§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, I desire to submit that this is a Bill to which the Standing Orders relative to Private Business may apply—the words of Standing Order No. 36 are "may apply". If that is so, the Bill ought to be sent to the Examiners.
A side note to the Rules talks about prima facie Hybrid Bills, but I prefer the language of the rule itself and the answer which was given by the then Clerk of Public Bills to the Select Committee on Hybrid Bills, 1948, when, on page 52 of the evidence, he was asked:Is the principle then, that when there is any doubt at all the bill must go to the Examiners?His answer was:I should say so, yes.I propose to submit that in this case there is, at any rate, some doubt and that the Bill should, therefore, go to the Examiners.
Standing Orders will be applicable if the Bill affects private rights which are not the private rights of a whole class of people. The second paragraph of the Report of that same Select Committee on Hybrid Bills contains as part of its definition of a Hybrid Bill… a public bill, since it accords with the two fundamental criteria of public bills described by Erskine May"—those two fundamental criteria are that it should relate to public policy and be introduced directly by a Member of the House—it has also, in large or small degree, the character of a private bill, since it affects the interests of specific individuals or corporations as distinct from all individuals or corporations of a similar category.An instance of a Private Bill, and a very common instance, is a Bill local in its application. There appears to be no doubt that if the present Bill related to Birmingham, for instance, it would be a Private Bill and would, therefore, have in it that element of Private Bill character which would require it to be sent to the Examiners. That is the con- 38 elusion in Erskine May which, on page 869, says:A bill relating to a city is usually held to be a private bill.The question is whether that also applies to the Metropolis. I must say at once that the practice of the decisions about this has not by any means been consistent, but all that I have to show is that there is some doubt. For that purpose I can take a very simple case referred to on page 1 of the Minutes of Evidence given before that same Cornmittee. The footnote says:A bill purely public has been converted by amendment into a hybrid bill. Thus the Waterworks Clauses Act (1847) Amendment Bill, 1884–85, as introduced into the House of Commons, applied to every water company in the kingdom. By an Amendment made in Committee it was limited to the metropolis. The House of Lords referred the bill to the Examiners who held that it had become a hybrid bill.There follow references to the Lords Journals.
The practice in these matters is the same whichever House is concerned. The change from a general application to a Metropolis application was held to turn the Bill into a Hybrid Bill. During the course of years, Bilks about the Metropolis were originally introduced as Public Bills; them matters affecting the Metropolis, gradually but to an increasing extent, have been dealt with by Private Bills now introduced regularly year by year. On page 870 of Erskine May there are a number of references to a variety of cases and the general statement:Since 1874 bills for giving further powers to the Metropolitan Board of Works and to its successor, the London County Council, have been introduced and passed as private bills.There therefore appears to be nothing in the metropolitan character of London which 'necessarily prevents this Bill from being treated as what it really is—a Bill of local application.
There is a reference to the point of the Metropolis in Erskine May, but it is no doubt the result of the growth of other large conurbations that the tendency has been more and more to assimilate metropolitan practice to that which would apply to Birmingham, or some other large town. Therefore, if any distinction is to be drawn, it must be a distinction relating to the character of the Metropolis as such. I can see the 39 point in relation to the police, for instance, but I fail to see it in relation to a number of matters with which this Bill deals. I submit that there is, therefore, sufficient doubt as to whether the matters should be dealt with in this form without reference to the Examiners to entitle us to have the Bill sent to them.
From that aspect of the matter I wish to turn to one or two particular cases. It is common knowledge, and has been stated by the Government and reported in the Press, that there were provisions relating to the water supply of the Metropolis which appeared in some draft Bill—which, of course, I have not seen—and which were taken out and do not appear in the present Bill; and which are to be the subject of other legislation, because it was understood that if they were put into this Bill, they would turn it into a Hybrid Bill.
If one looks at the published statement, called "Future of the Metropolitan Water Board," printed by the Board and containing the report of its General Purposes Committee which was adopted on 19th October, one sees the sort of thing which might,have been the reason for the hybrid character which these water provisions would have imported in the Bill. Page 2 of the printed statement states:The proposed area to be administered by the Council"—that is, the Greater London Council which is contemplated in this Bill—is some 750 square miles. Of this only some 420 square miles are supplied by the Board, that is, a little more than half. Moreover, the Board supply an area of about 120 square miles outside the Greater London Council areaLater in the statement, when arguing the case, the Board says:… it is inconceivable that at the very time when the Government is endeavouring to improve and regularise the local government pattern in London, a step is proposed which would immediately create an anomaly by giving the Greater London Council jurisdiction for a service in parts only of its area, and permitting ten other authorities to have jurisdiction for the same service in other parts of its area.The point of this, of course, is that if we have provisions of this kind we are bound to have with them treatment relating not to a whole class, such as the water undertakings throughout the kingdom, but to a whole class, less some par- 40 ticular instance. The particular instance, would, therefore, get the special treatment which imports a private character into the Bill and calls for its examination by the Examiners.
The Metropolitan Water Board is a statutory body. It is financed by a water fund with the deficiencies out of the fund supplemented from the rates of the constituent bodies. A similar body appears in the sewerage section of the Bill. Sewers are not always treated with sufficient seriousness, but their maintenance is, no doubt, an essential part of local government. They are just as essential as the water supply, and Part V of the Bill deals with nothing else but sewage and trade effluents. Here we get an instance, on which I propose to rely, of what I submit is, quite clearly, exceptional treatment of one particular person; using the term "person" in the sense in which it is used in the definition to which I refer, a Parliamentary person, either an individual, or some public authority or corporation.
It may be said that this is a small point. But the words of the definition which I read refer expressly to a small degree and I think that I can show the House, or I can show you, Mr. Speaker, that even two sewers may be enough to turn the Bill into a Hybrid Bill, and these are more than two.
Turning to Clause 35, the first Clause in this part of the Bill, certain sewerage authorities and sewers and sewage disposal works are dealt with. The authorities are to be dissolved in the near future, and the sewers and sewage disposal works are to vest in the Greater London Council. Those authorities cover a considerable part of the Greater London Council area, but not the whole of it. The part which they do cover is referred to in the same Clause as "the sewerage area of the Greater London Council"; and the broad structure of the Clause is to hand over the provision of main sewers and sewage disposal works to the Greater London Council and the provision of what I might perhaps call ancillary sewers to London boroughs.
There is even a provision for the… power of the Common Council, the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple or the Under-Treasurer of the Middle Temple to provide sewers …41 I do not know what they do about it, but there it is.
Then follows, in subsection (5), a provision which enables the Greater London Council, in effect, to annex adjacent sewers which go with the main sewers which pass to them by virtue of the first subsection of the Clause. The Council can make a declaration and take over such sewers as it thinks are required. Indeed, it is laid down as the duty of the Council that it should examine the whole matter and take action.
The point on which I rely is that subsection (5), as the operative subsection, is subject to one exception which recurs through the whole Clause. It is that nothing is to affect the property or the functions of the West Kent Main Sewerage Board. That Board, which receives this exceptional treatment—for, in the language of the subsection, it is exceptional treatment—is the sewerage authority which provides for the whole of one, and most of another, of the new London boroughs to be constituted under the Bill.
On page 89 of the Bill we find that Borough No. 19, which includes Beckenham, Bromley and other places, and most of the preceding borough No. 18, are served by the West Kent Main Sewerage Board. The result of these provisions is, therefore, that if the West Kent Main Sewerage Board had not been excepted its public sewers and sewage disposal works would have been vested in the Greater London Council and the boroughs respectively so far as the Greater London Council thought proper, having regard to its statutory duties.
It is now not allowed to deal with the West Kent Main Sewerage Board in this way and, therefore, its position, as indeed appears from the language of the Clause, is an exceptional one. This, of course, is not a mere matter of the technical property in this, that or the other sewer. It directly affects the rating powers and the exercise of those powers in the whole area. The effect may not be large, but it is there.
If one looks at Clause 36 which is entitled, "Expenditure on sewerage", and without going into detail, it is perfectly clear that the exclusion, the peculiar treatment given to this sewerage board in this way, must have some effect—though it is rather hard to see beforehand exactly what it is—on the finances 42 of the sewerage authorities concerned, and ultimately on the rating authorities concerned.
I suggested a little time ago that two sewers might make all the difference. I am sure that the Minister will remember that they did make a considerable difference in 1955 when what is now the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955, contained a number of various and wide provisions about rating generally all over the country and was unquestionably, in the form in which it came before the House, a public Bill; and, I should have thought, with no character of the hybrid Bill in it at all.
During the course of the passage of that Bill through this House, an undertaking was given on behalf of the Government to give exceptional treatment to two sewers. The position was that sewers were to be derated, and the effect of derating the two sewers, which were the London outfall sewers, would be considerable on the finances of the Metropolitan boroughs, on the one side, and the London County Council, on the other.
The London County Council was taken to be in occupation of the sewers, and, for this purpose, paid rates, which constituted a substantial source of finance, for instance, to the East End authorities. A great deal of pressure was put upon the Government in the House not to upset the finances of these authorities and to make things difficult for the East End boroughs, which, I think, were the ones principally dealt with here.
The Government gave an unqualified undertaking, but, when the matter came to another place, they broke it. They recognised it, but said it must be carried out some other way. Indeed, I believe that steps have been taken to that end. But the Government broke the undertaking to amend that Bill, and the reason they gave was that to have carried it out would have been to make that Bill a hybrid Bill. This was a case of two sewers, not all the sewers of the West Kent Sewerage Board, which may have been many more than two; and maybe they were two very large sewers, but still only two. This was in a Bill which not only dealt with sewers, because the sewers were dealt with only 43 in two subsections of a miscellaneous Clause.
In regard to the other, I quote from HANSARD of 26th July, 1955:MR. HASTINGS asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what steps he is taking to implement his undertaking"—that is, the undertaking to which I have just referred, and the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, who was then Minister of Housing and Local Government, replied:It was unfortunately found that the inclusion in the Bill of the proposed Amendments to implement the undertaking would turn it into a hybrid Bill, and this would involve a lengthy procedure for which time is not available. It is, however, still the Government's view that the overground parts of these sewers should continue to be rated, and I am considering how best that result might be served.Then, later, the Minister said, at the top of column 980:We have taken the best possible advice, but we are not satisfied that, without stretching the constitution, it would be possible to deal with the matter other than by means of a hybrid Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1955; Vol. 544, c. 979–80.]Therefore, I find it hard, and to my limited capacity it is impossible, to distinguish that case from that which we have to consider in relation to the West Kent Sewerage Board. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman had taken the best possible advice, and all I would say is that though that led to no ruling, it led to a distinct change of front by the Government and to a step which had a very marked effect, and it must surely be sufficient to raise doubt, which is all that I require to have this Bill sent to the Special Examiners.
I wish to mention two other points, and I apologise for taking the time of the House, but this is a matter of importance, and the Bill itself is important. First, there is the question of land occupied by local authorities for housing purposes. Under Clause 23, there is provision for a transfer of land held for housing purposes, and, where land is so held, it is to vest in the councils of the newly constituted London boroughs. These difficulties inevitably occur, as in the case of the West Kent Sewerage Board, on the boundaries of the area concerned.
In this case, the difficulty occurs in connection with land held by the Councils of the Borough of Epsom and Ewell and 44 the Chigwell Urban District. These two local authorities are partly within the new Greater London Council area and partly outside it, and the result is that they get special treatment. Some land held for housing purposes is to pass to the newly constituted London boroughs, being land within the area of the Greater London Council, and some will not. The result will be to have an effect on those councils, on their rates and on their ratepayers, which is quite exceptional and derives from the fact that they are cut in two by the Bill. If being cut in two does not affect one's private interest, I do not know what does, and that is what is happening in this case.
Again, we cannot say what the effect will be. The authorities may be better off or worse off. One cannot say, in this case, as in the sewerage case, exactly how it would work out, so there is room for doubt whether this comes within a hybrid Bill, so far as it relates to private interests.
There is one other instance which I shall mention shortly. This is a very complicated and long Bill. Nobody will deny that. I have said nothing, in speaking to this point of order, about its merits, but it is very odd indeed that when one looks at the City of London and the Middle Temple, one finds that throughout the Bill they are having treatment which appears at first sight to be very special. Some of it may depend on their existing statutory position, and I would not deny that, though I am not sure that all of it does. Perhaps the simplest way of looking at it is to look at Clause 69 (1), where there is a provision about the equalisation of rates, under which the Minister may make a scheme for the purpose of reducing the disparity in the rates levy in certain areas other than the Temple.
It means something. It could mean much, it may mean little; but this question of the position of the Temples, and, for that matter, the City of London, raises doubt whether private interests are affected. When I refer to private interests, I am not talking about the interests of private individuals, but the interests of the public or local authorities. In the case of the two sewers and the Minister, if I may so refer to it, the parties concerned were, on the one hand, the London County Council, and on the 45 other, a number of London boroughs. In one sense of the word, there is no life in any of them; in another, they have a full and vigorous Parliamentary life, until somebody abolishes them one day.
This is the kind of thing which it is intended to protect by this provision relating to Hybrid Bills, and I respectfully submit that this is a case where there is, at least, some doubt, and that the matter should be referred to the examiners.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should like to begin by thanking the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), not only for the careful and pleasant way in which he has made his objection now but for coming quite a long time ago, with the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), to warn me of the substance of this argument, and my advisers, so that we might have time to consider it as best as we could.
I do not think that I need quarrel at all about definitions with the hon. and learned Member. I accept the true position to be this, that if it be possible for the view to be taken that this Bill is a Hybrid Bill it ought to go to the examiners. There must not be a doubt about it.
I will try to follow his order as much as I can. I do not think, frankly, that the relevant Standing Order applies to this Bill as prima facie hybrid. On the wide ground that the hon. and learned Member was urging, in the light of precedent by which I am guided, I think that a Hybrid Bill can be defined as a public Bill which affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same category Or class. But I am afraid that the precedents relating to Bills affecting local government of the whole of London and those which relate to Bills on the metropolitan sewers would prevent me from ruling that this Bill is prima facie hybrid by reason of the presence of Part V in it.
Indeed, it is plain that our practice has admitted sewerage as having the very metropolitan character that the Police have so as to make it properly the subject of a Public Bill. An instance of it being so regarded is the Metropolitan Local Management Act, 1855, part 46 of which dealt with that very topic. Further, sewerage necessarily falls within the scope of public policy dealt with by this Bill. Indeed, by the Bill the authorities at present charged with the functions relating to sewerage would largely disappear. It is, in the words of the hon. and learned Member, essentially part of local government.
What this Bill is doing is dealing with the whole structure of local government and the exercise of all local authority functions in Greater London. Sewerage is by statute a local authority function imposed here, either by the Public Health Act, 1936, or by Part II of the Public Health (London) Act, 1936, on the local authorities. The fact is that on this principle London sewerage has previously been treated as a matter which can be dealt with by a purely Public Bill without any sort or kind of complaint or hint of hybridity.
I think that the first stab into that principle which the hon. and learned Member attempted was the footnote on page 1 of the evidence given before the Select Committee. Were this a matter of water it may well be that we should regard it the same way as another place regarded the matter then, namely, that when the Bill, by amendment, was confined to London that Bill, relating to water supply, became a Hybrid Bill. It might be so, but whatever the reason may be, it is quite clear that our practice in this field distinguishes between public utilities, like water, gas, transport, electricity, and local government and local government functions.
I can only guess at what the reason is. It may be that by and large you need not have gas if you do not want it, or electricity if you do not want it, but you must use the sewerage. To make good my point at a glance, if hon. Members look at Erskine May they will find the two notes on page 870. One is under (d) and another under (e). The (d) Bills are the ones which managed their life happily as Public Bills without hint of hybridity, and the (e) Bills are the ones dealing with water and gas.
I am not unduly frightened off my line of thinking by the footnote on page 1 of the evidence before the Select Committee. It is true that I did privately 47 rule this Bill in its previous form as hybrid. I did it in relation to the provisions relating to the Metropolitan Water Board on grounds which in no way deal with the matter I am now ruling about, or my views about that.
The next narrower objection of the hon. and learned Member's is based on Clause 35, the argument being that that Clause treats the West Kent Main Sewerage Board differently from the three sewerage boards which are dissolved by subsection (1), but in my view there is no question here of singling out a sewerage board for special treatment within a category of sewerage board to which it belongs. This is the problem—I forget the exact words the hon. and learned Member used just now—it is the in and out problem. What happens on the boundaries of an area one is legislating about? All the boards serving areas wholly or mainly within and having their disposal works or out-falls within Greater London are dealt with in exactly the same way by this Bill.
The East Kent Board is quite different. Half of its area will remain in Kent if the Bill becomes law and the sewerage of the area is purified at works which will lie outside Greater London under the Bill and fall into the Thames at a point which will be outside Greater London under the Bill. For this reason I cannot regard the exclusion of the West Kent Main Sewerage Board by subsection (8) of that Clause as making the Bill prima facie hybrid.
I turn to the hon. and learned Member's two sewers case, in which I suspect he participated. I should have shared the fears of the Government of the day that, had they imported into the Bill the amendments they were contemplating, the Bill would have been ruled by my predecessor, if necessary, hybrid, because what the Bill would have done—not, indeed, with the two great outfall sewers but with parts of those sewers—would have been to except as against the category of all the sewers in England parts of two sewers from the exemption from rating. I cannot help feeling that that would be a way of singling them out in a wholly different way from the treatment of the West Kent Main Sewerage Board, which has its works and out-falls outside Greater London. In that 48 case, I cannot regard the 1935 Act as a precedent helping me in what I have to decide here.
The remaining matters that the hon. and learned Member mentioned were the provisions of Clause 23, but those are a different problem. In connection with this Clause, he used the expression that it looks as though the Council of the Borough of Epsom and Ewell, on the one hand, or Chigwell Urban District Council, on the other, were being singled out of the whole category of local authorities for some kind of benevolent and special treatment, but this is not so. I think that if hon. Members look at the facts they will see that those two local authorities are the only two of which a part will lie within Greater London under the Bill. So they are not treated specially within a category, but in the same way inside their own special category.
I think that the only other matter the hon. and learned Member mentioned was the Inner and Middle Temples, but I do not think that this vitiates my Ruling. They are, inside the Bill, treated as though they were local authorities, as, indeed, for some purposes they are. I do not think their treatment makes the Bill prima facie hybrid.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Further to the point of order raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). There is no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that you have given the most careful consideration to the possible hybridity of the Bill in all its aspects. May I very respectfully submit for your consideration Clause 81 of the Bill, which provides that any local Act for the time being in force in any part of London may be modified.
I am wondering whether, in the course of your consideration of the points raised by my hon. and learned Friend, you have also satisfied yourself that no action taken by the Minister under this Clause could possibly affect or deal with any private interest in such a manner as to make the Bill a Hybrid Bill.
It is unfortunate that no hon. Member has available to him all the local Acts for the time being in force in any part of Greater London. They are not even available to hon. Members in the Library of the House. No doubt it will be possible for this information to be made 49 available to hon. Members, but in the meantime. Mr. Speaker, I ask you to indicate whether your investigations have included this point and whether you are satisfied that Clause 81 does not, in fact, make it a Hybrid Bill in that connection.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member will understand that I cannot for this purpose examine things which the Minister might do at some future time. I have to take the Bill as it is, and on that basis Clause 81 does not involve any evident hybridity. May I suggest to the House, in no sense of vanity, that I have of necessity had to give rather a long Ruling and that it might be profitable if we read it before we argued about it. We have a lot to do.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government, and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is the first Bill to deal with the structure of London local government in any major way since 1899. The Bill has two main features—the creation of an overall authority to meet needs which by their nature are needs of Greater London as a whole, and the setting up of a substantially uniform system of borough administration for all other purposes.
The Bill gives effect to the general policy for London local government set out in the 1961 White Paper, as amplified by later statements by my predecessor on the borough groupings and on the educational arrangements for the central area. It is, of course, part of the general scheme of local government review which is now in hand over the whole of England and Wales, the only difference being that instead of a review by a Local Government Commission under the 1958 Act, followed where necessary by a ministerial Order, there has been the even fuller treatment of a Royal Commission, followed by a White Paper, followed by parliamentary debates on the White Paper, and now a Bill.
All organisations, public and private, need reviewing from time to time so that they may be adapted to changing conditions. That, I think, is agreed 50 on all sides. In England and Wales generally, the structure of local government has been practically unchanged since the last century. Meanwhile, the population has grown from 31 million to over 50 million. Villages have become towns, small towns have become big towns, and in the great centres of industry and commerce, whole communities which used to be distinct have merged together. Meanwhile, more and more has come to be expected of local government with the emergence of social services and with the widening of ideas and practice in the scope and purpose of local government. Local government today, in fact, traces paths undreamed of when the present structure was established.
It is also agreed that London has not escaped these trends. The population of Greater London in 1881 was nearly 5 million, of which just under 4 million lived in what was, in 1888, to become the administrative county of London, the L.C.C. area. By 1961, the Greater London population had grown to over 8 million, while the population of the L.C.C. area had declined to just over 3 million. In other words, authorities established at the end of the nineteenth century have had to assume much wider responsibilities over an area which has greatly developed and which has become steadily more congested.
As a result of this and other factors, London government at present has structural complexities which, to put it at the very least, do not help effective administration. It has a number of distinct systems of local government. In the centre, the L.C.C., with many of the powers of a county borough, shares the duty of providing local services with 28 metropolitan borough councils and the Common Council of the City. The metropolitan borough councils, despite their size, have responsibilities and powers which are considerably less than those of most non-county borough and urban district councils over the rest of the country. In Middlesex, great boroughs have grown up, some of them struggling for county borough status but continually denied it in the interests of some comprehensive reorganisation of the whole metropolitan area.
Outside London and Middlesex, the metropolitan fringes, also containing 51 some great boroughs, are governed by councils of borough and urban districts of widely varying size under county councils with great and important territories stretching far into the countryside. And, of course, embedded in the whole structure but quite independent of it are the three County Boroughs of Croydon, East Ham and West Ham.
There was, therefore, wide acceptance of the Government's conclusion in 1957 that the task of local government in Greater London merited a full examination by a Royal Commission. The Commission sat for nearly three years and received evidence from a wide range of local government and other bodies and individuals. In a masterly Report of clarity, humanity and vision, the Commission set out its reasons for its unanimous conclusion that the present structure is inadequate to deal with the many major problems of the present day. Its recommendations for reorganisation, also unanimous, form the basis of the present Bill.
Here, let me make it clear that neither the Commission's Report nor the Government's proposals reflect in any way whatever on the abilities and the enthusiasm of the members and officials of the existing local authorities involved. We propose to give those who serve local government, or who wish to serve local government, a more rational and satisfying set of institutions through which they can all the more effectively operate. Nor should the changes discourage those who want to serve. On the contrary, a better system will attract good and keen people all the more surely.
Although, inevitably, not all local authorities can see eye to eye the whole time with the central Government of the day, that does not in the least preclude me from paying a sincere tribute, on behalf of the Government, to the services which, over three generations, have been provided for Londoners by all the councils, including the London County Council and the Middlesex County Council, which will be handing over their functions to successor authorities as part of the inevitable process of regeneration and change.
The Royal Commission's first broad theme, one of the two main themes of the Bill, concerns the rôle of local government in matters of environment. Local 52 authorities, especially in the great cities, are increasingly concerned with the physical surroundings in which people live and work. There is planning for land use, with all that that implies, the control and guidance of building and development, densities, the location of industry and commerce, provision for open space and recreation, the road systems and the management of the flood of traffic which uses them, the rebuilding of town centres and the rehabilitation of worn-out areas, and the consequent planning and execution of schemes for rehousing people and industries in other localities.
These all create for local government tasks not even contemplated when the present structure was established. We must be sure that the structure of local government allows locally elected people to play their part in tackling these great problems, which go to the very root of all that makes for the character of a town and, in large measure, for the quality of living which its people enjoy.
