HC Deb 09 December 1958 vol 597 cc264-301

6.22 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)

I beg to move, That the Local Government Commission Regulations, 1958, dated 21st November, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th November, be approved. We now come south of the Border. These Regulations are for the guidance of the two Local Government Commissions, one for England and one for Wales. The Local Government Commission for England has already been appointed and, to judge by all the comments which I have heard or read, its composition has given general satisfaction. I hope soon to announce the members of the Local Government Commission for Wales, which has a much less prolonged task before it. I am sure it is right that the Commissions should receive from Parliament any guidance that they need before the New Year, when they will be getting down to the business of the actual reviews.

There has been consultation with the local authority associations during the drafting of these Regulations, and the advice of the associations has led to the incorporation of a number of useful improvements. The Regulations echo some points of the Regulations that were approved by Parliament in 1945 for the old Local Government Boundary Commission. Where there are differences, the reason can usually be found in the difference between the 1958 Act and the 1945 Act, under which the old Boundary Commission functioned.

In 1945, it was a question of a Commission that was expected to be a permanent reviewing body presenting orders direct to Parliament, whereas the present Commissions are to submit proposals to the Minister. In addition, the task of the earlier Commission extended to the boundaries and status of local authorities of all kinds throughout the country. Furthermore, its procedure was not so closely prescribed in the Act. The underlying spirit, of course, is the same in both cases. In both cases it is a question of guidance.

The Commissions must be free, provided they have taken into account all the matters prescribed in the Regulations, to formulate their own proposals in relation to each particular case. Indeed, these Regulations do not essay to give the Commissions detailed guidance in every one of the possible situations that may arise. There will certainly be cases where, subject to the general guidance of the Regulations, matters are best left to the words of the Act and to the commonsense of the Commissions.

I expect that the House would like me to go briefly through the various Regulations. The first point that the House may care to note is the reference in the latter part of Regulation 2 to "review areas" The five "special review areas" are defined in the Third Schedule to the Act—although they can be added to by Order under Section 17 of the Act, and can be varied by Order under Section 25. Outside the special review areas, the Act provides that the Commissions must divide up England or Wales, as the case may be, into such areas as they think fit—subject to a ministerial power of direction, which, I hope, will never need to be used.

What is envisaged is that in England, and possibly also in Wales, these areas will usually be quite sizeable ones, each covering two or more geographical counties. The Commission for England is expected to announce by about the end of this year which such areas, in addition to any special review area, it proposes to deal with first.

Regulation 3 reminds the Commissions that, even though their review area may be a large one, they must not ignore the relationship between the local govern- ment problems inside it and those of neighbouring areas. It reminds the Commissions, also, that the aim must be local government units which are both effective and convenient, individually and collectively.

Regulation 4 stresses the importance of looking to the future, too, and not solely at the existing circumstances. Local government serves needs and has problems which never stand still, and the Commissions must not look solely at the existing point in time. This consideration was raised on several occasions during the passage of the Act and I promised that note would be taken of it.

Regulations 5 and 6 provide some kind of measuring rod with which the Commissions can help themselves in judging whether any existing or contemplated organisation of local government in any review area is or is not "effective and convenient," those being the criteria laid down in the Act. They are not bound to apply only the criteria mentioned in these two Regulations. What they are required to do is to include among the factors which they take into account these points in the two Regulations.

In Regulation 7 the House will recognise some old favourites—the so-called nine factors, which were prescribed for the old Boundary Commission in 1945 in almost identical terms. They have simply been brought up to date in the light of present day circumstances. Regulations 8 to 10 touch on the difficult question of the creation of new county boroughs. These Regulations have been carefully worded. I am not anxious to put any gloss on them. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will gladly answer any questions that may arise.

Regulation 11 deals with extensions by existing or proposed county boroughs into the areas of neighbouring county districts. Its effect is intended to be that normally—I say "normally" although, of course, there may be exceptions, which the Commissions will have to justify—a county borough should not be extended to take in a neighbouring area merely because that area is neighbouring. There must be a real link, or there must be at least a prospect of a real link. Furthermore, the proposed added area should normally be an urban area, or one that is likely to become urban. After all, we are dealing with big towns—the county boroughs.

This Regulation also reminds all concerned, the Commission and the local authorities, that when a prospect of development is claimed to exist the claim will have much more weight if it can be shown to be consonant with a current development plan or current planning permission. The Commission will have to form its own judgment of development prospects, but it is not itself a planning authority, nor has it any appellate jurisdiction in planning matters.

The Commission for England is reminded by Regulation 12 to consider, as soon as practicable after the beginning of a special review of an area, whether there is need for any adjustment to the territorial scope of the special review. That will be the occasion for any anxious local authorities in the special review area, or on the fringe of it, to put a case if they so wish—it is entirely at their discretion—for inclusion in the area or for exclusion from it. That applies only to the Local Government Commission for England, because it will be remembered that in the passage of the Act through Committee we provided that special review areas could not be created in Wales.

Regulation 13 reminds the Commission of the main reasons why these special review areas are singled out for special treatment in the Act. When it is examining an area of that character, the Commission must ask itself whether the area possesses, in fact, such features as to justify the use of the special proposal-making powers which the Act provides.

Regulation 14 ought to allay the anxieties of those who harbour a fear lest a county half inside a special review area and half outside it might find itself reviewed in two completely separate operations. In practice, what is expected is that when the Commission comes to review a special review area, about the same time it will deal with another review area including the surrounding county areas. Its proposals for the two review areas would then be arrived at together.

Regulation 15 is chiefly of importance in the possible case where the Commission is considering leaving the pattern in a special review area much as it is now, except for some adjustments of boundaries and amalgamations of small units. This Regulation will remind the Commission of the fact that the range of functions available for exercise by county districts will depend, among other things, upon their size. Broadly speaking, the bigger the county district the greater its chances of adding to its responsibilities by getting delegated powers from the county.

Regulation 16 is addressed to the possible alternative case where the Commission is considering dividing a special review area, or part of it, into county boroughs, including possibly some new ones. That solution, which, of course, would eliminate all county districts in that area or part of an area, would presumably be adopted only where it was clear that there were at present too many different authorities for the good local government health of the area. It seems reasonable, therefore, in such a case, that a Commission should be invited to think twice before proposing to divide the area among too many separate authorities again.

Regulation 17 is concerned with a third alternative which the Commission can propose—that is, the special county with a special distribution of functions between county and districts. The aim is to avoid a structure that is either too top-heavy or too bottom-heavy.

Regulation 18 rounds off these references to these three alternative possibilities of change in a special review area by inviting the Commission's attention to its power to appoint joint boards. That power may in some cases assist the Commission in coming to its choice, and, after it has come to its choice, in working out the best detailed proposals.

Regulations 19 to 22 are concerned solely with matters of procedure and are self-explanatory.

