerned strong arguments for doing so should emerge". I hope my noble friend who is to reply to the debate will agree that these words regarding the possibility of joining certain of these areas together cover the situation of those existing county areas, notably around London, which, under the Commission's Report, were scheduled to be severed but which Mr. J. L. Longland, in his note of reservation, cogently advocates should be kept together. I trust that my noble friend the Leader of the House, when he replies, will be able to give an assurance that if strong arguments are advanced by those authorities who wish to avoid this severance, the most serious consideration will be given to them by the Government.

Your Lordships will know that Mr. Longland argues the case for avoiding severance of the counties around London not only on educational grounds (where, in my view, there are overwhelming reasons for not severing the county areas) but also on the basis of ensuring that there should be strong authorities around London as a counterweight to the enormous power of the Greater London Council, and in the belief that, as he says, the good and efficient administration of Herts, Kent and Surrey should not be divided ". My Lords, if I may touch on the case of my own county of Surrey, which it is proposed should be divided into two, East and West Surrey, I must point out that a combination of these two proposed unitary areas would still be smaller in acreage than twenty-two of the Commission's other proposed unitary authorities; and perhaps it may be relevant at this point to draw attention to the fact that the density of population in the county, 2.37 per acre, is a very heavy one indeed. Indeed, it is the highest of any county in the country. But, even so, the combined population of the proposed areas 53 and 54, as they are known, would still be substantially less than that which the County of Surrey had reached before the London Government Act; and I dare to say, my Lords, that the government of Surrey when it was responsible for a population of a million and a half was, so far as its major services were concerned, indeed good.

It will be obvious that the gratuitous severance of a county would have serious disadvantages in the resulting needs to duplicate unitary halls, headquarters administrations, specialist institutions and staffs, training facilities and the like. I recall all too well how, at the time of the Greater London severance, it was found impossible to reduce headquarters establishment in the neighbouring counties in anything like the same proportion as the loss of population; and two administrations would undoubtedly be much more expensive than the present one. Moreover, under the present criteria, the proposed East Surrey would be far too small to be a separate police authority and presumably would need to be linked with West Surrey under a combined police control. Fire Brigade headquarters would have to be duplicated and West Surrey would find itself with need to build new headquarters. The setting up of combined authorities—and combined authorities would be needed in the case of fire as well as police unless West Surrey built new headquarters—removes the services from the direct control of the unitary authorities and surely defeats the objects of the exercise.

The same would apply to the ambulance service, although, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, that seems destined to leave local government in any event, under the proposals of the National Health Service Green Paper. There are many other instances which could be given, such as the need to set up new supply departments for the divided county and the additional expense and staff that would be involved. I hope I have said enough to indicate that a county council such as the one on which I am privileged to serve in Surrey will undoubtedly be in a position to produce the strong arguments which the Government suggest they will consider. I hope that when my noble friend replies he will give a definite undertaking that the consultations will be not just a matter of form but that the arguments will be most seriously considered and that it will be the strength of the arguments that will determine the outcome of the consultations.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, speak in favour of the retention of an effective second tier. I will not enlarge on that, beyond offering your Lordships one simple argument which I have not yet heard during this debate. It is the same argument that I have heard advanced in favour of retaining a Second Chamber in Parliament: that there is more work than one tier can do, and do properly, unless the balance of responsibility and the relations between the elected Members and their official advisers is to change.

Since we have in this country such a very well worked-out understanding between the elected representatives and their advisers, I feel that it would be a disservice to local democracy if that were upset. In saying that, I do not mean that I want the elected councillors to be bogged down on all sorts of details, but I think they ought to be fully seized of all policy matters, even small ones—for that is what they were elected to do—and not just hear about them after the event. There is a tendency to-day for too much of our government to be done by officials, whether central or local. We had an instance of that at Question Time to-day. I think it would be a disservice if we were to speed that progress.

My main point refers to the "inter-dependence of town and country", a phrase which I take from the Reports and which has been mentioned a number of times during this debate. In my view, there is no doubt that town and country are coming closer to one another. Education and improved transport are bringing this about, and we may have underestimated recently the extent of that movement. But there are still very great differences in their interests and local loyalties. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, when he spoke last week underestimated these differences. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, did so. I am sorry that neither he nor the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is here this afternoon to hear the second part of this debate—which we could almost call their debate. And I think that the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, also underestimated these differences.

Admittedly, the structure in the countryside is often quite outmoded. We all know of examples where a county town is surrounded by a county council and where there is every temptation for rivalry between councillors and rivalry between officials, which is worse, and not in the interests of good local government. Smaller boroughs can be found embedded in a rural district, and often there is very little difference between what is called an urban district and a rural district. Many of your Lordships may not know that a large part of the English Lake District, some of the highest and wildest land in this country, is in an urban district. Few would be against some change, quite substantial change; but many have fears that the coming changes will be over-drastic and tend to under-estimate, if not actually trample on, rural interests. Surely geography as well as population must be taken into account here. There is a great deal in these White Papers and in the Maud Report about population, but there is very little about the significance of geography. In a democracy it is the number of people that matters, and not the square miles, when an issue arises which can be decided only by vote.

My Lords, during the first day's debate there were most impassioned speeches, some very sincere and moving speeches, from Members of your Lordships' House who have an intimate knowledge of the problems of both Cheshire and Lancashire. I would add to-day that in both the Maud Report and the Government proposals there is included a proposal to tear Westmorland in half, not only to divide it between two unitary authorities but also to put one half in one provincial area and the other half in another. Further, it is proposed to cut off the southern tip of Cumberland, so that in North-West England where there are four counties they propose to damage all four. Then, for good measure, they propose to cut the Lake District National Park in half, too; to allot one half to one unitary authority and the other half to another unitary authority; and, as in the case of Westmorland to divide them again between two provincial areas. If that is their best judgment in this province I think that one can be excused for doubting it in others.

I should like to speak briefly about proposals for regional organisation. I appreciate that the Government have made it clear that no decisions have yet been taken, but it seems to be a fair guess that they will all be based on some centre, or it may be centres, of dense population. In some parts of England, perhaps in most parts, there could be reason in this; but I do not think it applies in the same way in large rural areas which are a very long way from any dense centre of population. I have in mind, in the South-West of England, Devon and Cornwall; and in the North-West of England, the land which lies between the Solway and Morecambe Bay. Neither of these large areas has any close affinity with a large town or a city.

