§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)
We are able to congratulate ourselves for a short time in that this is a Motion on which there is likely to be no contention between the political parties in the House. The parties concerned in the Bill are the Ealing Borough Council, which has a Conservative majority, and the Middlesex County Council, which also has a Conservative majority; and, I would add, that is likely still to be the case after the local government elections in April. The case for this Conservative county council, in its opposition to the Bill, will be argued, I understand, by two hon. Members from the benches opposite, which gives an all-party flavour to the debate.
It would, perhaps, be for the convenience of the House if I started by saying that, unlike the case which so often occurs in Private Bills, there is here no question of any extension of boundaries being sought by the Ealing Borough Council. This is simply a Bill to achieve county borough status for a non-county borough.
I make no secret of this fact: very serious questions of principle are involved concerning the local government of Greater London, and I shall refer to this in some detail later in my speech. I want to start, however, by dealing with the case for making Ealing a county borough, leaving on one side for a moment the question of the results which might flow from that in Middlesex and in Greater London.
The county council involved—Middlesex—governs the largest county in the country outside London. Ealing, the borough which is promoting the Bill, is the largest non-county borough in Great Britain. We have here, therefore, a case in which the largest non-county borough and, outside London, the largest county council are together involved. The borough of Ealing was incorporated in 1901, so that it had the happy chance of celebrating its golden jubilee last year in the year of the Festival of Britain.
478 At the 1951 census, Middlesex had a population of 2,268,776, and the population of Ealing was 187,306. The Bill would remove from Middlesex 8.3 per cent. of its population and 8.4 per cent. of its rateable value—surprisingly level figures. Middlesex, without Ealing, would still be the largest county outside London. It would still retain nearly 140,000 acres, more than two million population and a rateable value of over £20 million. Finally, in what I am afraid are rather dull preliminary statistics, I should perhaps say that Ealing is at present larger than no fewer than 66 of the existing 83 county boroughs in the country and has a higher rateable value than 69 of them.
Why does Ealing seek county borough status? In Ealing we believe that Middlesex County Council has too large a population to enable certain matters to be properly administered, and we believe that Ealing is too large a borough to come under the authority of a county council. We believe that a population of 2,250,000 is too large to be governed as one unit, even with a delegation of powers in matters of education, health and welfare. We believe that a county councillor who has no fewer than 26,000 constituents with whom he should keep in touch cannot possibly remain in close touch with them and still take part in administering these complicated matters.
This ceases to be local government and becomes something very closely approaching central government. I understand that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) is closely concerned in the opposition to this Bill, and I am very happy to call him to my aid in this matter because, with that very clear judgment and authority which we always expect from him in local government matters, he used some words in the debate of 26th April, 1950, on the Ilford Corporation Bill, which seem to me to put our case better than I could possibly hope to put it. He said:We cannot go on claiming the need for extended social services unless we create the instrument by which they can be administered. What is happening? We are in an anomalous position. We are pressing for expansion of the social services, and saying that the minor local authorities cannot do the job As a consequence, we give the work to a larger authority which has to delegate part of its work to the minor authority, and we get such hybrid things as divisional executives and such completely anachronistic things as area health committees, where county councils plus representatives of a local authority form a 479 committee to do work which could quite easily be done by an independent local committee.Nothing can be more sensible than that, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure that the House would agree with it. The hon. Member for Tottenham went on:What is fearsome about this is that our failure to face up to this situation means that central Government steps in and does work for which it was never intended, and we are watching a passing from local government to central Government of powers which the central Government is not the best type of instrument to use. I mention this because I hope the House will not accept the idea that we cannot face this problem. It has to be faced, and unless we do, local government is doomed to disappear."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1074.]That seems to me to sum up the case of Ealing Corporation on this Bill better than I could possibly do it. Ealing believes that if a service can be run locally, it should be run locally by people on the spot who are in close touch with those whom they represent. There are 60 local men and women on the Ealing Borough Council. They ask, very naturally, why they should have to apply each year to the county council, for example, for a licence before they can promote or permit an entertainment in any of their 1,000 acres of parks and recreation grounds.
They ask, why, when the borough council already maintains 22 miles of existing trunk and county roads in the borough, not to mention 130 miles of district roads, they should not control and maintain the remaining 16 miles of trunk and county roads.
With 65 primary and secondary schools under their management, they want to know why the Ealing Corporation should not run the education service in their own right in the borough, instead of by delegation from the county council. Middlesex is a good education authority. There is no question about that whatsoever. Ealing, as a former Part III authority, now an excepted district, has very wide powers of delegation given to it, but the county council supervision still extends beyond financial control and beyond questions of major policy into matters of day-to-day administration which, as I shall show with examples, involves very serious delays on matters of quite minor importance.
480 The people of Ealing ask, quite naturally, why their local representatives cannot run the local health service in a proper alliance with the sanitary services which are already under the control of the borough council. The medical officer of health for Ealing, unlike his counterparts in other Middlesex boroughs, has remained since 1948 a borough council officer, giving about 60 per cent. of his time to the county council. He has eight full-time and six part-time doctors and 210 other staff under him.
At present there is an area health committee which covers Ealing and Acton, and Ealing has on it seven representatives out of a total of 24 on the committee. Even this committee's recommendations are nearly all subject to the over-riding jurisdiction of the county health committee and one of its sub-committees, on neither of which the area medical officer of health sits. Nor is he permitted to attend it.
In fact, the Ealing medical officer receives his copies of the minutes of the meetings of these committees more than two months after they are held, and that seems to us to be an example of the sort of difficulties which are put in the way of an efficient local administration. Inevitably, in this sort of system one gets examples of wasteful duplication of time and effort on the part of officials and committees dealing with the same problem in probably exactly the same way.
I would emphasise to the House that this is not an example of local people with big ideas who are thirsting for power and are trying simply to up-grade a small authority into something larger. I want to give the House a couple of examples which will indicate that the present situation actually results in hardship to ordinary men and women whom the social services are designed to serve.
I hope the House will bear with me if I mention these two examples. I shall try not to take too long about them, but it is essential to get the discussion away from purely academic administrative questions and the theory of local government reform and to show how these things affect the ordinary men and women in the borough and in the county.
481 In October and November, 1949, Ealing borough took up the question of leave of absence for four married women teachers who were expecting babies. It seemed a fairly simple question, but correspondence about the position under the county council's regulations, which were by no means clear, went on nearly six months after the babies were born.
That was bad enough, but there is far more to come. After this, Ealing submitted a firm recommendation to the county council suggesting what sick pay should be granted to these teachers. Eighteen months after that recommendation had been made no decision had been handed down from the county council and the county educational officer had not submitted the matter to the education committee. I do not suggest that this is an example of gross bureaucratic dictatorship by an official. It is not. We have the highest respect for the county education officer, and he was simply trying to keep matters of detail away from a grossly overworked education committee which is trying to cope with a job too large for it.
However, after a strong protest from the borough education officer, the county education officer wrote on 20th February, 1952—this had started in November, 1949—to say that the county council had granted sick pay to the teachers on precisely the basis for which Ealing had asked 18 months earlier. It was actually 19½ months after Ealing made the recommendation that it got precisely the decision for which it had asked in the first place. Meanwhile, the teachers had suffered.
There is an even more glaring example of what can happen. In the spring of 1950 there was some trouble in the staff kitchen of one of the schools in Ealing. After very careful investigation by the borough school meals organiser, the Ealing education committee transferred the cook-supervisor in that school to another school. Some time later there was exactly the same trouble all over again. A sub-committee of the council heard representations from the staff at the school and from the supervisor herself, who was represented at the hearing by a trade union official, and, after a long meeting, decided that the supervisor ought to be dismissed.
482 The supervisor appealed to the county council staff appeals committee, who ordered that she should be reinstated. The county council could not find her a job outside Ealing and she had to be placed again in her own school. Within a fortnight the staff was seething with trouble again, and it was clear that the children's meals were actually suffering as a result of this. It was again decided to dismiss the supervisor. She again appealed to the county council staff appeals committee and was finally reinstated a second time.
The borough council may have made two mistakes, but they do not think they did. They ask what sort of a system it is that prevents an authority of this size, which has a school meals staff of 436, from dismissing an employee earning £280 a year without taking up hours of the time of officials and councillors of two authorities and then being overridden at the end of it. There are numbers of other cases which I could quote, but I shall not weary the House with them.
I submit that the case for granting county borough status to Ealing can be made on the grounds that it is a viable authority in size and an efficient authority, and that the existing duplication of powers results in inefficiency and in suffering to the inhabitants of Ealing.
For the last part of my speech I must turn to the case against the Bill, which I want to consider quite honestly and frankly and try to see how we can beat the objections. There are, first, the detailed objections which the county council have put forward in their statement against the Bill. The county council claim that the removal of Ealing from Middlesex would inflict:… very grave injury on the remainder thereof and would seriously disorganise the administration of the important services for which the county council are responsible.Our view is that that contention is not true. It would make the services in Ealing better and it would relieve the burden on the staff and committees of the county council and enable them to administer better the services over the remainder of the county.
It is also contended by Middlesex County Council that to constitute Ealing a county borough would increase the burden on the ratepayers in the remainder of the county. I have already 483 said that the removal of Ealing from the Middlesex County Council would remove 8.4 per cent. of rateable value and 8.3 per cent. of population.
Neither I nor anyone else in Ealing proposes to try to contend that it would not mean some extra burden on the ratepayers in the remainder of Middlesex, because it is obvious that the overheads of administration in Middlesex would be spread over a smaller population and a smaller rateable value, but we contend that the extra burden would be very small.
There are one or two other detailed points which the county council makes. They have sought to make capital of the fact that certain services are specifically excluded from the terms of the Bill which Ealing Corporation are promoting. They say that Ealing Borough Council recognise that there are some very important functions which should be discharged by the council of a county borough, but which they are quite unable to discharge. That is grossly misleading and, with respect to the Middlesex County Council, a somewhat tendentious way of putting it in view of the instances which they then proceed to cite: namely, the duties of a fire authority.
Of course, Ealing has in the past run its own fire service, and has run it very well; and it is perfectly capable of doing so in the future. It was, however, felt that the county fire organisation ought to be maintained in the interest of efficiency and service to the remainder of the county. It would, obviously, be ridiculous to upset the operation of the present West Middlesex sewerage authority, which, we are proud to say, is one of the best, if not the best, in the country.