These Regulations before us are not necessarily final. They can be amended in the light of subsequent experience, if need is shown, but I invite the House to endorse them as they are and to send them on with the good wishes of Parliament to the two Commissions in their difficult and responsible tasks.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

I am sure that the House will be obliged to the Minister for having given his detailed explanation of these Regulations. I take it that we are not here this evening to discuss whether or not the Regulations are the best method by which the Commissions can deal with this problem. We have had hours of discussion in Cornmittee, on Report and Third Reading and the Minister has the authority of the House for the Regulations. Therefore, I and my right hon. and hon. Friends do not propose to contest them.

There are, however, one or two points arising from the Regulations with which I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to deal when he replies to the debate. First, the Minister quite fairly pointed out that there is a difference between the operation of the Commissions under the Local Government Act, 1958, and their operation under the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act, 1945. As the Minister said, under the 1945 Act the Boundary Commission made its report and recommendations direct to Parliament. In this instance, the Commission's report and recommendations are made to the Minister. He considers them and makes an Order to be placed before Parliament. The Minister's Order, following the Commissions' reports, may have no relationship at all to the factors in the Commissions' reports.

The Minister can vary the report, he can act on the Regulations or modify them, or he can make no report at all within the light of his desires following the report. What is not clear to me—it may be in the Act, but I could not find it when I looked this afternoon—is whether there is any way by which the Minister is obliged to place before the House the report and recommendations of the Local Government Commission. Therefore I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us whether or not, after 10 reports have been made to the Minister and he has considered them, the House will have the opportunity of seeing the report and recommendations of the Local Government Commission as well as the Order which the Minister proposes to make following that report.

Regulation 22 gives the Minister the power to give directions to the Local Government Commission during the course of its operations. It is my view that any such direction should at least be on general principles acceptable both to the local authorities and to the House of Commons. After all, these Regulations are based upon authority given to the Minister in the 1958 Act. In preparing them, as the Minister has informed the House, he has consulted the local authorities and has made provision within them for suggestions made to him by local authorities during those negotiations. If, during the course of the Commission's work, the Minister gives directions, I would like to know what opportunity will be given to the House to know that the right hon. Gentleman has given such directions, and whether there will be any prior consultation with local authorities. It is important to keep to the general principle of consultation and to know that the Commission is being directed in accordance with the principle which has so far been accepted by the House and by the local authorities.

My only other point arises under Regulation 19. Here the Commission is rightly requested to keep the Minister informed of the programme of the reviews. Not only is the programme important, as the Minister said during his explanation, but equally important is the question of the timetable. We have a Commission for England to deal with special review areas and with the boundaries of counties and county boroughs. When does the Minister think that the report of the Commission is likely to be ready for presentation to him? What timetable has he arranged in his own Ministry?

At present, local government is in a state of uncertainty. Uncertainty at any time is not good for administration and it is particularly bad for local government. It may be that many local authorities are making excuses for not doing the things they should do. As an example, there are many counties where the revision of electoral divisions is long overdue because of changes in its population. The same applies in many county districts, but both counties and county districts are saying at present that they will not review their electoral divisions because some time there will be a general county review and they can deal with the change of boundaries of electoral divisions at the same time as they are considering the revision of local authority areas That is understandable, but it is undesirable if the report of the Commission is to be presented to the Minister and acted upon by the Minister within a reasonable period.

I do not want to be pessimistic. I am generally optimistic, but in my view the work of the Local Government Commission is bound to take a considerable time. I would like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary when his right hon. Friend estimates that he will receive the report of the Commission on the special review areas and on the county and county borough areas. We do not expect him to give actual dates, but it would help the local authorities to know whether, in introducing these Regulations, the Government believe it will be five, ten, fifteen or twenty years before we get the complete revision of our administrative areas. At the moment we only know that a task of this character must take a considerable time.

In the light of any information that the Minister may be able to give the House this evening local authorities will be able to undertake other duties which ought to be undertaken. If it is to take a long time we can go along normally doing the things that ought to be done and carry on the day to day administration which is being held up.

Apart from those general questions to the Parliamentary Secretary, my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House are prepared to let the Minister have these Regulations. We wish the Local Government Commission well in its work, and equally we wish that its report will be speedy so that we may get the revision of the administrative areas of the country settled for some time to come.

6.48 p.m.

Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)

I welcome this opportunity to say a few words about these Regulations and I endorse what has been said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) about the essential quality of reasonable speed in setting about the tasks of the Local Government Commission.

I feel sure that local government administration in any services, and, in particular, education, is waiting upon the determination of the new boundaries. So I add my plea to my right hon. Friend to impress upon the Commission that reasonable speed will be of considerable help throughout the country. I am speaking on these Regulations because I feel that I have a special responsibility, having advocated, during the Committee stage, of the Bill that my right hon. Friend should bring forward these instructions in the form of Regulations which have been welcomed by many local authorities.

I welcome one new feature which has emerged in the Regulations, namely, the reference to council members and also to the general public. This reference to council members and their ability to get to the places of administration of local government is an important new feature. We should do everything we can to encourage voluntary workers to play their part in local government. The low polls in local government elections are deplorable, and the reference to local council members and also to the general public will mean that both will know that the Commission is thinking of them during this reorganisation.

I have one point to put to the Parliamentary Secretary in connection with special review areas. It arises from Regulation 14. I welcome the fact that when a special review area within a county is being reviewed another special review area will be reviewed at the same time, up to the point of at least the "initial stages" of the second review being taken into consideration. I noticed that my right hon. Friend said that that would include surrounding county areas as well. Will it include the initial stages of the county review and the reviews of county boroughs within that county? When there are two special review areas, as in Cheshire, the reviewing commission must undertake its review on a zonal basis. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with that point.

I give a general welcome to the Commission and wish it every success in a task which is formidable. Its task may be made considerably easier if there are consultations at local level between the local authorities concerned in advance of the Commission's arrival. I believe that local authorities can achieve a great deal by starting these local consultations here and now. Knowing local conditions, councils will be in a position to suggest an outline of the new local government boundaries. That outline may not be acceptable, but at least it will be made in the knowledge of local conditions.

The Regulations offer local government an opportunity of reorganise which may not occur again in the lifetime of many councillors. The test of whether the review is to be successful will be what is best for the community. That must be the governing spirit and not what is best for an individual council.

6.52 p.m.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

Some hon. Members believe that the Regulations are marching orders for the Boundary Commission. However, that is not true for Wales because the Commission has not yet been appointed. I understand the Minister's difficulties. It may be that the House has placed on him a difficult burden in asking him to find people who can speak Welsh. It may be that another difficulty is that all the good local government men in Wales already belong to local government, so that it is difficult to find someone appropriate to appoint to the Commission.

Mr. H. Brooke

I share with the hon. Member the desire that the Commission will be quickly set up. I hope that I may be able to make an announcement before the House rises for the Recess. The hon. Member will recognise that some of the largest local government areas in Wales are those which may be affected by the Commission's recommendations. It would thus be invidious to appoint to the Commission some of the people who might otherwise have been obvious choices.

Mr. Speaker

There is nothing about the composition of the Commission in the Regulations.