The obvious basic requirement—this is one of the two main themes of the Bill—is that the organisation should provide the means for the interlocking problems of local government to be comprehensively studied over a sufficiently wide area to make possible both effective planning and the effective execution of the plans. The present structure of local government in London does not measure up to these requirements. Within the area of Greater London as defined in the Bill, the various systems of local government are run by six county councils, three county borough councils, 85 borough, metropolitan borough and urban district councils, and the Common Council of the City.
But there is no single local authority responsible for the overall planning of the Metropolis. There is no single local authority responsible for the traffic management of the Metropolis or for measuring and coping with the need to build houses and provide work outside for those who for lack of land cannot be decently housed inside. No one existing authority has any responsibility for considering the needs of Greater London as a whole.
Yet Greater London is, in a very real sense, a single city. Admittedly, it embraces many places of distinctive character which attract strong loyalties. 53 Nevertheless, the whole of the great urban area, which spreads out to and is contained by the green belt, is one metropolis. It owes its existence to the unique position of London in the economic, industrial and political life of the country. The great and diverse activities of the capital affect the character of the whole area. Every man, woman and child who lives there is concerned in its prosperity and is affected by the way in which it is governed.
The Bill adopts the Royal Commission's recommendations that these great strategic tasks of planning, traffic, roads, overspill housing and all other needs affecting the whole of Greater London should be made the responsibility of a directly elected Greater London Council. One would have thought that this proposal that Londoners should have an effective say in the shaping of their own environment would have an obvious appeal. Those who find it unpalatable must face up to the question of what they would have instead.
In a most cogent chapter of its Report, Chapter 13, the Royal Commission considers and rejects two alternatives. First, that the central Government should fill the gap in the local administrative structure. The Commission says that this would be the death knell of responsible local self-government in Greater London. The Commission is plainly right. The second solution examined was the setting up of ad hoc authorities for various purposes. The Commission points out that many of London's problems are interlocked and need to be considered and dealt with as a whole.
A third suggestion, the only remotely constructive suggestion that opponents of the proposals have put forward, is that all that is needed in the field of planning, traffic and overspill housing is the creation of some sort of joint board of the existing county and county borough councils. The Government agree with the Royal Commission in rejecting this. No solution can be found by submitting these great tasks to delegates of local authorities responsible for part only of the area and its problems and some of which have responsibilities which are not only different from but often in conflict with the interests of London.
A variant of this so-called alternative is to say that the Greater London area, 54 for purposes of local government, ought to be much bigger. Some people say that there should be an ad hoc authority, an indirectly elected authority, for some functions having jurisdiction over all the Home Counties. But that is not an alternative to the proposals in the Bill. Of course, there must be correlation in planning, transport and overspill housing on a regional basis.
I very much agree with a passage in the Report of the General Purposes Committee of the L.C.C. dated 3rd December, 1962. Towards the bottom of page 9 there is this statement:No greater London Council can, however, relieve the Government of what must be its responsibility for South-East England as a whole.I agree with that. That is why we are conducting at the moment a series of regional surveys. But the establishment of a single system of government for Greater London does not preclude the correlation of London's influence with the South-East generally. Rather, I would say, it is a necessary prelude. Unless we abandon our system of local action through local authorities, any regional organisation, whatever its constitution or its area—and both would raise great difficulties—would have to operate through a sub-structure of effective local government units. One such unit would need to have authority over the built-up area of Greater London. The Bill seeks to get the local government structure right. That is a self-contained and sufficient task for the moment.
The Bill will ensure that there is a body directly elected by the people of London charged with responsibilities for watching over the whole physical environment in the interests of London as a whole and having powers and resources to match its responsibilities. The Greater London Council will be the local planning authority for the Greater London area. The Council will be the traffic authority for the Greater London area. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has reserve powers, but, like reserve powers in other fields, they are for use only in the last resort.
The Greater London Council will be the highway authority for what are called in the Bill metropolitan roads—that is, the main road system other than 55 trunk roads. The Bill makes no alteration in the present system of trunk roads in Greater London, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will be discussing with the Greater London Council what changes should be made later and how traffic control functions should be exercised on trunk roads.
The Greater London Council will be the authority for organising and carrying through systems for housing Londoners outside Greater London and for reserve housing powers inside Greater London.
Among the other main functions of the Greater London Council will be the control of the main drainage system, the ambulance and fire services, and refuse disposal. The Greater London Council will inherit the South Bank site and buildings and other buildings such as museums which cater for the Metropolis as a whole.
The second main theme of the Royal Commission and the Bill has two aspects. The first concerns the health of local government and the need to make local government service attractive to men and women of ability, both as elected members and as officers. This implies that each authority should have an adequate range of functions with real responsibility for carrying them out and resources to enable this to be done to a high standard. The second aspect concerns the need to have an effective administration for administering closely linked personal services.
The Royal Commission's conclusions were that these aims could best be secured in Greater London by concentrating in the hands of strengthened London boroughs all those services which do not need to be handled over Greater London as a whole. The Royal Commission analysed the dangers of the present situation. It described the friction which exists between some growing boroughs and their counties, particularly Middlesex and to some extent Essex.
The Royal Commission found that the erosion of the powers of the metropolitan borough councils and county districts, which generally occurred only as a byproduct of national policy decisions, taken regardless of their implications for local government or the service of the citizen, had done much damage. Powers that should ideally be under a single 56 authority had become separate or, if not separate, remote. Replacements for the vigorous and competent men and women who had been attracted to local government when its powers were greater were becoming harder and harder to find.
The complexity of local government had produced in the citizen a sense both of fatalism—that nothing would be done, and of apathy—that there was no point in trying. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I am repeating the conclusions of the Royal Commission. [Hon. Members: "Nonsense."] The Royal Commission concluded as follows in paragraph 747:We believe that there is a serious danger that unless local government can be rehabilitated in the way we suggest there will be a drift towards some form of regional administration, with a good deal of intervention by the central Government.The Royal Commission went on to state its belief—that it is best to give as much power and responsibility as possible to those who are in the closest touch with the people for whose benefit local government services are provided.The Royal Commission made specific recommendations for the administration of the main services. The Bill follows the Royal Commission's general design, except in the case of the borough groupings, and in the pattern of education inside and outside the central area. In the Bill we set out separately the proposals for all the principal local government functions, in Parts II to VIII. Clause 4 provides, that for minor purposes, which generally do not warrant special mention, the borough councils should be treated as if they were county borough councils.
We are now dealing with services, apart from education, which meet the personal needs of people who, for one reason or another, require help in their personal affairs from the local community—people who are sick, aged, physically or mentally handicapped, mothers and babies, children who are deprived of the benefits of good homes, and families who are badly housed. There is increasing awareness that the services provided to meet these sorts of needs act and react on each other, or should do so, in a way which calls for the closest co-ordination in their administration.
There is clearly great need for medical officers of health, children's officers, 57 public health inspectors, housing officers, health visitors, home nurses and all those whose skill carries them into the homes of the citizens for personal reasons to work as a team under a local authority which has full responsibility for running and developing these services. Admittedly, the increasing need to employ many and varied professional skills and facilities in carrying out these services calls for an organisation through which the authorities are able to command substantial resources. At the same time, it is essential that these personal matters, which bring the individual into direct touch with his local authority, should be administered by those who are closely in touch with local conditions.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Would the right hon. Gentleman apply that argument to the children's services when homes appear to be in one borough but where the problem involved may be in another? How does the right hon. Gentleman expect to improve the position by breaking it up?
§ Sir K. Joseph
If the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I assure him that I am coming to that. It is imperative that the administration of these services should not become depersonalized—as may happen, however devoted and dedicated the officers and members are, if the organisation becomes too large or too remote. There is, thus, a reconciliation to be made between effectiveness and convenience. We believe that we have made that roconciliation in the Bill by making the boroughs, of a size and structure as set out in the Bill, the primary local government authorities.
The borough councils will have full responsibility for the personal health services except ambulances; for the welfare service's for the aged, disabled and handicapped; and for the children's services. They will be the principal housing authorities for house building in their areas, and the authorities for sewerage—but not for main drainage—and, in general, will have the normal powers of sanitary authorities under the Public Health Acts. The Greater London Council will have to submit a scheme for the transference of parks catering for local needs to the boroughs; and the boroughs will be the primary authorities for food and drugs.
58 I shall now refer briefly to education. I say "briefly" because my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will be speaking in the debate tomorrow. The House will recall that the Royal Commission proposed a sharing of responsibilities between the Greater London Council and the boroughs. This seemed to the Government to be undesirable. Given the borough structure and sizes contained in the Bill, the Government are satisfied that the borough councils will be competent to carry the full responsibility of local education authorities, except for a central area where, as the White Paper explained, special conditions require special treatment.
The present London County Council service is to be taken over by a special education committee of the Greater London Council which will have full powers to run the service as the Inner London Education Authority. There is need, however, to explore fully the possibilities of direct participation of borough councils in the service in this central area, and that will be the principal objective of the review which the Minister of Education is required to carry out.
There are several services in which the Greater London Council and the boroughs are to share responsibility. In town planning the Bill adopts the line that the Greater London Council's responsibility should stop at the point where the factors involved are local rather than general to the whole of London. Thus the boroughs will prepare—subject to the usual requirements—the local development plans, and present them, filling in the details in the broad strategic plan prepared by the Greater London Council. The Minister will be able to reserve for the Greater London Council the final decision on any planning application which makes a particularly important impact. Regarding roads, the borough councils will be responsible for road maintenance, improvements and construction, except for trunk roads, which will remain with the Ministry of Transport, and metropolitan roads, which will be with the Greater London Council.
I now turn to the pattern of the new boroughs. Clause 1 and the First Schedule are concerned with this. This 59 pattern comprises 32 boroughs, compared with 52 provisionally proposed by the Royal Commission; fewer because we believe that the boroughs should be of a relatively large size to discharge the heavy responsibilities which we propose for them. The boroughs in the Bill have an average population of a quarter of a million and range from 166,000 to 340,000. This is considerably larger than the corresponding figures of the Royal Commission's proposals, where the average was 165,000 with a range of 94,000 to 249,000. Larger units will mean a larger case load for each authority in the personal services, so making specialisation in staff and facilities more efficient and economic.
We believe that our proposals will provide 32 effective units which will maintain fully adequate standards in the services entrusted to them and which will be virtually self-sufficient for that purpose. One cannot hope for an authority which avoids the disadvantages of remoteness to be 100 per cent. self-sufficient. Thus supplementary or other special arrangements are plainly needed, and the Bill provides for them. For instance, in housing and redevelopment the Greater London Council will be able to come in, subject to certain safeguards, to supplement the boroughs efforts regarding the stimulating of the more massive redevelopment schemes and to help in the redistribution of population which, over the years, will be necessary. But, in the general run of their services, the boroughs will be big and strong enough to provide the entire specialised staff and facilities and so on that will be needed. The smallest London borough will be larger than the average county borough in England and Wales.
§ Sir K. Joseph
That is not in the Schedule of London boroughs. The largest will be bigger than Nottingham and the average size will be 250,000.
§ Sir K. Joseph
It is provided in the Bill that the City of London will formally exercise London borough 60 powers by arrangement with neighbouring London authorities. As I said, the average size will be 250,000 and will be bigger than, say, Portsmouth. The London boroughs cannot be wholly self-sufficient, as I said, but the extent to which they will need to look for co-operation to other agencies or local authorities will be marginal compared with the vast span of services which they will be able to provide from their own resources. It is already commonplace, for example, for local authorities to look to co-operation with other authorities for some of the specialised aspects of further education or for accommodation for remand homes or approved schools or with regard to the health and welfare of the multiply handicapped.
It is inevitable that in some matters the catchment area should be wider than the local authority area, but it would not be proper to adopt the principle that the primary unit should be so large that it can provide from its own resources for every single variety of social need that may arise. To do so would be to conflict with the more important principle that these services need to be conducted by a local authority in as local a way as can conveniently be arranged.
One field in which there will clearly be need for a fair amount of sharing of accommodation, particularly at first, is the children's service. This arises in large part because so much of the provision of the L.C.C. for its children's service—up to a third, in fact, of the children's home accommodation—is at present provided in five very large L.C.C. homes. As the new boroughs evolve their own facilities to satisfy the needs of the children's service, these very large institutions—which draw children from a wide area, and which, for some time, have been anachronistic—will disappear, but in planning the interim arrangements, every possible effort will be made to safeguard the interests of the children, and I can assure the House that they will not be moved around to produce administrative tidiness.
The grouping and form of the new boroughs follow precisely the recommendations of the four town clerks—
§ Mr. G. Brown
When I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman just now, I understood that he was to speak at length about the children's service. Will he 61 tell us why the Government have decided not to do the same sort of thing for the children's service as they have decided to do for education? What arguments led them to decide that it was right to have an inner education authority but wrong to have an inner children's authority?
§ Sir K. Joseph
Because it seemed to the Royal Commission and to the Government that the children's service is essentially that sort of personal service that could best be handled by a convenient and effective local authority which can control all or most of the services that need to be considered together when dealing with families whose problems may arise from bad housing, ill-health and from a number of combinations of different circumstances—
§ Sir K. Joseph
The right hon. Gentleman refers to education. In all these matters, the Government have to take the balance of advantage. Certainly, in education, the balance of advantage for the outer London area was to give education also to these strong new boroughs. In the inner London area, there was sufficient argument in favour of preserving the single—
§ Sir K. Joseph
Obviously, the Government, in coming to their decisions, take full account of the reasonable arguments introduced from outside, but let me make it plain that the Government have always had in mind that these should be a central area for education. The only thing that they have had to consider has been the precise size it should be—
§ Sir K. Joseph
Because the balance of advantage for the children in the central area had to take into account the record of cross-use of the education facilities that existed in the central area far more intensely than in the outer area. However, I hope that the House will be satisfied—I have to cover a wide canvas—if this subject is returned to tomorrow by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education when he opens the debate. 62 The children's service—to which, I think, I have given a fair amount of the time available in this speech—will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health when he winds up that debate—
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
On the subject of education, does the balance of advantage in the outer London area cover the whole range of services, including further education?
§ Sir K. Joseph
Yes, subject to the normal practice of education authorities, as I understand, to co-operate with their neighbours in some aspects of further education.
I was saying that the grouping in the Bill follows precisely the recommendations of the four town clerks, following their conference with the local authorities concerned. It is very much to be hoped that all the groups will get together long before the Bill is passed, as some have already been doing, to prepare for the future.
As these hon. Members on both sides who sit for constituencies in the Greater London area have a special interest in the new structure, the Government think that it would be generally for the convenience of the House if certain key features in the Bill—Clause 1 and the First Schedule—were remitted to a Committee of the whole House. I have, therefore, given notice of a Motion securing just this.
Naturally, there is the greatest interest in the financial aspects of what is proposed, and there are here several points to bear in mind. First, there is at present in operation in the County of London a scheme whereby the richer authorities help the ratepayers of the poorer authorities, and there is power in the Bill for such a scheme to be provided, covering all or part of the Greater London area. Secondly, there is provision for the ratepayers of Greater London to contribute, over a declining scale and for five years, towards any extra rate burden in excess of a 6d. rate that is thrown on the counties losing their metropolitan fringes as a result of the changes proposed in the Bill. The London boroughs will receive general grant, and, where eligible, rate deficiency grant.
I now turn to the constitution and elections of the two new kinds of local 63 authorities proposed. The Greater London Council will consist of a chairman, aldermen—one to six councillors—and 100 councilors—
§ Sir K. Joseph
These are very important local authorities, and the Government thought it only proper to retain what is a feature of local government up and down the country, but the number of aldermen reflects the practice in London rather than the practice elsewhere in the country—
§ Mr. Pargiter
What I meant was that, having regard to the much wider area which each council will have to cover, would it not be wiser to have a larger number of elected representatives rather than a number of unelected representatives?
§ Sir K. Joseph
The Government thought it proper to give these major authorities the normal organisation of local authorities throughout the country.
The first election of councillors will be held in April, 1964, and the council will take over its functions in April, 1965. Councillors will serve for three years and will all retire together, so that there will be triennial elections. The initial representation from each borough area on the Greater London Council is set out in Part I of the First Schedule. This initial allocation was arrived at by dividing the electors in each borough by the Parliamentary allocation or quota and using the nearest whole number. The aim is that when the Parliamentary boundaries have been reviewed, each borough should be divided by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary into Greater London Council electoral divisions corresponding, normally, to Parliamentary constituencies but, until that happens, the borough will be a single electoral area as a whole for the number of seats specified.
The boroughs will be incorporated by Order. The Orders will deal with the naming and division into wards of the boroughs, and on both these matters we shall, of course, have full consultation with the local authorities. The new borough councils, which are to have not 64 more than 60 councillors—and, again, one alderman for six councillors—will be elected in May, 1964, and thereafter elections will be held triennially.
We have taken up the Royal Commission's valuable proposal that the G.L.C. should establish an Intelligence Department, with wide powers to collect the information needed as a basis for planning the London services.
I should like now to deal with one or two criticisms of our proposals. It is said, quite wrongly, that what we are doing will damage the fine Architect's Department of the London County Council. Nothing could be further from the truth. The G.L.C. will have extensive building responsibility in providing for overspill, in supplementing the boroughs housing efforts, and in carrying out major schemes of redevelopment. Provision is made for it to take over and complete the present L.C.C. programme. The Greater London Council's Architect's Department will be responsible for serving the Inner London Education Authority, and there is here a fine opportunity for carrying forward the very high standards—
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
As far as one can tell with any certainty, the Architect's Department will serve the Inner London Education Area for not more than five years. That is no good at all for keeping the Architect's Department together.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Lady must recognise that the architectural responsibilities given to the Greater London Council are already very large on the housing, redevelopment and overspill fronts. These, together, will add up to a very large programme. As for the future of the Inner London Education Authority, there will be substantial work to be done in building, since it is bound to go forward at a massive rate. If this is properly handled, I do not think that the hon. Lady is right in anticipating that there will be any danger to the Architect's Department of the London County Council—[An HON. MEMBER: "It has already happened."] An hon. Member says that it has already happened, and I expect that part of the outflow of architects from the London County Council has been connected with the uncertainty aroused by this Bill; but a large part of 65 it has been for other reasons. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] The Government regard the preservation of the fine tradition of the L.C.C. Architect's Department as highly important, and I am taking particular care to refer to that in my speech.
On top of this, the new boroughs will be very much better founded than many of the existing small authorities about Greater London. They will have considerable building programmes and much greater responsibility for planning. There will be enough work to sustain first-class architects and other appropriate professional departments in all these boroughs. All in all, the Bill provides an opportunity for a big step forward in the quality of architectural work by local authorities throughout Greater London.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
This is a very important matter. What is the reason why architects are leaving not only the L.C.C. Architect's Department but also the Middlesex County Council's department if it is not because of the uncertainty caused by the Bill?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am glad to tell the hon. Lady. She may have noticed that there is, under the present Government, a massive and simultaneous building programme all over the country on every conceivable front, and there is a great deal of professional movement from jab to job going on. Quite apart from that, there have been individual letters in some newspapers indicating that it would be quite wrong to put all the emphasis on the Bill when assessing the reasons for which professionals in some cases have been leaving these two authorities. I refer the hon. Lady to those letters.
§ Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)
If the right hon. Gentleman is so anxious to retain the public service architects and other professional men of the highest possible calibre, is he prepared to write into the Bill firm guarantees that neither in status nor salary will they be prejudiced as the result of this Measure?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am coming to the question of staff movements in a moment.
As for the second criticism to which I want to refer, it is said that our proposals are far too drastic and that it cannot be necessary to destroy the organisations 66 of London County Council and Middlesex County Council and that to do so would have a harmful effect on services. This criticism belittles the magnitude of the problem which London local government faces. The Government believe, and they have the full authority of the Commission for believing, that London government is at the cross-roads. If we cannot find ways within the local government system of coping with the overall London problems, and if we cannot rehabilitate the boroughs, responsible local self-government in the capital with wither. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]
Of course there will be many transitional problems and teething problems.
§ Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what exactly has changed in this respect since 1956? I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was at the same Ministry in another capacity in 1956 when Government policy was announced on this matter, namely, that the existing L.C.C. area should remain unchanged. This was announced in a White Paper issued at that time. The right hon. Gentleman is now saying that certain things have happened. What has changed since 1956 to require a complete reversal?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I went to my present Department only in 1959. The Government announced their conclusion that a Royal Commission was needed to examine the whole problem of local self-government in the Metropolis in 1957.
I was saying that there will be many transitional and teething problems. The most careful planning will have to be undertaken in advance of handing over, and there will be roughly a year between the creation and full functioning of the new bodies.
One matter which very much concerns us is safeguarding the interests of the staff. We have now enough agreement among the bodies concerned to warrant the setting up of a commission to watch over staff interests in the period of transition. There are powers for this purpose in the Bill, but we hope to get the commission going on a provisional basis while consideration of the Bill is proceeding. This should assure staffs that their interests will be looked after.
§ Mr. Pargiter rose—67
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am sorry but I cannot give way now. My right hon. Friends tomorrow will deal in more detail with some aspects of the Bill and this evening my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will give fuller treatment to transport, planning and housing, as well as reply to the questions raised.
This then is the gist of the Bill. A Metropolitan authority to handle Metropolitan needs and 32 strong London boroughs to handle everything else. The reorganisation involved will be great, but the benefits also will be great in matching the local government structure to the physical realities of London as it is, not as it was. Only thus can local government be stronger in future in every way as a democratic institution and as an administrative machine for providing the increasing social services.
I have spoken, as befits one describing the contents of a Bill, in a low key and technically, but I should like to make two other short references before I close. A campaign has been mounted to represent the Bill as an unnecessary and deliberate attack on existing local authorities, for political motives, and lacking in any real relevance to the needs and facts of London local government services as they are today. I hope that those who are promoting this campaign will have noted that in their general form, development and present content of what the Government propose in principle have been widely acceptable in a large range of responsible quarters. For the critics to continue their negative attitude may well expose them to ridicule.
On the other hand, we shall welcome all constructive criticism to improve the Bill, which those who have been conducting that campaign are extremely well qualified to employ. We hope that we shall be able to debate the details of the Bill in a calm atmosphere. Those who have been so strongly attacking the proposals claim to love London and to wish to serve it well. Let them see that it is part of that love and part of that service to save all London from the paralysis that must come from an ossified and anachronistic structure of local government. Let them realise that we are all in pursuit of the same end—a London worthy of Londoners.
68 I respect the devotion of all, whatever their politics, who have seen this vision and have with much success over the years toiled towards it. Great as has been, and is, the effort of existing authorities to better the conditions of Londoners, the new councils in their new structure will be able more effectively to improve the life of the citizen, to deploy efficiently and humanely for his benefit the increasing services provided, to reconcile the town and its traffic, and create within the years to come, out of the squalor and shapelessness of so much of the past, a new 20th century urbanity worthy of the best in our history. This is the vision that inspires the Bill. This is why I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The Minister has told us that this Bill has two main purposes. One is to give us a central authority to deal with what he calls the strategic problems of traffic, roads and planning; and the other main objective is to invigorate the life of the boroughs, which he believes will be done by this division into 32 boroughs with an average of 250,000 each. We shall see as the debate goes on how far the Bill succeeds in either of those purposes.
It is significant, however, that the Minister's statement of purposes began with this rather pedantic drawing-board approach of structure rather than of services. When it came not to how the councils are constructed but to what they actually do—the provision of education, health, welfare, and all the other services—in the main the Minister was on the defensive. He was concerned to show, in the children's service, for example, that the service would not suffer as a result of the changes. What we are entitled to ask, if there is to be all this change, is that it should be shown that there would be some definite improvement in the services, and it is that that the Minister, particularly in the range of human services, has failed to do.
