§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Dr. Charles Hill)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the proposals of Her Majesty's Government for the reorganisation of local government in Greater London (Command Paper No. 1562).Today's debate will, I think, for various reasons be welcomed on both sides of the House. It will provide an opportunity to explain more fully the Government's approach to the problems of London's local government and to hear constructive suggestions on the many matters still to be settled.
May I begin by reminding the House of the context in which the proposals have come forward? In 1957, the Government announced a comprehensive review of local government throughout England and Wales. There was widespread acceptance at that time that a comprehensive review was necessary, overdue and, indeed, urgent. For the rest of the country, as the House knows, the scope and machinery of review were embodied in the Local Government Act, 1958. The operations of the Local Government Commissions set up under that Act are now in full swing.
For Greater London, bearing in mind its unique complexity, its urgency and the delays and difficulties of tackling it by the same machinery as for the rest of the country, a Royal Commission was appointed under the chairmanship of Sir Edwin Herbert. It reported in 1960 and the Government announced their broad acceptance of its conclusions in 1961. I want to reaffirm our indebtedness to Sir Edwin Herbert and his colleagues for their patient and exhaustive work.
Their Report is a model—cogent, clear, and highly valuable as a basis for action. Indeed, it is a valuable source book for the future on the essential problems of our whole local government 39 system. It is significant that the Royal Commission was unanimous, unlike the previous Royal Commission on London Government which reported in 1923.
I now turn very briefly to recapitulate how in the nineteenth century we got our present structure in Greater London, and the areas. The year 1855 saw the first attempt at anything like a local government system for London as such in the Metropolitan Board of Works, which was concerned with sanitation and with highways. Its area was a stretch of territory which, although described as "the Metropolis", had been merely customarily defined in this way for rather haphazard reasons more relevant to bills of mortality than to live local government. Much of the area was, in fact, open country.
The formation of county government over the country generally in 1888 saw this same area, a slightly odd area, made up from bits of the geographical counties of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent, formed into the administrative County of London. I say "slightly odd". Indeed, a distinguished alderman of the London County Council has gone further by saying, of the way in which the present County of London was defined:… to delimit a capital city by Act of Parliament on a basis of death registers and main drainage is surely one of the oddest that can ever have been evolved.The County Boroughs of Croydon and West Ham were created at the same time, with East Ham following much later, in 1915.
Then, in 1899, we got the formation within this interestingly devised County of London of the 28 metropolitan boroughs, and, a year later the transfer to Kent of Penge—and nothing since Penge. That is how we got what we got, and we still have it after more than sixty years—over sixty years—of massive, momentous change. We may well doubt whether it was a very adequate local government area or structure for the capital then. We could hardly expect it to be adequate now.
§ Dr. Hill
If the hon. Member can restrain his enthusiasm, I will come to that later.
40 Take population. Let me make it clear that in referring to Greater London I am speaking of the area referred to as the "review area" by the Royal Commission and in the White Paper and not in the sense of its being necessarily the final area. There is room for some adjustment here and there in the boundary and we are quite open to realistic suggestions on this. The population in the County of London when it was first formed was 4 million and in the rest of Greater London 1 million. Today, there are few more than three million in the county but 5 million in the rest of Greater London, so that there are 8 million in the capital, but fewer than half of those in the administrative County of London.
As for building; the original so-called Metropolis included large stretches of open country. So did the early County of London. Outside the county boundary the land was built up only in relatively few places. Today, the continuous built-up area extends over the whole of what is now described as Greater London. Social habits? I have no need to remind the House of what has happened—a vast increase in cars, an increase so great over an area so large and so fully populated that at times it is in danger of defeating itself. I do not need to spell it all out. London and its problems have grown in every way.
The Metropolis in the sense of the old bills of mortality area, in the sense of the County of London as first taken by the founding fathers of the L.C.C., is no longer a meaningful area in any real, modern sense. The only meaningful area now for the capital taken as a whole is Greater London. Local government functions have undergone an equally massive transformation in their range, complexity and scale. Yet we still have the same old structure still based on the old haphazard, outgrown areas.