§ Mr. Maude
—but I did not want to appear to be claiming too much for Middlesex.
There is now the question of the famous proviso which was inserted in the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act, 1945. I ought to refer to this, 484 since the county council in their statement have made something of a point of it. It is perfectly true that there was in the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act, 1945, which has since been repealed, a proviso which said that no part of Middlesex should be constituted a county borough. But I must point out that this question was raised on the Committee stage of the Bill, as it then was, by an Amendment which was moved by the then hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side, seeking to remove this proviso from the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Hamilton Kerr), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, pointed out in his reply to the debate on the Amendment on 5th June, 1945, that there were many urgent problems which the Local Government Boundary Commission had in any case to deal with, and that it was felt that the problems of Middlesex Boroughs should be left until later. He therefore resisted the Amendment to delete that proviso. In replying for the Government, however, he never attempted to suggest that the proviso was inserted in order that the position of Middlesex boroughs should be frozen indefinitely.
It is quite wrong to suggest that that proviso excluding Middlesex from the terms of reference of the Local Government Boundary Commission represented the view of that or any other Government that no local government reform should ever take place in Middlesex which would involve the creation of a new county borough. It was clearly pointed out by my hon. Friend, on behalf of the Government, that it was simply a question of not overloading the Boundary Commission, with the great amount of work that they had in any case to do.
Finally, I must deal with the main point of substance which the supporters of the Middlesex County Council make in their opposition to the Bill. This is a question of principle: the question of the reform of the local government of Greater London, of which Middlesex forms a part. It is asked: Ought Ealing to be taken separately in this respect? If county borough status is given to Ealing, even though it is the largest non-county borough in the country, shall we not open the floodgates to a number of other non-county 485 boroughs and urban districts? I see, for example, one of the Members for Harrow—my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey)—sitting here, and Harrow, as the House knows, with a population of over 200,000, is still an urban district. There are innumerable anomalies in the organisation of local government boundaries and functions in Middlesex.
But ought we, then, to open the way to a process which might convert Middlesex into a complete series of county boroughs? It is asked: Are we, then, prepared to face what would amount to the complete abolition of the Middlesex County Council? That is a question, clearly, which we must face.
In fact, the Middlesex County Council would not disappear entirely. It would remain, at the least—I mean no insult to the members of the Middlesex County Council—a joint sewerage authority and there are, no doubt, other powers which could profitably be preserved. If the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) asks me, for example, as he is entitled to do, whether I should be prepared to try to persuade the House to pass the Bill even though it would mean the dismemberment of Middlesex as an administrative county, I am entitled to ask him another question in exchange: Is he, with a knowledge of local government in Middlesex which is very great and very long, prepared to say that no measure of local government reform should ever take place in Middlesex, or that the present boroughs of Middlesex with populations of between 150,000 and 200,000 should remain in their present condition and should never be upgraded to the status of most-purpose authorities?
I think that the hon. Member would refuse to take that extreme line, and would say, "No doubt, Ealing should be given greater powers, but this must be done as a comprehensive operation taking in the whole of the County of Middlesex." It is this point with which the House in the last resort would have to deal, and on which it will have to take a decision this evening.
I am extremely glad to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the Treasury Bench tonight, because I want to assure him that the Ealing Corporation has not deliberately gone out of its way to 486 embarrass him by suddenly precipitating the whole question of local government reform at a time when he has many other weighty problems on his mind.
We think that we are giving the House of Commons a chance to take a positive and constructive step towards solving a problem which has been embarrassing the country for many years. We say that the position has been getting steadily worse. No new county borough has been constituted since 1926. The position in Greater London has been getting worse for a long time, and will continue to get worse.
Over and over again, when the Ilford and Luton Bills came forward, for example, in the last Parliament, and when any question of local government reform arises, we are always told, "It is very difficult; it is an immense problem. We had better postpone it until we have a little more time to deal with it." Even when the Local Government Boundary Commission was set up in 1945, only to be abolished a few years later, we were told that it must not deal with the question of local government reform in Greater London; that that must be excluded and must be postponed even further than the reform of local government elsewhere.
We in Greater London are beginning to feel that we shall never have the question of local government reform in Middlesex tackled at all, because it is a difficult matter. It is an immense problem, and the tendency with busy administrators is always to say, "If we can stave it off a little longer, let us do that." We in Ealing think that the House of Commons now has an opportunity to present to the Government and to the people who are interested in local government reform something which they have never had the opportunity of having before. That is a complete examination which will go on the record in the form of evidence, examination of witnesses and putting of the case by the county council and by its largest non-county borough in Committee upstairs, which will then be on the record as a basis for a future Local Government Boundary Commission to work on.
I think we can go one step beyond that and provide something even more useful. Middlesex County Council has now said—I do not wish to be ungracious, but I think they have been a little late in saying this and are only saying it now under the 487 pressure of the depositing of the Ealing Corporation Bill—that they are prepared to discuss with the junior authorities greater powers of delegation.
On the other side, Ealing Corporation says—and has specifically stated—that it would be willing to consider certain concessions in the details of the Bill which would go even further towards making it a most-purposes rather than an all-purposes authority and which would make it almost exactly correspondent to that new county borough which the Local Government Boundary Commission recommended for populations of approximately the size of Ealing.
We think that as a result of this willingness to make concessions on the part of Middlesex in the matter of delegation and of the willingness of Ealing to make concessions in the powers they are obtaining under this Bill, the Committee might be able to hammer out the prototype of the new local government authority for the County of Middlesex. That would be a terriffic achievement. It would be something we have never got within miles of having before and something which, if this Bill is rejected on Second Reading tonight, we might never get or at least not get for so many years that the problems will have got almost out of control.
The House of Commons has it in its power tonight to do this and make this very great and constructive contribution to a most difficult problem which is not within measurable sight of solution. It can do that simply by giving this Bill a Second Reading and sending it upstairs to a Committee, I most earnestly and warmly urge the House to take that course and give this Bill a Second Reading tonight.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:This House refuses to give a Second Reading to a Private Bill which will have such far-reaching effects on local government in Middlesex and considers that it is undesirable for a matter of such major importance to be dealt with by Private Bill legislation.May I first congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) upon the able and persuasive way in which he 488 has presented a case. He must have felt he was skating on rather thin ice on occasions, particularly when he was dealing with what he called in advance some of the objections, which are so manifest, to giving a Second Reading to this Bill.
The Amendment sets out the burden of the case against giving a Second Reading to this Bill. I want first to warn the House that I believe that there are some hon. Members opposite, and there may be some on this side, who suggest, "We will give the Bill a Second Reading tonight and kill it in Committee." That is not a very good method of dealing with the matter.
If it is the intention to kill the Bill, it should be killed now. There should be no argument; if it is good enough to have a Second Reading on the factual evidence alone, it is entitled to get the support of the Committee upstairs. I want to be quite frank about that, because no one would want to say that Ealing is not a well-governed borough. No one would want to say that Ealing has not the resources to carry out the functions it is claiming in this Bill.
It has set out a very good case as to the resources which would be available and Ealing says, equally purely from the point of view of the resources, that this would not make the county less viable as a county—not of itself. That is acceptable, and we are on common ground there.
But the danger is, I am advised, that if this Bill gets a Second Reading the Committee upstairs will not be able to go into the details of the effect of this on other boroughs of Middlesex which are equally entitled to claim county borough status. It would be kept to the very narrow limits of application to Ealing without being able to introduce in the Committee what would be extraneous matters, such as the effect on a large number of boroughs and urban districts in Middlesex which would be entitled to take advantage of the precedent which would be set if the House gave a Second Reading to this Bill. For that reason, I am extremely anxious that the Bill should not go upstairs but should be dealt with here in order that the issue as to the relationship of Ealing to the County of Middlesex and the relationship of Ealing to other districts can be clearly settled.
489 The first paragraph of the statement on the Bill says:It is promoted in the interests of the efficient administration of local government in Ealing [and] does not affect the boundaries of any other county district.It does not affect the boundaries of any other county district, but it is significant that Ealing happens to border on 10 of them, and I can hardly see, with the types of services running all round them as part of the county services, that there will not be some difficulties in the relationship of these boundaries which may well have accounted for the fact that, quite magnanimously, Ealing is prepared to leave the county with the fire service. Otherwise, there would be some difficulties on the question of mutual support but they feel it highly desirable not to embark on that.
I accept that they could run the service quite well, but perhaps I might mention that the practice in Middlesex, as is well known, is that the ambulance service is run under fire service control. It is a health service, but the health department have delegated this service to the fire brigade committee and the communication system of the fire service is used for the purpose of controlling the ambulance service and calling ambulances and so on. It is also a fact that the ambulance service is under the control of the chief fire officer.
This matter has not been touched on, but it is of such importance that I can hardly imagine that Ealing had not thought of it, and I am wondering why they have not referred to it because it is undoubtedly an important point when the question of administration crops up whether Ealing wants to run its ambulance service through the communication system of the fire service or to contract out altogether from the fire service or to have the county committee running the ambulance service. That is one point where questions of administration assume some importance.
I do not wish to detract from the importance of the Borough of Ealing. It claims to be the oldest borough, and I will concede that. I also concede that it has had very lusty growth. It has been a very strong and promising infant, but it did not achieve its population for the purposes of county borough status in accordance with the existing Statutes 490 until 1925–26, whereas such districts as Willesden achieved a population of 75,000 as far back as between 1891 to 1896. Tottenham achieved that population at that time, and also Hornsey between 1901 and 1904. It will be seen that in some respects they are comparatively new, and what will happen in Hornsey, a very distinguished borough, in the event of this taking place will be that they will say, "We have been established all these years and this relative youngster of Ealing gets county borough status. Obviously, we have to do something about it."
Apart from that, there are other questions, and the wider intention of Parliament in relation to this. What was the intention of all parties in the House in their acceptance of the Education Act of 1944, which specifically transferred functions from Ealing, among other places, to a single local education authority, which it said should be the county? It did this for specific reasons, because of the wider obligations and implications of education. When these small districts were education authorities, Ealing was responsible for its primary education. It has never been responsible for its secondary or higher education. In fact, I believe it is the purpose that the technical college situated within the boundaries of Ealing shall remain a county service and that Ealing will pay for the places they want in that particular college.