But let us take the Bill on the Minister's own valuation, that its first job is to provide a strong London authority elected by Londoners to deal with the strategic problems of traffic, roads and planning. Of that closely-related trinity, let us take traffic first 69 and see what the Bill provides. It provides that the Greater London Council is to give directions for the control of traffic. It is even to appoint a director of traffic through whom to give them. But then in addition, while the Greater London Council is giving directions, there is power in the hands of the Minister of Transport, first of all to tell the Council what directions it is to give, secondly to countermand any directions it may have given, and thirdly, at specified times, in specified areas and on specified matters, to tell it that it is not to give any directions at all. The Minister says that these are only reserve powers—
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Gentleman will know that in my own Departmental sphere I have fairly massive reserve powers over all sorts of housing and water authorities, but I do not remember any record of them having been used.
§ Mr. Stewart
I thought the Minister would say that. It is a repetition of what he said in his speech. Let him look at the facts. It does not rest with him as to what use is made of these powers. They are given to the Minister of Transport. Even the present Minister of Transport, modest violet though we know him to be, will not be able to resist this temptation. Indeed, he cannot because metropolitan traffic is of interest to the people of the whole Kingdom. If the Minister is asked, as he can be, in the House, "Why is not this, that or the other done?" he cannot say, "This is not for me; this is the responsibility of the Greater London Council", because he can always be asked, "Why do you not given directions?" For that reason, since the responsibility will be his, the power will be his. The Greater London Council in this respect will be the Minister's office boy.
This is what the Minister calls, I suppose, to use his phrase, giving people who engage in local government a more rational and satisfying structure in which to work. There is a case for saying that metropolitan traffic and planning are so complicated and centralised that in the end the central Government have got to take the responsibility and give the directions. To judge from the Clauses in the Bill, that is what the Government really believe. If that is what they believe, why do they not say so quite frankly, instead of making this pretence 70 that they are giving the Greater London Council something important to do?
If we turn to planning, it is very interesting to notice how the machinery for town and country planning provided for Greater London is to differ from that outside Greater London. Outside Greater London the procedure for development plans is this. It is the duty of the county or the county borough, first, to conduct a survey, and, on the strength of that survey, to make a development plan. It must consult the smaller authorities in its area about the plan, but the plan cannot be vetoed by those smaller authorities. Then it goes ahead delegating to the smaller authorities the duties of enforcement and of hearing applications. That is a reasonable, common-sense, workable structure.
Why is the provision made for Greater London so different and so much more complicated? What we find is to happen under the Bill for planning in Greater London is that there is to be, as outside London, a plan and a survey, but the Greater London Council is to make the plan. The survey on which the plan must be based is, save in exceptional circumstances, to be carried out not by the Greater London Council but by the boroughs. It is true that the boroughs in carrying out that survey will have to do it on lines which are directed to them by the Central London Council, and, so that nothing shall he missing, the Minister is to give—this is not a reserve power—directions to the Greater London Council as to what directions it shall give to the boroughs, as to the lines on which the boroughs shall conduct their survey on which the development plan is to be based. This is a quite unique arrangement. What in the world is the sense of it? The Minister said not a word in explanation or justification of it.
There is the further difference, that beside the main plan made out by the Greater London Council there are to be the local plans. That, so far as it goes, is reasonable enough. But if the Greater London Council considers that any of the local plans deviate from its central plan, that is a matter which the authorities between them, if they cannot agree, can thrust up to the Minister to arbitrate upon. There is no parallel to that outside Greater London.
71 Why is the Minister giving himself this extra bit of work? Is he really telling us that the officials in his Department who deal with planning matters are finding time hanging idly on their hands? Are there no undealt-with applications and unconsidered plans on his desk that he should, for no reason that he has given us, complicate planning in Greater London in this manner?
But a more serious objection with regard to the planning powers is one which the Minister evidently had begun to realise—this was a sign of grace compared with his predecessor's introduction of the White Paper—namely, that if one is really interested in the planning and traffic problems of the Metropolis, one has only to think in terms of a wider area than this Greater London area. There is a map published in The Times this morning showing where the main increases of population are coming. They are not coming either in the Counties of London and Middlesex or in the whole of this Greater London area with which the Bill deals. They are coming in a thick circle all round it, and it is that growth of population that is creating the planning and traffic problems for the Metropolitan and southeastern region as a whole. It is the growth in the numbers of people who live there, many of them still working in Central London, that constitutes the heart of London's traffic problem.
If one were serious about trying to deal with that problem one would have thought in terms of a regional authority for south-east England; or, alternatively, one would have faced the other solution that is offered, that decisions binding on the counties in that region have got to be made by the central Government. Either of those are arguable propositions, but to create at the cost of all this upheaval an authority whose area is inadequate to deal with planning matters shows a failure to understand the real nature of the problem.
If the Minister is looking for alternative solutions—he has had several suggestions made to him, none of which his Department, to judge from his and his predecessor's remarks, has properly understood or studied—one of the first essentials of a right solution is some kind of regional authority for the south-east of 72 England, and, I believe, ultimately regional authorities for planning purposes throughout the whole country.
It is not only that the Greater London area as reviewed by the Royal Commission is inadequate for planning purposes. The Government have whittled bits off it since. Bits of Surrey which were in the Royal Commission's recommendations have been chopped off. The Minister always quoted with triumph the Royal Commission whenever he picked on those fragments which the Government still preserved. But let us see what is said on this matter by a body called the Greater London Group. The Minister ought to treasure this Group because it was one of his few friends throughout the whole proceeding. The Greater London Group is composed of economists and sociologists, some of them of considerable eminence, working at the London School of Economics and studying Greater London problems. The Group gave evidence which, I believe, had great weight with the Royal Commission.
What does the Group say now about the Bill? On this point about cutting out of the Royal Commission's proposals areas of Surrey, it says that the cutting out will seriously undermine the effectiveness of the Greater London Council.
Of course, we in the House could tell the scholars of the London School of Economics why those areas of Surrey were cut out. It was done in order to placate a sufficient number of hon. Members opposite in order to get them in the Lobby at the right time. We all know that.
The Greater London Group says also that the powers given to the Minister of Transport will rob the Greater London Council of independence and responsibility. We could tell the scholars why this is done. We all know the Minister of Transport. These are political, not academic, matters. Finally, the Greater London Group tells us—this is significant in view of what the Minister claims for the Bill—that the arrangements for planning under the Bill will be more cumbersome and will give more ground for friction than the present arrangements.
Thus, the Greater London Group, which started out with such hopes, is looking in bewildered dismay at its 73 offspring, But this is the kind of offspring which is produced when academic knowledge, that simple maiden, sallies forth from the London School of Economics and is seduced by the gigolo from Tory Central Office.
This is a serious matter because it means that in the very department where most was claimed and hoped for the reformation of London's Government, those who have studied the matter most diligently, who were in favour of the Government's general approach at the start, have now come to the conclusion that the Bill is fatally weak in what should have been its strongest suit. We are asked to accept great risks in the human services on the ground that the Bill would solve the planning and traffic problems. Now we find that it will do no such thing.
Linked with planning and traffic there is the subject which stands, perhaps, half way between the technical and the human, namely, housing. This is a problem of special interest to that part of the area which is now the County of London because the County of London is unique among counties in possessing housing powers concurrent with those of the smaller authorities. For a time, under the Bill, the Greater Landon Council is to have all the powers in housing which the London County Council now has, but it is important to mote that this is only a temporary provision. The purpose and intent of the Bill is that, subsequently, the powers of the Greater London Council will be less than those of the present London County Council. That will be a loss to Londoners in several ways, of which I shall mention two.
First, when the Bill fulfils its intent and the Greater London Council ceases to be equal to the London County Council in housing, the properties which it will inherit from the London County Council are to be distributed among the various London boroughs. What will be the effect of this? Some of those boroughs will have, in proportion to their population, six times as much housing accommodation available as other boroughs. How is that to be defended on grounds of either justice or efficiency?
Second, the Greater London Council is being required, under the powers given to it, to build schools, through its 74 inner education committee, to provide ambulance accommodation, to build fire stations and to carry out comprehensive development, provided, of course, that it does not interfere with the Minister of Transport's trunk roads in so doing, which will take some working out.
The Minister must be aware that, if one has to provide schools and fire stations and if one has to carry out schemes of comprehensive development, one cannot proceed without displacing some people from their homes. One cannot do it properly unless one has a pool of housing accommodation over a wide area from which one can draw here one house, there another, suitable to the various needs of the many different people one will displace in carrying out one's duties as a fire authority, an ambulance authority or an education authority.
Yet the Greater London Council is told that it must be a schools authority and a fire authority, and carry out schemes of comprehensive development, though the housing pool which it will have inherited from the London County Council is gradually to be stripped from it and divided among the boroughs. It is given the duty but it is denied the means. The Greater London Council is, in fact, put in the unenviable position of Shylock, who was asked to exact the pound of flesh without spilling a drop of blood in the process.
Not only will the Greater London Council have its stare of houses stripped from it but it will not be in a position to add to it unless what the Minister really intends is very different from what the boroughs have been led to suppose. The position of the Greater London Council in regard to building is quite clear. It may build right outside its area. It may not build inside its area without the consent either of the borough in whose area it wishes to build or of the Minister. It will thus be enormously handicapped in doing its job.
Some boroughs in London are much more fortunate than others in the density of their population and in the intensity of their slum problem. One cannot deal with the housing problem of London unless it is possible sometimes to rehouse people from the more crowded parts in the less crowded parts. We had a clear indication from what the 75 hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots) said when we debated this matter in February of what would be his view of any request by the Greater London Council to build in the borough in which he is interested. It is that kind of opposition which will confront the Greater London Council.
The Minister may reply that it is his intention to use his consent freely. He said on a public occasion that he would give massive housing powers to the Greater London Council. Is it his view that, in general, the Council will be building freely inside its own area, whether the boroughs like it or not? I hope that his answer to that question is "Yes". But there are a good many of his hon. Friends who hope that it will be "No", who would welcome any plan to destroy the power of the central authority to carry out rehousing schemes which might not be agreeable to some of the more fortunate boroughs of London.
All the way through, the Minister is having to walk the tight-rope, pretending to the boroughs that he will give them massive housing powers and, on the other hand, pretending that he will make the Greater London Council a sufficiently effective authority.
In passing, with reference to the effectiveness of the Greater London Council, I ask this question. If the Minister intends to make it effective for traffic, roads, planning and housing, why has he not put into the Bill provision for the payment of its members? All his talk about wanting to encourage local people to take part in local government will be so much nonsense if this body is really to have the powers he claims for it and have only 100 members while, at the same time, the choice of members is restricted to those who can give all the necessary time without payment. If he claims that there is anything democratic in the Bill, he must put that right.
I turn now, briefly, as the Minister did, to the function of education. I shall refer to it briefly because we shall debate it more fully tomorrow. I was glad to find that this Minister paid a tribute to the educational work of the London County Council. This is not what Lord Eccles said as Minister when we debated the matter in February. His words were 76 quite clear and quite significant. He said that some of his hon. Friends thought that it would be worth almost any cost to get education out of the hands of the London County Council. That is what we are up against. It is no good the Minister making pious pleas across the Floor of the House to us to drop factious opposition when one of his former colleagues made quite clear what was the real motive of this proposal. Let that be quite clear and without any humbug about it. We shall respect the Minister more if he does not pretend to be well-intentioned when we know what his party's attitude is on this matter.
I turn from that to the actual proposals made for education, first in inner and then in outer London. This Inner London Education Authority is really a remarkable creation, particularly when one remembers that one of the things that the Minister deplored about the set-up of London in the past was the existence of ad hoc bodies. In the Inner London Education Authority he is creating a new one-purpose ad hoc body of the kind that we have not had in education since 1902. The first objection to that body is that it lives from the start under a threat. There is a Clause providing for a review of its work, with the object of destroying it at least by 1970 and cutting up its work among the boroughs. That provision, if the Minister studies it, is so worded as deliberately to tilt the result of the survey. I shall develop that more fully in Committee, and I advise the Minister to study the wording more carefully. The clear implication of that Clause is that the Minister has not to decide whether the service should be broken up but to what extent it should be broken up.
The body lives under a threat from the start. The Minister cannot pretend that that is the way to encourage a body to do good work. Is not the real object of this to put the body in a difficult position from the start, so that when it has had difficulty in attracting staff and in making long-term plans because it does not know even the length of its life a Minister of Education will be able to say in the future, "It does not seem to be doing very well: we had better cut it up."
Why, if we are to have a body of this kind, is there to be a special representative on it from the City of London? 77 That means that that area, with its 5,000 population, is to be given as much say in the education of inner London as boroughs with 250,000 population. On what grounds does the Minister justify that arrangement other than to give an extra Tory vote on the body? He really must not complain if that kind of criticism is made; there is no other possible reason for doing it. The five thousand people in the City of London are worth, in the Minister's estimation, 250,000 Londoners in any other part.
§ Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)
Has the hon. Gentleman never heard of or realised the enormous interest of the Corporation of the City of London in education and the great amount of City money spent in education and in the maintenance of schools by the City of London?
§ Mr. Stewart
It will continue to exercise that interest and to deal with schools which it has itself created. I am asking why in the democratic structure of public education, which is supposed to be run by a democratically elected body, the vote of somebody in the City of London should be regarded as fifty times as important as the vote of somebody anywhere else. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that it is because they are richer? If that is so, it is a very interesting doctrine.
There have also to be considered the defects of an ad hoc body of any kind. The Minister waxed at one time almost lyrical on the importance of having the human services in the hands of one authority, but this Inner London Education Authority controls education and has perhaps one foot in the school health service. But the education service works best if it is linked with the health and welfare services which also bear on the children and their home conditions and everything that determines their progress at school.
Let me quote one example of a rather special kind which illustrates that strikingly. The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) will be interested since he raised it recently in the London County Council. It is the problem of children known as autistic, a special kind of psychological disorder, the real nature of which is still being discovered and diagnosed. Some 78 of those children are considered suitable for education at a special school, but some of them have so far been regarded as ineducable and attend a training centre and are therefore the responsibility of the health department of the L.C.C. rather than of its education department. With the advance of medical science it may well be desirable and even necessary to move some of those children from one category to the other. This is happening with autistic children and could happen perhaps time and time again as medical knowledge advances with many other groups of handicapped children. Such transfers can readily be made when the same council controls both the education and the health services. What we are given here, however, is an Inner London Education Authority to control education and be responsible for the health service cut up among the twelve boroughs of inner London. It cannot be pretended that the problem will be better handled in that set-up than in the existing one.
The Minister had not a word to stay about the really tragic problem of children so severely handicapped as to be ineducable. Yet they highlight the weakness of this set-up. They are the children for whom we should particularly speak in this House, since some of them, in the most literal sense, cannot speak for themselves.
As to education in outer London, it is the essence of a good education service that it should be able to provide not only the education that every student and pupil needs but, as the years go by, an increasing variety of education to meet demands for the study of a particular subject or language which some pupils may want very much, but only a few want, for the provision of a particular form of technical or professional education that only a few young people may want but want very badly. It is a first principle of local government that it is easier to do that when there is a large authority, because within the ambit of the larger authorities there are enough people having this specialist demand to make it worth while providing for them. But in outer London the county service of Middlesex will perish with the Middlesex County Council; boroughs in Surrey, Kent and Essex will have no county 79 service to unite them. It cannot be pretended that they can give a service of the same range and flexibility. The Royal Commission, which the Minister is so fond of quoting, did not pretend that it could. The Royal Commission knew very well that if we had to create a form of local government on this basis we had to make education the responsibility of the Greater London Council. Then it found, of course, that that was too large and was then near to discovering that its terms of reference were inappropriate to the problem which it was supposed to solve.
I know what we shall be told. We shall be told that the boroughs can make joint arrangements, but that really means that we can have an education service as good as the one we have now only if the boroughs are prepared to surrender the illusion of sovereignty which the Bill presents to them. That is brought out still more when we consider those intensely human services of which the children's service is perhaps the most striking example.
It is worth noting what the Royal Commission said on this. I do not share the Minister's respect for the Royal Commission or, at any rate, for those parts of its Report which the Government have retained. Its recommendations on education were rubbish, as everyone now knows. Its remarks on the children's service, particularly in the County of London, were slovenly, inaccurate and untrue. It did not know the size of the service. It was quite wrong about its nature. That has been pointed out to the Royal Commission and to the Government, and not disputed, several times, although no member of the Commission has ever had the grace to express any regret for it. It made the mistake of not grasping how varied—
§ Sir K. Joseph
I think that the hon. Gentleman is falling below the usual courtesies here. The Royal Commission made one factual mistake which does not alter in any way the conclusions which it drew from its analysis of the children's service.
§ Mr. Stewart
If the Minister believes that, he does not know the subject at all.
The mistake which the Royal Commission made was to maintain that the great 80 majority of the children in the care of the Council were there for only a short time. In fact, this is not so. The figures are almost the other way round. The children are there for long stays, and not for short stays, because the domestic problems which took them there are serious, not easily solvable and vary a great deal from one to another. If the service had been what the Royal Commission thought it was, it would have been pretty well a child-minding service that could be done almost as well on a small as well as on a large scale.
But the problem is that of the child who would be difficult even with the best of parents, the child who has the misfortune to have cruel or feckless parents, the child on whose parents unexpected misfortune has fallen and the child suffering from various kinds of psychological and emotional maladjustment. For children such as these, a great variety of provision is needed. There will not be in each of the London boroughs enough of each type of child for it to be worthwhile making proper provision for him. That was why thirteen out of the fifteen magistrates of the Metropolitan juvenile court wrote to The Times expressing their overwhelming disapproval of the Government's proposals.
It is worth noticing that there is not any substantial body of expert opinion which supports the Government. Architects—the Minister has not persuaded them of what he was trying to persuade us a little while ago—doctors, magistrates, teachers and child workers with expert inside knowledge of the services which the councils render have pronounced against the Government's proposals.
I come to the problem of running the children's service when it is cut up among the boroughs. The new Borough of Finsbury and Islington will have 1,100 children in its care and 75 beds for them. The new Borough of Stepney, Bethnal Green and Popular will have 1,200 children and 60 beds. This is the situation which will come about on 1st April, 1965.
The stock answer to this is, "They must be modern. They must find foster parents for all the children". That was the answer given in February. But it is not very much in touch with modern thought. We know that foster parents 81 are by no means the answer in a great many cases. They are suitable for some children, but they are not suitable for a great many children. Even if they were, would it be possible to find that number of foster parents in the area of the new Borough of Finsbury and Islington, an area with as many children in its care as the City of Liverpool and one-seventh of the area of the City of Liverpool?
It is that sort of fact which makes nonsense of comparisons between a crowded London borough and a provincial city. The Minister compared a London borough with Portsmouth. That is what comes of bringing up the Town Clerk of Portsmouth to help adjudicate on London's problems. Let the Minister get maps. The old Lord Salisbury used to say, "I wish people would use large maps". If the Minister did that, he would not compare Finsbury and Portsmouth, as though their problems were similar.
I take another example of a human service—the welfare service. We know the problems of the homeless. The Minister sometimes lectures the L.C.C. on the things that it could do. It could look all round its area for property to buy up. Does he really think that that will be better done if there are twelve local authorities in that area or, over the whole of Greater London, 32 all trying to buy properties in competition with one another? The L.C.C. is considering using disused liners for the homeless. This is a very promising idea, and I hope that the technical problems and difficulties of it can be overcome. Is it imagined that one London borough will take on an undertaking of that magnitude, or are we to be told again that, once we have cut up the L.C.C. and Middlesex County Council welfare services, the boroughs can sit down and negotiate until they have created a joint authority? Can it really be advanced as a justification for breaking something that it is possible to put it together again? That is what a great deal of this argument on health and welfare amounts to.
Another example in the welfare services concerns a different kind of homeless—not homeless families, but homeless men on their own, such as those who come to the reception centre in Camberwell. In 1961, 7,000 people 82 were received there. In 1962, the number is 9,000 to date. Who are the extra 2,000? They are not elderly men battered by an unequal struggle with a life with which they cannot cope. The increase is due to young men coming down from the North, fleeing from unemployment and seeking work in the Metropolis. They are literally tramping down here, because when they get to the reception centre the first place to which they go is the medical quarters for attention to their feet. Overhanging the metropolitan welfare services are the shadows of the policies of the Minister's colleagues. Some of these men perhaps are following the advice of the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to people without work in the north-east of England.
Under this set-up, who will look after that centre? One thing which is certain from the Bill is that the Greater London Council will not. Will the new Borough of Camberwell, Bermondsey, and Southwark have to take the responsibility for that service? Will it have to write to the other boroughs and say, "Please help us"? Will the City of London lend a hand? The Government have not thought of the answer.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
It is extremely unlikely that the City of London would help, because at the moment its welfare officer is part-time unpaid.
§ Mr. Stewart
The essence of the matter is that we have here not a Camberwell problem, now hardly even a London County Council problem, although at the moment the London County Council does the job, but a metropolitan problem, because to the capital come so many people in these personal difficulties. The Minister has destroyed whatever there was of central organisation to deal with it.
What justification are we given for cutting up the health, the welfare and the children's services? We are given the very jejune argument from the Royal Commission that it is a good thing to concentrate the education, the health and the children's services—and, the Minister said, the education service as well, but he had to half-swallow that bit because that is not being done under the Bill in inner London—in one authority, an 83 authority described as a strong, vigorous borough, so that there would be what the Royal Commission called a clinical team working together in these problems.
What the Minister might have told us was that, having developed that argument, the Royal Commission said that to reap the advantage of that arrangement the boroughs should be kept below 200,000 people. The Government, however, then took the decision that nearly all the boroughs should be above 200,000 people; that is to say, they have thrown into the wastepaper basket the Royal Commission's argument in this respect. So we should not hear any more of that.
Have the Government, on the other hand, made the boroughs big enough? I am, perhaps, a prejudiced judge, but The Times, commenting on the debate in February, said that the case-load in the proposed boroughs in the health and welfare services would be too light. The Government, therefore, have produced something that is too large for the teamwork argument and too small to give the really varied service that is needed in health and welfare.
I believe that in the health and welfare services the counties and the smaller authorities could play a part. Indeed, had it not been for the action of the Government, an agreed scheme of devolution between the counties and the smaller authorities would have been operating in London seven years ago. The essence of a right solution to the problem is a regional authority for planning related matters, the maintenance of the county structure for education and the human services and a larger degree of devolution, particularly in the health and welfare services, to the smaller authorities. That is the essence of a right solution.
The Government's solution is weak in the very suit where it should be strong. For the human services, the best they can say is that if there is a desperate effort on the part of the boroughs to try and knit themselves together again, the results will, perhaps, not be as bad as some of us have feared. It is for a shoddy thing like that that financial anxieties are to be placed upon the surrounding severed counties and all the staffs concerned are to be faced with anxiety and there is no guarantee of any- 84 thing whatever for them in the Bill. There is only a possibility. In the Bill, they are at the mercy and the discretion of the Minister.
This thing cannot last, because in the treating of the human services it will either degrade the services to a point which public opinion will not permit or it will escape that by knitting the boroughs so closely together that the whole idea of the independent borough of the proposed size will disappear, or the powers of the Greater London Council will gradually eat up and overshadow those of the boroughs. It cannot last also because it is inadequate in area and in powers and in simplicity for the planning problems, where its chief merit is supposed to lie. Nor can it last because the Government who are bringing it forward not only lack support for these proposals, but, as we saw on 22nd November, the very day the Bill was published, lack the support of people in every part of the country for almost every one of their policies. In view of that, we believe that this job should fall to be recast by a Government which will have in mind the real needs of planning, which the Government have funked, and the real needs of the human services, which they have despised.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)
I am grateful that I should have caught your eye this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, not least because this is the first time since leaving the Government that I have spoken from the back benches. I cannot think of a more important topic, in which my own constituency and local authority area are concerned, to have broken that year of silence.