That is why we determined five years ago—and that is why it is now five years more urgent that we should get to the next stage—to do what needed to be done to establish fresh areas, a fresh structure, related not to the conditions of the last century, but to the pressing need of today and, no less important, the probable needs of tomorrow.
I want to say just a word on the present structure. Greater London is now 41 governed by a complex patchwork of more than 100 local authorities, quite apart from joint boards and other special bodies for particular services. There are nine major authorities, that is county councils and county borough councils, the City of London, 28 metropolitan boroughs, 40 municipal boroughs and 23 urban districts, exhibiting three distinct systems of government.
In those parts of Greater London outside the L.C.C. area, the powers, execpt in the three county boroughs, are divided between the county and the borough and district councils in the same way as in the counties of England and Wales generally. Inside the County of London, the powers are split differently. The L.C.C. holds far more of the strings of powers. The boroughs within its area, despite the considerable size of many of them, exercise fewer powers than almost any other kind of authority, however small, in the Greater London area.
It is worth describing the present powers of the metropolitan boroughs. They have no personal health and welfare services in their own right; no education functions; a limited, delegated power of planning control—and that acquired only in 1960; housing and highways powers shared with the L.C.C.; and even parks and open spaces powers shared with the L.C.C. What remains? There remain only libraries, local sewers—subject, in practice, to certain L.C.C. rights of control—refuse collection, street cleaning, baths, wash-houses, cemeteries and crematoria.
That is the list of present functions of the metropolitan boroughs. If the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) is winding up for the Opposition, and can give a different and accurate list, the House will be glad to hear it.
Let us look beyond the Metropolitan boroughs, at the big municipal areas and urban districts which, although now forming part of Greater London, are controlled for their major services by county councils to whom Greater London is not of prime concern. It is not only that this haphazard and antiquated system of divided areas of responsibility is irrelevant to the needs and problems of modern local government services in modern urban circumstances, particularly in a great capital city; it is not only 42 frustrating to the existing authorities; more than that—they cannot do their job effectively.
I mean no criticism of the existing councils, whether of counties, boroughs or urban districts. They and their officers have striven well, considering the difficulties within which they have had to work. We owe it to these men and women in local government—members and staff alike; those who serve now and those who follow them—to give them a better deal in terms of an intelligent and intelligible system, and so enable them the better to give a better deal to the people they serve, in terms of effective and convenient local government.
If we do not—if we defer and run away from action because in this field all action is difficult and troublesome and full of risks—we risk the end of real local government in the area, and reach a situation in which the central Government have to take an ever increasing part. The strains are there already. The Ilford and the Ealing Bills were but indications of the widespread friction and frustrations which everyone in this House who is acquainted with local government in the area knows only too well.
The Royal Commission's Report adds fresh warning, and the Commission was certainly not anxious to look for trouble where none existed. It said:Where things are working well our inclination is to leave them alone. We do not believe that London's problems can be solved merely by improving the machinery of government. Our inclination is to recommend changes only where they appear to be essential. In spite of these predilections the facts we have found to exist and the inferences we feel bound to draw from them drive us to the conclusion that, judged by the twin tests of administrative efficiency and the health of representative government, the present structure of local government in the Review Area is inadequate and needs overhaul.This was a blunt diagnosis, by an independent panel of referees, and it confirms the views which have long been held by many who have studied this problem.
What of the remedy? The Commission based its approach on two main principles, which the Government fully accept. The first is that Greater London is, as a fact, one great city, with a recognisable civic unity and 43 shape, and must, therefore, be treated as an entity for those local government purposes to which that fact is relevant. The second is that the existing boroughs and urban districts within Greater London should be regrouped to form units of such size and resources as are necessary to enable their councils to carry the full responsibility, within their areas, for all the other local government functions.
Let me quote the Royal Commission on the first of these principles. It says:We have formed the view, based partly on our own travels in the Review Area, partly on evidence brought before us, and partly on special studies, that there is an entity which is so closely knit, so interdependent, so deeply influenced by the central area and so largely built up, that it truly makes up the London of today.It follows inescapably that, for the appropriate local government purposes, what is London should be treated as a single entity. In other works it should have a directly elected authority—for if it is an entity in itself it deserves its own electoral personality. And with executive powers. For if, in relation to the appropriate services, it is a single and complete area, there must be a single and complete responsibility.