Bristol I would suppose to be paternalism itself compared with Manchester or Newcastle. But if the area between Morecambe Bay and the Solway—the whole of two counties and part of a third—were to be included in a North-West Region, then it would command only something like 5 per cent. of the population of that region and would hence be in a permanent minority when any issue came to a vote. Furthermore, people in that area will long remember the overbearing attitude of the Manchester authorities over the water problems in the Lake District. It will take many a long year to forgive and forget this.

I have already referred to the geographical factor. From the centre of this area to Manchester is something like 100 miles. This will impose an enormous burden on councillors who will have to travel and be expected to attend frequent meetings. They will come to the headquarters like strangers from another land. I do not think we ought to ask councillors to travel these long distances.

If the feeling about Newcastle was better until the other day, the absurd policy of the Northern Economic Planning Council, which is as pretentious as it is bogus, has stirred up widespread resentment. Noble Lords opposite will know why I am not saying any more to-day. I have criticised this Council in the House before, and no doubt I shall have other opportunities to do so; but I do not wish to say more to-day.

My Lords, why should not this whole area between the Solway and Morecambe Bay first be made into one unitary authority—which would be a marriage of two counties rather than a tearing apart —and then be treated as a separate region, too? An area of 3,000 square miles is a biggish tract of country, and a factor which ought not to be over-looked. Are we not in danger of thinking far too much about achieving a uniform pattern on a plan at the expense of the differing geography and different way of life of people who live in several parts of the country?

My last point I wish to refer to quite shortly. I have looked in vain in both of these Reports for a reference to Scotland, because liaison across the Border in respect of local government is very important. Both Cumberland County Council and Dumfriesshire County Council have made great advances in the planning sphere. They would like to do more in that direction, and all credit to them! Much more credit, in fact, than to the bureaucratic mind which, whether drafting Bills or White Papers, always forgets that England and Scotland are not separate islands.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, the Maud Report and the White Paper have set us a very difficult puzzle; and I feel that, to make it harder, two of the most important pieces have not been given to us. I refer to the Crowther Report, which we are awaiting (and whatever its outcome it is bound to have an effect on the Local Government Bill when it does appear) and, what is even more important, the lack of any financial guidance. This, of course, was not within the terms of reference of the Maud Report, and therefore we can hardly complain if it is not dealt with. But to my mind it is the key to local government in the future.

We complain that local government is too much in the hands of Whitehall. What are the facts? In the case of the authority in which I sit—and I think this is true of nearly all authorities— Whitehall provides more than 50 per cent. of our revenue. Is it conceivable that any authority which does that is not going to insist on control? I think this is a problem which has to be faced. Whether we have unitary authorities or two-tier authorities, with all the pros and cons for and against both of them, someone has to produce a scheme by which these local authorities are made financially independent of the central Administration. Otherwise, in my opinion, we shall not get any local government.

There is only one other matter to which I wish to refer: I do not think it has been touched on very much in the debate. I refer to the question of staff. There is a reference in the White Paper (in paragraphs 93 and 94), but naturally in vague terms, because it would not be reasonable to expect that the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government will be able to tell us very much about the numbers of staff that will be necessary under the new order. But it is an immensely important question to those who are serving in local government. Although, naturally, they are ready to co-operate in any scheme which may be put forward, they are all somewhat apprehensive, as one would expect them to be, and are wondering what is going to happen to them.

One would hope that if we get rid of a great number of local authorities—and I think we all agree that this should be an objective—we shall also materially reduce the number of staff. But I very much doubt whether this will happen. No doubt there will be some redundancies among the more senior members, and they will be looked after. But the replacement of the London County Council by the Greater London Council did not result in any great saving of staff. I think this is a matter which must be looked at seriously. The whole question of administration in government is, in my opinion, getting completely out of hand. Since the present Government took office the increase in the number of civil servants in Whitehall has been of the order of 60,000 to 70,000. In local government it has been something like a quarter of a million.

As your Lordships know, central Government to-day is a Socialist Administration, while local government, by and large, is controlled by the Conservative Party. This leads me to suppose that neither Party has found the answer to this question. Local authorities cannot Control staff salaries, which are rising fast, but they can control staff numbers. This is one of the few things they can control. Yet, to quote the case of my own authority, in the last three years the numbers have risen by 20 per cent. They have nearly doubled in the last ten years, and I imagine that the story is much the same around the country.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He may not be aware that the non-industrial Home Civil Service increased by nothing last year. The figure was the same at the end of the year as it was at the beginning.


My Lords, I am very glad to hear it, but that has not been so in most cases, and I think it is something that has to be dealt with. I made the point to the noble Lord that the local authorities are largely Conservative controlled, but that is not so, of course, in all cases. I think it possible that if we get a new system, by which the local authorities are more or less comparable with one another, there will at least be some yardstick by which we can see whether one authority has been much more extravagant than another. At present that is difficult to do, because every local authority says that it has special problems; and very often it has.

My Lords, that is all I have to say. I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, who is to wind up the debate from these Benches and who had a great deal to do with the Local Government Bill for London, that it may well be that when the time comes he will be tackling the Bill for the country as a whole. All I can say to him is that if he thought the London Bill was complicated and difficult—as indeed it was—he will find it absolute child's play compared to what lies ahead of him if it falls on him to introduce the Bill. Nevertheless, I wish him well.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a long and long-drawn-out debate, but I think that it should prove a useful one if the Government are prepared to heed the advice they have received from a large number of speakers who know a great deal, far more than I do, about the ins and outs of local government. There has been no shortage of advice. There has been the advice which we received in a typically winning speech from the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, the Pied Piper of the Commission, as my noble friend Lord Amory termed him. There has been the advice received from the Pied Piper of the County Councils Association, Lord Amory, as no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, would have termed him, had he been following my noble friend. We have had many other Pied Pipers, the Pied Piper of the Rural District Councils Association, Lord Gainsborough; the Pied Piper of the Parish Councils Association, Lord Merthyr, and the ex-Pied Piper of the Association of Municipal Councils, Lord Ilford. I regret very much indeed that we have not had the speech, which we all expected and were looking forward to, of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the deputy Pied Piper of the Commission. I understand that this is because of illness, which I very much regret.