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister and his predecessors on the courage with which they have tackled what everybody knew would be a most controversial topic. Nobody ever introduced legislation to alter boundaries or functions of local authorities without their being rows about it, and I do not think that any Government ever will.
Nevertheless, the Government are to be congratulated on having tackled this long outstanding and overdue problem of the government fitted to the modern age and the vastly increased population and problems of London. I believe that basically the scheme that is embodied in the Bill 85 is the right one, which, after whatever teething troubles there may be, will give London and the outer areas of Greater London sound and responsible local government for many generations to come.
Basically, I support wholeheartedly the basis of the Greater London Council and also of the enlarged boroughs. I believe that these boroughs will be set up of a size and authority to encourage responsible local government and civic pride and interest in them. I welcome most particularly the new functions which are to be allocated to them.
I have never seen any logic in the argument of hon. Members opposite, or, indeed, in the argument advanced in many aspects by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), that whereas it is perfectly right and proper for many boroughs, some of them ancient, some not so ancient, and some of them of only 50,000, 60,000. or 100,000 people, to be thought to have citizens and to be able to provide elected members who are capable and responsible to deal with the vital social problems, be they education, welfare or maternity and child welfare, when one comes to the very politically-conscious area of London and the Home Counties, our citizens, our elected representatives and vast boroughs—which, in this case, will range from upwards of 200,000 to about 300,000 people—are considered to be incapable of doing a job which so many other areas elsewhere in the country so satisfactorily carry out.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
The argument that the right hon. Lady is criticising is not based on the political competence of the citizens. It is due to the fact that a London borough and a provincial city are not comparable. If the right hon. Lady is interested in the argument, she will find it cogently stated in, I think, paragraph 18 or 19 of the Government's White Paper issued last year.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
I still do not believe that the functions which are to be allocated to these boroughs are beyond responsible authorities. Particularly do I believe that there will be an enormous advantage to the ordinary citizen in being far more closely in contact, and able to be in contact, with his local authority than he is at the moment 86 when he tries to get in touch with a responsible body at so vast an organisation as the London County Council.
There is not a Member in this House from London and the out-counties who has not had experience of frustrated constituents who have come to him about, it may be, housing, or, it may be, the care of an old mother, and who have said, "Time and time again we have tried to see somebody about it and we were not very lucky. We did not get past the clerk to the clerk"—who is under the regional officer who is under the director. Our citizens are frustrated because of the difficulty of getting through all the vast omnibus arrangements of the L.C.C., and that is why so many of our local citizens come to their Members of Parliament; they are in desperation because they cannot get near their councillors, their elected representatives.
My constituents who are residents of an L.C.C. housing estate have the utmost difficulty, but When they want to see the housing manager about a local council house, or if they want to complain about any local services supplied by the Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District Council, they have no difficulty in seeing the council's officers at all.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Is the right hon. Lady aware that we all meet these sort of complaints, that people cannot get past the clerks in, say, the housing officer's department of a local authority? Many people who are frustrated are properly the responsibility of local authorities, not the London County Council.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
I cannot accept what the hon. Member has said, because I have had considerable experience of this, both when I was in office and also in my own constituency.
I believe that, particularly with their new functions, the boroughs will draw on people of responsibility, and people who will feel that they really have an opportunity of acting in the best interests of the people they represent in their local community.
The hon. Member for Fulham made great play about the Greater London Council's not really having any responsibility for traffic planning because of the reserve powers of the Minister. Really, 87 does he suggest that because the Minister of Transport has laid down the overall plan for the M.1 every authority bordering that great new highway has lost all its powers and all its efficiency? Of course there will be the major, overriding schemes which will call for decisions by the Minister, but I believe that it is vitally important that, with this enormous conurbation of people in and around London, we should have one great central traffic authority which can deal with the Home Counties and across London, south and east and west. In the same way, I believe, drainage, refuse disposal, the fire brigade, and matters of that kind are very properly to be the responsibility of the Greater London authority.
I have one or two issues to raise with the Minister. I hope that I have made it plain that my local council has throughout supported and still supports the overall principle of the Greater London plan I raise, first, a point which is of importance locally and which I do not think is adequately covered by the Bill. We have within my constituency, which is identical with the area of the Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District Council, Chislehurst Common, which is protected under an Act of Parliament of 1888. It is magnificently looked after and preserved in the best interests of the entire public as a free and open beauty spot. There are no gates, no fences; it is quite free and open for pedestrians to enjoy the quiet and beauty of this beautiful spot.
The common is looked after by the Chislehurst and St. Paul's Cray conservators, most of whom act under what is known as the Kent Review Order of 1934, and are appointed by the local council. That area not only serves the residents of Chislehurst, but those on its borders, and it serves a very large number of children on the St. Paul's Cray Estate. It is a haven for playing "cops and robbers" and Red Indians, and for climbing trees, catching tiddlers in the ponds, and for sailing boats. We do not see in the Bill any real safeguard of the future of this area. I see that under Clause 81 the Minister has power to revoke any Act. I hope that he would not find it necessary to do so in this 88 case, because of the admirable manner in which the common is looked after at present.
Further to that, at present a precept is provided from the Chislehurst and Sidcup Council's rates to provide the conservators with the money required to preserve this great beauty spot. Whereas the liabilities of an authority can be taken over by the new borough, I am not wholly satisfied—and more astute legal brains than mine have advised me—that the new authority into which we shall be going will be empowered to take over the responsibilities for the common under the 1888 Act and the Kent Review Order, and that it will be able to provide the necessary money. If my hon. Friend would look into that point and give an assurance he would give very great satisfaction to the very many of my constituents who are concerned about the future of the common.
There is another detail, though it is no detail to my constituency, which I would urge upon my hon. Friend and the Minister in what I believe is the arbitrary splitting up of the local authority area of Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District Council. All local authorities had to take on very great burdens after the war in rebuilding, and in readjustment of local areas. The Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District Council, I have no hesitation in saying, is an extremely efficient and responsible local authority. Not only did it accept the carrying out of the responsibilities thrust upon it in the post-war years, but it also accepted other great responsibilities when the new London County Council St. Paul's Cray Estate, practically a township, was built, and when there came into the area about 200 persons a week, and for whom my local authority was responsible—apart from the houses. This area has been most successfully integrated into northwest Kent.
Further to that, my right hon. Friend—his Department, at any rate—will remember the uproar there was at the proposal to house gypsies at Corkes Meadow. In spite of the fact that the land that they occupied had been sealed under a compulsory purchase order by the L.C.C., which wanted to build on it, it was my local authority, recognising with great humanity the gravity of this 89 problem, which provided 108 houses there. Despite considerable criticism from local people, the council met the situation.
Therefore, I feel I have every right to plead for what is a thoroughly responsible local authority which is arbitrarily treated by the boundary arrangements in the Bill. I believe that it has been arbitrarily treated, and as they are now proposed to be carved up between Group 18, which consists of Bexley, Erith and Crayford, and Group 19, which consists of Bromley, Beckenham, Penge and Orpington, I must ask my right hon. Friend to consider what a disastrous effect this will have on an efficient local authority and on my constituency area in general.
The council had never challenged the principle of the Greater London plan, as a whole. It had never challenged the reasonableness and correctness of larger borough authorities being formed, and had not doubted that that would be in the best interests of Greater London and, in this case, the north-west Kent area. With our proximity to London and having two L.C.C. estates in our midst, with thousands of residents commuting daily to London, my council approached the matter without prejudice despite the passionate pride of its members in being born "Men of Kent".
The Royal Commission originally suggested that we should be linked with Orpington. I will not digress into that, because I know that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) wishes to put forward his own council's recommendations on that. The Government then decided that we should have units of 200,000 population, and because they thought that the link with Orpington would provide too small a unit, they rearranged matters so that we should be linked with Bexley, Erith and Crayford.
Protests immediately poured in, the first ones which I received coming from teachers' organisations and chambers of commerce. The reaction was not confined to my own constituency, or to our local authority area. Erith and Crayford made it quite plain that they thought that it was a lunatic arrangement, and they did not want us in their midst.
The Minister instituted an inquiry to receive recommendations and observations from the various authorities con- 90 cerned—the inquiry of the four town clerks—and Bexley, Erith and Crayford agreed that Bexleyheath was the core and centre of their area and that it was right and proper that Bexley, Erith and Crayford should be joined together. In fact, it was something which they had strongly supported for 15 years, and 15 years ago they had tried to get a Parliamentary Bill to form themselves into one borough. But they strenuously opposed the addition of Sidcup and Chislehurst to their area, because that was unnecessary to make up the minimum population required by the White Paper and also they had no compatibility with any area lying south of the A.2 road. I quote the Report of the inquiry because hon. Members opposite always see political motives in everything that we do. But here was a notoriously Left-wing council saying that it did not want to be wedded to an area which had a small Conservative majority.
There was considerable protest against our being thrown into Group 18 against all historical and administrative links, and it was pointed out that traditional links would be preserved between Chislehurst, Sidoup, Orpington and Bromley by our being linked with Group 19. We have no community of interests or contacts with Erith and Crayford, and we have had very little, except on one northern boundary, with Bexley. Historically and socially, and for every single administrative function where local authorities co-operate, we have been for a century, and are still, linked with Bromley and Orpington—in matters of health, child care, education, ambulance and fire services, petty sessions, the Metropolitan Water Board, town planning and in respect of the joint medical officer of health. For every one of those functions this area has been, and still is, linked with Group 19. I beg my right hon. Friend to reconsider this matter before we roach the Committee stage of the Bill.
The case is overwhelming: I will not now go into the long and very detailed representations which I have had from five residents' associations and from both the northern associations which are geographically nearer Bexley than the southern ones. But all of them are absolutely convinced that this is the wrong decision.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can say whether any of the representations she has received are based on a fear that there may be an interruption to, as it were, free trade in education, because I hope that she knows that the pattern of school use will not, in fact, be altered by these boundaries. Therefore, I shall be grateful to know whether this has been an element in the representations.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
Certainly, education has been one of the elements in the representations because of the division which ultimately came out of the inquiry by the four town clerics, when they sliced my urban district in half and put one half, that south of the A.20, into Group 19, with Bromley, and the half north of the A.20 into the Bexley, Erith and Crayford group. The teaching profession thinks that the area has been split very disastrously. Because of time, I do not want to go into the many details of the representations I have had from the point of view of education, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that he will get them during the Committee stage. But I also assure my right hon. Friend that that is not the whole basis of the protest.
We were originally carved out of the Bromley area when Foots Cray and Chislehurst were made urban districts. We are associated with them in practically every aspect of our local government life, whether it concerns health, child care, education, or fire brigade and ambulance services. We look south and not north to Thamesside. Our colleagues in Erith and Crayford have been perfectly frank in stating that they have no tradition of contact or association with us. They tend to have contact east and west of their area rather than south below the A.2 road.
I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise that it is strongly felt in my constituency that this is an arbitrary and grossly unfair carve-up. It is known as "The Great Divide" throughout the constituency. I do not believe that any other authority which is large enough to go into one area as a unit is being divided in two like this. I do not believe that any other education executive is being split like Orpington and Chislehurst; if we went completely 92 into Bromley, that would be preserved as a complete entity in the group.
I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will feel able to reconsider the matter, not least because of the argument put forward by Erith and Crayford that, although they may now represent only about 166,000 population when linked with Bexley, they will have an influx of 25,000 people as a result of a new housing estate, the plans for which have already been passed by the London County Council and are now before the Kent County Council for planning permission; and there will thus be 25,000 more people coming on to the Belvedere Marshes in Erith and Crayford.
While I accept that, on the existing figures, my right hon. Friend may feel that there is an unreasonable disparity and that Bromley would be brought up to 300,000 and the others to 170,000, I hope that he will bear in mind that there will be 25,000 more people on this estate in five or six years. I beg my right hon. Friend to look at this again in order that a good area, admirably served by a very fine local authority, is not split into directions with which it has no affinities. Our affinity is with Bromley.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
Having had some long experience of county council and non-county borough government, I shall not be accused, I hope, of having too much hindsight and too little foresight in my criticisms of the Bill in its present form. We are all, I believe, concerned for genuine, good local government, and I think that goes for both sides of the House. I do not believe that we object to modifications which are obviously necessary from time to time in the general overall pattern of local government, but the criticism levelled at some of us is that we are against change. That is not true, and it is certainly not true of my own county council in relation to the county districts.
Indeed, had it not been for the Government's decision in 1957 to stop the efforts the county council and the county districts were making, we in Middlesex might well have reached an amicable solution of our problems of local government which would have been to the general benefit of the county. 93 Instead, we now have a somewhat disgruntled population—a disgruntlement caused by the Government's new proposals.
A number of boroughs in Middlesex were happy to think, on their first understanding of the proposals of the Royal Commission, that they would be big fish in little seas, but they now find that they are to be rather smaller fish instead. They do not like the proposals as much as they did before. This is the inevitable result of having accepted the idea that the Middlesex County Council should no longer function. Many of the boroughs said that they would prefer it to continue to function, at least for certain services, and they are mainly opposed to the creation of the Greater London Council for services which need to be administered over a wider area. I do not propose to range over those parts of the Greater London area outside Middlesex, and I shall confine my remarks to the area where I know some of the difficulties.
The right hon. Gentleman used one phrase which puzzled me. He said that the Bill was designed for the rehabilitation of the boroughs. That was a most peculiar phrase. One thinks normally in terms of rehabilitation of a problem family, or something of that kind. Every one of the districts I know in Middlesex, and outside, would resent any suggestion that they are in need of rehabilitation and are not capable of exercising their functions, with neither the members nor the officers able to carry out their duties properly, even under the present structure, although much could be done to improve it.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman at some stage will withdraw that phrase and use a rather happier term in its place which would at least pay some regard to the fact that the boroughs and county districts are, in the main, efficient bodies within the limitations imposed by law. Very often they feel that were it not for limitations also imposed by the Minister they would be able to do much better.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I was referring to the limitations imposed by the structure. I was careful to pay tribute to the ability and enthusiasm of members and officers of the local authorities.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I am glad to have that confirmed by the right hon. Gentleman, 94 because in his speech the emphasis seemed to be rather the other way.
Reference has been made to the present proliferation of local authorities in the Greater London area and the necessity to tidy them up. But from what I gather, in Middlesex we look like getting rid of a proliferation of local authorities only to have instead a proliferation of joint boards. If I were to have one or the other, I would prefer local authorities to joint boards. If there is one sort of local government which is most invidious from the point of view of democratic control, it is the joint board, which owes its authority to no one when it comes to the administration of a particular job, since once a local authority hands over a function to a joint board all it has to do is provide the money. It has little positive to say or do beyond that, for the joint board takes little notice of it.
We want to know much more fully what the proposed staff commission is to do. I understand that it will be able to give advice but that it will not interfere with the free choice of a local authority in appointing its officers. It will be interesting to see how the interests of the staff can be properly protected against a background of the commission. Certainly staffs generally will not be satisfied to be left in the air on this matter, and this, of course, will apply particularly to county staffs, who are further from the seats of power, as they will be, in the new boroughs. In fact, it may well be that although better people are available from the old county authority, with a wider knowledge of services, they will be passed over in favour of local appointees because of local influences. We should like more information about this.
Another factor is that the Royal Commission reported that the joint appointment of officers was a bad thing and would not work. That was not quite a correct interpretation. It had been suggested that the joint appointment of medical officers as between boroughs and counties did not work at all well. Now there are suggestions that the work of two children's officers in Middlesex and London will be done by the twenty-one new authorities—presumably each with its children's officers. When we point out that it is doubtful whether the officers of the calibre required will be 95 readily available to begin with, and also that the number of children in care, at least in some of the boroughs, hardly justifies the appointment of a first-class children's officer and the staff required, we are told that there can be joint appointments.
The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that a joint appointment is good for one purpose and bad for another. The answer is that joint appointments are not good generally. Quite apart from the human point of view, this is an argument for putting the children's service over an area not less than the existing county and not breaking the service up in the way proposed.
The same might be said about welfare. There are aspects of welfare work which are becoming increasingly important and increasingly difficult to handle efficiently even with the present size of authorities responsible for them. I have in mind the special facilities for certain types of handicapped persons. Special vehicles are provided to take these handicapped persons to centres occasionally—we cannot do it often for many of them—so that they can mix with other people and have opportunities for entertainment and so on. However, those vehicles are expensive in money and staff and I challenge the boroughs to provide that sort of service for a limited number of handicapped persons. That is quite apart from the special problems of the blind and others who are best dealt with over wider areas than now envisaged.
No doubt we shall be told that these things will be done by joint arrangements. Every difficulty that crops up is to be a matter for joint arrangements, but if joint arrangements are to be substituted for direct control by an elected body, I still prefer the elected body to joint arrangements. We must have some more information about how the Government propose to handle some of these problems.
There is another aspect of the welfare services which also gives cause for concern. Because of the reluctance of regional hospital boards to accept into hospital people who are not sick all of the time—what might be called the 96 semi-chronic sick, to coin a phrase—an increasing number of people—for instance, those who are in bed for a couple of weeks and then able to get up for a short time—are coming into the care of welfare authorities, who are having to make increasing provision for them. These people are almost hospital cases and require nursing services and ground floor accommodation or the installation of lifts and so on, all of which makes this sort of service increasingly expensive.
I am sure that a similar case can be made about welfare services for the elderly. There is no doubt that the care of old people in their own homes can be well administered at borough level and can be handled with perhaps a greater degree of humanity, which is what we are concerned about; but many of the people to whom we try to give some sort of community life would sink back to where they were if they had to depend on the services which the boroughs could provide, which would probably be only occasional visits when much more is required. Perhaps we can be told something more about how this service is to be operated.
There is a general lack of faster parents. Foster parents are regarded as the best form of handling many children, orphans and others who are not able to return to their parents. Foster parents are not only a relatively cheap method of dealing with these children, but provide a means for giving children the sort of home life which they ought to have. In Middlesex, we already complain of the competition from London County Council for foster parents in Middlesex. This is competition between two large authorities. What will happen when the boroughs are competing with one another? It may be that in areas where it is more difficult to provide foster parents the boroughs will be scouting around to see what can be found. The rivalry may lead to some ill-feeling between the boroughs, even though it is absolutely necessary that the maximum number of foster parents should be found. I mention that not as a vital issue but as just one more of the things which is likely to happen.
I hope that we shall be given some sort of statement about the future of water supplies. I appreciate that for various reasons this subject is not 97 included in the Bill. If it is proposed to deal with London's water supplies comprehensively, I hope that some hint will be given, for many of us would welcome such a proposal. It is not a matter of dying in the last ditch for the Metropolitan Water Board, but if the Metropolitan Water Board is to be singled out, then many of us will have something to say, whereas some of us would feel that a proposal for dealing with London's water services comprehensively and as a unit would be constructive.
Those are some of the subjects which are allied to the changes in local government. Another concerns the set-up of the administration of justice. We know that there have been talks, but the House ought to know not only how the main provisions are to be operated, but how the ancillary provisions which make up the whole are to be organised. We would like to be able to consider all the functions, and for that purpose we would welcome some statement on the other services which are not covered by the Bill.
I should also like to know more about the intentions towards, say, Middlesex County Council as a river board. One does not think of the Greater London area very much in terms of rivers, but there are important waterways which perform important functions of drainage and so on for large areas. We ought to know precisely what future organisations are proposed for rivers and streams in Middlesex and elsewhere in lieu of the county council.
One of the big problems is that further education, for example, cannot be handled on the basis of small authorities. It cannot be done even with boroughs of 200,000 and 300,000 if the specialist services, especially technical education, are to be provided over a wide range of further education. Over the years it has been necessary for the home counties to have a joint consultative committee for the establishment of technical colleges and to agree on the specialist subjects to be taken at individual colleges.
What is the point of handing over these functions to even smaller authorities, especially when the present establishment operates without interfering with the overall rights of any particular education authority? At present, there is con- 98 sultation about whether a particular college with a bias towards building should be sent up here, one with a bias towards engineering there, another with a bias towards electrical engineering elsewhere, none of them able efficiently to cover all those subjects at once.
How many colleges will there be in the outer London areas able to provide sufficient services themselves? If they are not to provide them themselves, how are they to run? Is there to be another joint board, or is there to be consultation? Will one college take students from another area and, if that is the case, will students be taken into one college from another area only if there is room for them, or after one borough has taken in as many students from its own area as it wants? How will accommodation be allocated? Those are questions to which we want answers before we can agree to these proposals.
In the present distribution of the new proposed boroughs in Middlesex I find that in No. 24, which includes part of Surrey, there are one technical college and two special day schools. In Division No. 25—Brentford and Chiswick, Heston and Isleworth and Feltham—there will be two technical colleges and four special day schools. In the whole of Division No. 26 —Uxbridge, Hayes, Ruislip-Northwood, Yiewsley and West Drayton, a huge area—they have neither technical colleges nor special day schools. What will happen here? They have one residential special school in that area. In Acton, Ealing and Southall, they have three technical colleges and three special day schools between them. In Wembley and Willesden, again a very large area, there are only two technical colleges and two day special schools. Harrow has only one technical college and one day special school. It is interesting to note that it is not many years ago that Harrow, which is left intact, fought very hard, through many of its residents, against even having municipal borough status, because they thought that it would put up the rates.
§ The Minister of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)
It is my intention tomorrow, if I catch Mr. Speaker's eye, to say something about the Middlesex special schools, both day and boarding schools, because I know that some special problems are involved.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I hope that the Minister will also have something to say about technical education in Middlesex, where there is equally a problem.
I have referred largely to the technical colleges. As for residential special schools, there is only one in the county of Middlesex, and the county administers 10 outside Middlesex. What is to happen to those? Who will have them? We shall certainly require an answer tomorrow, not only about what is happening to technical colleges but also about what is happening to residential special schools.
So much for education. All that can be said is that there is a fond hope by the Minister that there will be a measure of co-operation between the boroughs for the administration of the services. We shall see what co-operation there is. If there are any school places left after they have dealt with people in their own area, somebody outside may have them—and I hardly see that as the right setting.
I should like to look at the special provision of welfare, the number of homes in the various areas and what they represent. If we take the Twickenham area for welfare and express the total number of beds as a percentage of the current requirements, we find that it is 127 per cent. In other wards, in the area they have a little vacant space—27 per cent. more than they need. If we look at Division No. 25—Brentford and Chiswick, Heston and Isleworth and Feltham—they have 105 per cent.; they can deal with their problems plus a little more. In Hayes and Harlington, Ruislip-Northwood, Uxbridge, and Yiewsley and West Drayton, in spite of their difficulty about technical education, the number of homes represents 214 per cent.
In Acton, Ealing and Southall, where there are more people, there are only 42 per cent. of the requirements. In Wembley and Willesden there are only 60 per cent. of the requirements within the area, and Harrow has only 27 per cent. of its requirements in the area. In the Division including Finchley, Hendon and Friern Barnet, it is 138 per cent. In Hornsey, Tottenham and Wood Green there is only 11 per cent. of the current requirement of total bed accommodation in the area. Where will they go for the 100 rest? In Edmonton, Enfield and Southgate they have 72 per cent., which may not be regarded as too bad.
What sort of arrangement can be reached which will be equitable between these boroughs? I am not dealing with fancy figures, but with the facts as they are, and at some stage somebody must deal with this matter not in terms of rhetoric but in terms of facts as they are, and must find a solution to these problems.
This gives a total of 51 homes, 11 not yet completed. There are also 24 welfare homes outside the county which are administered by the county. Where are they to go, how are they to be allocated and to whom? This includes three in Potters Bar, which are transferred to Hertfordshire, and three in Sunbury-on-Thames, which are transferred to Surrey. I do not know what will happen to those.