The White Paper sets out the Greater London services. The House will recall them. There is the preparation of an overall development plan; the planning and construction of main roads; traffic control; overspill housing; the ambulance and fire services; and refuse disposal. I do not need to go over the reasons for this choice of services; the House will know them. Indeed, the choice almost dictates itself.
This means that the new boroughs will be the primary housing authorities. They will also have complete responsibility for personal and environmental health services, welfare and child care. I believe that it is a considerable advance to bring these related services into the same hands. Outside a central area, which I shall mention later, they will be the education authorities. They will also have important powers in connection with planning control, highways and other matters, though the extent of these will need in some cases to be considered further.
44 That is the way we propose to meet the need for accepting the unity of London as a whole, and, at the same time, for strengthening the boroughs for the administration of local services. There is much scope for discussion and adjustment of details—the precise delimitation of boundaries and the precise delineation of functions—but not, in the Government's view, of the main framework. This structure and this pattern—in the Government's view—flow logically and naturally from the two principles—indeed, the facts—established by the Commission, which I mentioned earlier. If we challenge the pattern we challenge these principles.
Let us look at the challenges. There is the challenge of inertia and fear. It underlines much of the criticism which the Commission's Report and the White Paper have aroused. I freely recognise that much of it is very natural and understandable. It is not surprising that local authorities who will lose their present entities are perturbed. The knowledge that any material proposals for reorganisation must inevitably have this effect has already delayed badly needed action in many parts of the country for years. But we cannot let that remain as a stumbling block for ever. Clearly, too, however great the need for the changes proposed I do not deny that there will be considerable practical difficulties whilst they are being put into effect. One would not wish to give rise to these difficulties if changes were not really necessary.
I come back to the Commission's own point. If things are working well, they should be left alone, but, if they are not, they should be changed. And the change should be a genuine one, based on the two principles—a unified London for some overall services, and stronger boroughs within it for the more local services. We shall turn our attention to some particular functions later today and tomorrow. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will deal tomorrow with education questions, and I shall say little on that subject today.
Much has been said of the difficulties, and I merely want to say that, difficult though the stage of transition will be, I hardly think that it will be claimed that local government is so poor in men and 45 women of skill, devotion and farsightedness that they cannot surmount and survive these difficulties of change.
Then there are the difficulties created for Essex, Kent and Surrey, with the loss of large slices of rateable value and the severance of complex administrative and functional organisations. Of course, it will not be easy for the counties concerned, and we are willing to consider carefully any evidence which may be put forward of really exceptional difficulties, calling for exceptional solutions.
But let us remember that, on present figures, even if all the four counties of Essex, Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire were reduced as the Royal Commission suggested they would all still be in the first ten counties of England as regards rateable value, and within the first fifteen from the point of view of population.
I will say a word now about the challenge embodied in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris). At least, it is comprehensive. It stems from anxiety about the most important thing of all in this business of local government—the interests of the inhabitants. That is what we must cater for. Not the special interests of particular groups of people in the local government world who, naturally enough, speak with such enthusiasm, if not passion, for the bit of the system that they happen to have been working in that they are in danger of losing sight of the whole. Nor, indeed, of the people who want to tailor local government to fit what they conceive to be the overriding need of the one particular service in which they are interested.
There may be the individual place where some of the inhabitants feel that they will contribute more than they gain by being administered for overall services along with the rest of the capital city of which they form part. Where such a place, for example, is near the edge of the capital city, there may be a temptation to argue that they are not really part of the capital city at all. That can be argued on its merits, as a matter of fact, but if one is really part of the capital it is, at the very least, short-sighted to seek to evade a share of the responsibilities of its proper overall administration.
46 It is asserted by some, including the signatories to the Opposition Amendment, that the White Paper providesno adequate answer to the problems of planning and transport.,I would have thought that an overall planning authority for the capital as a whole, with day-to-day control of development within that plan resting with the new boroughs, was a marked advance on the present situation.
I know that some people want an executive regional planning body for many times the area of Greater London. It is an interesting idea, though not a new one, and I should be happy to discuss it in a debate on regional planning, but today we are not on one particular function; we are not on a theory of regionalism; we are discussing specific proposals for local government, that is, the whole local government system and its structure in Greater London.