§ Mr. Maude
This matter of the technical college does need qualifying. There is no question of Ealing wanting to leave to Middlesex a technical college which it could not operate. In fact, of course, Ealing is claiming to be the technical education authority, and it could have asked in this Bill to take over the new technical college. But since arrangements have been made with the county that, for mutual convenience, it should be built and used by the whole county or by a large part as a catchment area, it was a condition on the part of Ealing that instead of keeping this for themselves they should seek to leave it to the county.
§ Mr. Pargiter
The hon. Member has made my case for me regarding that particular service. It is because technical colleges and further education generally must cover a wider area. In order to give variety of training in a technical college it must have a very wide catchment area. In other words, one county district autho- 491 rity cannot run a technical college, because technical colleges must have a particular bias for particular services. If a technical college service is to be run efficiently, it must have the widest possible catchment area. In a technical college one has to specialise—not in technical schools, but in technical colleges. In Middlesex we have specialised, and we have planned our technical college with that specialisation in view. There are many scholars from Ealing who are going to other technical colleges in other parts of the county to receive the particular type of education they are seeking. That is the important part about it.
It goes even wider. There are standard arrangements between the Home Counties, because even Middlesex does not cover in certain parts so wide a field as it might. So we have reciprocal arrangements with Surrey and London, and on the other county borders, and so on. We take people from them, and in certain cases we send students to other colleges. That is a very good arrangement, but does it help that arrangement if we stick a lot more cogs in the wheel? Technical colleges, above all things, lend themselves to a very highly specialised type of administration. It is not so much a question of the ownership of these services as the function by which the services are given. So on those grounds I would say that the hon. Member for Ealing, South has helped to make my case.
It is highly desirable that we should run it because of the wideness of the catchment area it must serve. That seems to be one reason alone for the rejection of this Bill. But it comes back to the whole question of the width of operation of service. It must operate a wider service. What is true of technical colleges is becoming increasingly true of all forms of higher education. The number of children who come from Ealing to other schools in other areas in the county of Middlesex, quite apart from technical education, is very consideragle indeed.
Let us look at the health service. It is stated thatEaling had well-developed health services prior to 5th July, 1948. Since that date the Medical Officer of Health has given part-time service to the County Council, as also have certain other officers in the Health Department.492 To say the least of it, that is an understatement. The fact is they became county officers. They did part-time service, and lesser part-time service to the health service in the Borough of Ealing, so that the position is precisely the reverse of that stated in the statement in support of the Bill. In fact, they are county officers and would have to be taken out of the county service, if they consented to go, and would go into the service of the Borough of Ealing. There again we have to consider the difference between the statement here and the facts. I am not saying it was done intentionally, but the fact is they are not officers within the control of the Borough of Ealing at the present time.
§ Mr. Pargiter
No. The Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Booth, is in fact an officer of the county council.
§ Mr. Maude
The hon. Member must excuse me, but that is not so. It is so in the case of most boroughs, but in the case of Ealing there was a special arrangement by which Dr. Booth remained in the service of Ealing Borough, and gave 60 per cent. of his time to the county as a part-time servant of the county. It is an exception.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Quite frankly, I recollect the negotiations and my recollection is that the greater period of time was given to the borough, and he in fact became a county officer. We actually approved his appointment for that particular service. However, I will concede that. But certainly the other officers are county officers and I gather that the hon. Member will not wish to pursue that. We can accept it that the vast majority of the officers are county officers. I will examine the position with regard to Dr. Booth and see what we can do about it.
Again we have the intention of the Health Act to transfer certain services to larger authorities, and I believe the arrangement works quite well. The service has in fact been very largely decentralised. We have not kept a tight hand on this. I had something to do with the arrangements for the de-centralisation of that service. After it was transferred to the County Council we were not able to transfer back to Ealing, because it 493 was not permitted by law. But we divided Middlesex up into 10 convenient areas. We added Acton to Ealing for the purpose of forming an area, and I believe it functions quite well. We have heard no complaints about it. So they have adequate powers to deal with services with which they want to deal in their own localities. I would not say that the thing is perfect, but I would say it is working very well.
If Ealing gets this Bill, what do we do with Acton? We should have to do something with Acton and we should have to begin to re-cast the Health Service arrangements. When we consider an administrative machine of this kind the whole question is much wider than saying that Ealing would function on its own. Before we make a change it is highly important to look at the whole ramifications with which we shall be concerned in making that change. It seems to me therefore on those grounds that that is another point in support of my case that Ealing should not get their Bill at this stage.
I appreciate the magnanimity of Ealing in not proposing to take over that section of the Metropolitan Police. I should like to see them try.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I wonder if they really thought they could get police powers, even if they tried? We have none as far as the standing joint committee of Middlesex is concerned, and we are never likely to get any either, so I do not think that Ealing's chance would be very great.
I want to deal with one or two other factors. The first is that this, obviously, cannot be presented as the unanimous desire of the people of Ealing. It cannot even be represented as the unanimous desire of Ealing Borough Council because out of 60 members—and this I will put to hon. Members who might be inclined to vote for this Bill in the belief that there was enough demand for it in Ealing—only 34 actually voted in favour of the proposal. That, surely, is a very narrow margin in a very large borough.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
To be fair to the Ealing Corporation, I think the hon. Gentleman should say how the remaining 26 voted. He 494 has created the impression that out of the 60, 34 voted in favour and 26 against. In point of fact, as he knows, it was nothing like that.
§ Mr. Pargiter
There are 34 positive people who want this. There are some who did not vote and some who voted against it. But, quite apart from that, the case which has been presented is that of an insistent demand from Ealing for these powers. One cannot have it both ways; one can only take note of those who positively want it. Supposing we say, as we should in a proper democracy, that the members of the council are a reflection of those they represent—probably those they represent would in many instances deny that—the proportion becomes 34 people who want it as against 26 who either do not want it or do not care whether they have it or not.
Is that the basis upon which a claim of this kind can really be established? I agree, of course, that there is a good case for examination and alteration of local government. I am not denying that, but we cannot get away from the fact that when the Boundary Commission was set up it was unanimously agreed in this House that Middlesex was excluded from its provisions regarding the creation of county boroughs within that county. That was done explicitly because it was recognised that Middlesex was in a peculiar position compared with the rest of the country. Whoever tackles this question will have to tackle Middlesex in a special way.
Let us have a look at the effect. I repeat what I said that if this Bill goes upstairs the Committee will be pledged to consider, not the wide effects which the giving of these powers will have on the rest of the County of Middlesex, but whether or not Ealing shall have these powers. Ealing, of course, would make out a very good case as to why they should carry out the function with which they are charged.
I believe that in Middlesex there are nine boroughs with a population of more than 75,000 each. There are two urban districts with populations of more than 75,000. In fact, there is one urban district with a very much larger population than the vaunted population of the Borough of Ealing which is seeking borough powers. This thing has not been going on in a vacuum and fought out by Ealing 495 alone. There has been a good deal of consultation between certain boroughs in Middlesex—not public, but private consultation—and Ealing is the spearhead of a movement in which at least six out of the others are interested. If this Bill goes through, the others are already queueing up ready to put forward their own claims.
What would be the position of this House if we agreed to this? Could we then disagree with the others? The county council have provided a statement and a map which shows at one end the authorities with a population of below 75,000 and one or two other odd bits here and there which are also put below the 75,000. The vast mass of the county is concentrated within 11 areas, each of which could and undoubtedly will put forward a similar claim. They are only waiting to see the result of this Bill before lodging their own.
I say quite deliberately that this is not an isolated movement on the part of Ealing, but a concerted movement in which other authorities are interested. If this Bill goes through—it has been presented very persuasively in the hope that it will—it would be the end of Middlesex as a viable county. There is no question about that because the other authorities are only waiting their opportunity to come forward with similar Bills.
I am not arguing at this stage whether Middlesex as a county should remain. Many reasons might be adduced why it should not. I am only concerned that it should not be extinguished by these particular means. If it is going to be extinguished, let it be done properly. Let us even take it out of the arena of local government reform and deal with it as an urgent and pressing problem on its own. I warn hon. Members that when they tackle this matter they will find a lot of other problems.
I ask the Minister of Housing and Local Government how he would like to have 10 or 12 county boroughs added to those authorities with whom he will be negotiating on the outskirts of London, and whether he will examine the effect on the services that feed their way through Middlesex to London, and so on. On all counts, therefore, I submit that this Bill should be rejected at this stage. I do not say that because I have no regard for Ealing. After all, I represent a part 496 of it, which I am very happy to do. I regard Ealing as being very highly placed among the public authorities of this country both as regards its ability and its efficiency. But, having given it that, there is no reason to give it more at this particular stage, and, therefore, I ask the House to reject this Bill.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
I intervene in this discussion as a member of a local authority larger than Middlesex, which gives me considerable sympathy with what the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) has said, and as the representative of a constituency which has an urban district council area larger than Ealing, which gives me some additional sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) put forward in a most eloquent and measured way.
I feel that the whole of this subject is bound up with our consideration of local government reform and I most earnestly hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government will be able to tell us when he will be prepared to tackle this urgent problem. For that reason I think we should be exceedingly careful when considering any radical reform of local government, particularly in the London area, because London is one of those areas which at present is complicated by the vast ramifications of London County Council which impinge on the Home Counties. In my opinion the ramifications of county councils are far too great and I think it will be agreed that county councils, Middlesex among them, are endeavouring to carry out more than they are equipped to do.
I am quite convinced that unilateral action with regard to one single borough council in a county council area, such as it is intended in this Bill, is not a practical proposition. I do not hesitate to say, though I do not speak with the authority of the Harrow Urban District Council—which we all hope very much will be a borough itself before long—that if this request by Ealing were successful we, as a numerically superior organisation, would have equal claims to have our case considered if we so wished.
497 The hon. Member for Southall dealt with an aspect of this matter which I think is most important. It is the question whether or not we should allow this matter to go any further having regard to the fact that the practical application of this Bill is not desirable at the present time. To me that is the most important consideration. I listened very carefully to the hon. Member when he was discussing that aspect of the Bill. He said that if it went upstairs it would be only open to the Committee to discuss the whole proposition as it applied to Ealing alone.