Mr. Watkins

I was saying that the Regulations are considered to be marching orders, but marching orders cannot be given to anybody who is still standing still. I leave it at that.

I hope that when it is appointed the Commission will have regard to Regulations 4, 5 and 6. Will the Parliamentary Secretary indicate what guidance will be given in the circulars to local authorities? For instance, will they be asked to get in touch with the Commission, or will the Commission get in touch with individual authorities?

The Minister suggested that there might be two or three authorities who would come under one review. Authorities are anxious to know which local authorities might be included in such arrangements. I am anxious to know in what way the Commission will proceed, whether it will start on the coast and work towards mid-Wales, or whether it will start in mid-Wales and work towards the coast.

The Regulations say that future as well as existing circumstances will be considered. I hope that that means that the depopulation of rural mid-Wales will be taken into account, so that in the new set-up some industrial areas will be tied to rural areas to help to increase rateable values of rural counties, thus combating depopulation of rural areas.

I agree about the importance of ease of travelling to administrative centres. In the Report of the 1948 Boundary Commission, there were four separate proposals for Brecon and Radnor. It is difficult to travel in that area, and I am glad that the importance of travel facilities has been emphasised. I do not want a repetition of what has occurred with the mid-Wales police authority, where three counties are involved and where the Commission may consider that it is undesirable that the chief constable should live in Newton, more than 100 miles from the biggest industrial centre.

I was glad to find that the nine factors are listed alphabetically, but I hope that the Commission will not think that that is an order of importance. Community of interest may be very important. especially where there is a Welsh community, or an English community, in Wales. I could detain the House for a very long time while selecting which is the most important of those nine factors.

The Minister will be aware of the adage which says that a false step is worse than standing still. I hope that this step for Wales will not give the Government the false idea that they can borrow ideas from the English Commission, which may work for weeks, and then compel Wales to follow suit. I am glad that the names of the members of the Welsh Commission are to be announced before the Christmas Recess.

6.58 p.m.

Mr. R. Moss (Meriden)

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) has pointed out that we are concerned not with the form of the instructions, but with their nature. In that respect, the Minister has done a good job. He was right when he said that the Regulations did not pretend to give detailed instructions about every possible situation which could arise. If I refer to specific situations it is not because I object to the Regulations as a whole, but because I want to illustrate some of the problems which may arise when the Commission does its work.

I am pleased to see, in Regulation No. 3 the words: effective and convenient local government throughout the whole of the review area and not merely in individual areas of local government. In addition, there are the important words: regard being had also to the circumstances and needs of related review areas. This Regulation has to be taken in conjunction with Regulation 14, which was referred to by the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple). I suspect that the hon. Member misread that Regulation, because it does not refer to a county being affected by two special review areas. It reads: Before finally formulating any proposals for a special review area which includes only part of an administrative county the Commission shall complete at least the initial stages of their review of any review area which includes another part of that county.

Mr. Temple

Regulation 2 (2) says that: 'review area' means a special review area". With due deference to the hon. Member, I think that I may be correct.

Mr. Moss

I am much obliged to the hon. Member; I think he probably is correct. In that case, the point that I want to make is that an administrative county which is affected by the review of a special review area is also, at the same time, affected by the ordinary reviews of local government areas. I thought that that was what the hon. Member was trying to say, but he obviously was not.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

The hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) did not complete the definition. He will find that a review area means a special review area … or, outside special review areas, any area for which a review is held by the Commission. …

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) and the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) are both right.

Mr. Moss

I think that the hon. Member for the City of Chester will agree that that is a very nice solution, especially as we are getting near to Christmas.

Three counties in the West Midlands are affected—Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire—but the Parliamentary Secretary will know that in Warwickshire there is also the County Borough of Coventry, which may have its own boundaries altered to the disadvantage of Warwickshire. I would hope that if the parishes of Kingshurst and Castle Bromwich were included in a local government structure for the West Midlands conurbation, the Commission would also have to consider what might happen in reviewing the boundaries of the existing county borough in Warwickshire.

Mr. D. Howell

We must get this right. When my hon. Friend refers to the County Borough of Coventry and mentions the village of Kingshurst, I presume he means the County Borough of Birmingham, as Kingshurst is adjacent to Birmingham and not to Coventry.

Mr. Moss

No, I do not; I am pointing out that the Commission, in reviewing the West Midlands conurbation, may take out of the County of Warwick certain parts of the present administrative county. At the same time, the boundaries of the City of Coventry may be extended, also to the disadvantage of the county. I am not suggesting that that will happen, but the Commission will have to bear in mind all these possibilities.

A third possibility is that a change may be made which will affect two counties. The Borough of Tamworth is in the County of Stafford, while the adjacent areas are in the Tamworth rural district and the County of Warwick. A change may be made affecting the County of Warwick. I suggest that no change should be made at Kingshurst and Castle Bromwich, or at Tamworth or Coventry, in isolation. They should all be considered together because of their ultimate total effect upon the County of Warwick. It is obvious that no decisions can be made without considering a very wide area. Paragraph 21 of the White Paper. "Areas and Status of Local Authorities in England and Wales" says: assessing the wider repercussions of proposed changes upon other authorities affected. I now turn to Regulation 6, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for the City of Chester. This Regulation mentions the access of council members and the general public to their local administrative centres. Travelling facilities, both within and between local government areas, are mentioned. Here again, it is obviously impossible to lay down regulations affecting particular cases. I represent three rural districts surrounded by a number of urban centres, namely, Solihull, Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield, Tamworth, Nuneaton, Bedworth, Coventry, and Kenilworth. They form a circle round my constituency, and routes tend to interconnect these urban centres and, in the case of Birmingham and Coventry, to converge upon them. What is left inside my constituency is rather a by-product of the fact that it is surrounded by centres of urban population.

Local authorities should not necessarily be regarded as inefficient because they are so placed. I find it extremely difficult to get from one part of my constituency to another. Rural areas have these transport problems, and they ought not to be compared in this respect with more highly developed places which may have better means of communication.

Regulation 11 (a) refers to special links which may exist between a local government structure and an area which is at present outside it, but which may possibly be included in it by the Commission. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) smiles; he probably anticipates to what area I am referring. Links between these areas are bound to arise from mere proximity. In the case of Kingshurst, just outside the City of Birmingham, the obvious link is that the inhabitants have come from Birmingham while their relatives may still live inside the City.

There are other special links. Houses have been built in Kingshurst to provide homes for the overspill population of Birmingham; indeed, tenants of Kingshurst, living in the Meriden rural district, have been complaining to the City of Birmingham Corporation about their rents, because that Corporation receives their rents. That is a special link, but it has arisen from past co-operation between a county district and a great city, in an attempt to find a solution to the overspill population problem. I do not think that special link should count against the Meriden rural district because it exists as a result of its co-operation with the City of Birmingham in the past.

I should like to refer to Regulation 11 (b), which deals in a general way with the areas which may develop into town areas. There is no mention of the fact that such development may be considered undesirable. It may be desirable and it may be policy to preserve the green belt. The City of Birmingham has expressed itself as being in favour of an extension of boundaries.