I turn now to say a word about traffic and roads. Here again, we have proposed that main roads and traffic control should be substantially the responsibility of the Greater London authority. I wait to hear why this should be thought wrong, or whether, again, we should deem greater London to be a much bigger place than it seems on the face of it, to suit a theory for the administration of one or two particular local government functions.
Then again, I notice in the Opposition Amendment the words:… believing that wiser and more effective plans for Greater London government are available …I shall be interested to hear more about these wiser and more effective plans. I think that I am right in saying that apart from one scheme, to which I shall come in a moment, no sizeable body of opinion has put forward any constructive plan alternative to the Commission's and the Government's proposals since they came out.
An alternative plan, on which I should, in any event, like to comment, is that put forward by the four counties of Surrey, London, Middlesex and Essex. I note that the Kent County Council is not quite of the same view, and that the Hertfordshire County Council is not. It can be traced back to the oral evidence given to the Royal Commission by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon 47 (Sir C. Black), in his then capacity as Chairman of the Surrey County Council. He referred at the time, in terms of approval, to the idea of a joint advisory planning committee—purely advisory. Even this suggestion was an advance on the position taken up in the written evidence by the county councils. Their line had been that almost nothing needed to be done to alter or improve existing arrangements in Greater London. To them, everything in the capital was capital.
The plan that they now put forward—stemming from that advisory committee idea of my hon. Friend—is something elaborated after the Royal Commission's Report was published. The county councils attached themselves in this plan to the two main propositions of the Commission's Report, that certain functions needed to be considered Greater London-wise, and that more functions should be given to the boroughs or districts within Greater London. It is fair to say that they did not go very far in specifying the extent to which boroughs and districts could get more powers. There was to be some conferment, some delegation, and perhaps some amalgamation, too.
Now for the things that needed doing for Greater London as a whole. There was no need, the counties said, to set up a single new directly elected authority in place of all the existing major authorities. Let us have, they argued, a joint planning board. And not just for Greater London—establish it for an area going beyond the green belt, possibly including the whole of Surrey and Hertfordshire, and parts of Bedfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
The members would be appointed by the major authorities and by groups of boroughs and districts. They would concern themselves with planning, main roads and traffic, overspill, and refuse disposal. They would draw up, and periodically review, a master plan dealing with the broad issues—employment policy, land availability, population targets, location of industry, communications, green belts, and standards for such matters as open spaces. Their master plan would be approved by the Minister and have binding force, and the planning authorities within the area, while preparing their plans, would have to keep 48 within it; and similarly with main roads, traffic control, and so on.
There is one outstanding characteristic of the plan. It leaves the existing major authorities as they are. There is no harm in that if what ought to be done can be done without harming them. But this plan does not deal with London; not with the built-up area which the Royal Commission regarded as London, or anything like it. It goes enormously wider. Of course, London's influence stretches much wider than its built-up area, but that does not mean that good London government is best served by basing it on that wider sphere of influence.
The Royal Commission, in dealing with this point, said:We accept the view that the problems of Greater London are inextricably concerned with the problems of south-east England as a whole, but it is a non sequitur to argue from that that no attempt should be made on the part of local government to organise planning, housing, transport and some other services within the Review Area as a whole. To do so would not solve all the problems of southeast England; but to treat the Review Area as one entity, so that its problems can be assessed and dealt with as a whole, would (we believe) be an important administrative step towards the arrangements which are necessary for dealing with south-east England.Indeed, let us think of what would happen in practice if there were a joint planning board, as the county councils suggest, over an area of that size. It would necessarily deal in generalities. The detailed application of these generalities would have to be worked out, in their separate development plans, by the six county councils and the three county boroughs. They would all have an eye on the master plan, but they would all have different view points from which to peer, as it were, through the metropolitan fringe with one eye, with the other squinting back at their outer areas. In fact, the joint planning board idea starts by ignoring the basic fact that London is a single capital city, which for a number of important purposes must be treated as a separate entity.