I put it to the House that that in itself is not a bad thing. We have already had references to the Luton Bill and the Ilford Bill, and I think the hon. Member put his finger on the pulse of the matter when he said that other Bills were likely to come forward. Therefore, the House is faced with either having similar Bills coming forward to receive similar treatment or letting this Bill go forward for consideration in Committee in order that some of the very intricate and very valuable points put forward by the hon. Member for Southall might be considered in greater detail.
That is the main question and I was not altogether convinced by the argument of the hon. Member for Southall that because Ealing Corporation were not unanimous in putting this forward, it should not come forward at all. After all, there are Acts of Parliament which have gone forward from this House without unanimity and yet have proved none the less valid.
§ Mr. Pargiter
While I would not wish to imply that there must be unanimity I said that there should be at least a large measure of agreement.
§ Mr. Harvey
That is perfectly reasonable and I think there was a large measure of agreement among the members of the Council. There is sufficient measure of support for this Bill for it to receive the consideration of the House despite the argument the hon. Member put forward on that issue.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
The hon. Member seemed to start off his speech by arguing against the principle 498 of piecemeal variation of local authority boundaries and powers. Now he seems to have entirely switched over and is supporting the Bill. Would he say exactly where he stands?
§ Mr. Harvey
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for underlining the quandary I am in which, in fact, makes it difficult to reach a decision. I agree that it is not a practical proposition to take this piecemeal action with regard to Ealing, but I see no reason why this House, with its powers, should not consider this proposition in greater detail in order to deal with the points the hon. Member for Southall made and to ex-mine it in Committee where more time is available and every possible source of information can be consulted. Otherwise, we shall continue to have this stalemate of Bills coming up and being sent back without further reconsideration of the facts.
If we were all agreed that there was need for local government reform, this action should be taken at once and no Bill rejected, but I believe that all of us—and most of us here are concerned with local government—think there is need to investigate the present system of local government. We have to decide how far centralisation brings the benefits claimed by the hon. Member for Southall and how far decentralisation brings the actual machinery of government closer to local interests, which was well outlined by the hon. Member for Ealing, South.
Therefore, in reply to the question put by the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) and in summary of the point I make, I think this is not an immediately practical proposition and that there are aspects of the Bill which require further investigation. I do not think this is a Measure that should be summarily turned down. It is a Measure that would benefit from going upstairs to a Committee. Until my right hon. Friend is prepared to bring forward a major scheme of local government reform, which many of us think is long overdue and is now urgent, I would not be prepared to see the Bill go further than the Committee stage. But we owe it to ourselves and those concerned in local government to let it go forward for examination in greater detail.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. George Benson (Chesterfield)
The detailed exchanges between my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) and the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) show quite clearly that this House is not the place where a final decision should be taken on a complex problem like this. If this Bill is given a Second Reading, it will go upstairs to a Committee and the Committee will be able to deal in far more detail than we can with its pros and cons. It will be for that Committee, which is an organ of this House, appointed by this House, to decide whether the Bill should go through or not.
I am not particularly concerned with Ealing. What I am concerned with is the very general problem of local government reform that this House will have to face sooner or later. This has been a pressing problem for very many years. Local government reform is something that ought to take place with a reasonable degree of regularity if the change in social, political and economic organisation of this country progresses at anything like the rate it has done over the last 30 or 40 years.
Local government reform was due to be dealt with before the war; but since the war very drastic changes have taken place, not as a result of the normal development of local authorities but of legislative action in this House and a very important part of our local authorities—the non-county boroughs—have found themselves steadily stripped of a large number of functions that they had performed with very great efficiency. They have lost gas and electricity to the public corporations; and to the county they have lost either the actual administration or, at any rate, the final authority in fire, planning, local health, education and the police.
Those changes may have been good or they may have been bad. It depends very largely on the non-county borough that lost those services and the county that acquired them. In the case of a tiny non-county borough, there may well have been a very considerable increase in efficiency; but that does not always apply. I can think of some tiny non-county boroughs in some counties where even the transfer from the small non-county 500 borough would mean a loss in efficiency because the county itself was hopelessly inefficient.
To suggest an increase in efficiency by transferring services from Ealing to the county is quite untenable. Ealing is sufficiently large to maintain a highly efficient municipal service of any type whatever. Indeed, I am not sure that there is not a loss of efficiency in transferring to a very large authority many of the services which Ealing—as a medium sized authority compared with the county—could render. While this very rapid process of attrition of non-county boroughs was taking place the Boundary Commission was sitting, and although non-county boroughs resented and resisted the transfer of their functions, at any rate while the Boundary Commission was sitting, there was hope that when it reported the various anomalies that had been created would be rectified.
But the Boundary Commission Report has been shelved, apparently indefinitely, and it is quite impossible for the House to expect the large non-county boroughs to tolerate, or at any rate accept willingly, the loss of functions which they themselves were performing efficiently and which they now know, to their cost, are being hampered by the transfer to the county.
With the very strong resentment that exists in the non-county boroughs, the House must expect that the larger ones will continue to take the only steps that are open to them; that is, to apply to the House for county borough status. That is the only way in which they can regain the functions they have lost, and I think the House should pause before it says, in effect, to non-county boroughs, "No matter what your size, no matter what your case, we shall turn it down without allowing it to go to the Committee for careful and detailed examination."
I know very little about Ealing. I will not go so far as to say that I am unconcerned about Ealing, but when the hon. Member for Ealing, South, was speaking he said a number of things that struck home very closely to me, as the Member for Chesterfield. He gave examples of intolerable delay. In Chesterfield we claim to be a highly efficient local authority. There are few authorities of any size whatsoever that 501 had a higher status in education than Chesterfield; yet we are constantly experiencing the troubles and delay of frustration and inefficiency. It takes months to get a decision even upon details and on very small points which would have been decided forthwith before the services were transferred.
Taking the broad, general case—I do not say that it applies to Middlesex—counties can frequently be very bad administrative units. I am not now referring to the efficiency of all counties; they vary enormously and, on the whole, they are far more inefficient than the urban areas; but they can be bad administrative units because of their size and also because in these large areas there is very frequently no community of interest between one part and another. That is particularly the case where there is a mixture of urban and rural populations.
Perhaps the most striking example of lack of community of interest is a Lancashire non-county borough—Stretford. Stretford is right in the south of Lancashire; in fact, it is right in the middle of the Manchester conurbation; but because it is a non-county borough many of its services have been transferred to the county of Lancashire, which stretches nearly 100 miles from Stretford, right up into the Lake District. There is no possible community of interest there. It is fantastic that Stretford should find its services transferred to a county authority from which it is shut off by the expansion of Manchester.
It seems to me ridiculous to impose upon efficient urban areas the inefficiency of county administration and then refuse them the right to apply to have their case heard by a Committee which can go into details.
§ Mr. Benson
I am arguing the general case why the House should pass these Bills of non-county boroughs so that they may go to the Committee. I am not arguing the case of Ealing; I am arguing the general case, which involves Ealing.
If we are to have a large scheme of local government reform, or even if Middlesex as a unit were to be considered, 502 the case for this Bill might be weakened; but at present there is no prospect whatsoever of local government reform along the lines of the Boundary Commission Report. If we refuse a Second Reading to this Bill what we do is tell the non-county boroughs that even if they have a good case they cannot have it heard before a Committee and that there is no possibility of escape from the dead hand of county administration.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
With one remark made by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) in his speech opposing the Second Reading, I, and I think most hon. Members, in whatever part of the House they may sit, entirely agree—that it would be unwise and, I suggest, undignified if this House were to give the Bill a Second Reading and then try and kill it in Committee. A well-known Member of this House many years ago—and I forget who it was—said of a Measure he did not like, "Take it upstairs and cut its dirty throat." I suggest that that treatment would be quite inappropriate to a Measure of this kind, which as the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) has said, raises some acute issues relating to local government as a whole.
I want to deal with some of the arguments which were advanced by the hon. Member for Southall, particularly those which apply to Ealing, and which are occasionally put forward on debates of this kind. I hope the hon. Member for Chesterfield will forgive me if I do not follow him on the somewhat broad plane which he has been traversing, for I want to relate my remarks more closely to Ealing, although I may say that I entirely agree with what he said.
May I make my own position clear? I am a county Member; I sit for a county seat in this House; but I feel, very strongly, personally, about the case for the non-county borough which has reached a size, as in the case of Ealing, where it feels it can be better than the county authority at the job of providing truly local government for those living within its borders. It is high time that this House made up its mind on the point.
The major objection which is always put forward on occasions like this, and particularly in the case of Middlesex, is that if one gives a Second Reading to such a Bill as this and sends it to Committee, 503 that sets a very dangerous precedent. It is said that if we do that, then all sorts of other boroughs will at once make similar applications for county borough status. It was said by the hon. Member for Southall that if this Bill were approved, Ealing would be leading a sort of ugly rush by other boroughs and urban districts towards county borough and borough status within the county of Middlesex.
I do not understand that argument at all, because if everybody is so satisfied in the County of Middlesex with the wonderful service which that county council provides, and which is set out in some detail in its memorandum in opposition to the Bill, then it seems strange that these other local authorities should be eager to ask for county borough status.
§ Mr. Hay
I frankly admit that I do not know as much about it as does the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer), but surely the point is that if a borough such as Ealing says it wants county borough status, then I should have thought that the other authorities, if they were highly satisfied with the kind of government which the county council was providing for them, would say to Ealing, "You may think so, but we are happy as we are and we prefer to stay as we are."
Let us assume, however, that the hon. Member for Southall is correct when he says that other authorities would follow Ealing. Let us assume that this Bill is given a Second Reading, that Ealing becomes a county borough and that all the other local authorities in the Middlesex County Council area make similar applications. What will happen? The hon. Member for Southall said it would be the end of Middlesex as a county council, and he pointed out that Ealing was very magnanimous in suggesting that the county council might still have some kind of truncated existence as a sewerage authority, as a fire authority, and so on.