Although I attach no significance to that, it means that the City of Birmingham will advocate before the Commission an extension of its boundaries as a solution of its housing problem. This is a fringe extension and I should like to have seen in the Regulations something requiring the Commission to take note of the best means of preserving the green belt where it exists and pointing out to the Commission that that might best be done by leaving the county areas where they are at present.

The need to preserve the green belt should be one of the factors to be considered. Again, this is a particular circumstance, but it must apply to many areas in this country and I can find no reference to it. However, paragraph 32 of the White Paper, "Areas and Status of Local Authorities in England and Wales" states that a county borough wishing to extend its boundaries would have to show whether such extension was justified, that the area claimed was not excessive and what the consequences would be for the county or counties affected. The White Paper went on to say that the onus should be placed on the county borough to prove that the advantages to its own inhabitants would outweigh the disadvantages caused to the county or counties concerned. I can find no mention of that in these Regulations and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be prepared to say something about it when he sums up the debate.

The special review areas are, of course, narrowly defined. We dealt with all that in Committee. I got the impression in Committee that only slight adjustments were permitted. Section 25 (1) of the Local Government Act, which refers to these Regulations, enables the Minister to vary a special review area by Order; while Section 25 (2) of the Act enables the Commission to do so subject to negative control by the Minister within a period of two months. I take it that that is still the position, particularly as regards Section 25 (2), that only slight modifications are intended.

Regulation 13 (d) seems to me to be a little vague. It would seem to exclude overspill populations except in so far as overspill population problems might be resolved more successfully when considered by the exporting area as a whole. Regulation 5 would also seem to exclude overspill population problems. Dealing with the overspill population problem is one of the most important functions of local government. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary could say how far it is possible for Regulation 18 to be applied to a solution of the overspill population problem so far as a special review area as a whole is concerned. Could a joint authority be set up to negotiate with other authorities for the reception of overspill population?

Regulation 6 brings in the access of council members and the general public to their local administrative centres. I find this difficult to understand. In rural districts, villages are often remote from administrative centres. Any right hon. Gentleman who thinks that houses constructed in one village in a rural district may help the inhabitants of another village in that rural district is wide of the mark. The English have a habit of not living in accordance with administrative convenience. I do not quite understand how this Regulation applies to the efficiency of rural district authorities. In my experience, it is always difficult to get to an administrative centre of a rural district from some other part of that district.

Finally, I refer to Regulation 7, which puts the nine principles in alphabetical order and the "Wishes of the inhabitants" last in alphabetical order. My own view is that the wishes of the inhabitants are extremely important in any democratic society. I call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the White Paper "Areas and Status of Local Authorities in England and Wales" paragraph 16, where reference is made to "local loyalties and civic pride" being a source of strength in local government. Apart from these few criticisms, I think that the Regulations generally are to be commended and I wish the right hon. Gentleman and the Local Government Commission success in their work.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

I welcome these Regulations because I believe they are an earnest that, at long last, the Government are getting on with the job of local government reform, and that the Commission is in a position to undertake its task. I understand that the Commission has already been in touch with different local authorities and requested them to make their representations, so that it may frame its programme and begin operations in the new year. I also welcome the personnel of the Commission. It is completely unbiassed and I think that it will face its problems in an objective way. I do not know whether in his original announcement the Minister mentioned all the members of the Commission, but if so, I suggest, in view of the scale of its operations, that two or three more members should be added to it.

I should like more information about the order of its work. In dealing with a special review area, automatically the Commission will have to take into account the effect on surrounding areas, adjacent counties and so on. For example, when the Commission comes to Tyneside to deal with the special review area there, obviously it will not be able to reach any satisfactory solution without taking into account the effect on both the County of Northumberland and the County of Durham. It cannot settle the problems of the County of Durham without taking into account the problems of Tees-side. It cannot settle that problem without considering the problem of North Yorkshire—and so on.

That will mean that the actual review area will be extremely large, and it will be a long time before anything is settled. I wonder, therefore, whether that is the kind of review area which the Commission will have in mind. If so, I suggest that the Commission will need strengthening in order to bring these proceedings to a successful conclusion in anything like a reasonable time. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) was unduly pessimistic in referring to a period of ten to fifteen years, but if this be the kind of problem which has to be faced, he may well be right. My view is that we have waited long enough for a review to take place, and the sooner it can be carried out, the better.

I wish to know whether the Commission will be able to tackle a number of areas simultaneously, as the previous Commission was able. Will it be possible for the Commission to divide itself into small sub-committees which would receive evidence, and so on, and issue separate reports? Otherwise the rush of local authorities to get into the queue for priority will be great, and may lead to unnecessary unpleasantness.

Regulation 20, which deals with notices of reviews, specifies that there should be a period of not less than eight weeks before a review is entered upon. That is rather a long time. Most of these local authorities have been living with this question for a considerable period, and I am not sure that they would need as long as eight weeks to prepare their case, or to issue the local notices, or to mobilise public opinion. I hope that the period may be shortened.

The point was raised during the Report stage about the figure of 100,000 population being the minimum for considering the conversion of a non-county borough into a county borough. I am satisfied that the Minister has dealt with this matter effectively in Regulation 9. It meets all the criticisms which were made and is a very fair statement

Regulation 10 states: The Commission shall not in any case propose the constitution of a new county borough in an area forming part of one or more administrative counties unless they are satisfied … It seems clear that the Commission is free to take one part of a county from that county and put it into another county to make a new county borough. That was one of the stumbling blocks which confronted the old Commission. I trust that my interpretation is correct, because this may affect my own constituency.

I hope it is not meant that the nine factors referred to in Regulation 7 will have to be taken into account in every case. Obviously, there are many areas where some of them will not apply and I hope that it will be sufficient if the Commission pays general regard to factors of that kind. Another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough which I wish to emphasise is the necessity to keep Parliament informed of the Commission's progress. The Commission has an obligation to keep the Minister informed of its programme of reviews, and I hope the Minister will consider it his duty to acquaint Parliament with whatever the Commission brings to his notice, either by arranging for a Question to be asked, or by making a statement, or in some other way. It is important that we should keep track of the work of the Commission so that we may know it is getting on with the job we intended it to do.

When reports are made to the Minister, as is laid down in the Regulations, it is essential that they should be printed and the public notified as well as hon. Members of this House, so that we may be aware of the decisions taken by the Minister and informed whether they are in line with recommendations made by the Commission or against them. It is my hope that the Commission will now be able to get on with its job and that we shall not have to wait too long for its recommendations.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

Regulation 7 states: The following (placed in alphabetical order) are to be included among the factors taken into account by the Commission on the holding of a review. Then there follow nine factors, which, I presume, are part of the wider considerations that the Commission will take into account from time to time regarding review areas.