The important point is that when a county is looking at its service it provides the service very often where it best can. It is no accident that in the heavily built-up areas it has not been possible to provide new welfare homes. They are not available. The county has to look for its premises where it can get them. We must bear in mind that for a long time it has been prevented from building any new homes and has had to adapt existing buildings. This can be done only where there are fairly large houses adaptable for the purpose. This does not ease the problem which we face nor does it ease the problem in the built-up areas which must provide services for themselves. Where will they find the buildings or the space to build in their own areas in order to provide a full welfare service?
The same story can be told about the children's service, but I will not go into the details. One of the vital features of a children's service is that one must have a reception centre to which the children can be taken and where they can be cared for, given medical attention and given the attention necessary to indicate exactly what should be done with them. Many of them are problem children or children who go into the care of the county council from magistrates' courts. There are highly qualified officers available at these centres who are capable of assessing the children and deciding those who might best be sent to foster parents, 101 those who might best be put into one of the county council's smaller homes, and those who need to go into one of the larger homes. How on earth shall we overcome the problem of separate boroughs running efficient reception centres for the admission of children? How can they all run efficient baby nurseries—and this is a most important point, because of the need to handle children in such a way, for instance, as to avoid the spread of infection? It is an expensive part of the children's service. In spite of the population figure of 200,000 or 300,000, I venture to suggest that the job cannot be done as well as it is being done in the Middlesex area by the present authority. Moreover, boroughs in the past have recognised this and have been prepared to accept it. They have regarded the children's service as a service which is better handled over the wider area.
On all these functions it is important that we should have much more detail than a rather general statement, because they must be sorted out in Committee. Another service affected is the Mental Health Service. Looking at the distribution of this service in Middlesex at present—to a large extent it is a developing service as a result of the last Mental Health Act—I cannot conceive that the boroughs themselves, individually, can handle the wide variety of services which will be required in order to deal with the problem of mental health. It is impossible for them to do so, where they may have half-a-dozen people requiring a particular type of treatment and half-a-dozen requiring another type of treatment, and some requiring to be kept in hostels; in many cases it may be desirable for them to be in hostels but the facilities do not exist in the area where they live. It may be desirable for them to be elsewhere. How on earth are we to deal with this sort of thing? I leave it to the Minister to give us a little more guidance as to how these services are to he run, not only efficiently but also with the humanity which will be necessary to give us the service which we require.
I have dealt with what I think are the necessary parts of the service. I want now to deal with one or two general matters. We have heard much of the general idea of bringing local government nearer to the people. There is one service which it has been decided will 102 go to the Greater London Council but which is very much a personal service. I refer to the emergency ambulance service. There are sometimes complaints now that it is remote. How much more remote will it be under the Greater London Council? I personally think that there is a case for dividing the ambulance service. There is a case for the hospital ambulance service being made the function of regional hospital units. There is a case for the emergency ambulance service being the responsibility of boroughs. That is where complaints arise.
There are complaints—sometimes justified, sometimes not justified—of delay in arriving at accidents. If complaints of delays have to filter through to the Greater London Council before they are dealt with and then come back again, they will be lost sight of in the process. Such a service, which is essentially personal, should be brought nearer to the people rather than taken farther away. I should like some thought to be given to the general question of the whole function of the ambulance service, with a view to finding whether the form of service which exists at present is the most efficient.
I want to say something about the question of bringing local government to local level. At the Royal Commission we were told that the important thing is to bring all the services together, as far as that is possible, for the benefit of the people. We were told that the town hall is the natural centre. Therefore, we are to take the town hall farther and farther away from an awful lot more people. That is exactly what we shall do, unless we keep the same number of town halls going as we have at present, with the same number of information offices and all the things that go to make the service local. If we are to do that, well and good; I shall not complain. However, if we are going to do it, why the change? What shall we create better as a result of a change? If the Government can say that they will create something better, they should tell us.
Up to now, I cannot see much that will be better out of all the changes which are to be made. It is true that there could be and could have been a greater devolution of services from 103 county councils to boroughs and districts. That is not gainsaid. It cannot be gainsaid that there ought to be a review of the existing areas, with a view to making them perhaps more useful units of local government, both in size and shape. At the best they cannot handle the widest range of service which require handling over a wider area. At the least the new boroughs are rather too big for some of the essential services which they can handle. For example, the personal health services can be handled very well at virtually existing borough levels in Middlesex. They are all capable of handling them and running efficiently. They have sufficient resources to run them. There is no need to create larger units for that purpose.
We have already established with regard to education that we shall not improve the education structure. After careful consideration the Middlesex Teachers' Association, although it thought at first that this might be a good idea, has come out flatly against the idea of breaking up the education service in Middlesex. Although from time to time the Association has offered criticisms to the education authority, in the last analysis, after careful examination, it has come to the conclusion that the devil it knows will be probably far better than the devil it does not know. I welcome the Association's observations.
In the absence of far more compelling reasons for these changes, although I accept the need for some change, and some fairly radical change, in the structure of local government in the Greater London area, I cannot see that much will be achieved by the abolition of the Middlesex and London County Councils and the truncation of a number of other county councils where services have been effectively rendered and where there has been a community of interest. We still do not know how the new community of interests will be created. We have hardly reached the stage of absorbing into communities the areas which were changed in the 1930s. Many of them still talk in terms of their old areas and districts and not in terms of their existing boroughs.
I hope that at the end of the day when all the criticisms have been 104 levelled, as I know that they will be from both sides of the House, the Government will think seriously about this, will take the Bill back and will recast it in a way which will give us the opportunity of having real local efficient government.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter). He is a very distinguished member of the Middlesex County Council. No one knows more about local government in Middlesex, or indeed local government generally, than he. He made a case which is reasonable. He made a number of suggestions, all of which can be considered in Committee, assuming that the Bill receives a Second Reading. I was particularly glad to hear him condemn joint boards. I heartily agree with him. However, what has become of the Opposition's proposals which were put forward when this subject was debated last February? We were then discussing a Motion. The Opposition had to produce alternative proposals. Those alternative proposals were entirely founded on the conception of joint boards.
The Bill is concerned with the business of government, with politics in the raw. It is, therefore, inconceivable that it should not be controversial. No change could be made in the structure of local government in an area such as Greater London which could help affecting adversely a number of particular interests, and, indeed, party interests, in certain places. It is the duty of the Opposition to pick up those particular parts of the scheme which are likely adversely to affect what they regard as their particular interests, and make all the hullaballoo that they can about them. No doubt we shall hear a great deal of noise during the passage of the Bill.
I do not believe that cur constituents will be very much concerned with that aspect of the matter. I think that they will mostly be wanting to hear how far we are prepared to try to make this a better Bill so as to improve the local government of London, which is certainly not in a very good state. The right questions that we should be considering on Second Reading are, first, whether a fundamental reorganisation of the whole of local government in the Greater 105 London area is necessary, and, secondly, if it is necessary, whether the broad lines of the Bill are right, or whether it should be changed to something else.
The first thing I noticed on looking at the Order Paper this morning was the peculiar fact that no Amendment has been tabled by the Opposition. Assuming, as I do assume from the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), that it is the intention of the Opposition to vote against the Bill, it is a necessary conclusion that they will vote against it because they are opposed to any reorganisation of local government in London. If they had any suggestion to put forward, it would be their duty to table a reasoned Amendment to show what alternative they have to the Government's proposals as set out in the Bill.
§ Mr. Reynolds
May I ask the hon. Baronet to cast his mind back? He referred to what the Opposition had said and done in a previous debate, when we had put forward alternative proposals. He was then "ad libbing", of course. He is now on his prepared speech.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
That is exactly the point I noticed. The proposals put forward when we debated this last February were concerned with joint boards. We heard not a word about joint boards from the hon. Member for Fulham, and the hon. Member for Southall began by condemning them roundly.
On the first point—is a fundamental reorganisation really necessary?—most of us look to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. No complaint was made about the manning of the Commission. It was an independent body which recommended unanimously, in paragraph 1001, thatFor local government purposes in this area there should be constituted a number of Greater London Boroughs and a Council for Greater London.Nothing could be clearer than that, and I want to know whether the Opposition agree, or do not agree, with that proposition? After all, we have had no answer to that question today and until we receive an answer we shall not know what the Opposition intend to do, or even why they are considering voting against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Mellish
To put the hon. Member out of his misery, and prevent him continuing in this vein for too long. I can answer his question now. We oppose the institution of Greater London boroughs and the institution of a Greater London Council.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am glad to hear the hon. Member say that, because now we can begin to know where we stand. I am, then, right in thinking that, in the view of the Opposition, local government in this respect does not need any reorganising.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
All hon. Members who represent constituencies in the area about which I am speaking have been aware of an increasing sense of frustration on the part of their constituents. Politically, that sense has been expressed by the demand for county borough status. It has come up a great many times and it would have come up more frequently had it not been for the appointment of the Commission. We have seen the worsening of traffic conditions and there are many other respects in which people feel that they are not getting what they want and cannot see why they should not be getting it.
The most obvious example of this is the fact that many thousands of new houses are being built—yet the housing lists in London are either remaining static or, in some cases, are getting longer.
§ Mr. Michael Cliffe (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Does the hon. Member seriously believe that the Bill is likely to eliminate the housing problem in London?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am saying that unless we undertake a fundamental overhaul of our local government machinery in London we shall never be able to solve that problem.
The hon. Member for Fulham referred to a memorandum prepared by the London School of Economics and Political Science, Greater London Group, and to those parts of it which suited his argument. He did not, however, read the following paragraph, with which the memorandum began:We strongly support the general case for the reorganisation of the boroughs and the 107 need for a body covering the whole of greater London to be responsible for certain important functions.It is true that the memorandum went on to say:We consider however that the Government's proposals are insufficient…There may be a case for same of the arguments adduced by members of that London School of Economics Group, but it is fair to remember that those people are experts, are not politicians and that any scheme for the reorganisation of Landon must work politically as well as theoretically. Any scheme for local government in London is necessarily a compromise. It cannot be anything else. Some aspects of local government policy must be dealt with over a wide area—indeed, over the area as a whole—and there is general agreement that planning, traffic and other problems cannot be dealt with for parts of the area alone, but must be looked at over the whole area.
Some aspects of local government functions, such as education, require an area of considerable size—certainly not less than a population of 100,000 and, in the view of the Government, 200,000. I agree with the Government's view on this and consider that figure to be about the minimum which will operate properly for this purpose. But a great many—indeed, most—of the functions of local government can and should be dealt with if possible on an even smaller basis. The seat of local government should be known and easily accessible to every person in the area in question. Those three propositions are incompatible with one another and, therefore, one must have some sort of compromise to make the thing work.
For my part, I believe that it will be more and more difficult for education to be carried as a local government function; but that is another question affecting the country as a whole and not one which we should discuss today. Had it not been the case that education was a local government function, I believe that the scheme could have been one for much smaller boroughs, and I would have liked to have seen that. However, education is a local government function and the scheme must take account of it. I consider that it has done that to about the right extent.
108 The Government have got the necessary compromise broadly right. That is the basis of the scheme contained in the Bill. In Committee, we shall undoubtedly discuss its details, the points put forward by the hon. Member for Southall and all the other matters raised in the debate, and I have no doubt that the Bill will be amended in due course. However, the Measure is on the right lines and should receive the general support of hon. Members.
The greatest difficulty in framing a scheme for so great an area as London seems to be not so much the reconciling of the different functions of local government as reconciling the different aspects of the same functions. While planning, traffic and housing problems must be considered as a whole, they have intensely local implications. We cannot simply look at this as a large problem for London and disregard the personal impact it has on those living in particular areas.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If we tried to dead with a traffic problem simply as a traffic problem we should find a very great deal of traffic being driven through a particular thoroughfare, upsetting our schools policy, the shopkeepers, and often preventing old people from getting to their friends and to the places where they must go to buy their food. Therefore, we cannot deal with these difficulties simply on a local basis or even as broad problems. We must have same kind of compromise arrangement such as is incorporated in the Bill. Naturally, this compromise arrangement has received some criticism. The hon. Member for Fulham made a good deal of play about it, but he did not suggest how he would deal with the matter. I do not believe that it is possible for him to suggest a better solution than that set out in the Bill.
Housing is not just a question of building houses and flats. The Borough of Hendon has built many thousands of council houses, but, as I have already said, our housing list is just about the same as it has always been—
§ Mr. Pargiter
Is it not a fact that the Hendon Council no longer accepts any new applicants to its list?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
No, that is not the case, but it is quite true that, simply because of this difficulty, there is a long waiting period.
The reasons for this are quite clear. First, there has been a very heavy influx of people into Hendon all the time. Secondly, rather more than half the council houses in Hendon belong to the London County Council, which has refused to take Hendon people when houses have become vacant. We therefore have a constant inflow of people from central London who are sent out, willy nilly, to become citizens of Hand on.
I welcome the provisions of the Bill—
§ Mrs. Corbet
But does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the Greater London Council will be in the position of the London County Council, of supplying the houses, and that that policy will proceed as long as that is the case?
§ Sir H Lucas-Tooth
Yes, and the Bill deliberately allows that to proceed. There are special provisions in it that recognise that hard fact and permit that policy to proceed. But the Bill lays down a new structure for housing policy in London as a whole by which, for the first time, we shall have common standards of need. Those common standards of need will not be laid down compulsorily, but will be required so that the Greater London Council will be able to form a composite housing list for London—
§ Mrs. Corbet
But does not the hon. Gentleman realise now that instead of having numbers of people coming in from the inner London area, it is quite possible for his borough to get people from crowded outside areas, such as Willesden, and that not only will people from central London be going into Hendon, but people from other areas, too? It will not be easy.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I could not agree mare strongly with the hon. Lady—she is making my case. I say that this problem is not being tackled at present—the situation is getting worse—but that the Bill provides machinery which will enable us at least to make a start on tackling it. I welcome the provisions of Clause 22, and other Clauses in the Bill.
110 It has always seemed to me, and I think that most hon. Members will agree, that it would be best if the electors were to choose their local government representatives on the personal merits of those representatives, and on account of local issues, but we all know quite well that that is not so. It is not so generally, and is certainly not so in the London area. Local government elections are decided on national issues. When the Conservative Party is doing well, it gains seats. When the Labour Party is doing well, it gains seats. When, in the view of the country, neither of those parties does well, the Liberal Party gains seats—
§ Mr. Mellish
Is it not the fact that that has not been the case in the London County Council elections? History has shown that even when the Labour Party has done very badly in a General Election—as it did in 1950, for example—the London County Council results were extremely good for Labour. And the last London County Council election was fought entirely on the principles of the citizens of London.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
What the hon. Gentleman calls "very good" is a relative term, if I may say so. There are other reasons. A million citizens have moved out of London and—I do not know—it may be that rather more of those were Conservative than Labour voters. Be that as it may, the fact remains that local government elections are decided on national issues. It is no use our lamenting the fact; it is much better to accept it, and to make the best of the situation.
In a Parliamentary election, a relatively small swing of public opinion can make a quite large change in representation in this House, but in a Parliamentary election there are always some substantial areas of the country that do not change their allegiance very readily. I think that I am right in saying that, with the possible exception of one General Election this century, the Opposition have always maintained at least 25 per cent. of the seats, and there has always been at least 50 per cent. of those who sit on the Government side who are old Members. I am somewhat understating the figure, but that, broadly speaking, is the case in Parliamentary elections.
In a smaller electoral area, the proportionate change of elected members is very 111 much greater in relation to the swing of public opinion. It is quite possible that if all the seats in a London borough were vacated at one election, we could get a clean-sweep change. If I may say so, that would have occurred in my own borough at the last local government elections; we would have had 100 per cent. new members on the council, and no opposition at all. That could happen. Conversely, the opposition could return on the next occasion with a clean sweep the other way—and, if I may say so, so as not to encourage the Liberals too much, I think that it will. Those sort of swings are not conducive to good administration. Too big a change means that too few people are elected who know how things should be done and what has been going on. One hands over too much power to the officials of the council—who are excellent and worthy people, but are not there to control policy—and one gets bad administration.
The Bill proposes that both the Greater London councillors and the London borough councillors should all retire together every three years. That means that in the borough councils we shall get very big changes indeed. I see the force of the arguments in favour of the proposal, and I think that if the elections were fought on local issues those arguments would be overwhelming. If I thought that the change proposed would do something to give greater responsibility to the electors, I would be inclined to favour the change, but I do not favour it. London is a very special area. In my own constituency, which is quite typical of many constituencies in the area, 7,000 electors move every year, and in many cases we would have a completely different constituency at the end of three years—
§ Mr. A. Evans
Has it not occurred to the hon. Member that in the London County Council area—and, of course, in the metropolitan boroughs—the elections already take place every three years? The whole council then, as it were, goes to the country. That happens now. Has it not also occurred to him that although that is what is happening, not over the last 25 years—certainly not on the London County Council—has there been this radical change of which he talks?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
That may well be explained by the fact that, on the whole, the central area of London is much more stable than the area round the outside, and in this connection it is the area around the outside of London that contains the majority of voters. For that reason, I hope that the Government will look again at this matter. I do not think that it has much party controversy in it. Either party could stand to win or lose, but, on the whole, I think that in this instance it would be better to retain the present broad set-up.
I believe, for the reasons I have given, the Bill to be thoroughly good. It will certainly be capable of being improved in Committee. No Bill is not. I believe from what I have heard from the Opposition that they have no case at all to put against it. They have a number of suggestions which could easily and properly be debated in Committee, and I hope that they will match their actions to their implied words and let the Bill have a Second Reading.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
Unlike the hon. Baronet, the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), I believe that this is a thoroughly bad Bill. It is a Bill which may perhaps meet the political needs of the party opposite, but it goes nowhere near to meeting the needs of a vast conurbation and a capital city. I am not one who believes that everything is perfect in the existing structure of London government. I certainly would not oppose change in principle. It is just that I believe that these changes are irrelevant, ill-considered and half-baked, and that is why I shall vote against the Bill.
To introduce a Bill which destroys a system which is functioning, however irrational it may be, and in my view functioning well as a whole, and to substitute for it a scheme which, in the short term, will cause chaos, and, in the long term, create as many problems as it solves and leave a less efficient local government, is an irresponsible act of government. The grounds for rejecting the Measure are so numerous that I think none of us can spend time in dealing with more than one or two.
First, I should like to say a few words about the L.C.C. architects' department. 113 I was not in any way reassured by what the Minister said today. In introducing the Bill he made an adroit speech, but I do not think that he allayed the anxieties of a single hon. Member. London can probably show as much bad post-war modern achitecture as any city in the world, but the fact that it is not worse is almost entirely due to the L.C.C. architects' department. It has really saved London's bacon in this matter. It has done it by the great range of work it has built in London—schools, housing schemes, comprehensive development, and special buildings like the Royal Festival Hall, all of a very high order indeed. In doing so, that department has gained an international reputation.
How has it done it? It has done it partly because of the leadership and inspiration given by two successive chief architects, Sir Robert Matthew and Sir Leslie Martin. These were men who were not only able to attract a brilliant team of young and progressive-minded architects among them, but who were able to organise that team in such a way as to get the very best out of them by giving them much more responsibility than young architects are normally given.
The architects were organised in groups whereby a group was to get full responsibility for a scheme from the preliminary drawings to the final construction. This was done only because of the scale and variety of work undertaken by the department. In other words, its structure was a function of the operations carried out by the department.
I do not believe that this can happen under the Greater London Council. Its architectural work is bound to be very much less in both variety and volume, even including the school building which it will do, to which the Minister referred. After all, this is only a temporary arrangement. Still less will it be true of the Greater London boroughs whose architectural operations will be on an altogether reduced scale compared with the L.C.C.
I regard it as one of the unhappier results of the Bill, and a tragedy, that that brilliant team—I was about to say, will disintegrate—is disintegrating. Many of them have already left County Hall simply because of the introduction of the Bill. The Minister, unlike many of his predecessors, is a man of some 114 knowledge and discernment in these matters. Unlike them, he knows what he is doing and that makes it all the more unforgiveable. After this Bill, Londoners present and future will find it hard to forgive him.
We have been told that one of the main functions of the Greater London Council will be large-scale planning. The term, I think, is "strategic planning". In that case, why does not the Bill provide in terms for the appointment of a chief planner? In paragraph 12 of the Second Schedule the Greater London Council is required to appoint a clerk, a treasurer and a surveyor and in, I think, Clause 9, it is required to appoint a traffic director. No word about a planner. I should have thought that the current concept of strategic planning was a kind of inter-professional team led by the chief planner. One of the team would be the traffic director. If the Government are serious about the strategic planning function of the Greater London Council, will they please say why there is no mention in the Bill of the appointment of a chief planner?
Before I leave the question of architects, I should like to ask whether the London boroughs are intended to have architects' departments. After all, there are only 13 architects' departments in the whole of the Greater London area, and nearly all of these are in metropolitan boroughs. Surely it must be a requirement that all boroughs must at any rate try to set up architects' departments, even if they have great difficulty in obtaining staff of anything like the calibre that County Hall has.
To return to another group function, the Government have given way twice on the subject of education. They now produce arrangements which, in effect, preserve the L.C.C. structure for five years. They have given in to pressure from teachers and parents and, who knows, perhaps from the Minister of Education. I believe that they could hardly do less but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and others have said in the debate, precisely the same arguments apply to the children's services as to education. Very similar considerations apply to a range of the health and welfare services.
I want to speak about the local health services. I understand that the Minister 115 of Health will be winding up the debate tomorrow evening and, therefore, perhaps I can address the rest of my remarks to him. The present London County Council and Middlesex County Council are responsible for a whole range of services—child welfare, day nurseries, home nursing, midwifery, the prevention and aftercare of tuberculosis, and mental health services. It is true that some of these services could well be delegated to smaller authorities. Indeed, it is a fact, which has already been mentioned in the debate, that London County Council wanted to delegate some of these functions to the metropolitan boroughs some years ago and was only prevented from doing so by Ministers at that time.
But there are other of these health and welfare services which cannot possibly be carried out efficiently over areas about one-tenth the size of the London county area. After all, one is constantly dealing in health and welfare with comparatively small groups of people who have highly specialised needs which can only be adequately met by a large-scale authority. In the smaller local health authorities in the country many of these needs are hardly met at all. The L.C.C. has met them admirably, and so has the Middlesex County Council. But if this problem is split over 32 constituent authorities I cannot see that these needs will be met at all efficiently.
When one comes to the question of mental health, here one gets the problem at its most dramatic and most serious. What are the needs for the community mental health service? They include training centres for the subnormal, both children and adults, and special centres for particularly difficult and aggressive children. There are day rehabilitation centres. There is a whole range of residential hostels needed for ex-mental patients, for the subnormal, for the confused ages who do not, in fact, need special hospital care, but who need some kind of supportive environment, and hospitals for maladjusted and subnormal children.
Then there is the psychiatric after-care service, and the whole question of guardianship responsibilities, all of which are placed on the local health authority by the Mental Health Act, 1959. I do not want to go over again all the arguments 116 that we have heard about the community mental health services during the passage of that Bill, but the fact is that they will be difficult to establish. The needs are twofold. One is money and the other is skilled manpower.
On the question of money, the situation is made extremely difficult by the block grant. It was a very unhappy coincidence that at the time that this largely new demand was made on local health authorities, the block grant came in almost simultaneously. But it does mean, on the money side, that the larger authority can do more than the smaller one. The larger authority can always find a bit more if there is the will. At County Hall and at the Middlesex Guildhall there was a will, and a very good start indeed was made in both those authorities—very much better than one can find almost anywhere else in Great Britain.
The problem of manpower is even more tricky, because there is an acute shortage of skilled trained manpower for dealing with mentally disordered persons in the country as a whole. The London County Council had managed to get a good deal more than its share of what was available. In addition, it had embarked on very considerable training responsibilities. It has an excellent record for training people in health and welfare generally.