When the point is made that Middlesex County Council will cease to exist except in that way, I must ask, "Why not?" I say quite frankly and sincerely. "Why not?" For what really useful purpose does this vast, sprawling, local authority exist? What service does it 504 provide that could not equally conveniently and, I suggest, far better be provided by a number of more individual and more compact local authorities than the Middlesex County Council? That is the view I take. I do not see that there is anything which the county of Middlesex can do which the other local councils could not do on a far more satisfactory basis if they were given the power, and personally I cannot see that it would be fatal to Middlesex as a county if some other boroughs, if not all of them, followed the precedent of Ealing.
But if they do not, and if Ealing is the only one of these boroughs inside the Middlesex County Council area to take this step, and if all the remainder stayed as they are, I can imagine the Middlesex County Council being quite happy about the situation. Yet they say in their statement that if Ealing is allowed to leave, and Ealing alone, and if none of the others follow, that would be extremely detrimental to everybody inside the Middlesex County Council area. That raises a number of other arguments with which I should like to deal.
First of all, they say, "If you allow this you will be permitting the removal from the county council area of an extremely important slice of our rateable value." It was said by the hon. Member for Southall that an increased burden would fall on the ratepayers in the county council's district outside the Borough of Ealing. Let us look at the figures. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) quoted them.
The fact is that at the last convenient date, which is 1st April, 1951, the rateable value of the County of Middlesex was some £22,500,000. The rateable value of Ealing is just under £2 million. In other words, we have this dreadful situation: here is this unfortunate county council with this miserable figure of £22 million rateable value and here is this dreadful local authority coming along and proposing to take away this enormous slice of £2 million out of the rateable value. The argument is absurd; I suggest that it does not hold water at all.
As we have been told, apart from London, Middlesex has the largest population and the largest rateable value of any county. Even if we gave Ealing county borough status, and substracted it from Middlesex, the county would still have 505 the largest population and the largest rateable value of any other county in this country except the county of London.
This is not the sort of case that we had in the last Parliament, in the Luton Bill and the Ilford Bill, for example, to which reference has been made tonight. Undoubtedly there was in those cases a strong argument for the opponents to the Bill who could say, "If you let this town be taken away from the county, you are taking the major part of our rateable value, and what will the remainder of the county do?"
§ Mr. Hay
My hon. and gallant Friend suggests that that was not true in the case of Ilford; it may not have been possible to put it quite so high as that, but at least that was the argument advanced in the case of Luton—that we should be taking away the major town in the county and that the rest would be in a very much worse position as a consquence, and that the other ratepayers would suffer enormously. But in any event, I do not think the argument applies in this case, because, as I have indicated from the figures, it does not appear that Middlesex County Council will really suffer, or that the ratepayers of Middlesex as a whole will suffer, if Ealing is allowed to leave the county in this way. I think the Middlesex County Council would quite easily carry on, wave goodbye and say, "Wayward sister, depart in peace."
There is another argument. It is said that if we agree to the Second Reading of the Bill, we shall prejudge the whole local government issue. It is said that sooner or later some Government will make an announcement about local government reform in this country and that until that time nothing should be done to disturb this frozen pattern of local government. That is not progressive.
I have no doubt that it will be some time before the Government have an opportunity, or the Parliamentary time, to introduce a Measure of comprehensive local government reform. The last Government had six years, and they did not do it. They had many urgent and important 506 portant problems to deal with, and so have we. I feel that it would be a very bad and retrograde step for us to stand pat, where we are, without making any adjustments to the great machine of local government in the country. It is very unlikely that we shall have an early opportunity of re-organising the machine, and I feel that these interim adjustments are necessary.
"But then," say the critics of the Bill, "even if we grant all that, you are prejudging the issue by allowing this one borough to achieve county borough status." I do not think that is the case with Ealing. I do not think that we prejudge the whole general question as to which boroughs should be allowed county borough status, if indeed county borough status is to be the ultimate solution.
This is a special case, I suggest, and I do feel that the case has peen made out overwhelmingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South, and by the facts themselves as admitted in the various statements made by those who have petitioned against the Bill and those who have put it forward. I do feel that, particularly on this side of the House—I am not introducing a party point here—but on this side of the House we have a great and strong belief that local government should be local.
§ Mr. Hay
I know that hon. Members on the other side of the House feel very much the same about it. I would say as a final plea that Ealing here is asking for nothing more nor less than that. Ealing believes she knows best how to run her own affairs. There may be some difficulties about technicalities—difficulties such as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southall mentioned over health officers, education, and things like that; but they are merely technicalities. The basic issue of principle the House has to decide is, whether or not we are going to permit, in these special circumstances, the case for this particular local authority to be examined by an expert Committee of this House. I suggest that the case for that is made out, and I hope that hon. Members will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) I am concerned with Ealing when we are discussing a Bill promoted by the Ealing Corporation. I do ask hon. Members to realise that we are being asked to deal with a particular Bill dealing with a particular non-county borough situated in a particular county, and that the votes we give tonight, no matter how much we allow them to be swayed by our general view of this matter of county and county district government, will determine, to some extent, the future of Ealing, and, as far as our vote goes, no other district, and will, interfere, possibly, with the county of Middlesex, but with no other county. Therefore, we must give consideration to the special position of Ealing, no matter what our views may be on the general point.
Last week I voted for the West Hartlepool Bill—to the great annoyance of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Murray)—because it seemed to me that that was a Bill that ought to be examined upstairs. I was prepared to accept one proposition in it, but found great difficulty in dealing with the other proposition in it. What I was quite certain ought to happen was that Hartlepool ought to be allowed to reabsorb West Hartlepool—although that was not the way it was put in the Bill—because there is no doubt that those two local government areas form one community, and one moves from one to the other without knowing one has gone unless there happens to be on a street nameplate an indication whether one is in Hartlepool or West Hartlepool. When it came to the possible absorption into the county borough of part of the Stockton rural district I was not quite sure whether it ought to take place at all, or whether, if it did take place, the area asked for was the right area.
This kind of thing is the sort of thing that can be settled by a Committee upstairs. As far as I am concerned, if five of our colleagues—I think five serve on these Select Committees upstairs—having heard the case put up by the West Hartlepool Town Council and the Durham County Council and by the Stockton Rural District Council, reach a decision, after having heard, let us 508 remember, learned counsel, and evidence given on oath—which we never get here.
I recollect that when I once presided at a petty sessions a lady took the oath with the words, "The evidence I shall give should be the truth" and that I had to ask her to read the words on the card. Undoubtedly, statements made in the House should be the truth; and I should get into trouble with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I asserted that any statement other than the truth was ever made by any Member of the present House. But the House has a long history.
However, if the Select Committee upstairs decides this question of how much of Stockton rural district should go into West Hartlepool, I imagine that those of us who do not serve on the Committee will say that our colleagues upstairs, having heard counsel, and evidence on oath, and having deliberated—and at least a high proportion of that small Select Committee has had considerable experience of dealing with this kind of legislation—were capable of making that decision, and that we should accept it.
I do not put this Bill into the same category. I put it into a very different category. I had a great deal of sympathy with Luton. In fact, the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), who was not then so exalted as he now is, was very kind in not quoting to me what I said in one of the Committees upstairs on the Police Act, when the case of Luton was put to me, and when I said that I wished that I could have as good a chance in the Derby as Luton had of becoming a county borough. As the case turned out, I did better on the Derby than Luton did with its county borough status.
Luton, after all, is an area which is surrounded by a very wide rural belt. One has no doubt when one is in Luton, and one has no doubt when one comes out of Luton to get into Bedford. That is not so with Ealing. Ealing is surrounded, as has been pointed out, by 10 other very popular districts. I think it was Lancelot Hogben in his "Mathematics for the Million" who said that if one had five colours on a map one could distinguish all of the areas adjacent. Middlesex is not a bit like that, to take Ealing out of the county is to do something which is very different from taking Luton out of Bedford or Chesterfield out of Derbyshire or Swindon out of Wiltshire. I give three cases at 509 random where there is a non county borough sufficiently distinguished from the surrounding countryside to be an obvious, recognisable community.
I do not think that Ealing comes into that category. I am certain of this, that the local government of Middlesex, the local government of suburban Essex—by that I mean Ilford, Walthamstow, Romford, Leyton, Leytonstone, and that group of non county boroughs—
§ Mr. Ede
If we only go a little further west from West Ham we get into Stepney and Poplar. I was talking about suburban Essex, which is a very similar case to that of Middlesex.
I do not believe—and here perhaps I may relieve some of the anxieties of the Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan)—that quite the same considerations apply to suburban Kent and suburban Surrey. They have not quite reached the stage of mass development that has taken place in Middlesex and in suburban Essex. I think that those two districts present a problem which is not to be found—and, after all, I have given some little time to local government myself, and have served in two offices in which local government cropped up frequently—anywhere else in the country; there is not the same problem to the organisers of local government as in those two areas, and I do not think they are matters which can be dealt with piecemeal.
I say quite frankly that I think they are urgent. It was a matter of great regret to me personally that in the six years that I was in office we were unable to deal with this matter, and I am quite prepared to accept any scoffs that are made—although they have not been made yet, and may not be—because we did not deal with it. I am trying tonight to deal 510 with this Bill as objectively as I possibly can.
I am certain that any commission which may be appointed to deal with the local government of England and Wales as a whole will either have to have specific terms of reference with regard to these two suburban districts or will have them excluded from its terms of reference and a separate commission will be appointed to deal with them, for they do not fall into the general consideration that can be given to the rest of the country.
This will be a free vote as far as this side of the House is concerned. There was a complaint last night that a three-line Whip had been issued to hon. Members opposite, and I assured the hon. Gentleman who made the complaint that I had no desire that he should have a three-line Whip inflicted on him. I imagine this is a free vote on both sides of the House, and I hope that on these Bills we give our votes in accordance with the way the weight of the argument appeals to us. I merely say that, in contradistinction to the vote I gave last week I propose on this occasion to go into the Lobby against this Bill for the reasons I have given.
Perhaps I may just be allowed to say one or two words about the general issues that arise. Here I speak for myself alone and cannot be taken as binding anyone other than myself. My own view is that we shall never get a sound review of local government until this House settles what are county and what are county district functions. That has never been done, with the consequence that some very small ancient non-county boroughs have powers with which no small authority ought to be invested. If we could only get set out—and this is a matter for the House and not for a Royal Commission—what is a county and what is a county district function, then I think we could ask a Royal Commission to map England and Wales into new counties and county boroughs on the basis of that decision.