I should like to say that many of us on these Benches were deeply impressed by the speech of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor at the outset of this debate. To my great surprise, the noble Lord the Leader of the House at one moment termed "totally unintelligible" the proposals which my noble friend was making. I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, termed my noble friend's speech "wholly illuminating and cogent". I can only say that to me my noble friend's remarks were not only illuminating and cogent but also wholly intelligible.

I must confess that I have found some similarity in this discussion between the reform of local government and the reform of your Lordships' House. The structure of local government, like the structure of your Lordships' House, is manifestly out of date. With both, it is almost universally agreed that a reform of some nature is long overdue. Somehow, miraculously, albeit creakingly, both organisations work after their own fashion. With both there is the widest possible disagreement about the form which reform should take. I only hope that the proposals for the reform of local government meet with a happier fate than those on which the noble Lord the Leader of the House and other Members of your Lordships' House spent a good deal of time some months ago.

That being so, I think it is worth noting how wide an area of agreement has been disclosed in these discussions. I think that we are all agreed on the vital necessity of having real vigour and real health in our institutions of local government. I think that we are also agreed, certainly we on these Benches are fully agreed, that the structure of local government stands in need of drastic and urgent reform—I mean radical reform. If local government in this country works —and indeed it does work, but not so well as it should—it is not due to the system but in spite of the system; it is due to the devotion of the councillors and officials who have to work that system. There is also need for urgent reform. My right honourable friend Mr. Peter Walker made it clear a fortnight ago in another place that, should the responsibility be a Conservative responsibility, we should wish to proceed with a substantial but sensible reform of local government in the early period of a new Government. In repeating that statement, I should like to under-line it.

But our area of agreement does not, I think, end here. Most of us would concur, I feel, in the need for fewer but stronger units of local government. Almost all of us would agree that the resulting structure should reflect not only the difference but also the inter-dependence of town and country. All of us, I am sure, concur that the Royal Commission's Report is one of exceptional value and exceptional perception. We all owe an enormous debt (and this is no mere form of words) to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and to his colleagues on the Royal Commission.

I do not wish to minimise the importance of this common ground. I have always believed myself that when we are seeking to embark on the reform of any of our major institutions, be it the Second Chamber or be it local government, it is wise for the Government in power to search for the highest common factor of general agreement. Given the opposition which in many quarters the Government's proposals have aroused, I believe it would have been quite easy for the Opposition to mount a great campaign against them. The Opposition have studiously refrained from doing so. That is one reason why I believe that the Government's proposals, imperfect though I hold them to be, if there is give and take on all sides—and it is not a question of Party here, as speakers from the Benches opposite have made perfectly evidence—could provide the basis for a solution which could be worked out over the next two or three years and which could form a satisfactory basis for local government in this country for the remainder of this century.

I do not wish to labour a Party point here but, having just heard my noble friend Lord Mersey, I cannot refrain from contrasting the attitude which my right honourable friend and the official Opposition have taken with regard to these proposals with that taken up by the then Opposition to the then Government's proposals for the reform of London government. We know the strained and tortured language which we heard then. I think that it was the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who termed the local government Bill "as about as evil as anything I can remember in this country". I was reminded of that when that evil man, the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, the author of these evil proposals, spoke to us an hour or so ago.


My Lords, with respect, the London Government Bill was nothing like the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Tangley.


My Lords, it seemed to me to bear a remarkable resemblance to the proposals from the Commission presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Tangley. Then there were the great demonstrations, that armada up the Thames, and we all (not least my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn) recall that remarkable filibuster in your Lordships' House, the 785 Amendments, the 85 Divisions and the 115 hours of debate. In contrasting, maybe rather sanctimoniously, the irresponsibility of the then Opposition with the responsibility of the Opposition now, I can only express the hope that in answer to what my noble friend has just said we shall be spared the 115 hours of debate, if and when these proposals are embodied in a Bill which comes before your Lordships' House.

I hope that I have said enough to make it clear that there is much in both the White Paper and the Commission's Report with which I personally agree. But in summing up from this side of the House I think that it would be most useful if I were to attempt to draw together the main lines of criticism of the Government's proposals which we have voiced in this long debate. As your Lordships will recall, these criticisms have not been confined to any one political quarter in your Lordships' House. The first criticism concerns the devolution of responsibility from Whitehall. In the White Paper, and in Lord Kennet's speech, lip service, at least, has been paid to the Government's desire to decentralise from White-hall to local government as many powers as possible. The Government have argued that it is quite reasonable to determine the restructuring of local government before the Report of Lord Crowther's Commission is received and acted upon. I find this argument quite impossible to accept. The Commission under Lord Crowther, if I am right, will not only be dealing with the right structure of devolution within the Celtic fringe of these islands, but will also be reporting quite specifically on the possibility of devolution to the English regions.

It is, I suppose, just conceivable that by some happy fluke what that Commission propose for the regions and for the Provinces of England may fit the Maud or the White Paper structure. But it is equally possible that the Crowther corset, if I may so term it, will not fit the Maud figure. Consequently, it seems to me quite irrational to try to plan a sensible structure for local government without any real idea of what powers are going to be devolved from Whitehall and of the structure of provincial or regional government on which those powers are going to be devolved.

Of course, I should be the first to grant that the decision to set up Crowther may have been something of an afterthought. But it strikes me as folly on the part of the Government, having had that after-thought, to preempt vital decisions before awaiting what Crowther has to say. It may not, of course, be so difficult for the Government here: they may already know what they have in mind, or something of what they have in mind, so far as devolution from Whitehall, and so far as the provincial or regional structures, are concerned.




That is also quite possible. At any rate, we certainly do not have that knowledge, and that makes decisions and judgment for the rest of us virtually impossible. As I have said, a sensible Government, in a vital area which affects all of us, would be seeking the maximum possible area of consensus, and therefore we should all have the same possibility of access to the evidence.