Is the Minister trying to evolve a pattern of local government into which he will place the services administered by the local authorities; or is he proposing to attempt to fit a local government structure on to those services? This is a very important matter. We cannot juggle with the creation of boundaries of one kind or another without taking account of the wide range of services which are vital to the country and to local authorities. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us whether one of the prime considerations will be the study of the services to be administered by local authorities. Otherwise, he may find that a structure of local government is created which is uneconomic when related to the services to be administered. These include education, the fire service, the health service, housing, libraries, licensing, the protection of the public, parks and open spaces, transport, sanitation, sewage disposal, street lighting, town and country planning and welfare services, all of which involve substantial expenditure on behalf of the State and the ratepayers.

Above all else we desire to see a wide variety of services administered by the local authorities in an efficient and effective manner with a minimum of expenditure. The Commission might not reach that objective if it is obsessed with the idea of creating a structure without any relation to the economic administration of these vital and important services.

The Commissioners will undoubtedly find themselves engaged in a very difficult problem. There is a great deal of parochialism in local government. Even a parish council fights for more powers. It is generally anti-county council and all for parish councils. We ought to try to overcome what appears to be a vested interest in this matter. I do not know whether these Regulations provide for that. It may be that they do. If so, I hope the Minister will tell us. In the restriction of boundaries of local authorities and the creation of various grades of local authority administration I should like to see, for instance, on the county councils a certain proportion of rural district councillors and urban district councillors, or members of non-county boroughs. We want a closer tie-up as between the lower and higher tiers.

I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether I am in order in saying this because I see you getting nearer and nearer to the edge of your seat. If the Commissioners are to succeed in their main purpose of creating a machine which is to function effectively and efficiently in the administration of the service the State entrusts to them, we must have a better under- standing on the part of the parish councillor of the responsibilities of the county and vice versa. That, coupled with the most effective administration of the services fitted into the appropriate structure, will achieve the main purpose.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to expedite the work of the Commission and that without undue delay we shall receive its reports, because this is a long overdue measure. Despite all the difficulties the Commissioners undoubtedly will meet, the sooner they are able to bring to us a reformed structure of local government, bearing in mind the many other aspects of the problem already mentioned, the better it will be for local government.

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

I did not intend to take part in this debate until my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) spoke. On many occasions he and I have contested what should happen to the West Midlands conurbation. Probably we are not now so far apart as when we started this argument.

If my hon. Friend is right in saying that the wishes of the inhabitants should be the most important consideration, he will be placing his local authority in a difficult position when the residents on the Kingshurst Estate are asked to state their wishes. They come from Birmingham, live in Birmingham municipal houses and pay rates in Birmingham. There is not a very good service of buses and there is not much doubt where those residents' wishes lie. I urge caution upon my hon. Friend. I do not want to see him go from this House, but I am afraid that if the local government wishes of his constituents in that area are taken into consideration, that might make a large hole in his constituency, if not in his majority, and that I should not like to see.

I am perplexed, as I have been all through this business. I ought to say so again now, because my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) said that it will be ten or fifteen years before we reach finality in the matter and it would be a serious step to allow these Regulations to go without making the point I have made before, that I do not see how the Commission, under its terms of reference and these Regulations, can produce satisfactory solutions to the problem which will confront it.

I am pleased to see Regulation 12. According to that, the first thing that the Commission has to do is to consider the special review areas and to tell the Minister whether it thinks that they are wide enough. I wanted to see something like that in the Act, although my efforts may not have been recognised as being in that direction. I do not see how the Commission can carry out Regulation 12 immediately. I do not see how it can tell the Minister that the West Midlands conurbation as defined in the Act is not large enough to do certain specific tasks laid down in the Regulations. It cannot do that at the beginning of its deliberations, because it has to take the evidence and look at the problems before it can reach such a conclusion.

I should be interested if the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us how he envisages that Regulation 12 will work out in practice. I understand that the West Midlands conurbation will be one of the first to be reviewed. The question of overspill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden rightly mentioned as an important factor, is a question for every one of the authorities, with the exception of Warwickshire County Council. I understand the anxiety of my hon. Friend on this. All the other local authorities are without land, they are built up and have terrific problems in housing the homeless and dealing with the movement of industry.

The Commission, under Regulation 11 (b) has to have regard to The question whether, if the area is not already built-up, the use of the land in accordance with the development plan or in the manner authorised by permission to develop land granted on application in that behalf is likely to lead to its development into such a continuation of a town area as is indicated in paragraph (a) within such period as the Commission think it right to consider in the circumstances of the particular case;". That looks well on paper, but all of us know what is in these development plans. I know what is in the development plans of all the county councils adjacent to Birmingham. I am not blaming them for wanting to maintain a green belt. There is great force in that argument and in my view it is in the national interest that a green belt should not be gobbled up higgledy-piggledy by large towns.

I say that although it puts me on dangerous ground in Birmingham. It is a factor which has to be taken into consideration. If we add Regulation 11 (b) to Regulation 12 the combined effect is to say that the Local Government Commission cannot produce solutions to the problems in the area it is investigating, as that is a complete impossibility. The development plan says, "So far, no farther". There is to be no more building in those areas, but the problems of Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire and all the considerations in Regulation 7 have to be taken into account, and they are impossible of solution.

I hope very much that when carrying out its duties under Regulation 12 the Commission will make an early assessment of the problems, the likelihood of the local authorities being able to produce a sensible solution to them, and will recommend to the Minister that he should extend the boundaries in accordance with the power that he has under the Act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) made the very pertinent point that we cannot look at any of these areas in isolation. Whatever change is recommended in one area is bound to have an effect upon other areas. Those of us who do not want to see the boundaries of large towns widened, or the green belt violated, nevertheless realise that as the Regulations have been framed, unless the Commission uses its special power in Regulation 12, no solution to this problem will be found.

I said in Committee, and it can be repeated now, that although I am not anxious to see the boundaries of Birmingham extended, the Regulations and the Act virtually force the Birmingham City Council into a position in which it has to recommend boundary extensions to the city. No doubt under paragraph 11 the council will be giving evidence and recommending extensions of boundaries, part of which will have the effect of encroaching on the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden and other hon. Members.

That is the almost inescapable position in which the Minister has put the City of Birmingham, and I hope even at this late hour we shall take advantage of the one gate still left open—that of Regulation 12. I hope that when the Commission studies the facts and realises the effects of not offering a solution for the large towns in the existing conurbations it will take the sensible and practical course of coming to the Minister as quickly as possible and saying, "You must extend this area in the name of preserving the green belt, while, at the same time, bringing hope to the homeless, and you must redistribute industry on a sensible basis."

7.42 p.m.

Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)

I want, first, to join in the expression of good will which has been offered by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the Commissions, which are now embarking on a very difficult task. The Commissions have the job of doing what might be described as a tidying-up operation in most of England and Wales, but they have very great possibilities before them in any recommendations they make for the special review areas, where their powers are considerably greater in the making of recommendations than they are in the rest of the two countries.

I feel that out of the special review areas and the regulations about them, and out of subsequent action taken in the House, we may see a new form of local government growing up—a form which we have never seen before—and that for this reason the effect will eventually spread over areas much wider than the special review areas.