This simply will not be done by the boroughs. It cannot be done. There will not be, as far ahead as one can see, enough skilled people to man this service divided into 32 component parts. It will be quite ludicrous to see these authorities bidding against one another for staff in such short supply as psychiatric social workers and mental welfare officers who will be necessary to run these services. In my view, this job will not get done by the London boroughs.
I notice that in the Bill specific mention is made in Clause 46 of Section 19 (2) and (3) of the National Health Service Act. These are the provisions which give powers to set up joint health authorities. I share many of the misgivings of my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) about joint authorities and the difficulty of democratically controlling them. At the same time, there might be something to be said in this instance for setting up joint authorities for health 117 and welfare, and I want to know whether this is the intention—whether this power was repeated in Clause 46 purely as a matter of form, or whether it conceals a definite intention on the part of the Government that there should be joint authorities within the London boroughs for health and welfare services, and, if so, whether they are to be followed in the whole of the health and welfare services. We all agree that some of these services would be carried out better by the smaller authorities than by the London boroughs, whereas other functions can only be done by the much larger ones.
I wish to ask the Minister a separate question about the executive councils. Normally, an executive council covers the same area as a local health authority. But in the same way the Minister has power to agree or to approve joint executive councils. I should like to know whether it is intended that joint executive councils shall be set up in the Greater London area. Indeed, I should like to see them, even if joint health authorities are not set up, because general practitioners in the London area, the administrative county of London, are at present covered by one single executive council, the London Executive Council. Unless some arrangement like this is made, they will be split up amongst 13 executive councils.
Those who are outside the County of London area are, I suppose, covered by about half a dozen executive councils at the moment. They will in future be split up amongst another 20. This will produce an utterly impossible situation, with doctors' practices overlapping three or four executive councils and being responsible to those councils. I understand that representations have been made to the Minister about this, and I hope that he will be able to say something to set our anxiety at rest when he winds up the debate tomorrow.
I find it very difficult to take seriously a Bill which purports to modernise London government and yet preserves intact that ludicrous anachronism the City of London. On the whole, there is something to be said for preserving traditions so long as they are harmless, but when they are traditions which are so bound up with an organisation so unrepresentative and so undemocratic 118 as the City of London, I think that they should be quietly dropped, with no tears shed. I believe that the City and its Court of Common Council is an affront to democracy and that it is high time it disappeared.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)
Hon. Members who heard or read my speech in the White Paper debate will not expect me to give an enthusiastic welcome to the Bill. The Bill merely carries into effect in all essential particulars the White Paper proposals, and hon. Members will remember that I offered some fairly strong criticisms of those proposals when we debated them in the House.
The arguments about the detailed merits and demerits of the Bill have already covered a wide range. These matters have been debated in the House on a number of occasions, and there is probably not a great deal more to be said on the detailed proposals; but I want in a brief speech to urge the Government, even at what is admittedly this late stage, to withdraw the Bill for three good and sufficient reasons, as it seems to me, which I want to bring to the notice of the House.
The first reason is that not by the widest stretch of imagination can the Government possibly claim to have a mandate for this legislation. I have examined with the greatest care the manifesto on which my colleagues and I on this side of the House fought the last General Election, in 1959. I can find only two references to local government and education matters which can have any bearing whatever on this Bill and, so far as those references give any mandate at all, they give a mandate not to promote legislation to this effect and could not possibly support a Bill of this kind.
The Conservative Party election manifesto, in 1959, said, with reference to local government:We look forward to reforming and strengthening the structure of local democracy in the light of reports from the Local Government Commissions for England and Wales.Those commissions were set up under the Local Government Act, 1958, and their duties applied to all parts of England and Wales, with the exception 119 of the Greater London area. It cannot be claimed that those words give a mandate for this Bill.
This is what is said in the manifesto about education:We shall bring the modern schools up to the same high standard. Then the choice of schooling for children can be more flexible and less worrying for parents.It is quite obvious that the only result of the proposals of the Bill in regard to education can be to make the choice of schooling for children less flexible and more worrying for parents.
My first point, therefore, is that the Bill ought not to be proceeded with because the Government have no mandate whatever for legislation in this sense.
I realise that all hon. Members may not agree about the theory of mandate. It can be carried to an extreme in either direction. If anyone feels that I am going too far in arguing that the Bill is covered by the absence of mandate and ought, therefore, not to be proceeded with, I rest my case on the definition of the matter, which I find entirely satisfactory, given by Lord Salisbury, in 1948, in criticising the then Socialist Government for bringing in a Bill for which, he alleged, there was no mandate. Speaking on behalf of the party to which I belong, he said:Every now and then a Measure comes before Parliament for which the Government have no mandate. On the great majority of these Measures, the view of the public is well known. In that event no difficulty arises. There are, however, certain rare cases where extremely controversial Measures are introduced on which the view of the electorate is not known or where there is good reason to suppose that it is hostile to the proposed legislation".Lord Salisbury went on to argue that, in those circumstances, so clearly and cogently defined, it was wrong for a Government to go on with the legislation.
What are the three tests to be applied, according to that definition? First, is the Bill one for which the Government have no mandate? I think that I have shown that no mandate exists in this case. Secondly, is the proposed Measure extremely controversial? One has only to listen to the various debates which have taken place on the matter to realise how controversial the Bill is. Thirdly, 120 is there good reason to suppose that the electorate is hostile to the proposed legislation? My submission is that all three conditions are fulfilled and that the Government ought not to proceed further with the Bill.
I come now to the second of my reasons for saying that the Bill should be dropped. I touched on it in speaking of the third of those tests. There are the strongest reasons for saying that a majority of the electorate, regardless of party affiliations, is opposed to the proposals in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) said that hon. Members were frequently coming in touch with constituents who complained about the structure of local government, and from this he attempted to deduce that there is an overwhelming demand by the public for a change in the structure of local government in London. In my view, there is a demand for a change, but not for the kind of change which is set out in the Bill. I will mention three or four facts which seem to me to establish overwhelmingly that the electorate in all parts of the area is quite heavily against these proposals.
Let us consider, first, the last county council elections. In the London County Council area, all Socialist candidates, I believe, made clear in their election addresses and their speeches that they were opposed to the proposals of the Royal Commission.
§ Sir C. Black
They did well in the election. They did better than was expected by most of the forecasters, and they gained a substantial majority in London.
In the reverse context, the same thing happened in the County of Surrey, with a Conservative-controlled county council instead of a Socialist-controlled county council. Almost without exception, the Conservative candidates in Surrey took exactly the same stand in regard to the Royal Commission's proposals as was taken by the Socialist candidates in London.
In Surrey, the Conservative candidates did very well indeed, better, I think, than most of us expected, and 121 they obtained an overwhelming mandate for their position as county councillors in opposing these proposals. In loyalty to the pledge which they then gave, they have consistently, from the beginning until now, opposed, and continued to oppose, these proposals.
This is not by any means the end of the matter. In Surrey, where opposition to these proposals is very strong, many public meetings have been held in all parts of the county, addressed by speakers of all political complexions and of none, open meetings, widely advertised, to which the public was invited and to which anyone could come. Whenever, at any one of these meetings, after a full discussion, a vote has been taken, the vote has been overwhelmingly against the proposals in the Bill. There has not been one public meeting held in all Conservative Surrey at which the great majority of those present has not been strong in condemnation of these proposals.
§ Mr. Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)
Has my hon. Friend forgotten the two public meetings in Croydon, where no one except the organisers turned up and both of which were abandoned, no such conclusion being reached—perhaps because they were both organised by the Labour Party?
§ Sir C. Black
That seems to be scarcely relevant to the argument which I am developing. I am speaking of the administrative County of Surrey. I do not claim to have information about Croydon.
What I can say is that a meeting was held in Epsom—to mention only one in the County of Surrey—which was addressed by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and others. I was not able to be present, but I was assured that at that meeting there were probably about 1,000 people present, two or three times the number of people that most Front Bench speakers can secure as an audience during a by-election campaign, and at that meeting the vote was at least ten to one against these proposals.
In large numbers of affected areas, house-to-house canvassing has been conducted by people in the districts gathering signatures to petitions, and there have been whole wards in which 80 per cent. 122 to 90 per cent. of the electorate have attached their signature to petitions protesting against these proposals as they affect the district in which they live.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Is my hon. Friend aware that this afternoon I presented a petition to the House, signed by over 22,000 of the electors in the urban district of Coulsdon and Purley?
§ Sir C. Black
I am very pleased to be fortified by that additional information, because it adds strength to the argument that I am putting forward.
It cannot be denied that informed and interested bodies of public opinion, of teachers, social workers and professional people who are concerned with local government in various aspects, practically without exception, irrespective of the part of the area in which those bodies of people live and work and of their political affiliations, have shown themselves to be overwhelmingly against these proposals.
My first point is that the Government have not a vestige of a mandate for the Bill. My second point is that by all the tests which one can apply, the electorates in the districts are strongly against the proposals of the Bill. The third point which I want to mention—and this is a most remarkable commentary on the handling of this matter—is that throughout the Government have not made a single effort to get together around the conference table representatives of the various local authority organisations in the districts to try to hammer out a plan that would command general agreement and support—not one.
The Government have proceeded throughout on the principle that big brother knows best. I should like to make it quite clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, who unfortunately has left the Chamber, that is it quite wrong, quite unfair, to suggest that those of us who oppose the Bill are merely supporters of the status quo. I do not know of anybody in the local government world, or anyone who knows or has thought about these matters, who argues that everything is well with local government as it is.
There is, as I understand the position, a broad agreement among local authorities that certain changes are urgently necessary which would command 123 general support. All accept the view, as I understand it, that there is need for provision for town planning and for road matters over a wide area, not the area dealt with in the Bill but a very much wider area, an area not less at any rate than the Abercrombie area.
If the Abercrombie area was right at the time of the Abercrombie Report, then a much smaller area cannot be right now. On that question there is, I think, general agreement among all the authorities. There is also, I think, general agreement that an overwhelming case exists for increased delegation or conferment of administration of local services to the district authorities.
As has been pointed out, if the whole matter had not been,as it were, frozen in the present position by the Government's proposals in the Bill this could have been effected by agreement between the major authorities and the district authorities some considerable time ago. There is wide and general agreement about that. I do not think that anyone quarrels with the view that, so far as some of the smaller district councils are concerned, efforts should be made to effect amalgamation in the interests of efficiency and getting really effective units.
To suggest that those of us who do not agree with the proposals of the Bill are merely reactionary defenders of the status quo is something that has no correspondence with the facts of the case, and it is an argument which, speaking personally, I want to take the opportunity of indignantly repudiating.
It is astonishing that the Government have never called a conference and tried to get agreement among the parties in this matter. If London had been an island in the Mediterranean, or a country in Africa, or the West Indies, how different would its treatment by the Government have been. The Government would have leaned over backwards to avoid imposing a dictated solution. Senior members of the Government would have visited the territory and have devoted long periods to discussion with the diverse interests. Leaders of the different sections would have spent long weekends at Chequers with a view to being "softened up" in the hope that it might be possible to get same general measure 124 of agreement among the diverse points of view.
But because we are dealing with an area with a population of 8 million people, in some cases twenty times greater than the population of some of those far-flung territories to which I have referred, not one conference has been called by the Government. There has never been any effort to get an agreed scheme which could have been got if the parties had been called together with a willingness to listen to what people had to say, to reconcile points of view that conflicted and to reach a scheme which would have achieved wide and probably general agreement among local authorities.
Even at this late hour, I appeal to the Government to do the big thing, to withdraw the Bill and to give further consideration to the whole problem. My conviction is that the Government have reached a point at which they are not proceeding in this matter because of conviction of the rightness of what they propose to do, but in the belief that they have gone too far to withdraw without the loss of prestige. I believe that this is a mistaken view. History contains many examples of unwise courses of action proceeded with for prestige reasons, and of the great harm resulting from such policies. There never need be any loss of face in recognising that a mistake has been made and that the right thing to do is to endeavour to find a correct solution for the problem that is being dealt with.
Those of us who feel unable to support the Bill in our constituencies and in the Lobby are not basing our objection on party considerations. Our opposition is not undertaken vexatiously and it is not undertaken in defence of the status quo. Let the Government enhance their stature by withdrawing the Bill, by calling together the various local government bodies in conference, and by seeking to do in the heart of the Commonwealth what they have done in so many other places—to reach an agreed scheme to which all of us can give support.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
We have listened to a remarkably clear, courageous and witty speech from the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black). 125 If he will allow me to say so without offence, I did not know that he had it in him. I only hope, although I am afraid that my hope is a slender one, that the Government will take serious notice of his solemn remonstrance.
There seems to be a fundamental contradiction in the Bill and in the Minister's speech commending it to us: it is a halfhearted move in the direction of regionalisation—althaugh quite inadequate in that sense, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) showed—and yet the Minister and other speakers, such as the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), have recited the usual truism, which we all accept, that local government should not be too remote from the people whom it serves. Surely this Bill, if it is carried out, is bound to make many of the human functions of local government in London more remote.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South, said that the seat of local government, the town hall, should be easily accessible to all. It stands to reason that if we merge various boroughs into these much larger London boroughs we make it less accessible to all. That is only one simple illustration of what I mean. We al I know about the electoral apathy at municipal elections: I fear that polls will be even lower in future if this scheme goes through.
I want to make a general criticism of the background—not at this point the political background, but the administrative background—of this Measure. The Minister said that the Greater London scheme was part of the general revision of local government that is going on. The hon. Member for Wimbledon referred to the various local government commissions. The Minister spoke of a "series of regional surveys" now being carried out. Is it not rather unfair to prejudice, as it were, the findings of these other surveys—the scope, function, geographical boundaries, and so on, of various regions adjacent to the Metropolitan area—by legislating for Greater London in isolation from its neighbouring regions? Surely this is an example of the piecemeal planning so characteristic of this Government.
I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham mentioned the 126 Camberwell shelter for homeless men. This problem, although it has attracted rather less publicity than the terrible tragedy of homeless families, is, none the less, a very acute and difficult one. It is estimated by competent people who have made surveys that, on average, there are between 1,000 and 2,000 homeless men still sleeping out every night in London—perhaps not in the coldest weather of all, but then, of course, all the available doss-houses are over-crowded. This frightful problem is aggravated by the drift southward of unemployed men from the North. Surely it follows that the centre at Camberwell where they are put up will have to be enlarged, or supplemented by other similar places, in future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham pertinently asked, who will provide them? Who will be responsible, under the new scheme, for the centre at Camberwell or for similar places that may become necessary?
The right hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) and other hon. Members have referred to specific points from their own constituencies as well as to the general principles of the Bill. We welcomed the concession on Clause 1 and the First Schedule announced by the Leader of the House on Thursday, but I suppose that it is still just possible that one might be prevented by some sort of Parliamentary force majeure from raising on the Committee stage the constituency points that one wants to raise, or at any rate from deploying in full the various strong local arguments that some of us may want to put to the Minister. Naturally, I shall not at this stage presume to make the case for my own constituency, Barking, in such detail as I shall hope to be able to in Committee, but I may refer to it briefly as an illustration of the Government's slapdash, superficial and inequitable approach to the problems of that part of metropolitan Essex.
At this stage I have only two broad points of a local nature to make. The first concerns the proposal that Barking should be merged with Dagenham. We like and respect our good neighbours in Dagenham, but Barking is an ancient and historic community which does not choose or wish to be merged with them. It is not a dormitory suburb: most of the 127 people who live in it also work in it. It has an extremely vigorous and competent local authority, serving those people well. Incidentally, there is a possibly needless waste of money that may be duplicated all over London; I have not been able to check. It is this: between them Barking and Dagenham, which are to be merged in one London borough, have in modern times spent about £1 million in building new, worthy, and impressive municipal headquarters. It so happens that each of these civic centres or town halls is convenient for its own borough as things are, but that neither of them will be in the least convenient for the larger London borough: they will be at opposite ends of it. What is to happen in cases like that, which I imagine may occur elsewhere also?
My second broad, but local, point is this. I rather complain of the manner in which the Town Clerks' Report has been presented. The town clerk with whom I am concerned is the Town Clerk of Plymouth, who is, I am sure, an extremely estimable official, who did the job as competently and ably as it could be done in the no doubt necessarily very brief time that he was able to give to it.
What I specially complain about is the wording of some of the paragraphs on page 20 of this Report. For instance, in paragraph 79 the Town Clerk of Plymouth says:The Borough of Barking wished to form part of a new borough with Dagenham and East Ham …I need not read further. This is quite untrue. The Borough of Barking "wished" no such thing—neither its council nor its people. It is perfectly true that two pages earlier, in paragraph 70, the Town Clerk says:Several authorities made it clear that they considered amalgamation in any form was unnecessary in order that the boroughs could carry out the functions proposed for them and their expression of support for a particular form of amalgamation must be accepted subject to this qualification".Surely that is a very roundabout way of putting it—to put the proviso first and then say that such-and-such a borough "wished" to do something, when that happens to be exactly the opposite of what they wished?
Both the Town Clerk and the Minister have fallen into the elementary geo- 128 graphical error that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham accused the Minister of, when he observed that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that Finsbury was like Portsmouth. They have fallen into a similar error in regard to the proposals affecting my constituency. It is ridiculous to compare—as the Town Clerk does in paragraph 91 of his Report —the great River Thames with that much more modest trickle known as the River Roding or Barking Creek.
The Thames is a real geographical and social barrier. To cross it. some way downstream one has to go by ferry or under the river by a long tunnel. By contrast, the Roding has a number of bridges. Neither socially nor economically is it a real barrier, nor is it thought of locally as such. The Barking Council easily provides completely adequate public services—sewerage, refuse collection and disposal,public lighting, playing-fields, and so on—for the small bit of land that it administers on the west side of the River Roding. Yet this is the land which it is proposed by the Town Clerks and by the Minister to transfer from Barking to East and West Ham. Only 100 or so people live there, but that bit of land is of great importance to Barking, for it contains the greater part of the Beckton gas-works and one of the largest sewage-disposal works in the country.
There are, of course, financial gains to be derived from such a territory, but The Minister should, in fairness, recognise that there are also physical disadvantages in having a sewage-disposal works and a gas-works on one's doorstep, so to speak —only just across the Creek—with the prevailing winds as they are.
These works provide about 9 per cent. of the borough rate. The rateable value which the Minister proposes to take away from Barking is of the order of £167,000, which means that if the scheme is accepted, the local rate for the new London Borough will have to be raised by about Is. in the £. East and West Ham are already being given £232,000 of rateable value from North Woolwich. Since the Minister is treating them so generously, it seems grossly unfair to penalise Barking so heavily, in view of what I have said about the physical disadvantages as well as the financial advantages.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Member's words will carry such weight in his own area that I should like to point out that it is impossible to predict what will happen to rates. We have to take into account revaluation, general grant, rate deficiency grant and the new rate equalisation scheme under the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member's voice will not go out predicting firmly what is at this stage totally unpredictable about future rates of the area.
§ Mr. Driberg
This is the best estimate that can be made by highly competent local officials who certainly know far more about rates than I do, although not, perhaps, quite so much as the Minister and his advisers. Surely the Minister will not deny that it will be financially harmful to Barking to lose that chunk of rateable value?
§ Sir K. Joseph
Yes, but what I am trying to point out is that there are uncertainties like revaluation which, perhaps, will affect the rate deficiency grant in a way which we cannot predict. The general grant has to be taken into account. Even with the best will in the world, these things make it difficult to judge firmly for the future.
§ Mr. Driberg
I hope that, in those rather obscure words, the Minister is trying to tell me that it will be an actual asset to Barking to lose this chunk of rateable value! I do not know anything like as much about local government and rates as the Minister does, but I find that extremely difficult to swallow, and so will the people on the Barking Council and their competent official advisers. However, we will bear the Minister's words in mind and I will remind him of them year after year. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I have gone on a few minutes longer than I meant to, but that little exchange has used up a bit of time.
I hope, finally, that the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South will read in HANSARD tomorrow both the speech of my hon. Friend the Member far Fulham and the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon. If he had heard the latter speech, it might have shaken him a little in his, I thought, rather fatuously obsequious acquiescence in this project. I think that the hon. Baronet did half-hear, but if he had listened to, and understood, the 130 speech of my hon. Friend he would have been able to shorten his own speech by about half. The hon. Baronet did, however, put his finger on the spot: he said that the Bill was "politics in the raw". That is the whole truth about it. The party opposite feels genuinely and deeply affronted when its natural right to rule is obstinately contradicted or challenged by the voters. The real and only major motive behind the Bill is provided by the continuing, undefeated Labour majority at County Hall. In my opinion, the scheme is technically and socially unsound; it will be undemocratic in operation; and it is, in essence, just a rather dirty piece of Tam m any gerrymandering.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)
I was interested in a remark made by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) at the beginning of his speech about the London County Council hostel for unmarried men in Camberwell, which linked up with some references made earlier in the debate to the four large homes for homeless children which the London County Council has. On reflection, one can see in those two examples something which could be greatly improved in the set-up which is proposed in the Bill, namely, a breaking down of welfare hostels and homes of that nature to very much smaller sizes. There would be more of them, so that the people concerned would not have to go, as they do at present, considerable distances to find that service.
I also echo a plea which was made by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) about the necessity for retaining the London Executive Council area under the National Health Service. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will appreciate the advantages of this and will see that the area remains and the Council is not broken up into borough executive councils.
I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black), but I have been too long in politics to be entirely surprised, as, apparently, he was, by the results of the London County Council elections and by the outcome of meetings held in the County of Surrey. It must be remembered that at the last London County 131 Council elections there was a strong campaign, a quite natural one, about which politically one can make no complaints, among the London County Council tenants in all the London County Council housing areas. One does not know what was said in the course of that campaign, but it was not surprising if it had certain results.
When one remembers the fear of the inhabitants of Surrey of an overspill from London coming into that county, again one is hardly suprised if the result of meetings of people who live in the County of Surrey was as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon described.
§ Mr. Mellish
So that we can get this on the record, I would point out to the hon. Member that his own constituency fell to Labour in the L.C.C. elections. He can take it from me, as I was involved in that campaign; the feature of that campaign was our opposition to the present Bill as it now stands.
§ Sir H. Linstead
I do not know what the hon. Member means by "fell to Labour", but at the last London County Council elections two Conservative candidates were returned and one Socialist candidate.
§ Sir H. Linstead
I wish to say this with regard to the Surrey point. I think somebody should say it. I believe it should be said to people in Surrey that whatever fears they have they are likely in practice to find those fears much less than they imagine them to be; but it may be necessary to ask people living in Surrey to make certain sacrifices for the larger community of which they are a part.
§ Mr. Doughty
My hon. Friend may say whatever he likes, but he certainly cannot expect them to accept it, except very roughly. There is a flat contradiction of what he said.
§ Sir H. Linstead
I am only making the comment that it may very well be that, in the interests of Greater London of which they form part, some very small sacrifices may be called for from the people living beyond the boundary.
132 What I want to do in particular, however, is to thank my right hon. Friend and to congratulate the Government far having had the courage to tackle this enormous task which would daunt any Administration. It is inevitable that if we tackle a task of this kind we know that we are going to be met with objections and difficulties from every side. It is inevitable that we shall affect the L.C.C. It is inevitable that there will be some objection from the borough's. No mayor and corporation can be expected willingly to accept the proposition that they have come to the end of their useful life. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend has had the courage to do this, and I congratulate him on it. The legislation, however framed, will in fact satisfy no one. We cannot get a coherent blueprint for the government of London because London itself is not a coherent unit.
§ Sir H. Linstead
That is the basic problem with which we are struggling in the House today. All we can try to do is to get as good a compromise as possible, taking into account history and the facts.
We cannot say that the attitude of the London County Council, in the evidence it gave to the Royal Commission, which can be summarised as, "All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds" makes any contribution to that.