The second main line of criticism which has been advanced in the last six days concerns finance—the sinew of all government, both national and local. We have all read what the Royal Commission have had to say about the finance of local government. Already the Exchequer contribution to local government finances represents some 57 per cent. of the whole. Soon it will be 60 per cent.; and that percentage, unless some alternative means of finance can be found, is bound to rise. Again, the Government pay some tribute—lip service, I fear it may be—to the importance of the matter, and they have promised to let us have their views in a Green Paper. Again they claim that it is perfectly reasonable to proceed with the reform of the structure of local government without awaiting decisions on the financing of local government. But I have listened to what my noble friends Lord Gage and Lord Ilford have said on this aspect, and again I beg leave to doubt that claim.

Let me take one example, my Lords, by way of illustration. A local sales tax is one of the possibilities that has been advocated as a reinforcement of the local property tax—our rates. Anyone who has looked at this matter will agree that if we are to have some form of local sales tax—and the same, of course, would apply to a tax on vehicles or on petrol— it will have to be imposed over a pretty wide area. If we take final decisions now or in the near future about the size and structure of the number of echelons of local government, be it in the metropolitan areas or in the unitary areas, we are bound to pre-empt decisions concerning what structure would best suit possible alternative forms of local taxation. It is extraordinary that these proposals should have been submitted without our having any idea of what are the Government's proposals regarding the finance of local government.

The third area of criticism concerns the boundaries which are advocated in the White Paper. It is clear from what has been said in the last six days that most of us welcome some form of two-tier structure for the great urban metropolitan areas of this country. On the other hand, I very much hope that the Government will recognise the weight of opinion expressed in your Lordships' House last Tuesday, in two memorable speeches by the noble Lords, Lord Clitheroe and Lord Rhodes, and echoed to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, that something may have gone seriously wrong with the new design, at least so far as the North-West—Lancashire and Cheshire—is concerned.


And Westmorland.


My noble friend has taken the words from my mouth. It is in the North-West, I think, where the greatest disquiet has been expressed. I personally am inclined to welcome what the Government propose so far as West Yorkshire and South Hampshire are concerned. But I have real doubts—and, what is more important, those who know those areas really intimately have great doubts—about what is proposed for the North-West. I would ask the Government, at least so far as that area is concerned, to think again.

By the same token I would also ask the Government to heed the strength of feeling expressed in your Lordships' House, and indeed in another place, about the extent of the metropolitan areas themselves. A general view—not a universal view—has been voiced that the hem of these metropolitan areas has been let down too far (I recall what my noble friend Lord Amory said on this point) and that they may well be acquiring too wide a rural fringe. Quite frankly, I found the pleading of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in his speech at the start of this debate, to be very special pleading on this particular point. Again, I would ask the Government to suspend any final judgment here, and to heed the arguments very closely indeed.

I hope in this context that the noble Lord the Leader of the House may be able to enlighten us as to the type of procedure which the Government are proposing to follow as regards the final determination of the boundaries in the reformed structure. In some of these areas—certainly in Lancashire, and in other counties in the North-West—these are going to be violently controversial. I suspect that the same may also be the case in Sussex. I should very much like to know what sort of procedure for determining these boundaries, and, above all, for consultation, the Government have in mind. Clearly, they feel a need for speed, and it may be that the full-dress procedure of a public inquiry, such as the Roskill Inquiry, is inappropriate. On the other hand, it seems to be absolutely essential, in a matter of this import, arousing very strong feelings in the parts of the country affected, that all those concerned not only should have but should also be seen to have their day in court. I would ask the Government for enlightenment as to the type of procedure they have in mind.

I turn now to my fourth area of criticism, and the final area of criticism which I wish to touch on. That is the fundamental apprehension which has been voiced in your Lordships' House; namely, that the progeny with which we are now faced, the White Paper out of the Commission, may drain the essential local element from local government. I spent part of my summer holidays reading the Royal Commission's Report in somewhat idyllic circumstances, on the sunny veranda of a villa in the Piedmont of the Italian Alps, looking out over the wide Venetian plain. Perhaps it was those idyllic circumstances, or perhaps it was due to the power and logic of the Report itself, the power and logic which we found reflected in the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, but I found myself at the time three parts persuaded that the unitary principle was right. I am the first to admit that powerful arguments can be found in support of that unitary principle, the all-purpose authority. There is a great deal to be said for grouping the personal social services together under the umbrella of one authority. All of us who have read Seebohm and the Commission's Report would recognise this.

There is a great deal to be said for forging the closest possible links between the personal social services and the environmental services under one authority, if that can be done. Those arguments I found, and still find, very compelling. I still have a nagging doubt, however, which has, if anything, been reinforced by what we have heard in this very long debate, as to whether this tidy, logical and efficient solution is also the best solution so far as local involvement, local representation and local democracy are concerned. We cannot fail to recognise that a different system—a two-tier system—is proposed for Scotland and Wales. I had myself thought that presumably what is sauce for the Celtic goose is not necessarily sauce for the Anglo-Saxon gander. Then we find that this two-tier system is sauce for 42 per cent. of the Anglo-Saxon gander.

As the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, reminded us, if you add together the three populations of the metropolitan areas proposed in the Commission's Report, and if you add the two further metropolitan areas proposed in the White Paper to the G.L.C. area, you end up with 42 per cent. of the population of this country, which will be involved in a two-tier structure. If, therefore, the proposals for Scotland and Wales are accepted, more than one-half of the population will have a two-tier structure. That suggests that there is nothing sacrosanct about the unitary principle. My nagging doubts therefore remain.

I believe that the Royal Commission themselves must have entertained such nagging doubts, and that is why we find in Chapter 9 of the Royal Commission's Report their proposals for local councils. I must confess that those proposals have always struck me, as they have struck the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, as the skinniest part of that Report. That is one reason why I regret that we have not heard the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, this afternoon; I was hoping she could add real flesh and blood to that part of the Commission's Report.

Most of us would agree about the importance of the local element here—of the potential of parish councils, of local amenity bodies, of neighbourhood and community councils, and so on. Yet the Commission's ideas—some of which are reflected in the Government's proposals— strike me as open to very real question. In the first place I find it hard to accept, like other noble Lords, that the same principles should apply for a small parish council or group of parish councils as apply for great cities like Bristol, Bath or Exeter. Equally, I find it difficult to accept that the same principles and structure should apply for small parish councils, or a group of parish councils, that apply for even smaller cities and towns, but still historic ones: the Yorks, Canterburys and Winchesters of this country. It seems to me odd that we are at the moment still unclear whether the system of local councils will be applied in a unitary form to these towns and cities of which I have spoken; whether there should be one local council or a plethora of local councils.