May I comment on one or two Regulations, particularly Regulation 7, which has been mentioned by the Minister and by other hon. Members, and the nine principles which are set out there. Paragraph (g) refers to the Record of administration of the local authorities concerned which the Commission has to take into account when it starts on its work in any area. I think that it can rightly be claimed for the vast majority of local authorities, whether large or small, county borough or county council, and even the smallest parish council, that on the whole the records of administration are good, irrespective of the political party controlling them and whether there is no political influence on them at all.

While it is right, therefore, that this provision should be included, it should not be the overriding consideration in the mind of the Commission when looking into this matter, because, broadly, if this is to be one of the principal criteria, nearly all authorities will be able to establish a case for nothing very much being done.

Paragraph (i) refers to the "wishes of the inhabitants". It is easy to say that the Commission, or for that matter anyone else, should take into account the wishes of the inhabitants of an area. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) said that he thought this one of the most important provisions, and he was unhappy that, alphabetically, it came at the end of the list. I agree that it is important to take account of the wishes of the inhabitants, but, at the same time, I am not quite sure how the Commission will discover those wishes. All too often the wishes of the inhabitants as interpreted by the members of the local authority for the area are not necessarily any of the wishes and ideas which the inhabitants themselves have.

I am all in favour of accepting the fact that the elected representatives on a local authority are given the responsibility of interpreting the wishes of the inhabitants in respect of the local government of that area, but when those same representatives appear before the Commission or any other body and toll that Commission or other body what are the wishes of the inhabitants about the type of local authority they should have—whether there should be any change in the boundaries, for instance—I regret to say that in the vast majority of cases those representatives have far too many vested interests individually to be able properly to express the views of the inhabitants who, on other matters, they quite adequately represent.

On the other hand, I also feel that other bodies, organisations and individuals appearing before Commissions of this nature will probably not represent the wishes of the inhabitants as a whole, but will represent certain specific interests among the inhabitants. While I agree that this provision should be included in the Regulations, and while I am pleased to see it there, I hope that the Commission will not accept without a great deal of understanding the views which are brought forward to it by a great many bodies, both local authorities and others, which are not necessarily the wishes of the inhabitants as a whole but often represent the wishes of a small group of inhabitants, some of whom, unfortunately, have a vested interest in the continuance of the status quo or in the continuance of the present situation without too many alterations.

Perhaps I may now turn to Regulation 8. The same point is mentioned in Regulation 11 (b). These are points for the Commission when proposing the creation of new county boroughs. The Commission is to take into account any increase or decrease of population and the operative words are, within such period as they think it right to consider in the circumstances of the particular case". I can imagine some local authorities coming to the Commission and stating that in about fifteen or twenty years' time they expect to have a population of 110,00, despite the fact that they now have only 75,000, and I can see them trying to substantiate a case for county borough status on a forward look covering a very long period. No specific period of years which the Commission should take into account is mentioned in the Regulations, and I do not for one minute think that it would be possible to mention a specific period in the Regulations, but I express the hope that, when operating, the Commission will bear in mind that—as I interpret other Sections of the Act—in county reviews it is expected to look forward only about ten years, because after ten years, if he so desires and thinks necessary, the Minister can ask the county to carry out another review.

I think that about ten years is the maximum forward look which the Commission ought to take when considering the various points mentioned in Regulation 8 and Regulation 11 (b). It would be dangerous to look very much further forward than that, unless the circumstances are particularly exceptional in any area, although I fully realise the difficulty about prescribing the number of years in the Regulations.

Regulation 11 (b) shows some of the dangers of county borough extensions. There are far too many county boroughs—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) has already given some indication of this—who are waiting for the opportunity to get their hands on neighbouring bits of land which often have been designated as green belt. I think it is essential for the Commission to bear in mind that all too often, when a county borough wants to absorb a neighbouring area, its main reason for doing so is to enable it to build.

I am glad that my hon. Friend reminded the Commission that in looking at any such question it should bear in mind whether the land has been designated for building, for green belt or for any other purposes. At the same time, I have a certain amount of sympathy with my hon. Friend, who mentioned the problem in the area surrounding Birmingham, where a vast amount of land is scheduled as not being fit or suitable for building operations.

Regulation 12 has caused some discussion between my hon. Friends. I am exceedingly pleased that the Minister has drawn the Commission's attention to the fact that its first job should be to look at the question of its area. I place a completely different interpretation on Section 25 (1) to that placed on it by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden, who seemed to think that these would be only slight alterations. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr on this and I hope that in looking at these special review areas the Commission will realise that they are far too tightly drawn. I hope that it will then go to the Minister with proposals for extending the areas. I hope that if and when he receives any such proposals as those, the Minister will be prepared, without questioning too much at that stage, to accede to any such request made to him by the Commission.

All that the right hon. Gentleman is really doing is to extend the area to be considered in a special review, and does not then commit himself to any particular form of local government organisation in the extended area. As the Commission has been given this responsibility, I hope that if it asks the Minister for action under Section 25 (1) the right hon. Gentleman will accede to the request, realising, as I say, that he is not then committing himself to doing more than give the Commission the power to look at a wider area in a special review.

Regulations 15 to 18 give some of the alternative proposals that the Commission can recommend for the special review areas. Here I have to refer back, of course, to Regulation 7 about which the Minister has, quite rightly, I think, gone to some pains to point out that the various factors are in alphabetical order, and do not imply that he considers the first in the list to be more important than the last.

I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will be able to assure us that the fact that the items mentioned in Regulations 15 to 18 are in a particular order does not imply ministerial preference for any one of them over the others. In fact, if I thought that they were placed in some sort of preferential order I could say a good deal about the part played by some of them. It is, perhaps, a pity that the Minister could not have put them in alphabetical order, as has been done with the nine factors in Regulation 7.

I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden about Regulation 20, which instructs the Commission to give a local authority eight weeks' notice of intention to enter upon its area to carry out a review. In the circumstances, this is not sufficient notice. In many parts, individual local authorities will be negotiating one with another right up to the last moment in order to get agreed statements to present to the Commission. Eight weeks is a satisfactory enough period to be put in the Regulations, but I hope that, while complying with them, the Commission will, wherever possible, give more than eight weeks' notice. In other words, although I do not propose that that period should be extended officially, I hope that more notice will be given wherever possible.

The Minister indicated that Regulation 16 might be used to reduce the number of county boroughs in an area. The Association of Municipal Corporations has submitted to the Royal Commission other aspects of this subject, and has argued that the London area should be split into county boroughs. I assume that under this Regulation, the Association could, if it so desired, submit special proposals to split, say, the City of Birmingham into county boroughs. That would seem to fit into its general views, but whether or not it would be foolish enough to do so I do not know.