A second major weakness in the scheme is that it adds another tier to an already complex structure, without giving it real power to solve the complex problems. The White Paper refers to the suggested board as "largely advisory" and the Government have been accused, by using this term, of misrepresenting 49 what the county councils have proposed. Let me quote from the county council memorandum to my predecessor about this body:Though it should not be an executive body, it must be more than a mere consultative body. It must, indeed, be a planning and co-ordinating body.It also stated:It should not be an executive body.How can a board make any real impact on London's most urgent problems if it has no executive powers, no ability to carry out works and get things done? Take roads, for example. It could plan roads, but others must build them. "Ah", say the county councils, "the pressure and incentives which the Minister of Transport can use would see that the main road pattern was achieved …" In fact, they are saying, "Let us stay as we are at all costs, and if, as a result, we do not do the job properly, the Minister will keep us up to scratch". It is not reasonable local government.
Now a word about the boroughs in the proposals of the Government—
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Whatever the position and whatever establishment may deal with planning for roads, at the end of it the Minister of Transport has the power of veto or approval. Surely the Minister is not saying that his right hon. Friend has not the power to veto or approve.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
The Minister has dealt exhaustively with the weaknesses of the proposals from the county councils. To enable hon. Members to make a fair comparison, will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the functions of the Greater London Council and how it would work?
§ Dr. Hill
Earlier in my speech I referred to the list of functions allocated to the Greater London Council. Since it was at that point that she intervened, I imagine that the hon. Lady is referring to the Greater London Council's part in 50 planning. Taking the present position in Greater London before we examine the alternative, we find that there are nine development plans—from the six county councils and the three county boroughs. If we take the proposal of the White Paper, the Greater London Council will prepare a development plan and review it periodically.
I shall go on to deal with its associated functions, but the Council would be able, with the consent of the borough concerned or of the Minister, to carry out big schemes of comprehensive development. The boroughs would exercise powers of planning control which would be given to them by Statute and not just by delegation schemes. The main exception to this is that the Greater London Council and not the boroughs might well retain control over planning applications in Central London. That is one of the issues which is still being considered.
As I have said, the detailed application of the plan put forward by the four county councils would be an exceedingly difficult matter.
May I pass swiftly—I am trying not to detain the House too long—to the two departures from the recommendations of the Royal Commission as described in the White Paper. One relates to education. The House will recall that the Royal Commission recommended that education should be shared with the Greater London authority and that the boroughs should broadly have a population range of 100,000 to 250,000. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will deal with education more fully. I mention it now only because we propose that the boroughs should be the education authorities throughout all Greater London, save for a central area, and that they be rather larger and fewer than the Royal Commission suggested.
The case for larger boroughs rests not only on grounds of education. Bearing in mind the other services which they will be providing, the boroughs will be rather akin to county boroughs. Today, one normally expects a county borough to have a population of at least 100,000, although some of the most effective ones are much bigger. Within an area like London the bigger area would seem right. We think that a 51 figure more like 200,000 is the minimum at which to aim. I await the final comments of the local authorities on the possible borough boundaries suggested in the circular from my Department which was issued just before Christmas. There will be discussions on the grouping, indeed group discussions.
I have proposed to local authorities that a small number of serving town clerks from outside the London area should conduct these discussions on my behalf. I am consulting the London authorities and their associations on the terms of reference. There is, of course, room for disagreement over these groupings. The big difficulty is that we cannot look at any one group in isolation. We have to consider the whole general pattern. But we should be quite willing to consider alternative groupings which are viable and desirable in themselves, and whose creation would not make insuperable problems for other groupings.
§ Mr. Mellish
Do I understand that the Government are still willing to consider the possibility of education over the wider area, and not just the 2 million to which the Minister has referred?
§ Dr. Hill
The position is, setting aside the population and size, that for part of the area the boroughs will be the education authorities. For part of the area, the so-called central area, there will be an ad hoc education authority. In so far as we have put down a figure of 2 million, there is room for discussion about what is the right size for the population of that area. There is room for discussion about the method of its appointment. There is no room for discussion on the main principle that the boroughs, except in a central area, shall be the education authorities. In short, the size of the area and the population of the area are open to discussion, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will be dealing fully with this problem.
§ Mr. Mellish
May I put it this way? If there is an attempt to make out a case for the central authority being the education authority, the Minister would dismiss it before even hearing the arguments. I refer to the whole wider area.