Then there are the powers. I should like to refer to only one unitary area, Area 44, which was referred to in another place in the debate there a week or so ago. That unitary area embraces three main towns or cities, great urban areas, Ipswich, Colchester and Bury St. Edmunds. By 1981 it is estimated that Ipswich will have a population of 380,000, Colchester 312,000, and Bury St. Edmunds 150,000. As I see it, according to the Government's proposals, those great urban areas will all have much the same powers as local councils, as will a parish council or group of councils. I cannot believe that that is right.

By the same token, I am inclined to believe that the Government themselves have had nagging doubts here. Hence their proposal for district committees. This is a proposal which has been strongly criticised in your Lordships' House in the two days of this debate, and it is a proposal which I cannot believe will meet the demand, which is very strong, for a real involvement of those most concerned below the level of the unitary authorities themselves. I hope that in this area, the lower echelon, below the unitary authority, the Government will preserve a more open mind than they seem to have at the present time, because I cannot convince myself, for all the logic and virtue which may be found in the unitary principle, that the answer is correct here in this area at the present time.

I suggest that the eventual solution might lie somewhat along the following lines. First, that beneath the main authority, the senior authority, in the unitary area we could have junior, albeit elected, authorities. I am not concerned about one tier or two tiers. What I am concerned about is that the second echelon should be elected. Secondly, I hope that really substantial powers would be entrusted to that less senior authority. A glance at the Royal Commission's Report, paragraphs 3S7 to 389 on page 102, shows that the Commission themselves felt that in one vitally important field—housing—these local councils should have a very real measure of responsibility. I therefore hope that a very real measure of responsibility will be entrusted to an elected second echelon.

Thirdly, there is the question of the boundaries. If we are to have an elected second echelon of authorities, with substantial and real, albeit subsidiary, powers, in the unitary areas, I cannot see any reason at all why the boundaries of this echelon of less senior authorities should not follow, broadly speaking, the boundaries which we know to-day; the boundaries of our historic towns and cities, on the one hand, and the boundaries of grouped or amalgamated district councils, on the other. I should have thought that some such system could, with good will, be worked out, and worked out without driving a horse and cart through either the Royal Commission's proposals or the proposals in the White Paper. All I myself hope—and here I wish to express the strongest possible hope—is that the Government will not look at this matter in a dogmatic or theocratic cast of mind, but will remain flexible and will recognise that their proposals and the proposals of the Royal Commission in this particular area have aroused deep disquiet and that there is still a consensus which could well be found.

My Lords, to sum up, I should like to recognise three needs here. The first is the need for speed. We need to move on, and to move on quite fast. As my noble friend Lord Ilford has said, local government has been too long in doubt about its future. That doubt should not remain unresolved too long. Secondly, there is the need for due consideration. I would urge that the Government should wait for the further evidence, the evidence of Crowther and the evidence of the Green Paper on Finance, before taking final decisions on the structure. I would also, in the context of the need for due consideration, ask them to look again very carefully at some of the proposed boundaries, in particular around the fringe of the metropolitan areas in the North-West, and, above all, at the point to which I have just been addressing myself: the structure for the lower echelons of the unitary authority, where many of us entertain very real doubts about the present proposed solution. Those doubts have been voiced all around your Lordships' House.

There is a third need which is the need for consensus, the need to which I referred at the start of my too long remarks; that is, in a vital matter of this kind, the desirability of seeking a broad consensus before going forward if what is decided is going to stick and be stable. I myself believe that if the Government find a reasonable compromise between the need for speed and the need for due consideration there is a reasonable prospect of finding that broad consensus which would permit us all to have an enduring and successful reform of local government in this country. And that is the aim which all of us ardently desire.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has made a speech which I am quite sure he intended to be helpful and which I believe was helpful. But he has not been able, any more than this debate has been able, to solve some of the underlying problems which still confront us. We have had a very good debate. A vast number of topics has been covered. The idea that I could, in a winding-up speech, come to any kind of finality on many of the issues which have been raised would be foolish. One of the things the debate has shown is the extent to which local government is really the forcing ground of so much of our political life.

Almost without exception (and I con-fess that I am one of the exceptions, though no Member of another place working in his constituency can fail to be deeply conscious and involved in the work of local government) noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have had a long and varied experience of local government. I must admit that if I were an observer just turning up from Mars, or from America or some other place, and had listened to this debate, I should not know where I would have come from and where I was going to, because the range of experience that has been referred to indicates the variety of our national life, the nature of the problem we are confronted with and the difficulty in arriving at any solution which will produce what the noble Earl so eloquently pleaded for: a true consensus. None the less, it is right that we should try to seek this.

I must admit that, listening to this debate, I was reminded of much of the discussions that we have been having elsewhere —and noble Lords will realise that it is not possible to discuss what goes on in Government Committees. But so much of the ground is familiar; I have heard so many of the arguments before; I myself have wavered so much on the different points. But at the end of the day we must arrive at some kind of decision, and I believe it is important to do so with reasonable despatch. I do not believe we can seek the degree of agreement which might postpone decisions in an area which I believe is more important to the good government of this country than practically any other single reform we can think of.

The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, of course made a notable speech. I share the views of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, in his regret that we were not able to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to supplement and, as I hope, reinforce the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud. The object which the Government are seeking, and which I think we are all agreed is the right objective, is to reform the main structure of local government and to create a new pattern of authorities capable of meeting the needs not only of the 1970s but of the decades to follow.

I would say here and now—and in any event it must be apparent from this debate—that the Government do not expect to obtain any easy popularity out of this issue. I hope we shall not arouse quite the fury that the noble Earl succeeded in arousing over London government; and, if I may say so, his remarks were moderate when I think of some of the things said to him during the notable debates on that subject. There is no easy recipe, either, for the solution of our problems or for popularity in Government. Yet at some point the Government must come to a decision; and they ought not to delay the decision too long.