I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward these Regulations. I think that they are quite good. I remember the right hon. Gentleman speaking to the Annual Conference of Municipal Treasuries in Edinburgh, two years ago, when he said that he intended to be the man to deal with local government reform in England and Wales. He has had the dirty end of the stick, first, in piloting the Bill through Parliament, and now in drawing up the Regulations. In a way, I am sorry for him because, when the time comes to consider the Commission's recommendations, it will be done by a Minister from this side of the House. Nevertheless, I congratulate the Minister on what he has so far done.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

It is rather a pity that the very excellent series of comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) should have been heard by so few hon. Members and that, except for the very valuable contribution of the Minister, we should have had only one contribution from the other side of the Chamber. Whether or not the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us the actual date of the funeral of the party opposite I do not know, but I am sure that we will be glad to hear it if he does.

I support what has been said by several of my hon. Friends about the timetable. All authorities concerned—and, perhaps, especially the areas involved in the special reviews—want to know how soon they are likely to be approached. I know the difficulties, but it would certainly be of great value if those areas could be given some indication of the timetable as soon as possible. A number of very important developments may be held up if there is the feeling that there will shortly be a considerable change in the authorities to be in charge of the developments.

This applies to a large number of schemes relating to local authority areas. For instance, the authorities on the Tyneside are rather automatically assuming that because the Tyneside—in my view, quite properly—is placed first in the Third Schedule to the Act, the Commission will be dealing first with the Tyneside's problems. I do not think that that is the case, but it would be of very great value to be told quickly the order in which the areas are to be dealt with.

I also agree with what has been said about some of the factors that the Commission has to take into account when holding a review, and particularly the item "wishes of the inhabitants," and the very real difficulty there is in achieving any real understanding of this point in relation to local government structure.

The term "vested interest" is, perhaps, not quite the right one, but there are the natural interests that have been established over a number of years, and many of us feel that we have a chance here even to experiment with new forms of local government. We very much hope that the Commission will not be inhibited too much by a natural desire to try to reach as wide a measure of agreement as possible.

It must be the Commission's desire to get a good deal of agreement, but what has been said this evening should indicate that it is quite hopeless to expect that, even if the Commission spends more time on this than we hope it will, it will ever achieve any kind of unanimity of view. It is, therefore, very important that the Commission should attach its proposals to clear lines of principle which will get a wide degree of intelligent support.

It is clear that the two major points to which the Commission must pay regard are, on the one hand, size in relation to efficiency of administration—that the authority should be sufficiently large to enable the services to be properly discharged—and, on the other hand, the need to have an area of such size as to provide for the possibility of contact for those living within the area.

I hope that it will be possible, within these Regulations, for the Commission to think about the contact of the local population in terms of participation at some level with the actual services being provided; that is to say, that the Commission will think in terms of a very intimate form of contact with services, while not being at all afraid of having major local authorities large enough to ensure adequate resources to discharge the very wide and responsible functions they have to carry out. It may well be that, in the future, there will be further responsibilities which these authorities will be required to undertake.

I have one further point with regard to the timing. It is quite clear that we cannot expect reports on a matter of this character to be presented very quickly. Inevitably, the surveys will extend over a considerable period of time—I do not know how much substance there is in the suggestion about ten years—and there will be a longish period of uncertainty.

Will it be possible for the Commission, within that period, to make some kind of interim recommendations with regard to quite modest modifications of boundaries, for example, in respect of a county borough coming within the special review areas, if the Commission thought it desirable, before presenting its recommendations? We are, of course, concerned with our own areas, and there are cases which come to the minds of us all in regard to which it would be undesirable, from all points of view, if relatively modest changes in county borough boundaries were delayed for the whole period of the special review, especially since some of these areas may be late on the list and not considered for some time.

8.2 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)

My right hon. Friend has, unfortunately, another appointment and he apologises to the House for his absence. He is, I know, as I am, very grateful for the favourable reception which has been accorded to these Regulations. It is quite an unusual experience for us.

Mr. Lindgren

It will not last long.

Mr. Bevins

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) was good enough to compliment my right hon. Friend on one or two of his achievements, but he rather spoiled the compliment by going on to say that a Minister of another party allegiance would be in Whitehall by the time the reports came in. I am bound to say that, about 12 months ago, that was a fear felt by many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, but we all feel very much better about it now.

Mr. Blenkinsop

No doubt the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have become reconciled to it.

Mr. Bevins

I cannot possibly attempt to answer all the questions which have been put. I think that altogether about 200 have been asked. I should, however, like to refer to some of the more important ones.

The first question to which I wish to refer relates to the programme of the Local Government Commissions in England and in Wales. This matter was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop). The Act, of course, lays down that the Commission itself shall decide the sequence in which it is to deal with the various review areas, subject to Ministerial direction if the Minister so desires. Regulation 19 ensures that the Commission keeps the Minister informed of its programme. Thus, if the Minister ever felt that he ought to direct the Commission to change its programme, he would be in a position to take action in good time. As my right hon. Friend said, the present position is that the English Commission is collating the views of all local authorities about whether they think that their particular part of the country should be reviewed in advance of the rest, and, if so, why they take that view. In the light of these views from local authorities, the Commission hopes to be able to work out quite soon a programme of reviews for the coming year and, subject to the Minister's approval, to announce it by about the end of this month.

If hon. Members are interested, what the Local Government Commission actually said to the local authorities was that it would like early next year to begin the actual investigation of three review areas, but, before deciding which three areas to take first, it wanted to know whether there were any parts of the country where the local authorities themselves considered the need for review to be particularly urgent. The letter went on to say, If your council consider that their part of the country is in this category, they should indicate this by letter to reach the Commission not later than 16th December. As I say, that process is now going on, and things will begin to take shape before the year is out.

The Commission will start by taking on three sizeable review areas next year, in the hope that its decisions on the major pattern of those areas can be reached, or, at least, can be within sight, by the autumn or the end of 1959. The task will go on. I do not imagine—my right hon. Friend also has said this publicly—that the task will be completed in less than five years, but, as hon. Gentlemen know very well, it is not a question of waiting for all the reports and recommendations to come in. They will be flowing in as from some point next year almost continually and action will be taken by my right hon. Friend and by Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) asked whether it would be possible for the Commission to hive itself off, as it were, and look at certain areas of the country simultaneously, considering more than one area at the same time. This is possible, but when it comes to making a report and recommendation, that, quite clearly, will be, as it ought to be, the report and recommendation of the full Commission. All the machinery for that is provided under the Fourth Schedule to the Act.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough put one or two questions which I think I ought to touch upon. He asked whether the Minister would have to present the Commission's report to Parliament when he makes his Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the answer to that question, is "Yes"; my right hon. Friend is required to do so by Section 23 (3) of the Act. The hon. Gentleman asked also about the Minister's power to give directions. When the Minister gives directions, he asked, will the House haves an opportunity of commenting upon them, and will the local authority associations be consulted?