Then, when one went into a county district area one would know the functions that the county district council discharged, and not find that one was in some ancient borough, which, because it had a population of 10,000 in the early days of the 19th century, now had powers which are not vested in populous non-county boroughs like Chesterfield or Luton because they have grown up since 511 the days when this power was given to the very old corporations. That is the first step, to settle the functions.
Then let us have a Royal Commission to settle what the new counties and the new county boroughs should be. Then take a third step and have in each of the new counties one of the commissioners sitting with local assessors to divide the new county in county districts. As one who took part in the dividing of a county into county districts under the 1929 Act for the review of districts, I think it is astonishing how much log-rolling there is between county councillors, who say "If I vote for your county district to remain exactly as it is, will you vote for my county district also not to be interfered with, no matter how strong the argument in the case may be?" Let me reiterate that I am not speaking for anyone other than myself.
I should have thought, contrary to the view generally held, that in a House in which the Members are fairly evenly divided, one of the things we might do would be to have a Select Committee of the House—this is my personal suggestion and must not be taken to bind anyone else—which might very well consider the first of these three stages. This Committee, being a Select Committee, would be almost evenly divided between the parties for a start. This is a matter which cuts across party lines, and it would be astonishing to find in the official report of such a Select Committee how the divisions had taken place and how the official decision had been supported. We might get on with that stage so that we could have a rational development of this system.
Because I think Middlesex and suburban Essex present so urgent a problem, I hope that something might be done, even during the course of this Parliament, to see whether we cannot get an arrangement by which a new method of solving their problems could be discovered. I am certain that these big urban populations, where they are closely congregated together, need urgent attention.
The greatest man that my native county ever produced, and a former Member of this House, William Cobbett, said, of Middlesex, "All Middlesex is ugly." I have travelled about modern 512 Middlesex and found that part of the work of the Middlesex County Council has been to preserve a great many beauties that Cobbett never discovered, but I am quite certain that the local government map of Middlesex is the ugliest and the most difficult of all the local government maps of England.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)
This is, I think, the third or fourth occasion on which this House has had to consider a Bill of this character. Tonight I should like to make one or two general observations upon the subject matter of the Bill, and I will endeavour not to allow myself to be unduly influenced by the fact that I hope that before long I may be in the same situation as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) in moving another Bill for county borough powers for my own Borough of Ilford.
I listened, as I am sure the whole House listened, with particular interest to the speech that has just been made by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). When he began his speech, I hoped that I should be able to agree with all that he was to say. Up to a point I have been able to agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said, particularly with his observations at the conclusion of his speech. But the right hon. Gentleman, I feel, did not do himself justice in explaining to the House why he is going to vote against this Bill. He began by saying that the House has to consider in this Bill the particular situation of Ealing and the particular situation of Middlesex. This Bill has certainly shown that there is a wide difference of opinion about the consequences on Middlesex of creating a new county borough there.
I should have thought, speaking for myself, that that was not a question with which this House ought to deal upon a Second Reading debate. It is, I would suggest to the House, a more fitting subject for the decision of a Committee upstairs which will have the advantage, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, of hearing evidence given in a certain way, both of representatives of the parties concerned and of those experts whose assistance is usually invoked on an occasion of this sort. It is very desirable that evidence of that sort should be available to those who have to make a final 513 determination upon the merits or otherwise of the Bill. The Committee upstairs is in possession of knowledge of all these particular matters upon which a proper decision on this question ought to rest. It is in possession of the facts to an extent and in a manner which this House on the Second Reading of the Bill can never be.
I think that it was the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) who said that the Committee upstairs would have to disregard the effect of this Bill on the County of Middlesex. I should have thought that was precisely one of the matters which the Committee would have to consider. I hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading. Let it go upstairs, as I invited the House to allow the Ilford Bill to go upstairs, where it can be decided on its merits, and where the Middlesex County Council will have abundant opportunity, with the assistance of their advisers, of placing before the Committee all the reasons why the Bill should be rejected which they cannot place before this House in a Second Reading debate.
If the House will bear with me, I should like to make one or two observations of a more general character. The right hon. Gentleman said that he drew a distinction between a local authority situated like the Borough of Luton and the position which exists in suburban Essex and in Middlesex. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman this question: What future does he envisage for these great new authorities which have come into being in Greater London in the last 30 years?
I submit that by allowing places of the size of Ealing, Ilford and similar communities to remain in an administrative county, a more serious disruption of local administration will eventually be caused than will be brought about if greater responsibility is given to these authorities now. Some greater measure of responsibility must eventually be given to places of this size and character than they enjoy at present.
§ Mr. Ede
In reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman's question about what future I envisage for these places, I think they should be made into urban authorities. But as they are one continuous mass, the two groups which I chose should be considered individually and as a whole, 514 and the exact boundaries between them, or the possibility of having one authority to deal with the whole of them, with delegated powers to smaller units, would be matters upon which I should like to get the advice of an expert committee sitting to consider them.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me an answer to my question. Needless to say, the answer does not satisfy me.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The difficulty about the right hon. Gentleman's solution may be found in the fact that these communities are already separate communities.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Apparently he and I will not agree about that. If he will come with me one day to the borough I represent, I will endeavour to satisfy him that Ilford, in the 26 years that it has existed, has become a separate community with a municipal life and a civic pride of its own. That is something which is worth having, and I hope that the House will not wish to do anything which is likely to destroy it.
The question I really wanted to put to the right hon. Gentleman was: Does he envisage that these great authorities will receive more responsibility under the reorganisation of local government, or less responsibility? His answer may be that he envisages that they will be reorganised altogether, but, if we exclude that, are we to consider that places of the size of Ealing are to be given more responsibility when reorganisation comes or less?
I think that we cannot escape the conclusion that they will be given a wider responsibility than they possess now. If that is the answer, I say that there will be a much greater disruption of the administration of local government if they are retained within an administrative county now than would be the case if they are offered now a greater measure of independence than they enjoy at present.
Take the education service. In Middlesex, Essex, and the other counties 515 which contain large suburban local authorities, the administration of education is gradually being built up on the basis that the county is the education authority. In any reorganisation of local government, education is one of the services which will have to go back to those great new county districts. If that is so, is it not better that, before the administration has been built up on a county basis, it should be encouraged now to grow up on the basis of the administration of the large county districts?
What I have said about education I believe to be true of the personal health services and of town planning. I would remind the House that the Boundary Commissioners recommended in their Report that those three services should be transferred from county administration to the administration of a county district authority, to which they gave a new name and a new status.
One or two hon. Members have opposed the Bill upon the ground that Ealing is part of Greater London. Indeed, I think that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman proceeded along those lines. I hope that that argument will not be accepted by the House. There are very good reasons why we should not be unduly influenced by the fact that Ealing forms part of Greater London.
The first reason is that the municipal boroughs in Greater London have, in a very short time, built up an enviable tradition of local administration—I do not think that anyone in any part of the House would challenge that statement—and a municipal patriotism which is a very valuable thing and a quality which this House should do its best to encourage. The mere fact that these Bills are brought forward year after year is some evidence of the existence of that civic pride which this House should make it its purpose to encourage. Local patriotism is a good thing. Let us do what we can to encourage it.
The administration of these boroughs attracts the greatest measure of public interest. I will undertake to say that the local elections which are to take place in Ealing in the next few weeks will arouse a greater measure of interest among the population than the elections which will take place there for the Middlesex County Council.
516 The government of London in my judgment is not capable of any comprehensive treatment. There are deep-seated differences between local government in the administrative county and local government outside the administrative county. They are differences which cannot be conveniently assimilated. What the form of administration should be in London we cannot discuss on this Bill. The fact that places like Ealing at present form part of the great conurbation of London ought not to be an argument against the existence of all-purpose authorities in the Metropolitan area.
For these reasons, I hope this Bill will receive a Second Reading tonight.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
This debate has been, for me at any rate, an interesting one, and has formed a rather agreeable interlude in that sometimes tedious sequence of purely political partisan debates on which we spend so much of our lives. It has been very well argued on both sides, and the case has been fully and amply deployed.
The arguments in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill are simple, clear and practical, and no one can deny their cogency. They were admirably presented in a speech of quite remarkable skill by the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude). So far as its population is concerned, its size, its record as a local government authority, and the capabilities of its council, I have no doubt that Ealing can establish a strong claim to county borough status.
It is quite true that there has been for a long time a series of barriers against the passage of Bills of this kind, and this was in turn defended, as I think the promoters of the Bill argued, by considerations, some of which do not now apply. Of course, for a time a reason given for delay was the transfer of responsibility to the Boundary Commission. That Commission has now been dissolved, and thus, after the dissolution of that body, the reason given was another one which was also used as a barrier—the prospect that a broad measure of local government reform would shortly be put before Parliament.
I am not putting it in any partisan way when I say that six years have passed 517 and two administrations, one with a large majority and one with a small one, and no such plan has emerged. How then, would the promoters of the Bill argue, can one continue to resist the claim of Ealing and of boroughs similarly placed? Nor is it certain, so they would urge, that if such a review were completed, the proposals which would follow from it would give to this borough or to others similarly placed, powers and functions very different from those which are now proposed to be given in this Bill?
In other words, they might say, the final result of local government reform would be very much what is proposed in this Bill. Therefore, they would argue, and with a good deal of force, that they had been delayed, partly ingenuously by those who believed that it was possible in the turmoil and confusion and the manifold problems of post-war to introduce a large measure of local government reform, and partly disingenuously by those who used the prospect of such a reform as a convenient instrument to delay action which they disliked on other grounds. That is the argument for the Bill, and I hope that I have summed it up fairly.
On the other side, an equally powerful argument was deployed against it by the mover of the Amendment, the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), and by the seconder, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Irving), whose speech might serve as a model. This argument is that, quite apart from any question of local government reform, Parliament has long been unwilling, or, at any rate, hesitant, to allow boroughs to opt themselves out of the county, so to speak, if the effect upon the county was likely to be damaging or disastrous. These were the arguments which, quite apart from any question of reform, have many times, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will remember, and for many years, been used in the House.