We have the massive work of the Royal Commission, and we are proposing that over most of the country the main work of local government shall be in the hands of unitary authorities whose areas will reflect the interdependence of town and country—and as I say that sentence I know that I am arousing arguments and feelings of all kinds—but we believe this is necessary and desirable, where it is possible. Certain areas have to be planned as single units but are too big for the unitary administration of the personal social services and for a number of other local government functions. Here we accept that there should be two tiers of operational authorities. The Government are showing a great deal of flexibility in this matter. We can be chided with indecisiveness; we can be chided with making our minds up too quickly, or we can be chided because we have not brought everything in front of the House. We are always, inevitably, in any area of reform of government trapped in a labyrinth in which there are all sorts of ways in which one can go and all kinds of influences that need to be brought to bear.

We are convinced of the virtues of a single tier of operational local government. I do not want to traverse the ground already covered, but I hope your Lordships will recall what the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, said when he spoke last week. I was immensely impressed by his description of how the Commission had started off with two basic presumptions. The first was: that the division between counties and county boroughs should be ended—and, as somebody who represented a county borough for many years in another place, I confess that I started off with a prejudice that every county borough man has. The second presumption was that a two-tier system of local government will have to continue in some form or other. This was the starting point of the Royal Commission, and it was also the starting point of many of the speeches of noble Lords on both sides of the House. He then went on to describe how the Commission became more and more impressed by the strong and growing links between all the main Government services and the need for a substantial population base of at least a quarter of a million people to support each of the main services. They came to apply these principles to the map of England, and they found they were able —building so far as possible on existing local government units—to recommend strong, all-purpose authorities of the right population size for all but three parts of England outside London.

I was glad that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, finished their speeches by expressing an open-minded approach to this problem. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said that while he was not happy about either the proposals of the Commission or those of the Government about local councils he felt some doubt about the right solution. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, said that the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, had nearly led him to tear up his own notes—rather an un-likely thing for another "Pied Piper", as the noble Viscount called him. I believe the noble Lord may be better aware of the philosophy behind the Commission's proposals. In particular the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, brought out first, how much the local council of a biggish, tightly-knit community will be able to do. Secondly, he showed the logic which brought his Commission round from their initial supposition that two tiers of local government were needed everywhere.

If I may, I should like to use a distinction which some noble Lords may feel a little imprecise but I think is a useful shorthand method of trying to describe the role of different authorities. The crux is whether there should be two sets of authorities everywhere to govern. For the bulk of the country the Commission favour the idea that there should be one tier to govern and another with certain powers to act and advise. It was pointed out that there would be serious loss— this was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud—in intelligibility to the public and therefore democracy, as a result of dividing up responsibility for the government, and the weakness that this revision inevitably means for local government. I agree with him on this point. I do not think that in this day and age local government can afford the amount of division which exists to-day, and which I think is implicit in those who still want to preserve much of the old system.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, pointed out that for acting and advising in the interests of strongly localised communities, local councils of the kind favoured by the Commission will be better designed than units intended to take a hand in governing. For modern government the latter would inevitably be larger and less local, and although many of us know how useful and vital a parish can be, the extension of the concept to larger communities which is this concept of the local council, is a bold one, and I believe it takes some time to adjust one's mind to it, as we found when we were discussing this in the Government. Even now the Government believe that the White Paper shows that there is much more work to be done with the help of local government in translating it into practical terms. That is what a lot of the discussion is about.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me to make one point? I do not think anyone who has spoken in the debate, and certainly no one I have heard, has suggested that the present degree of fragmentation of local government would be a good thing to continue. But there seems to be a great deal of room between the present situation and that which is proposed. Personally, I think it might be helpful if we were to think in terms of the new authorities not being unitary but main authorities. That is something I mentioned in my speech, and I should have thought that it exactly reflected the aim that many noble Lords who have spoken had in their minds.


My Lords, I take the noble Viscount's point, but I am dealing with a complicated argument which it is difficult to get clear in my own mind, let alone to expound it, and if I may I will go on with that argument. I accept what the noble Viscount has said. What I am endeavouring to say is that I believe that first reactions to the concept of local councils are inevitably critical because it appears to be an imprecise and rather unfamiliar concept except to those who are particularly familiar with the work of parish councils. I hope that noble Lords will have given this a little more consideration, bearing in mind that we are going to have discussions on this also with the local authorities, and I believe some noble Lords will subsequently come round to this idea. Before advocating, as many noble Lords have done, that local government should continue everywhere to be divided vertically, one should think twice or three times and make sure that one really has digested the thinking that led the Commissioners to propose what they have in fact proposed, in spite of their preconceptions to the contrary.

My Lords, I know that there is an argument that what must be right for one part of the United Kingdom, namely, Scotland or Wales must also be right for England. I make no apology—and I should have hoped that the Liberals would have seen the point of this—for different solutions. It is made very clear to those who consider that we ought not to say there is only one right solution; this appears in the White Paper in quotation marks, "there is no single right solution". I can only say that we have come to the view that the nature and distribution of population and employment in England lead to the sort of solution that the Redcliffe-Maud Committee put forward.

As to the metropolitan areas, my Lords, the arguments rest primarily on the need to establish strong authorities to deal comprehensively with planning and transportation, housing policies and education over the whole of the five great areas that are described in the White Paper. We have thought it right in these areas to follow the Royal Commission in recommending a second-tier metropolitan district to deal with housing, the personal social services and all the other Government functions which are set out in Appendix C to the White Paper. But I would remind your Lordships that here, too, we have thought it necessary to go to districts of a substantial size, of up-wards of a quarter of a million where-ever possible. We believe that districts of this general size will be necessary to create effective housing and social service authorities.

There are those who will chide us with seeking efficiency at the price of democracy. That is a perfectly valid point, but equally we shall have to take a decision as to where efficiency and democracy can best be served. I believe passionately that democracy will be better served if one can improve efficiency in local government, and I do not believe that there will be any dispute between us on this point.

Therefore, my Lords, I believe that our proposals are clear. They are in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I have listened most carefully to what noble Lords have said in favour of a much wider two-tier system, but I am still far from clear—and I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, with the greatest respect—about what noble Lords who want a two-tier system have in mind, either in size of area, size of population or division of functions. It is, I think, wise of them not to commit themselves too precisely. At some stage decisions have to be taken. Therefore, I hope that the closer study which we shall be able to make following this debate will convince them, as it convinced the Royal Commission, that a unitary system is indeed right where it is possible.