§ Mrs. Corbet
The attitude of the London County Council at the Royal Commission was this. We were asked to give evidence as to the state of the services and to say what suggestions we might have for the improvement of London government, and we knew perfectly well what the hon. Member has just said, that one cannot get a firm blueprint for the government of the Metropolis, and that being so, and knowing that there were really good local government services going on in London at the moment, we had not got any way of suggesting anything very much better than what was existing. I defy anybody else to find it either.
§ Sir H. Linstead
I entirely accept what the hon. Lady has said, and I recognise the feeling there is behind it. I was only recalling the fact that the evidence of the London County Council amounted to 133 "Leave things alone because you are not likely to do anything better." But that was no contribution to the solution of the problem. We say, too, that the proposal to create a regional council was nothing except a very useful temporary slogan for the purpose of this debate.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that this proposal, which was thought out in great detail by the London County Council and considered and discussed by the other four counties concerned some months ago, was merely thought of because of this debate? How could that be true?
§ Sir H. Linstead
If one looks at the timing of the situation, one must see that that was a proposal Which was brought forward in the light of—
Mr. Arthur Sketfington (Hayes and Harlington)
What about Abercrombie?
§ Sir H. Linstead
—forthcoming legislation on the future government of London.
I think one point should be made a little more clearly, and it has not emerged as I think it should have done in this debate, and that is that in fact London County Council is not going to be brought to an end. What is happening is that the L.C.C. is being given responsibility for a very much larger area. It is being given more limited powers than it has now to the extent that some of these powers are being passed down to the boroughs, but essentially the Greater London Council is going to be the London County Council functioning with different powers over a larger area. One of the consequent advantages which I do not think has been sufficiently emphasised in the debate so far about the proposed legislation is that it is going to bring local government closer to the men, women and children who live in London. I am personally prepared to tolerate some superficial inefficiency if it does mean that for a large number of the services people are going to be governed by councillors they know personally because they are neighbours and live with them.
I would agree with the hon. Member for Fulham that the set-up in the Bill cannot last. I can see myself modifications—I hope particularly in the education service—taking place over the next 134 few years, but what I want to see is all those modifications leading in every case where it is possible to do so in the direction of giving the boroughs more authority at the expense of the centre.
I do want to make one comment on the detailed proposals for the composition of the borough councils. I saw that The Times, in a very well informed article the other day, talked about the provision for aldermen as being otiose. There was some criticism of it earlier in the debate. I think one must remember, however, as one does when talking about national affairs, the old saying, "The King's Government must be carried on." It can very often happen in a tightly contested election that we get the majority party with an extremely small majority. I do not think that, in those circumstances, it is unreasonable, for the sake of good government, that they should be able to co-opt a certain number of outside people, whether we call them aldermen or what you will, to enable them to carry out their business with reasonable efficiency for the next three years.
I want to refer now to two local matters which I think are of some importance. My own borough, Wandsworth, is, of course, affected substantially by the Bill, and is the only borough which is going to be divided into half, and against that I want to protest extremely strongly.
§ Sir H. Linstead
I will not develop my arguments in this Second Reading debate, but in Committee I shall expect to be able to explain why, in my view, this proposal has far less to commend it than the proposition to leave the borough alone.
I should, however, like to explain a little about it to the House. Wandsworth is a borough of 338,000 inhabitants and it has the size, the finance, the officers and the experience to act precisely as the new boroughs are expected to in the new scheme. In those circumstances, I cannot see anything except most strong necessity requiring that borough to be divided into two and the two halves amalgamated with two other boroughs which themselves are already contiguous and could be amalgamated. This is not 135 a party political point. The Borough Council of Wandsworth, a Socialist Council, has said that it is opposed to the division of the borough.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
Would my hon. Friend agree that if the proposal for the amalgamation of Lambeth and Battersea were to go through, leaving Wandsworth alone, it would not affect any other borough in the scheme?
§ Sir H. Linstead
I agree. Only three boroughs are concerned here, and I can see no advantage in carving Wandsworth into two when the remaining two boroughs could be amalgamated because they already have a common boundary.
§ Mr. A. Evans
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that possibly Wandsworth, like Surrey, should make some sacrifice for the good of the people as a whole?
§ Sir H. Linstead
If that point could be shown to apply, I would be entirely in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. All that I can say at the moment is that the Report of the Town Clerk makes no reference to sacrifice or to finance. All he deals with is communications and material of that kind. I do not think that the fate of 338,000 people should turn on the opinion of one man. Howeven, we shall come back to that in Committee.
I feel sure that my right hon. Friend is keeping an open mind on this point. This is the first occasion that we have had to deal publicly with it. The hon. Member for Fulham has said that Lord Salisbury urged everybody to use a large map. But when one is dealing with human beings one needs more than a large map. One must remember that this is a living authority which has grown up over a long period. It represents something real in the lives of the men and women who live in it.
The other local point with which I want to deal is similar to that raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith). If I read Clause 81 correctly, the Minister has power to make an order that any local Act passed before 1st April, 1965, shall cease to have effect. Under that provision it would be possible to make an order repealing the local 136 Act governing Wimbledon Common, Putney Heath and Putney Lower Common, and it would then be possible, if I read Clause 58 correctly, for him to apply the provisions of the Public Health Act, 1936, in such a way as to pass the control of those open spaces into the hands of the Greater London Council.
Many hon. Members will know those commons and will realise that they are admirably kept, without cost to the public generally, by the ratepayers who live around them, and they have a natural beauty which all London enjoys. I do not think that by a side-wind, and by a chance provision in the Bill which could easily escape attention, we should so readily provide the means to dispossess these open spaces of their present administration. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would tell us, among the many things he has to say, whether he has such powers to municipalise Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath and, if so, what his intentions are about using them. If he has these powers, then in Committee we shall have to consider those two Clauses very carefully. I do not ask my right hon. Friend to reply now, but I should be grateful for an answer later.
I intended to speak about housing and education, but I have already taken up a good deal of the time of the House. I conclude simply by saying that in my view, with all its defects and with all the inevitable compromises contained in it, the Bill represents a reasonable solution for the time being of this intractable problem. It keeps the strategic pattern under central control and brings local government nearer to the home and the man, the woman and the child. We cannot have 100 per cent. efficiency, but there is a great deal to be said for bringing as much local government as possible as near as possible to the people.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
At a later stage I shall take up one point mentioned by the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead), but let it suffice at the moment if I say that I have a very different opinion of the Bill.
I am very sorry that the Government are pushing ahead with the scheme, so 137 that we in this House have to do our best to repulse it, despite the representations that have been made to the Government by all the local authorities—over 90 of them—which are to disappear in one way or another and by people with professional and technical knowledge and others interested in social welfare. It is all the more difficult and unfortunate when one realises that the scheme proposed by the Government in relation to the Greater London Council in particular will certainly fail to meet one or two of the only valid criticisms which came out of the Royal Commission.
Many people other than the local authorities are frankly deeply concerned about the Government's destructive proposals. Many of them have been associated with a body outside the House which is still campaigning to defeat the Bill. I refer, of course, to the Longford Committee. Some are members of political parties, some are not. The Earl of Longford is a member of my party, but all who know him, on both sides of the House, realise that he would espouse a cause only if he honestly believed in it.
There are many others associated with him who feel equally strongly. Among them is Lord Beveridge, a Liberal, who is the treasurer, and Sir John Wenham, who has stated that though he has been a life-long Conservative he is so opposed to the scheme that he has said:… I have severed my connection with local party associations. This is a non-party matter. The Government have no mandate for these proposals.I believe, also, that of the 110 members of the Surrey County Council only two support the Government's plan. Thus, there is in opposition in Surrey a substantial body of opinion representing all sorts of individuals with all sorts of views.
Among others opposing the Bill on the Longford Committee are Sir Stanley Rous, of football fame, Viscount Esher, Sir William Holford, who probably knows more about town planning than anyone else. Mr. Jack Crump, of the Amateur Athletic Association, deplores the scheme and so does Professor Sir Robert Matthew. I mention him because of what the Minister said about the architects' department. Of course, 138 some people may think that Sir Robert's opposition is prejudiced because he was at one time the architect to the London County Council. But at least he has a unique knowledge of how that department works. During his period of office the Royal Festival Hall was built and completed. He is a man who is certainly well equipped to deal with that aspect of the Government's scheme.
The Minister seems to think that the architects' department of the L.C.C. will be able to function somehow or other under the new Council, but, in fact, it is already being dissipated. Sir Robert Matthew, referring to the organisation, said that it… has been built up gradually and with many difficulties; but the crucial point for us is surely that it now exists as a functioning unit, a unique professional organisation geared to the metropolitan scale …All that is being broken up.
The Observer, a few months ago, published an article by a correspondent who said, about the department:Of those I know aged up to forty-five … about 50 per cent. are trying to do something about other jobs.Many of the young graduates who have entered public service through the County Council wish that they had not done so now. Something which has made a unique contribution to London is already suffering and will suffer very much more if the Government's plan goes through.
Why is it that all the professional and technical people whom I have mentioned, quite apart from those with expert knowledge of local government gained from experience, are opposed to the scheme? It is partly because of their special knowledge of some of the special services, but, in addition, it is because most people who have studied local government problems in the Greater London area realise that the Government's proposal for a Greater London Council does not meet the defects which have been revealed by the Royal Commission.
The Royal Commission pointed to two defects in the existing structure, defects which could be the subject of valid criticism—planning and road communications. It pointed out that in the Greater London area there are nine planning authorities which do not overlap and which do not have responsibility for 139 planning outside their own areas, and that to some degree planning in the area is somewhat defective. A similar criticism can be made about communications.
However, it would be utterly wrong, while accepting a degree of criticism about the set-up in the Greater London area, to allow the Government to escape from their full blame. For a decade the positive planning principles of the Silkin Act have been largely abandoned. Under that Act the intention was to deal with large planning units regionally. That is why the Minister had responsibility to review the plans and suggest modifications every five years, or more often if he wanted to, and to propose changes when he thought that the planing interest of the area as a whole justified doing so. But that has not been done and we have had a series of Ministers who, on the whole, have used their powers extremely negatively.
Admittedly, they have been circumscribed by the compensation provisions of the Town sand Country Planning Act, 1954. Now, if outline planning permissions previously given are altered, the full assumed capital cost of the whole development has to be paid in compensation. That is a fantastic burden which makes nonsense of a good deal of the 1947 Act, and it is one reason why the Government must take the greater part of the guilt of this situation.
But there is a more fundamental weakness in the Government's case. It is their own lack of planning. We need a Royal Commission on how the Government do their planning, and I would like to be a member of it. The Board of Trade deals with the location of industry, but everyone knows that, except in one or two very special areas, one can get a certificate of industrial development almost as a formality. If that is not so, how do the Government explain that 25 per cent. of all factories built during the last ten years have been in the Greater London area, or in the South-East Region, and that 40 per cent. of all new jobs have been in the London conurbation? It has been possible only because planning permission has been given for that type of development.
Separately from the Board of Trade, the Minister of Transport has been build- 140 ing roads with only formal consultation with other Ministries and a Select Committee critically drew attention to that not long ago. Finally, there is the Ministry of Housing and Local Government exercising general supervision, largely in isolation, of the location of houses. This is crazy. The first thing to do, especially in areas of greater unemployment, is to put in new industrial units and then fit in communication and housing. That has not been done. Therefore, it is quite wrong to blame the mere structure of the local authorities of the Greater London area exclusively for the difficulties which undoubtedly face us in connection with planning and communication.
I remember that when I was a member of the London County Council the then chief engineer was always complaining that it was almost impossible to carry on an adequate road programme when the capital grants were being varied from year to year. This idea of starting a plan and then not knowing for certain whether the capital would be forthcoming the following year made it extremely difficult in this sort of work where contracting arrangements have to be made so far ahead.
Having admitted that there is a degree of validity in the Royal Commission's criticisms about the structure in London —although I believe that the major responsibility rests on the Government—I would say that the tragedy is that the Greater London Council will not go very far to remedy these defects. In planning alone, as the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) said, we must have an area which is very much larger than the Greater London conurbation.
To give a simple example, if we are serious about overspill planning for a region we must have an area wide enough to cover the distance which people can reasonably travel each day. Without that our planning arrangements are bound to be askew. That leads to an area which takes in Brighton, on the one hand, and Southend, on the other, with Reading towards the west—the sort of area which Abercrombie had in mind, thought up, if I may say this for the benefit of the hon. Member for Putney, long before this Bill was ever considered.
The Greater London Council, while it is too large for many functions, will for 141 this purpose be much too small, and a similar criticism can be made about communications. Roads certainly do not start just at the end of a built-up area. As far as the Bill tackles communications, one can say that it makes another loop in the series of motions which road planning will have to go through, and in the end the Minister of Transport seems to be able to do what he wants to do, anyway.
If one looks purely on the professional and technical advantages and disadvantages of the Government's proposals, it is very difficult to find a valid reason for this scheme. The nearest I can get to it is in paragraph 518 of the Royal Commission Report, which reads,Among those who are interested in local government at all there is in general very strong interest in education. It is clear to us that a large number of councillors would like to serve on education committees and would like to regard the schools and the educational service generally as one of their chief interests.In the summary of the recommendations, the first factor to which the Commission has regard is that a borough must be large enough to attract first-rate people to the service of the borough. These things are important, but I do not think that it is a justification for administratively pushing around 40,000 teachers and a million children so that councillors who like to deal with education can do so. And this is the nearest that I have come to a basic reason for very much that appears in the Royal Commission's Report.
I wanted to deal with the question of children and education, but there is not time. In conclusion, I should like to think that there were good local government reasons for the proposed changes but I find it very difficult to think that there are. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) said that this is the raw meat of politics. I think that he is right. We remember that in the last debate the Minister of Education said that some of his hon. Friends would like to get rid of the London County Council, at any rate for purposes of education. We remember that a previous Solicitor-General said about this matter:There are two questions to be asked. First, is London well-governed at the moment, and, secondly, are we going to allow it to be continually dominated by the Socialists?142 That seems to be getting near the real reason for the introduction of the Bill.
I notice that the hon. Member for Putney takes some exception in respect of Wandsworth. So, curiously enough, does the Streatham Conservative Association, which sent out a letter drawing attention to the fact that the new boundaries of the Borough of Wandsworth would probably cost the party two or three Parliamentary seats. It continued:The borough in its present form has always had a Conservative majority, but if the proposed division takes place both the new boroughs will have a permanent Socialist majority. With all due respect to the Minister, we cannot regard that as in the interests of local government.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith rose—
§ Mr. Skeffington
I have only a minute or two left for my speech and I hope that the right hon. Lady will not ask me to give way on this issue.
This is a perfectly natural reaction, but if this is the basic reasoning for local government change it is a very bad thing for local government.
I hold in my hand what I regard as a somewhat historic document dated 31st July, 1945. Some of my hon. Friends will be prejudiced against it, because it is headed, "With the compliments of the Conservative Central Office Press Department". In the sixth paragraph the then newly elected leader of the Conservative Party on the L.C.C.—the present Home Secretary—said:I mean to end the period of Labour control of the London County Council".It seems that after six elections, on which on every occasion the Conservatives have been defeated in London, this is the method which has been devised to get rid of those who cannot be defeated at the polls. If this is so—there is strong evidence for it—it is a very sordid and discreditable scheme and I hope that when the electors have an opportunity to change the national Government this will be one of the factors which will sway them in voting.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I am sorry that a number of hon. Members have been cut out from the debate. I hope that they will catch the eye of the Clair tomorrow. I am sure the Minister will agree that the speeches he has 143 heard today—to be fair to him, he has heard nearly all of them—have mostly bean critical. Even those of his hon. Friends who have given qualified support to the Bill have also expressed their deep concern about their own individual constituencies.
The right hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) spent a great deal of time criticising what is going to happen to her own area, which is fair enough. The hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead), after a long speech in which he told us that this was a fine Bill, ended by saying that it was not any good for Putney. This will evidently make our Committee proceedings very lively.
I want to get this on record at once. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) made a masterly speech. He gave us a massive survey of this problem, and he did it in a way which brought credit to our party because it was no party political prejudice. He expressed firmly and strongly his concern for the services which are now being rendered. This is the fundamental difference between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. The Labour Party is gravely concerned about the effect of these structural changes on the services. In spite of all the arguments and cases which can be made out for structural changes—I do not deny that there are arguments; I realise the arguments which can be made—the real test, and the only test, is whether the new structure will mean services as good as we are getting now or better than we are getting now.
This can be the only test. If the Bill fails on this test, there is no case which can be sustained for saying that these London boroughs and the outer areas all have to be changed because somehow down the years they have grown up in a rather odd way. Reading the Royal Commission's Report, the White Paper, and so on, gives one the feeling all the time that the whole impact of the services has been missed, because the terms of reference, particularly those of the Royal Commission, were only concerned to see how the local government boundaries could be redefined.
The Minister charged us with being negative. In effect, he conveyed to the 144 House that all we wanted was the status quo. I deny that. I say to him sincerely that we believe that there are some functions which could be, and ought now to be, transferred to the local authorities. We accept that. We would like even further consultation with the local authorities concerned to see what functions they can best carry out, the test being at all times that no function is transferred to any body which cannot guarantee to do the service as well as it is being done now.
On traffic and planning—here I agree with the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black)—we support in principle the five counties proposal for the much wider area. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) rightly said that we believe that on this matter of traffic and planning the Abercrombie area is just about the right size and that it would be right for ultimate executive authority to be given to such a body. I know that at the end of the day the Minister must say "Yes" or "No", because he has the purse strings, but we agree that it would be right to give this body genuine, executive powers over the whole of the area on matters of traffic and planning. So I trust that the Minister will not talk about our being negative. These are positive proposals.
The Minister rightly paid tribute to the present staffs of local authorities. When the Bill was first published it was with a feeling of anger that I read it because one would have expected something different in view of the enormous pressure brought on the Government, not by the political party machine but by impartial bodies comprised of doctors, teachers and magistrates—people who were worried and unhappy about the proposed changes in the structure and the effects they might have.
As I say, it was with a feeling of anger that I read the Bill. It has got to the position, however, when I feel a little frightened about its effects, particularly on the staffs. I am not a member of a county council or a local authority. I am an average sort of hon. Member of Parliament who tries to perform a local service by attending his constituency quite regularly. I attend mine about once a week. All hon. Members in this position must get to know a good deal about their local authorities and county councils.
145 It is for these reasons that I would like this on the record. Irrespective of party political feelings, nothing but praise can be given to the local authority staffs who have been doing a magnificent job for many years. We must praise them for their courtesy, sincerity and honesty, because this is the great pride of local government and the Civil Service. If there is the odd case of dishonesty it hits the headlines in the Press, and so it should. However, these people are terribly frightened, and I share their fears.
It is no good the Minister saying that a particular architects' department is not suffering or will not suffer because of the Bill. I am in a position to quote figures which I received only the other day from County Hall on the staff position. The architects' department alone last year had a 19 per cent. turnover in staff. This year the figure has been 191 per cent., and at present there are 130 vacancies in a department which everyone admits has been doing a first-class job. Another important department at County Hall is that of the chief engineer. In that department there has been an 18 per cent. turnover in staff and there are now more than 111 vacancies.
The Government's proposals earlier in the year meant that some of these first-class services would be run down and despite the Clause in the Bill which talks about a staff commission, these people have no assurances for tomorrow. How can anyone urge people to go into local government with one voice and, with another, produce structural changes of this kind? Apart from redundancies, many who are hoping for promotion will see those prospects taken away. In a service like this one cannot ask for the best of people under these circumstances, and it is for these reasons that I feel not only worried but also frightened.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham referred to one of our great activities, the children's services, and dealt with the topic at some length. This is the sort of service which brings out clearly the sort of fears which exist and I can prove this with figures. When one considers this service in London and the figures affecting it one is filled with emotion. We see that more than 9,000 children are in the care of the London 146 County Council. The Royal Commission stated that about 80 per cent. of these children were only short-stay cases, but that is not true. I do not know where the Commission got its figures, but it was a disgraceful piece of research because having looked into the matter I have discovered that, instead of it being 80 per cent., only 9 per cent. are short-stay cases. The Government must know this, and when the Parliamentary Secretary replies perhaps he will confirm that this was a gross error on the part of the Royal Commission and that, in fact, only 9 per cent. of the children are now short-stay cases.
What happens to these vast numbers of children? How long are they in care? They are in care from as little as six months to as much as 18 years—and in care, at the moment, of the London County Council. How are they to be dealt with? My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham gave examples, but let me add to them. Stepney is a very good example. In Stepney, there are 651 children in care of the London County Council, some of them in 50 different establishments, and others in 22 private establishments and 23 voluntary homes. Lambeth has 770 children in care of the London County Council. They are in 60 different establishments, 40 private establishments and 30 voluntary homes. I challenge any hon. Member opposite to say that, during the time he has been a member of this House—and we all know the criticisms that have been made—he has ever heard of any criticism of the way in which the children are being looked after.
What are we proposing to do? This is a matter, not only for the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but for the Minister of Health and others. We propose to farm them out to the Greater London authorities. Do the Government really believe that Lambeth, will all the good will in the world, and governed, as we know they are by first-class people, and officered by men and women of integrity, can deal, for instance, with those 770 children? Will all the skilled L.C.C. staff come over?
Islington has over 1,000 children in L.C.C. care; I do not see how that borough can look after such a number. All these children present different problems —that is why they are in different establishments. Some children are in care only 147 because they have lost their parents and have no homes—they must not be mixed with children committed by the courts. Is not that obvious? Where are we to put them? Is it now to be said that Islington, willing though it may be to try, can provide the necessary homes for 1,000 children—
§ Mr. A. Evans
As one of the members of the Islington Borough Council, perhaps I may remind my hon. Friend that Islington will do its duty and will, to the best of its ability, carry out any responsibilities laid upon it, but to have suddenly thrust upon it the added responsibilities of child care will be too much for that authority.
§ Mr. Mellish
I quite agree. I have said that Islington will do its very best, and so will any other Greater London borough set up under the Bill and working in a democratic way, but they will not have either the staff or the establishments necessary.
I want the Parliamentary Secretary to be specific. We want assurances that none of these children will be hurt in this process. Is not that fair? The children cannot speak for themselves, so we have to speak for them. Nobody challenges the quality of the service today. Therefore, with any change in the structure and, therefore, the means by which the children will be dealt with, we want to be assured that those children will not be hurt.
The aged, too, present a problem. At the present time, 8,000 old people are in care of the London County Council, and, as the Minister of Health will know, many are in what is called Part III accommodation—it what might almost be called hospital accommodation. They are senile, and need medical care and attention. Let us suppose that this Bill goes through as it stands, and we set up the Greater London boroughs. Lewisham will have a very large establishment catering for old people, and I have no doubt that it will be able to do a first-class job looking after them, but we do not have any home at all in Bermondsey, and we certainly do not have any land on which to establish one. What happens? Do we come to an arrangement with Lewisham? Will that work out? The present arrangement 148 does work, and those old people are being cared for and, if there are criticisms, the criticisms are looked into and ventilated. My own experience makes me proud of the way in which those people are being cared for today.
The care of the children and the aged is a 24-hour service. We have heard much today about education, but at 4 p.m. or 4.30 p.m. the whole thing closes down. Schools are closed at the weekends, and there are long holidays. That does not apply to the care of the handicapped, the children and the aged—that is a 24-hour job. My fear is that in so much of the area of the Greater London boroughs there will be neither the staff nor the establishments to enable the authorities to do the job.
What about the handicapped, and the special training facilities, the special welfare homes and the rehabilitation centres which are being run at central level? Who will deal with these? The deaf and dumb children are a good example. How will they be dealt with? What special arrangements are to be made for them? This is why so many of us feel sick at the thought of what is going to happen. This has nothing to do with party political prejudice. Let the Tories win the L.C.C. so long as they maintain and run the services.