The transformation from what has hitherto been a county town—that was very often the case—into a county borough and the subsequent effect upon the life of the surrounding community, has often been the compelling reason—I can remember one instance a few years ago—why county borough status has been refused by the House. Moreover, in this case, so the argument now runs, if the Bill were to pass, it would be very 518 difficult—indeed, impossible—to resist similar claims from the neighbours of the borough in question.
Anyone who studies the map will see the cogency of that argument. Boroughs A, B, C, D, E and F would all present precisely the same claim, and the result upon the County of Middlesex would not only be damaging; it would be fateful. In fact, for all except sewerage and, more important, cricketing purposes, the County of Middlesex would cease to exist.
The opponents could go on to argue that it would be difficult to refuse other claims in counties where the blow might not be so mortal. But then, they could even urge that the extinction that would fall upon Middlesex would, perhaps, be a less painful operation than the draining away of its lifeblood that might come to counties like Cambridge or Bedford, just as sudden death may often be preferable to a long drawn out illness. Finally, the opponents repeat the argument that however long the process of reform may take, and however great the difficulties and even the hardships caused by waiting for it, there must ultimately be a large-scale revision of the whole structure of local government.
Why, then, it is argued, take this premature action? Why introduce new and unnecessary difficulties, and why do so—although this argument has not been deployed tonight, it has certainly been present in my mind—at this present time, when it is believed that negotiations are taking place, and not altogether without prospect of success, between the various groups of local authority interests with a view to reaching some agreed solution?
That more or less represents fairly the arguments which have been put forward by both sides, and now the House will expect me to sum up my own judgment in which direction the scale should incline. In a sense, I shall have to disappoint hon. Members, for I think that I should better serve the House if I were to give some information more of a factual character, which may or may not affect its judgment.
In the first place, I do not think it is quite the fact that if the Second Reading of the Bill is passed, it would be the duty of the Private Bill Committee to do anything 519 except to hear arguments about the effect upon Ealing and upon Middlesex. It would be quite improper for them, as far as I know the rules and procedure of the House of Commons, to enter into a lot of evidence as to what would happen in other boroughs, like Harrow, Hendon, and all the rest of them, or what action they might or might not take. I think that they would be carrying out their functions only if they stuck to what the Bill was about and what would be the effect upon Ealing and Middlesex. I only try to give that advice objectively to the House, because I do not think we can, as it were—if I may use a colloquialism—"pass the buck" to the Committee. We must decide on the Second Reading whether we want this done now or not.
That is on the principle of the Bill, and the other question is about local government reform. There will be no local government reform in this year's legislative programme.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I am bound to believe that unless there is a substantial measure of agreement between the interests—which is not impossible—I do not see any prospect of introducing it in 1953.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Would the right hon. Gentleman give some indication of what he means by some measure of agreement between the authorities concerned? Something in the nature of an agreed revision of existing powers?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I was going to take up the very helpful hint of the right hon. Gentleman, the growth of some general principles as to what the functions and powers of different authorities should be, and I think that will help a lot. Even so, there are many other Measures with which we have to deal, and I do not hold out very great hopes, but I should like very much and I hope very much to present some such Measure in the course of this Parliament. From my own point of view, naturally, it would be an ambition anyone might reasonably feel he had some contribution to make. I therefore hope it, but cannot promise it.
I do not think the public always realise the narrow scope of legislation in this 520 House, especially when Governments exist with small majorities and where highly contentious legislation can hardly be taken except on the Floor of the House of Commons. Even non-contentious legislation can take almost as much time, sometimes more. If, therefore, the argument as to the imminence of local government reform were regarded by hon. Members as a vital factor in coming to a decision, I think I ought to be frank with them. It is in our hope, it is in our ambition, but I cannot promise that we shall be in a position to fulfil it. I think that is a frank statement.
Having said that, I add that I think the vote will be, in the strictest sense of the word, a free vote. I do not myself approve of that intermediate system in which a vote is called a free vote and in which I have known Ministers to use a good many private and informal methods of influencing hon. Members and the Whips to use their functions not officially but effectively. This House should decide, after hearing the argument, and I should not regard any vote given for or against the Bill as being for or against the Government just as the right hon. Gentleman claimed he was in the same position regarding his party.
As a personal view, I represent a non-county borough and I have represented a non-county borough during the whole of my political life of more than 25 years, first that of Stockton and now that of Bromley. I am very well acquainted with the grievances as well as the ambitions—well stated tonight—which very often such municipal corporations have. At the same time, I am well aware of the doubts and apprehensions of the county councils and I realise the difficulties of this particular case. Yet, if this Bill is passed, I cannot really pretend that a large number of other Bills will not very rapidly follow.
I am afraid then that the position might become untenable and a kind of bastard reform of the whole structure might be forced upon us piecemeal, perhaps under unsuitable conditions. For, let us face it, many difficulties may lie before our country, when our minds will not perhaps be ready to give grave attention to these matters, and with the proper preparation.
The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), and I am grateful to 521 him, made certain suggestions which I will study carefully, both for what he said and for his experience and for the way they were put forward. I think that large reforms, or large measures, or large issues should rest on the strength of Governmental decisions and should be carried out as part of a general plan. Therefore, I should be sorry to see a kind of slide into a confused position, if there is any chance still of carrying out a well thought out and careful advance. For these reasons, I shall cast my vote in this Division against the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Messer (Tottenham)
Everyone who has sat through this debate will agree that it has been worth while. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) on having stated a difficult case in a convincing manner. If he left out things he might have said, he left them out because they would have damaged that case. None the less, he made the best of the material he had. Although a humble back bencher, I feel I can extend to the Minister my appreciation of the statesmanlike manner in which he submitted to the House what is, in effect, the true position.
I could not reconcile the speech of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay). I always enjoy his speeches. He has a nice speaking voice. He has a clarity of enunciation which leaves no room for ambiguity. I did not hear quite so clearly all that the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) said. But in the speech of the hon. Member for Henley there were certain references which I found it difficult to reconcile. He said that if this Bill goes upstairs to a Committee, it does not prejudice the question of the other boroughs. Of course, he meant us to learn from that that Ealing could get county borough status without there being any danger of other boroughs following that line. Then, in a remarkable sentence, he later said that if Middlesex as a county council went out of existence, what did it matter?
Those of us who know our London hate its terrible urban spread. If it has done nothing else to justify remaining in existence, the Middlesex County Council has created a wonderful green belt 522 which has prevented that urban spread getting right out of hand. The hon. Member said we might leave the county council with nothing but sewerage powers. Well, I was in the House in 1929 when a Bill was introduced by the county council which was responsible for the finest engineering works in Europe, the Mogden sewerage works, the West Middlesex drainage scheme. If hon Members care to go there they will find illumination by the gas made on the spot, methane gas. They will find motor vehicles with no other motive power than that generated on the spot by methane gas. That could never have been done by any county borough.
What I am trying to stress is that if this Bill goes upstairs, and if it succeeds, it is bound to be followed by no fewer than 11 other boroughs and urban districts asking for similar treatment. If it succeeds, we could not deny them the right of becoming county boroughs also. In other words, we shall be destroying the two-tier system.
I felt tonight that this debate was being conducted on the lines of the prejudice of those who support the all-purpose authority and those who support the county authority. I do not support either of those authorities. I have said for years, and I believe it, that we must have reform of local government. The position is really chaotic, and I think we can start in Middlesex.
The county council has agreed, and not under the threat of this Bill—it has been in the air for a long time—to hold a conference with all the local authorities and, at that conference, to reach agreement on what the minor authorities should do. I confess that authorities like Ealing, Harrow, Willesden, Edmonton, Tottenham and Hendon can quite easily do more than they are doing and are entrusted to do at the present time. They all ought to have more power. But that does not mean that by giving county borough status to a few of them we accomplish all that is required.
We cannot escape the fact that there must be one authority big enough to plan for a wide area. There must be an authority big enough, when a population is divided up into its special categories and types, to deal with those special categories and types. Then the day-to-day 523 administration of the service should devolve on the smaller authorities.
If there is no system of that description, then there can be no over-all planning authority, no big authority to deal with the mechanistic side of the social services. We ought to have agreement as to what these important authorities can do very much better than the county authorities.
But it is not merely a mechanical efficiency that is required. When we are dealing with these personal social services something more than mere cleverness is wanted. There are those qualities which are associated only with those who are, as it were, at the point of contact with the people. Therefore, the responsibility to carry out what can be described as the human services—health, maternity, welfare, and all those sort of things—should rest on the shoulders of those authorities.
But it is not likely that we are to get any reform of local government in a comprehensive way, and, when we do, we shall have to consider a county like Middlesex as something exceptional. There is not another county in the country like it. It is completely urbanised, and is the only county which is completely within the Metropolitan Police area.
London already has special powers and a special Act of Parliament, which, in point of fact, proves very definitely that there is need for review. I do not like the London system; it is over-centralised. That is not the system I am looking at for Middlesex. I want something better than that because, I repeat. Middlesex is unique.
I want to touch upon one or two things contained in this Bill. Perhaps I ought to refer to the claim that has been made so often in debates of this kind. It is, "Let the House of Commons give the Bill a Second Reading and send it upstairs. We only want to consider this in principle and the Committee, who will go into detail, will be the body that will best judge whether or not this matter should proceed."
But Second Reading is something more than consideration of a principle. We have a right, on Second Reading, to consider the content of a Bill. I listened to the hon. Member for Ealing, South, when he was saying what a wonderfully 524 efficient borough Ealing is: but I am not so sure. For instance, Ealing was responsible in 1950 for building 79 houses. In 1951 the figure went up to 111—the lowest figure in the whole county. Acton, which has a population of only 68,000, built 224 houses. Staines, with a population of 21,000, built 500 houses.
Let us look at the possibility of improvement in the services if Ealing becomes a county borough. The present technical school there does not provide training in engineering and, therefore, their engineering students would have to go outside the county borough to receive technical education of that character. If we take the county there are technical schools to which Ealing children can go. There is in Hornsey one of the finest art schools. At present students from Ealing can go to that school.
Ealing children can now go to Southall and to other boroughs, for secondary schools, technical schools, grammar schools and, of course, county schools are open to the population of any part of the county. By becoming a county borough Ealing will lessen the opportunity of their children receiving as good an education as they can receive at present. It was not for nothing that in 1944 the Education Act provided for this system whereby the county is the education authority.