It is not easy to give a general answer to a question of this kind, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, because, in the main, the power to give directions is confined to such things as the order in which the reviews are to be carried out, whether a report on a particular area should be presented in two or more documents, and so on. Generally speaking, this power relates to particular local issues, and I do not think that it would be appropriate in such cases to consult the local authority associations. So far as the more important kind of directions are concerned, such as those affecting changes in special review areas under Section 25, there is explicit provision that the Minister must consult the local authorities concerned.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) had something to say about the Welsh Commission. He wanted to know how the matter would develop in the Principality. What I have said about England, of course, applies almost completely to Wales. The procedure of the Local Government Commission for Wales will follow a parallel course. As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend is most anxious to complete the task of setting up the Commission for Wales at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Watkins

Except that there are no special review areas to be considered in Wales.

Mr. Bevins

Quite so; but I do not think that that fundamentally affects the position. The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of trends of rural depopulation and asked whether they would he taken into account. I assure him that Regulation 4 has been so drafted to take that sort of factor into account.

My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) asked whether the Commission, when considering a county partly in a special review area, will also carry out a review of the county districts in the part of the county that lies outside the special review area. What my right hon. Friend said earlier was that we expect that when the Commission reviews a special review area it will at about the same time deal with another review area, including the surrounding county areas. As my hon. Friend knows, Regulation 14 makes it fairly clear that the Commission is not to reach a final conclusion—and this is the point—on a special review area which includes only part of an administrative county without at least looking at the review area that contains the rest of the county. If my hon. Friend looks at the form of words in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I am sure that he will be satisfied on that point.

The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) asked me a vast number of questions, some of which I will touch upon. One question was whether Regulation 12 involves a departure from the earlier undertaking that Section 25 would be used only for small variations of a special review area. As I say, that is in Section 25 of the Act. The important point to bear in mind is that Section 25 (2) reads If for the purposes of their review of a special review area it appears to the Commission expedient that the whole or any part of a county district adjoining the special review area … and so on. It is limited by the wording of the Act to an adjoining county district or part of a county district that adjoins. That undertaking, which is in the Act, still stands.

What about overspill? I will not get sandwiched between the hon. Member for Meriden and his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell), but I should like to reiterate that the duties of the Commission will not be concerned primarily with the future housing needs of Birmingham or any other municipality. The Commission is in no sense a planning authority. But it can certainly propose a joint housing board, or a joint planning board, for that matter. I can think of many circumstances in which a joint planning board would be a vast improvement on our present pattern of local government.

Mr. Sparks

Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that the Commission will have no regard for the efficiency of local government services?

Mr. Bevins

I am not saying anything of the sort. What I am saying is that the Commission will not be influenced primarily by questions of housing need or overspill. That has been repeated over and over again by my right hon. Friend.

What I was saying was that the Commission can certainly propose a joint housing board or a joint board covering any function if it thinks that good grounds are established for doing so. Such a joint board, by the terms of the Act, can extend to some extent beyond the ambit of the special review area if that is thought necessary.

I was asked by the hon. Gentleman about the wishes of the inhabitants, the factor which comes at the tail end of the nine factors. I assure him that that is purely an accident. We certainly think that the wishes of the inhabitants are very important, but this accident is solely because of the alphabet, which I am quite powerless to change.

I was asked whether, if the Commission decided that rural parts of Warwickshire should be taken into the urban area of the West Midlands, it would bear this blow to Warwickshire in mind when it is considering Coventry's ambitions for expansion. The answer is "Yes", because no change will be considered in isolation under the legislation. The total effects of all these matters have to be assessed.

The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees asked whether eight weeks' notice of an impending review was too long. I say to the hon. Gentleman, who I think expressed the opposite view, that if anything we have erred the other way. We certainly think that eight weeks' notice is not too long. Do the nine factors always have to apply? They have to apply where they are relevant in the circumstances. We were also asked whether the Minister would keep Parliament informed of the programmes as they develop. Again, the answer is "Yes", and there will be plenty of opportunity for Parliament to get to know how the programmes are shaping and developing. If any hon. Member opposite, or indeed on this side of the House, wants to know how they are developing, there is no inhibition from putting down a Parliamentary Question to my right hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) referred to the nine factors and asked about the nature of the services which local authorities have to administer. The nature of the services is a part of the circumstances and needs which I think the hon. Gentleman knows we refer to in Regulations 3 and 4 and also in the Act. I think that they are mentioned at two or three points in the Regulations, especially in association with the special review areas, but none of the factors in the Regulations are not exclusive and they do not prevent the Commission paying regard to other factors.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints, asked how the Commission could usefully act under Regulation 12 at the beginning of its review. Regulation 12 reads: As soon as practicable after entering on the review of a special review area, … and so on. I am assured that that means, as soon as the Commission has found out enough to justify it in forming an opinion. The point of the wording is that the Commission should not leave the decision whether or not there should be a variation in the special review area until it is too late.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints, also asked whether Regulation 11 would have the effect of strangling county boroughs, and I think that he also felt that this Regulation was perhaps to some extent in conflict with Regulation 12. I do not think that it is. The Regulations still leave the Commission free to propose whatever it finds best for any area, whether in the interests of expansion or restriction, according to local circumstances.

I should say to the hon. Member for Islington, North that there is no significance in the order of the alternative courses set out for the special review areas in the sequence given in page 3 of the Statutory Instrument. He also made the point that the Commission would have to be careful in the weight that it attached to the views which it received from certain citizens and local organisations in undertaking its reviews. I think that the implication was that certain people might have axes of one sort or another to grind. No doubt that is true. Let us be frank that in a matter of this sort, although we are all primarily concerned with improving the effectiveness and efficiency of local government, very few of us can put our hands on our hearts and say that our views are not coloured to some extent by considerations which are extraneous to that principal consideration. I am sure that the members of the Commission will be sufficiently wide awake—I am sure that they are sufficiently intelligent—to have regard to those possibilities.

In conclusion, the Government and my right hon. Friend are confident that if the Commissions follow both the letter and spirit of the Regulations they can be assured of the support of the Government and Parliament. The Commissions are being offered this guidance, not in order to hamper them, but to help and strengthen them in what will be a difficult but nevertheless, we hope, very worth while task. With those remarks, I commend the Regulations to the House.

Mr. Sparks

Can the Parliamentary Secretary cast some light on this question? The Commissions undoubtedly will report in due course. They will be reporting upon the creation of new local government structures, including, as the hon. Gentleman said, joint boards as well as other bodies. Are the Commissions empowered to set down the constitution for these new bodies that their reports may create, based either upon the elected or the nominated principle, or jointly? The Commissions will presumably recommend to Parliament the creation of new bodies, some of which are at present unknown to us in local government experience. Whether they are to be elected, nominated or a combination of the two, their constitution is an important matter. Are the Commissions empowered precisely to do this? Is it one of their functions?

Mr. Bevins

I speak subject to correction, but the provision in the Act, I think, is that in cases where a joint board is recommended by the Commission—this is only commonsense—it would state what it thought the constitution and representation of the joint board should be. It would make nonsense of the conception of a joint board in any locality if the Commission simply made a bald recommendation without having any authority to deal with its constitution.

question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Local Government Commission Regulations, 1958. dated 21st November, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th November, be approved.