I could reply—and I was rather tempted to do so—in kind to some of Lord Brooke's more Party political remarks, but I think it so important that I should try to approach this in as unpartisan a mood as possible that I will not in fact do so. But I should like to urge him to consider some of the arguments and to realise that there is a very strong, and to my mind compelling, case for having authorities of a certain size, and if we are to move to a different sort of solution then I think we shall inevitably have to put the clock back for a very long while. If we go back on the Royal Commission and the White Paper and seek a two-tier solution, I am afraid that it will mean going right back to the beginning. We should have to start again on considering the areas and the boundaries of the two-tier authorities; we should have to work out the division of functions between them and we should have to embark again on the lengthy process of collection of views and consultation on the proposals. I am absolutely certain that at the end we should have no more general agreement on the proposals than we have now. If the two-tier system won support among the county councils it would be deplored by the great county boroughs. If Lancashire was preserved—and I well understand the argument of those who lament the decision with regard to Lancashire and Cheshire—would Blackpool and Preston and Burnley and Blackburn welcome the status of county districts? Wherever we turn we run into controversy.

I should like to know what is to be gained by seeking to preserve two tiers everywhere. 1 think the two main arguments that have been deployed are that we could then achieve a more evolutionary approach, building on what we have now and causing less disruption, and that there would be less remoteness and more democracy. I do not believe that a reformed two-tier system could be introduced with any less disruption and loss of continuity than the present Government reforms would lead to. It has been suggested in some quarters that the object should be to have districts with populations somewhere in the 60,000 to 100,000 range. I would ask your Lordships to consider the realities of the figures. Only 55 of the present 1,086 county districts have a population of over 60,000; only four have a population of over 100,000. There would have to be wholesale groupings and amalgamations. What about the county boroughs? Forty-nine of them have populations of over 100,000; 20 over 200,000, and nine over 300,000. Would they be incorporated as demoted districts, or would they be divided? And what about the 10 counties with populations under a quarter of a million: would they be suitable for top tier authorities?

The fact is that any worthwhile reform is going to involve very extensive redrawing of boundaries and discontinuity from existing authorities. The Royal Commission and the White Paper have shown every consideration for existing boundaries and loyalties where it is possible to do so. The most valuable thing that can be done to preserve the continuity and momentum of local government is, in my view, not to debate and re-examine the matter indefinitely but to grasp the nettle firmly and implement the reforms the Government have put forward.

The hour is getting late. I should have liked to go at some further length into the question of district committees. The new main authorities will be administering all the main services over quite large areas, and for quite large populations. They will certainly need to decentralise, and they will need to have local offices for people to go to on all the matters on which they will have to have dealings with the main authority. It is our view —and this I say in reply to those who suggest that this Government is always dictating to local authorities—that it is for the new authorities to make what arrangements they think fit in this matter, and I think it would be wrong, if it can be avoided, for central Government to wish to control the internal organisation of these new authorities, unless it is absolutely necessary.

We believe that in conjunction with administrative decentralisation it will be highly desirable to arrange for local people to be able to take a part in the administration of some services in their areas. We already have some rather limited experience (I do not think many people know of this and certainly I was not aware of it) of the kind of arrangement that already exists in some counties where district committees, composed of members of the county council and of the county districts, deal with planning control. The way in which these schemes operate may give us some useful guidance in developing the new district committee proposals. But the new district committees will be more directly integrated with the work of the main authorities and we hope that this will avoid the dangers of frustration and conflict which the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, saw in the proposals.

The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, asked what procedure we would have for consulting local authorities, and this bore mainly on the question of boundaries. I do not think I can add anything more than is suggested in the White Paper. Clearly, there will have to be extensive consultation. I hope it will not be necessary to take too long over it, and I think it would be wrong to have a forensic style of inquiry. I think the noble Earl would himself agree about this. The noble Lord, Lord Grimston, also raised the question as to whether main authorities should be required to consult local councils about proposals—and this is another form of consultation—which particularly affect their areas. We believe that this is necessary and it will be one of the ways in which local people will be able to take part in the planning and provision of services, and the right to be consulted must be real and not nominal. But equally the arrangements in this area must not be so rigid that they defeat their object.


My Lords, if I may intervene, I must say that I am really amazed to hear that the position will be left so vague as to how the boundaries are to be dealt with. I am wondering whether, when the noble Lord asks us to change our minds on various matters, we shall be given any opportunity to change our minds. Has he any intention of submitting to Parliament any of the matters which are left so vague— the question of finance, the system of determining boundaries and some matters about these local councils which the noble Lord says should be left entirely to the unitary authorities?


My Lords, the noble Viscount slightly anticipates me on matters I am coming to. I do not see why he should be angry because the Government wish to carry out consultation and listen to what noble Lords and local authorities have to say. I have made it very clear that the concept of district committees is a new and experimental one; it has been conducted in certain areas, but we want to talk to the local authorities about it. When we have done so we shall come back and report further. I wish to emphasise that whereas certain parts of the proposals which my noble friend Lord Kennet spelled out are firm, there are other areas where we intend to have extensive consultations.

I shall not, I fear, have time to deal with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. I am inclined only to say that I should hesitate to talk about the "Crowther corset"; it is rather more the "Crowther crown". The Government have deliberately decided, I think rightly, to proceed with the reform of local authorities as urgently and as quickly as possible. On the matter of remoteness and the need for local involvement, may I say that it is not true that the unitary authorities proposed by the Government are going to be larger or more distant than anything we know to-day. We have remarkably little evidence for the assertion that a second tier of districts is somehow going to bring local government miraculously closer to local people and local communities. We believe that within the local community concerned with amenities, and in the sort of work that the district committees will do, is the right area for special local involvement.

I would now turn to another important point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, and others: the question of areas and boundaries. The details of the new map of the main units will arouse the keenest interest. Indeed, it is obvious that they arouse a great deal of controversy. That is inevitable, but it is also the reason why we shall be arranging full consultations. Certain decisions have been made clear. The Government have settled that there should be five areas outside London with a two-tier structure, and that elsewhere responsibility for services will be concentrated in the hands of unitary authorities. Those are firm decisions.