I am prepared to agree that there are possibilities of there being modifications in the working of that Act, which could improve it and could give to municipalities greater authority than they have at present. But that is not justified by Ealing in any way at all. There has been no case made out for Ealing having borough status without it being shown that it is bound to do damage to certain other boroughs.
I would refer to the fact that Middlesex has a rateable value of £22 million and Ealing has a rateable value of over £1,900,000. Those figures are not important. What is important is that if we truncate the county and, in consequence, weaken its opportunity to do the work that it can do, we shall be doing harm to local government generally.
I hope that this Bill will not go upstairs. I hope that we shall benefit from this debate by persuading the Government to set up a committee to investigate and inquire into the prospects 525 of changes in local government so that, if we cannot get what some of us have been hoping for for years—a major measure of reform—at least we can get such alterations as will deal with the anomalies which, at the present time, mean that we do not get the best either out of the people who are prepared to serve or those who are served.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I am very conscious of the special responsibility which devolves upon me tonight in winding up the case for the Ealing Corporation—a borough which is similar in many respects to the borough I represent in this House. I always listen with very great interest, and indeed pleasure, to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) on the subject of local government; but I am afraid that I have listened now for three years in a row to virtually the same speech dealing with the same problem.
In the last two years he was a Member of the party in power. There are many hon. Members on the opposite side of the House who have expressed very considerable feelings in regard to local government, but over the years they appear to have had no influence whatsoever on their right hon. Friends when they were able to do something about local government reform.
I want to make one point in answer to the hon. Member for Tottenham on the subject of Ealing's housing abilities. I think I must correct his statement straight away. He quoted some figures which would appear to indicate that Ealing was a very backward housing authority. In point of fact, up to 31st December, 1951, Ealing Corporation had been responsible for the erection of no fewer than 2,279 houses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Since when?"] Since the end of the war. At one period they were top of the Minister of Health's housing league table for houses built by non-county boroughs since the end of the war. At present they maintain a position second on the list, and I must tell the hon. Member for Tottenham that the non-county borough which is now on top is the borough represented by my hon. and learned Friend and myself, namely, Ilford. Both Ilford and Ealing have Conservative councils, which would 526 appear to indicate that, notwithstanding the great difficulties under which we labour, we have been able to build houses rather more quickly than Socialist-dominated councils.
§ Mr. Messer
The hon. Gentleman says I have misquoted, and to prove that I have misquoted he says that my figure of 111 houses for 1951 is wrong because Ealing has built 2,000 houses since the end of the war. Will he tell me how many houses Ealing have built in 1951?
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I did not say the hon. Member had misquoted, I said that he had misled the House, and I repeat that. On another occasion, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that one cannot get away from arithmetic, and the facts are that since the end of the war no fewer than 2,279 houses have been built by the Ealing Corporation. That is not important, however; nor is it relevant to the issue before us.
Hon. Members on all sides of the House, not only tonight but on other occasions, have expressed a desire for the reform of local government. This unanimity of desire has found expression through three Parliaments. What prevents us from taking the necessary steps? In the past, the narrowness of Government majorities has been the determining factor. Nevertheless, when one listens to speeches from both sides of the House, one sees a surprising degree of unanimity which, I think, would find a majority in the House for a major reform.
What we have to fight against is the insistent and persistent desire of the county councils to retain their powers, which they have obtained over a number of years. It is not often that I agree with the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), but on one occasion he said something with which I found myself in complete agreement. He said that the local interest must be preserved in local government—and I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1949, col. 517:There are some things to which that test is not entirely applicable. The citizens of any of our great communities require an emotional identification with something which is smaller and more immediate than that of the nation itself. Local government is a part of the emotional, spiritual and aesthetic equipment of modern society, and, therefore, it is something to which we cannot only apply the 527 test of efficiency, because if we apply that test to the ends of life as well as to the means of life, then we have a soulless and stereotyped community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 517.]When I read that I thought it was the classic answer to Socialism in our time.
For years the struggle has gone on between county districts and county councils. I say quite frankly, in order to make my position quite clear, that I am strongly opposed to the entrenched position of the county councils in this country. I believe that experience shows, irrespective of the party which controls them at any one time, that they are inefficient in the way they administer the affairs of our country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Immediately we see county Members eager to defend this entrenched position, and I do not blame them for that at all. We must remember that counties generally are a mixture of both urban and rural over their large areas, and the local part of administration is no longer there.
It is quite wrong to say that we cannot reform local government at present. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson), in fact there has been a very considerable reformation of local government since 1945, and very substantial functions and powers have been taken away from the smaller authorities and given to the larger authorities. Was there ever a voice raised in the House by any Member of a county division protesting against these new powers being given to the counties? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Well, if there were such voices I must say they were rather sotto voce.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
It may be that I have but just come to this House, but I have been able to read for a long time. I am not convinced that there is any real desire on the part of the county councils to have any major reform of local government. Indeed, if we quote from the petition of the Middlesex County Council against the Bill, we see in paragraph 6:In the opinion of the County Council there is no necessity to make any change in the local government of Middlesex.528 The Council goes on:Manifestly, if a change is proposed, the subject must be dealt with as a whole.I should like hon. Gentlemen to read very carefully through this petition and the petitions which have been submitted in other cases—by Essex County Council when Ilford put forward its Bill, and by Bedfordshire County Council when Luton put forward its Bill. Perhaps not unnaturally, the case is always weighted in favour of the county council. There is always talk about the harm—or the alleged harm—that will be done to the county council. There is never any suggestion of the benefits that will accrue to the local authority which is seeking to acquire an improvement in its status. That, surely, is a not inconsiderable point to bear in mind in these cases.
It has been proved over and over again that, by the granting of county borough status to those boroughs that apply, for it, and can prove that they can provide service in a more efficient manner than they have been doing, something of great benefit to the future social life of our country is done.
We seek tonight to infuse new life and virility into our local government service, to give the aldermen and councillors of this very large and progressive borough a new sense of mission and greater responsibility, to provide for the local ratepayers greater and closer control over their own affairs. I have said on previous occasions, and when supporting the Ilford Corporation Bill, that local government is both the foundation and the pillar of our democratic way of life; and to allow local power to diminish can only strike at the very roots of our society. Tonight the House has a real chance to rebuild this service.
I wish to quote again the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale. It has been suggested time and time again that something is being done which should not be done—that we are trying to jump the queue, to get in front of any reform of local government which may ultimately take place. I should like to point out that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale had some responsibility for the affairs of this country he made a statement in this House in which he announced the winding-up of the Boundary Commission, and, when he was pressed by a former 529 Member for Luton on what was the position of local authorities, and on how they were to secure some improvement in their status, he said:Local authorities themselves should decide whether to proceed with Private Bill legislation. Where local authorities think they ought to have immediate easement, I think they ought to proceed by Private Bill procedure at once, and, where easement is necessary, we will give facilities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1949; Vol. 466, c. 761.]The next thing was that some four months later the right hon. Gentleman came down to the House and made another statement which was completely at variance with the one he had previously made in the House.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me a little I will tell him. The right hon. Gentleman said on 2nd November, 1949:But we are not prepared to support proposals which are so far-reaching in their character as to make changes that might obviously have to be assimilated in the changes that the Government themselves will propose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1949;Vol. 469, c. 517.]
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
It was so completely at variance that it had a very extraordinary effect on the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who on the first occasion supported his right hon. Friend in the Division Lobby, because he felt that his right hon. Friend meant what he said, that there was to be some reform of local Government.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. Gentleman really ought not to interrupt. He has not been present at the debate for very long, which has now lasted nearly three hours.
When the hon. Member for Coventry, East, discovered that his right hon. Friend did not mean there was to be any reform, and that there was no likelihood of it, he expressed his displeasure and went into the Division Lobby in support of the Luton Corporation Bill on the second occasion. Now, of course, the chums have got together again, and I suppose that rift has been healed.
530 The point is that we have got to a stage in the government of this country where we can no longer dilly-dally with the question of local government reform. We have heard from my right hon. Friend that within the life of this Parliament he hopes to make some proposal for such reform. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have expressed themselves in some sort of amazement about that, but I would remind them that this Parliament does not end until October, 1956, so that my right hon. Friend has got some months of elbow room in which to bring forward these necessary reforms.
I therefore feel that, strong as are the arguments for refusing to give this Bill a Second Reading, on balance the arguments on the other side are equally strong. I think that tonight the House should express itself positively, give this Bill a Second Reading and allow detailed consideration of these proposals. I am sure that that will be of considerable help to my right hon. Friend. I concede that it will not, perhaps, give him the future pattern for local government reform, but by detailed consideration in Committee it should provide information which will determine what functions a new county borough can usefully and properly perform. I therefore ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
Would my hon. and gallant Friend not agree that giving this Bill a Second Reading would make it essential that the highly necessary measure of reform which we all desire should be pressed forward, which would meet the case made by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) just now?
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I think that my hon. Friend is quite right. As I have already said, giving this Bill a Second Reading would, in effect, give a jolt all along the line. It would give the Minister a jolt, and enable him to see that local authorities really wanted something in this way. It would also give the Minister's advisers a jolt. I am quite sure that, if we get a Second Reading, the four main local government organisations will get together more quickly and will produce a degree of harmony which is at present not entirely there.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
My hon. and gallant Friend says "No, no, no." I would like to know what he means by that.
§ Captain Soames
I will certainly tell him what I mean by it. If conversations take place or are arranged between the county council and the borough council and these two parties discuss their problems together and then produce something on the Floor of the House, it is far more likely to be of use to both these councils than if this Bill is given a Second Reading and goes upstairs to be discussed in Committee, when it will not come out in nearly so satisfactory a manner.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
That was not the point I made at all, or upon which my hon. and gallant Friend made a negative response. I am suggesting that the four local government organisations will be persuaded to get together with greater expedition than they are at present if this Bill receives a Second Reading. I should like to feel assured
§ that there is this desire on the part of the county councils associations to reach some accord on this matter. As I said earlier, I am not at all convinced that there is this desire on the part of the larger authorities, but we must not forget a very real and urgent desire on the part of the large non-county boroughs to secure an improvement in their status, because they know positively that they can perform the services much more efficiently and in many cases much more economically than is being done at the present time.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 94; Noes, 165.533
§ Words added.