They have had one great chance of dealing with this central authority, but the Government have missed and muffed it. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) gets up in his pontifical way to try to smooth the Government and say how well they have done. Does he believe that traffic will be dealt with properly under the Bill? Let me quote The Times—that is a bright paper for top people, that is. The Times agrees. This is quite scandalous, says grandmother Times. London has grown and grown, and the time is long overdue when it really must be dealt with, but now The Times has had a look at the Bill and, on 6th December, it is absolutely shocked and says:The least satisfactory part of the Bill concerns traffic and roads. The Minister remains the highway authority for some 200 miles of trunk road, the G.L.C. becomes the authority for about 550 miles of 'metropolitan roads', and the rest (about 7,000 miles) goes to the boroughs. The G.L.C. is given many of the powers now possessed by the Minister to 149 control traffic in London, which is as it should be; but the Minister surrenders nothing in the process. To leave the Minister in sole charge of the main traffic arteries and with his present directorial powers over traffic generally makes nonsense of the G.L.C's responsibilities.That is The Times. What about that other great character who has been supporting the Government all through, that arch-demon of the Tory Party on every structural reform, Professor Robson, that great character who has been writing articles as much as he can and making speeches on why London should be massacred in this way? He, too, has had a look at the Bill, and he is a bit shattered.
In New Society on 29th November, he writes:There is an absurd amount of duplication of authority between the Ministry of Transport and the Greater London Council regarding traffic regulations. The Bill declares that the Greater London Council is to expedite and render safe the flow of traffic, but almost all the powers which it confers on the Council for this purpose are either also exercisable by the Ministry of Transport or made subject to his approval, veto or modification. This is utterly wrong in principle and will result in confusion of responsibility. The Ministry of Transport is a weak department with a poor record on highway matters and the right course is to concentrate power clearly in the hands of the new Council.These proposals are disappointing. The Government have lost a great chance of giving the new Council real authority.
Street lighting is not a very typical subject when we talk of services, but it is among the things we believe should be seen to. Is it not time that street lighting should be under one control, so that even the poor motorist going from one place to another should find the same lighting everywhere? We thought that that was the whole idea of this part of the reform, but the Government have missed even that. So much for traffic and highways. In Committee we shall do our best to strengthen the powers of the Greater London Council.
Another great service in which I am interested is the mental health service. I am glad to see the Minister of Health here. It to his credit that he has been here all day, because so much of the Bill concerns him. I have the privilege of being a chairman of a management committee and a member of a regional hospital board. I do not raise matters in the House concerning them, as the 150 Minister knows, but I try on local and regional level to do a fair job.
One of the great things that has come out of the National Health Service in the last few years has been the cooperation between the hospitals and mental health service bodies at county level. At my hospital we treat psychiatric patients by arrangement with the county council. In that hospital are the case workers and psychiatric workers of the county council. Who is going to do that job in the future—the Greater London Borough? It is the Greater London boroughs who will be asked to do that work. That is our complaint. The Greater London boroughs are to be asked to do the work that has been done at a central level.
Consider the thousands of people who have suffered from these complaints. At County Hall level an all-night service has been run, and over 2,000 cases were received last year by that all-night service. How will those cases be dealt with under the Greater London boroughs plan? How can they establish a 24-hour service? Where can they get the staff? Where will the establishments be? There are hostels for the mentally disabled and different types of training centres for those people, because there are different degrees of mental disturbance. As I say, I am unhappy at the thought that the personnel of these services, with all the good will in the world, will not be able to deal with this work. The problem will be too big for them and will be outside their boundaries.
Much has been said about the Bill being undemocratic. The hon. Member for Wimbledon was quite right to point out to the Government that they have no mandate for bringing in this Bill. This is a pretty poor Government. They have not got the courage to go to the country at the moment. They know what would happen if they did. Yet at this moment they bring in a Bill which most people do not want. They have completely ignored the procedure of the 1958 Act which deals with local government reform in the provinces and so on. There, at any rate, people were given a chance to make representations. But these boundaries have been drawn up by the Minister. True, he has had the advice of four town clerks, but he has drawn them up and has acted as judge and jury.
151 I do not know of anything more undemocratic. He has done this in an area where local government has been thriving and where I do not know of anyone who has been showered with complaints. No representations have been made to me. In fact, I understood that this was the best part of the democracy in which we live. Yet we are to have a Bill which the people do not want, for which the Government have no mandate and on which they are not prepared to go to the country.
We are told that this is going to be local government. One member of the Council will represent 80,000 electors. Is that local? The right hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst complained about County Hall being "very remote". Those were her words. I hope she will agree that the Greater London Council will be even more remote. There will be one representative for 80,000 elector, and I would point out that at borough council level one borough councillor will represent about 10,000 electors. I am sure, of course, that everyone will know who "Joe Snooks" is!
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
My complaint about the remoteness of County Hall related to the level of personal services which will now be dealt with by the boroughs. I do not think the personal services have the same impact on an authority that will be dealing with roads and drainage.
§ Mr. Mellish
I think the argument about these Greater London boroughs is that they will have these rigid joint boards to render these services, which is the one thing that I object to and which will make it not local at all. It is not going to be local as we understand it. There is a great danger here for our children, our handicapped and old people. It is against this background that we have tried to argue our case.
I say to the Ministers concerned that we are so frightened of the future that we must put on record that whatever way this Bill goes—and I suppose it must become law in view of the Government's large majority—for many like me this is going to be the issue at the next General Election.
The Leader of the House is, I understand, also the political king of the Tory Party. I do not know how popular he is 152 with the Conservative Central Office. He cannot be very popular, because he has been doing very badly, but I assume that he is allowed in, at least, to speak to Central Office people sometimes. I tell the right hon. Gentleman now, so that he may pass the word on—I speak here in a humble capacity as chairman of the London Labour Party, which will have something to do with the reorganisation of London government—that, whatever issues there may be at the next General Election, we shall put this one before the people of London. I am certain that when the time comes it will be my party in power on the Government benches which will have to deal with this wretched Bill, not the Tory Party.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
As my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, the fundamental principle of the Bill is the treatment of the continuous built-up areas of Greater London as an entity to be administered by a substantially uniform system of multi-purpose borough government, with a single overall Greater London Council to deal with those needs which, in the Government's view, require consideration on the basis of the area as a whole.
The speeches and comments of hon. Members during the debate have been devoted, on the one hand, to the division of functions and to such comparatively detailed matters as housing, planning, traffic, and so on, and, on the other,—principally among hon. Members opposite—to the principles themselves. In speaking of the principles, hon. Members have, quite rightly, referred to the other more detailed matters, and I shall try to deal with those in the first part of my speech.
As my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Education and of Health will be intervening in the debate tomorrow, I shall not deal with matters within their province, and I shall leave, in particular, the children's services to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, who will deal with those in addition to the matters for which he is himself responsible.
I say at the outset that I do not accept the somewhat extraordinary constitutional doctrine on the subject of the mandate advanced by my hon. Friend the 153 Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black). Even if I did accept it, I should have to remind him that the Local Government Act, 1958, specifically excluded London because of the appointment of the Royal Commission at that time. As it happens, the Royal Commission was set up exactly five years ago, in December, 1957. It is not irrelevant that the Commission heard evidence from my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon himself.
I remind the House and my hon. Friend that the procedure of Royal Commission is a special and somewhat elaborate procedure. The investigations of the Royal Commission in this case lasted for three years. It invited evidence from more than 400 bodies and received evidence from most of them. It sat and heard evidence in public. Members of the public were able to put forward their views, as many did. In addition, it paid visits to many parts of the area. In November, 1960, the Minister invited the comments of the local authorities concerned on the Royal Commission's proposals. Then we had the Government proposals in a White Paper and a debate on the White Paper earlier this year.
Before I come to the questions which have been raised about matters in the Bill, I 3hould say something about what is not in the Bill. No provision is made, as the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) pointed out, for the administration of justice or for the lieutenancies consequential upon the changes in local government administrative areas. These matters will be dealt with by separate legislation dealing with those wider issues, as was announced in an Answer to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
The Bill makes no provision with regard to the undertakings of the Metropolitan Water Board. It is the Government's view that, when we have for the first time a directly elected council dealing with matters affecting Greater London as a whole, it is only sensible that that council, the Greater London Council, should take over from the existing indirectly elected Board, appointed by local authorities, the job of running the water undertaking which serves the greater part of the London area.
§ Mr. Corfield
The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) raised the question of other water undertakings. He will observe that under the Bill the two local authority undertakings of Croydon and Richmond go to the boroughs of which those authorities will form part. Concerning the water undertakings for the rest of the area, it is not our intention to depart from the general principles under which we are arranging amalgamations under the Water Act, that is to say, where the water authority is a strong and viable unit it will remain so notwithstanding that part of it supplies the Greater London area.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Are we to take it from this that the principles of water conservation as they apply to an area such as the London basin, which ought to be treated as a whole for water conservation purposes, will have no effect at all because private interests will become involved?
§ Mr. Corfield
These are matters which are operated under the Water Act and which have nothing whatever to do with the Bill.
Criticism during the debate has been levelled against the position of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in connection with traffic control and it has been suggested—I think that the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) quoted from The Times—that the Minister is keeping all his powers and surrendering nothing. That is really not the fact. The Greater London Council will be given a full range of traffic regulation powers. It will have powers to arrange one-way schemes, peak-hour clearways, controlled parking, and so forth. It will also have power to make parking meter orders which other local authorities do not have. These are powers Which the Minister of Transport is, in fact, surrendering. What he retains under the Bill is direct powers on such matters as speed limits, which are exactly the same as he has for the rest of the country.
My right hon. Friend has also reserve powers to direct the Greater London Council, and, if the Council fails to comply, to take action himself, but they are not powers for action in parallel with the London County Council and they will not give rise to what The Times 155 has described as pointless duplication. I can give the House an assurance on behalf of my right hon. Friend that they are only regarded as being for use in the last resort. They are very similar to the many powers, to which my right hon. Friend drew attention, which he has and which, in fact, are very seldom exercised.
§ Mr. K. Robinson
The hon. Gentleman used the phrase in "the last resort". That is a very glib phrase. Does that mean that if the Greater London Council differs from the Minister of Transport it is a case of "in the last resort" the Minister uses his powers?
§ Mr. Corfield
I think that a fairer definition is, if the Minister of Transport feels that the Greater London Council is not carrying out its duties, but it does not follow that disagreement would amount to a dereliction of duty.
The Minister of Transport has overriding responsibility for road safety for the country as a whole, and in the Government's view it would be wrong for him to renounce completely any possibility of contributing to the solution of London traffic problems. This whole duty will face the Greater London Council with one of its biggest challenges, and that is why it has been given these powers and why, in the last resort, it should be subject to the control of a Minister answerable to Parliament. I do not believe that that is a constitutional position which will be attacked in the House.
The Minister of Transport's responsibilities for highways have also been criticised, again in the same article that the hon. Gentleman read out, but it must be pointed out that the Bill makes no change at all in the 130 or so miles of trunk roads in the outer part of London. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is none in the administrative County of London. But there has been no final decision on this, and my right hon. Friend proposes to discuss with the Greater London Council what the long-term pattern of trunk roads for Greater London should be. I am advised that any changes can be made by order under the Highways Act. There is no necessity to include powers in the Bill.
§ Mr. Mellish
On traffic and planning, is it a fact that the Greater London Council, if it wants to bring about a major urban improvement, will have to get the agreement, or virtually the permission, of the Greater London borough if it wants to do any rehousing in that borough?
§ Mr. Corfield
Under planning powers, the Greater London Connell has the ordinary powers of a local authority under the Act for redevelopment, and there is no question of permission for further development being required in an area for comprehensive redevelopment. If it requires housing in a London borough for other purposes, it will have to get the consent of the borough. But there is an appeal to the Minister, the object of which is that my right hon. Friend can hold the balance between the borough and the Greater London Council.
The reason for that is not, as one hon. Member suggested, that some of the boroughs will not want housing, but that in many cases the fact that limited supplies of land have been taken up by an outside authority—in this case, the Greater London Council—can be embarrassing to the borough in carrying out its housing programme; there can be a perfectly genuine clash of interest, and it is useful and appropriate that the Minister should make the decision.
Rerunning to the question of housing and the provisions in the Bill, some of which I have described, apart from the fact that the Greater London Council will be the sole overspill authority, the new London boroughs will have all the housing powers of county boroughs. As my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, these London boroughs are very substantial units. Of course, conditions are not precisely the same in a London borough as they are in Portsmouth or in Nottingham, but, nevertheless, they are not so different as to make the analogy invalid. They are equally powerful and equally resourceful bodies.
The London boroughs will, therefore, be solely responsible for slum clearance. They will operate the statutory and discretionary improvement grants and will be responsible for operating the powers against multi-occupation under the Housing Act, 1961. They will have 157 power by arrangement to build houses in other boroughs and will have power, with the Minister's consent, to build outside the Greater London Area.
The Government, of course, appreciate —I think that this was the point made by the hon. Member for Fulham—that many London boroughs cannot solve their housing problem within their own areas. Many people concerned with their jobs will have to move to new and expanded towns outside the area and beyond the green belt, but this is the function of overspill. It is very largely because we recognise that the size and resources of the L.C.C. have enabled it to make such an outstandingly successful contribution that these functions are reserved;o the Greater London Council.
There is no possible reason why they should not be every bit as successful as the L.C.C. functions have been. They will certainly be able to exercise their powers much more comprehensively because they will be able to take into account the needs of London boroughs outside the L.C.C. area. Some of those boroughs, such as Willesden, face just as difficult problems as those within the L.C.C. area.
When people are displaced by slum clearance or by demolition for other purposes, such as road widening, or as a result of the exercise of the multi-occupation powers, many of them are tied to Greater London by their jobs. That is why the Greater London Council has powers to build within the London boroughs. I will not go over that again, but consent is required to hold the balance. I do not think it at all unreasonable that the Minister of Housing and Local Government should be the arbiter in case of disagreement.
In practice, the amount of building that the Greater London Council will do will depend largely upon the success of the London boroughs in solving their own housing problems. There can, however, be no doubt that the Greater London Council will have considerable building responsibilities. We certainly see no reason why the architect's department, for which, naturally and rightly, a great deal of concern has been displayed, should not continue to have every bit as much work as it has had in the past.
158 It is true that the architect's department will lose some types of work, but it could well have more in other directions. It will lose some housing and some health, and welfare building, but it will handle the fire and ambulance services and be responsible for the planning, overspill and major redevelopment for 8 million people instead of 3 million people.
§ Mrs. Corbet
I take it that the Parliamentary Secretary realises that in most of the expanded town schemes the London County Council does not itself build.
§ Mr. Corfield
That, no doubt, is true, but there is no reason why the council should not build and should not supervise, and the Greater London Council is given specific powers to do that and to supervise the building out of London.
§ Mrs. Corbet
There is a quite big reason against it. London County Council building depends entirely upon the willingness of the local authorities who receive the population into their areas. It is they who normally wish to build.
§ Mr. Corfield
That is true, but there is no reason why the services of the L.C.C. architect's department should not be called upon. In view of the general shortage of architects, particularly in local authority offices, I should have thought that the Council would be pleased to call upon the services of this central organisation.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
Surely, the shortage of architects, of which the hon. Gentleman has spoken, will not be alleviated by requiring each of the boroughs to have a separate architect's department with enlarged responsibilities. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that of the 20 boroughs of outer London, only four at present have an architect's department? They will all have to get staff from somewhere. That will make the position more difficult.
§ Mr. Corfield
I appreciate that there is a shortage in certain skills, and architects are one of them. The hon. Member's argument does not, however, tie in with his fear of redundancy.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent me like that. I made no suggestion of a danger of 159 redundancy. I said that there was a danger that the London County Council architect's department would be torn to pieces. It is no answer to that to say that the architects might get employment in much smaller and less adequate services elsewhere. Why fragment the service when there is need to be economical with the existing architect labour?
§ Mr. Corfield
The reason is that we hope to do a great deal more building and, therefore, there will be a demand on all fronts. I am sorry if I misrepresented the hon. Member, but his hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey raised the question of turnover in staff.
§ Mr. Corfield
The hon. Member said that there had been a 19 per cent. turnover in architectural staff during the last year. He also quoted a figure of 18 per cent. for engineers. But that is a profession which is in no way threatened by the Bill. So I think that we must conclude that this turnover is not necessarily affected by the Bill since it also affects engineers who are not affected by the Bill. This is much more likely to be a general problem, and, indeed, we do know that there is a general shortage of architects for local authority work throughout the whole country. I therefore think that hon. Gentlemen opposite are being a little unwise to jump to the conclusion that a shortage of turnover in the L.C.C. architect's staff is necessarily due to any confusion arising from the changes made by the Bill.
§ Mr. Corfield
With regard to housing responsibilities, there is the question of the transfer of the present London County Council's housing assets to the London boroughs. It is not proposed that this should be done either immediately or simultaneously. It would be wrong to transfer these properties all at the same time, but, when all is said and done, people's affinities—and we have 160 heard in the debate something about local affinities—do depend on where they live and not on who happens to be their landlord; and it is surely sensible to transfer these estates to the London boroughs as and when conditions permit.
If we did so immediately the effect would be uneven. As the hon. Gentleman knows, some boroughs would gain a very large housing estate, others would gain nothing at all. But we do accept that the Greater London Council wild continue with the duties of helping in the redistribution and rehousing of the people of London, and we accept that, for that purpose, a pool of varied accommodation, fairly widely distributed over the area, is essential; but as progress is made the Greater London Council, which itself will go on building within the Greater London area, will add to this pool, and we think that it will then be appropriate gradually to transfer some of these houses, selected very largely on a geographical basis, to the London boroughs. If necessary, it will be possible for the Greater London Council to retain the right to nominate a proportion of tenancies for a further transitional period.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) drew particular attention to the problem of the homeless, but this seems to me to be a problem where the housing authorities—and it is basically a housing problem—will be in no possible sense worse off, in coping with this problem, than they are under the present system. There is still a pool of houses and there are still the powers of the Greater London Council to build in the Greater London area and the powers of the Greater London Council to undertake overspill.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
The scheme for using disused liners for the homeless—which London boroughs will take that one on?
§ Mr. Corfield
Is there any reason why the Greater London Council should not? It is a housing authority for all these purposes. [An HON. MEMBER: "For welfare?"] Some of the boroughs—'in particular, one of the biggest which is in the inner area has no fewer than 341,000 people. Surely that sort of borough will have the resources for that sort of operation. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Why not?
161 A further point to be borne in mind is that the Greater London Council will have the obligation to maintain a central register of housing applications for the whole area, and this will enable us to have a really accurate assessment of the housing need throughout the whole area, which is something we have never had before.
§ Mr. Corfield
It will also enable the Council to arrange its own priorities in the overall allocation of vacancies. [Interruption.] But it will not interfere with the basic responsibilities of the London boroughs with regard to their own housing accommodation. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is not in order to conduct a permanent running commentary on a speech while seated. I think that the House will be well advised to remember that.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
With respect, Mr. Speaker, may I point out that the Minister has been defying the rules of order throughout by reading a speech which is supposed to be a reply to a debate, and a running commentary at least adds some interest which would otherwise be lacking in our procedure.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to urge that it is in order to conduct a running commentary when seated, I will hear him. With regard to the other matter, I will rule on that when I am requested to do so.
§ Mr. Corfield
I now pass to one or two questions with regard to the boroughs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) raised particularly the question of the severance of the Chislehurst urban district. The principle that we have applied throughout is to endeavour to arrange the grouping in London without splitting existing local authorities, but there have been occasions when it really has been impossible to compile a suitable set of groupings without transgressing that basic principle, and that is the case, regrettably, in her area.
We studied this before the Report of the four Town Clerks was presented, and they themselves came to the conclusion that a is was the only way in which a 162 suitable grouping in the area could be obtained. In looking at these groupings, we have to bear in mind that any attempt to change them, even marginally, is rather apt to have the effect of throwing a stone into a pool; the ripples go out a very long way indeed. One cannot consider even minor alterations to single boroughs unless one is satisfied that the ramifications throughout the neighbouring boroughs and beyond will not produce an impossible pattern elsewhere.
§ Sir John Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
Is my hon. Friend virtually saying that his mind is closed already to any alterations whatsoever to the First Schedule?
§ Mr. Corfield
No, Sir. My right hon. Friend is quite determined that in Committee he will consider any case which is put forward on its merits.
§ Mr. Driberg
Between now and the Committee stage, will the Minister seriously consider the proposition that if a borough has to suffer a certain amount of polluted air, it is only equitable that that borough should supervise the source of the pollution?
§ Mr. Corfield
Certainly, that is something that we can consider in Committee, but I am not sure that it attaches directly to the matter on which I was trying to address the House.
The other matter which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst raised concerned some common land which, I gather, is managed by conservators. I am advised that the Bill does not affect common land so managed, but we will certainly consult the local authority concerned and ensure that the status of the land is not altered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) criticised the provision that complete councils should retire every three years. He made a good case. I hope that he will raise this matter in Committee, for that seems the most suitable occasion on which to discuss it.
I turn now to the more general principles. Much criticism has been directed at the basic delimitation of the Greater London area. On the one hand, it has been said that it is too small as an effective planning unit, and, on the other, that it is too large as an organ of local government. These propositions appear 163 to be based on the undeniable fact that the ramifications of any form of planning in London will spread out not only beyond the green belt, but in many cases very considerable distances beyond the green belt. Of course, the solution to many of the problems in London will involve development at very considerable distances.
This is all perfectly true; it is the stock argument for regional planning, and a very powerful one. But it must be remembered that, although these factors are perhaps more obvious around London, they are not in any way peculiar to London. They apply to every other conurbation and every other large city in the country.
If the hon. Member for Fulham argues that regional planning makes sense only if it is a substitute for local authority planning, then that is an argument for removing planning powers from all the existing local planning authorities. While we on this side of the House, and the Government in particular, fully accept that local planning needs to be done within a regional framework and against the background of the information supplied by the regional surveys which my Ministry is carrying out, we do not accept that either regional planning or national planning can be or should be a substitute for local planning.
We believe that the right way to tackle the problem is for the regional surveys and priority is being given to the South-East in this respect—to make available to local authorities the basic information about regional development and its trends in order to form a framework on which they can build their own local development plans.
On this basis, the area of Greater London in our view forms a suitable unit, whether we have regional planning or not. Above all, we are convinced that, because land use goes to the root of practically every local authority function, and certainly to the most important ones, unless local authorities have a major say in the determination of that use we shall be removing from local government something which is vital to it if it is to survive as a potent force.
164 That is the main reason why we have departed from one of the main recommendations of the Royal Commission, which suggested that planning should be entitrely in the hands of the Greater London Council. We feel that these very substantial authorities should have a major say in the planning of their own areas.
§ Mr. Mellish
How does that statement match the White Paper's view that planning, traffic control and matters of that kind, should be in the hands of the central authority?
§ Mr. Corfield
The authority for overall planning will be the Greater London Council. Within the Greater London plan, when that has been approved, it will be the duty of the boroughs to fill in the details and prepare their local plans, which will have to be consistent with the Greater London plan.
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Fulham, who said that all this would lead to tremendous confusion. The hon. Member said that the Minister would be directing the Greater London Council, which would be directing the London boroughs about the carrying out of the development plan. But I think that the only powers which he can be referring to in this context are those which enable the Minister to prescribe a time limit within which the various stages of the development plan shall be carried out. But these powers, as far as I know, will be in the standard form, very similar to those in the Town and Country Planning Acts.
In applying this general principle to London, we must face the fact that London is unique. It has peculiarities of its own. We cannot possibly have a satisfactory planning system for London unless we regard the built up area as an entity. The type of planning required in this conurbation is very different from the sort of problems met in the Green Belt and the surrounding country, and although London is part of this region—
§ It being Ten oclock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.