The Government agree with the Commission about the size of the unitary areas and the metropolitan districts. The Government also agree that the Commission were right to draw the boundaries of the metropolitan areas widely—the hem argument that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, raised. But, subject to those conclusions, we shall be open to alternative suggestions about the pattern of unitary areas. I should like to remind your Lordships that the White Paper says explicitly that the Government do not exclude the possibility of joining certain of these areas together if, in the course of further consultation with the authorities concerned, strong arguments for doing so should emerge. Those were points that the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, and my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy made.

I would make it clear that whether the proposal is to join Northumberland and Tyneside (a most difficult area on which to take decisions) or two parts of Surrey, these are matters on which I can obviously make no—


My Lords, may I intervene? The noble Lord mentioned the Northern Counties and talked about drawing boundaries. If parts of Northumberland found that the system proposed in Scotland was much more to their liking, would they be able to join with Scotland?


My Lords, I think that is a most attractive concept; but I shall not be crossing the national boundaries at the moment. There are those who have made certain suggestions, but it would be most unwise for me to pursue them in this matter. I am dealing particularly with Lord Gage's point, because I think it was he who interrupted my noble friend Lord Kennet, and I hope that I have given him a clear answer. We see no case in which a proposed unitary area, considered on its own, could merely be divided into two. We shall also be open to suggestions concerning the pattern, and even perhaps the number, of metropolitan districts which ought to be established in each of the conurbations. I do not think I can hold out any hope that we shall be prepared to consider such drastic restrictions of the metropolitan areas as would be involved in confining them tightly to the built-up areas of the conurbations. On the other hand, certainly I should like to assure the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, my noble friend Lord Rhodes, that the division of the district of Saddleworth is a matter that can be looked at in the boundary consultation.


My Lords, I understand from what my noble friend is now saying that he would also be prepared to look at the position of the Yorkshire metropolitan area, by adding the other two areas to the five already proposed.


No, my Lords, I did not say that. I think I had better be a little cautious at this point and not make promises that I cannot fulfil. Concern was voiced about the disappearance of Lancashire and Cheshire. We acknowledge that these are councils of the highest esteem. But it is not possible to reform the present structure and yet keep it in being as it is. If we are to achieve the new pattern as a whole, I am afraid that we must accept the consequences in particular areas.

Noble Lords spoke of the disadvantages of dividing the central part of Lancashire into four separate parts. May I remind the House that there are at present four county boroughs and some forty districts in this area, all operating separately. Any Lancashire M.P. who has not been confined purely to a county borough will know the wide range, both in size and nature, of the different districts, and it is rather difficult against that background to talk about fragmentation of Lancashire.

May I deal with one very sensitive subject which raises the question of local government loyalties? The White Paper is concerned with administrative arrangements for local government. It is true that the present county councils will disappear; but county councils as we know them are comparatively modern creations. At quieter moments during the debate I have been looking again at the Local Government Act 1888. There must be people alive to-day who were born before the first county councils were ever elected. The ancient division of the country into separate counties goes back many centuries before county councils were thought of; and, indeed, counties have a legal existence to-day for purposes other than local government. It may be that the local government changes will affect these other functions which are based on countries. That is why the White Paper says that we shall need to look at the Lieutenancies, and at the matter of the High Sheriffs and the administration of justice.

But quite apart from any changes we may make for local government purposes or in these other fields, counties are geographical parts of England which exist in their own right. They do not depend on the Government, whatever its complexion. Durham and Northumber-land, Kent—and indeed, Lancashire and Cheshire and Westmorland—are parts of England which will claim their loyalties whatever we do about the areas for the administration of local government services. People who to-day regard themselves as native sons of Devon, or Hereford, or Norfolk, do not need the Government's permission to continue doing so, and I cannot see them changing in this respect just because we alter the machinery of local government.

I had intended to say a word on the subject of aldermen, and on members, and their expenses and allowances. But I think I will pass on to the subject of taxation, because this concerns matters of financial control and is crucial. The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, took a very good point when he suspected that the financial stringency of the last ten years was responsible for a good many of the controls that we have had to operate over that period. When local government expenditure amounts to 15 per cent. of the gross national product, central Gov- ernment cannot abandon all control of this enormous block of expenditure, which must have a very significant effect on the economy as a while. And when, as in recent years, there has been particular need to control the public expenditure share of the national product, and to ration the fiercely competitive claims of the many services for which local government is responsible, there has been the more need to maintain controls over local authority expenditure.

We believe, however, that there is a good deal of room for more freedom for local decision on how the total resources available to local government should be used, and on the relative priorities to be given to various functions. In particular, the Government intend to relax the irksome details of the present system of control over local authority borrowing, even in advance of local government re-organisation. We intend to replace detailed control over borrowing for individual projects with control over the total capital programme for the more important sectors of the major services. We shall have a Green Paper—and, let me stress, my Lords, that it will be a Green Paper, and will be open to debate and discussion. I want to emphasise that we are trying to approach this whole problem in an atmosphere of debate and discussion.

It is not only financial controls that cause problems: some of the non-financial controls are in some ways even more irritating. There is on the Statute Book a whole mass of minor, and sometimes obsolete, controls over local authorities which will be entirely inappropriate in the new local government system, and we have asked for the assistance of the local authority associations in examining those, with a view to giving the new authorities considerably more freedom of manœuvre. We also intend to discuss with the associations the scope for a revised and extended general power for authorities to spend money for the benefit of the areas. We believe that the best answer to this is to be found in the creation of strong local authorities, with the necessary powers and areas to enable them to cope with the big tasks that need tackling. The freedom which we believe should come in important areas to local government will come much more easily when there are fewer, bigger and stronger local authorities.

My noble friend Lord Fiske, gave examples of how Governments have matters pushed up to them because there are defects in the system of local government. It is very much in the interests both of national and local government that there should be a reduction in this amount of control. I am concerned, as is the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, to keep the numbers of public servants, whether in local authorities or in the Civil Service (which is a particular responsibility of mine), as low and as efficiently employed as possible. This is an important contribution towards this end. My Lords, we have delayed a long time, and we have now had a Royal Commission who have made the most thorough and comprehensive study of local government in this country that we have ever had. We have had consultations and debates, and we shall go on having further consultations and debates; but we shall not delay. The Government, having reached their conclusions on the main structure, believe that we must carry them through as quickly as possible.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past seven o'clock.