§ Mr. Mellish
With respect, may I try it on the Minister of Housing and Local Government? He is opening this debate and is supposed to know all the answers. I put to the right hon. Gentleman that he is proposing, for what he calls inner London, with a population figure of about 2 million, that the boroughs in the area will be the education authorities; will have education authority control.—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] What I am asking is this. Is the Minister throwing away the idea of the possibility of the greater authority being the whole education authority for the whole area?
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
Can the Minister explain to the House how it comes about that in a proposal for the modernisation of London local government, both the Royal Commission and the Government intend to preserve intact the archaic powers and privileges of the City of London?
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
The right hon. Gentleman told us that the Government will be thinking again on representations made to them about the size and population of the boroughs. Does this mean that he is not committed 53 to a minimum of 200,000, or approximately that figure, particularly with regard to educational functions?
§ Dr. Hill
It means that in relation to the boroughs we are not committed to the outlines which appear in the draft map which we sent out. Our position is that for such boroughs, bearing in mind the functions which they are to acquire, the population should not be less than 200,000. That is the position which we have stated and that is where we stand. What I said earlier was: provided any grouping can produce boroughs of sufficient size and resources, and the new borough makes sufficient sense in terms of centres of shopping and transport and so on, we should be glad to consider a rewritten map, provided that any change does not produce insuperable problems for the adjacent areas.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Supposing there were two adjoining boroughs each of 100,000, and each was able to prove that it had adequate resources at 100,000, is the Minister's mind open on the possibility of a figure of 100,000?
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, Southwest)
Will the Minister give his reasons for rejecting the size of boroughs proposed by the Royal Commission? The Royal Commission made a carefully-reasoned statement. The Minister says that the larger borough seems right. Will he give his reasons?
§ Dr. Hill
I will give one. One must take into account the increased educational function which is proposed for the boroughs and which was not proposed by the Royal Commission.
I want to say a word about loss of identity in amalgamations, because, obviously, this is an important issue in the minds of many people. I ought to remind the House, nevertheless, that the change of local government boundaries does not necessarily submerge local names. There are many local names in London — Blackheath, Bayswater, Catford, Highgate, Holloway, Hoxton, Kennington and Kew, for example—which have no existence in terms of local government boundaries, but which are still retained and still used.
54 I was asked to say a few words about the City. I want to quote some words of the Report of the Royal Commission:Logic has its limits, and the City lies outside them.We propose to accept the Royal Commission's recommendation on that point.
It is not proposed that in the strict sense Greater London should be a county. It will be something apart, as the capital City, and its existence will make no difference to the ancient county pattern in the area for purposes other than local government administration, although some special arrangements may need to be made as regards justice, sheriffs and Lord Lieutenants. As for its council, it is proposed that the Greater London Council should be directly elected. The Commission so recommended and the Government endorse that view. As for the electoral divisions, I shall be glad to hear hon. Member's views.
There are many other matters for consultation, one of which must be the interests of local government staff. There will still be some 8 million people to serve, so that there should be, by and large, no less need for their services, but, of course, there will clearly be some transitional and individual problems, some of which will be formidable. Local authorities as employers are not responsible to me, but we must devise arrangements—and there are some precedents for them—to safeguard not only the administration of the services, but also the interests of the officers employed in them. We shall consult both employers and employed.
We have already been in consultation on compensation arrangements for cases in which there is actual loss of job or pay, whether in London or in other parts of the country now being reviewed under the Act of 1958. I should tell the House that I have just informed local authorities and staff associations of my intention to make substantial improvements to the compensation scale settled for similar purposes in the immediate post-war period.
May I come back, in conclusion, to the main issues arising on the Motion. The White Paper sets out the Government intention to press forward with a reorganisation of London government founded on two basic features established by the Royal Commission. The 55 first is the unity of the built-up area of Greater London and the need to set up for it, for the relevant purposes, a directly elected council with executive powers. The plan of the county councils cannot, in the Government's view, be regarded as an adequate or practical alternative.
The second feature is that the boroughs shall be the primary units of local government, regrouped so as each to have an adequate minimum population, not so unwieldy as to become impersonal but big enough to tackle the job.
The intended functions of the Greater London council and the boroughs and the central area for education are those indicated in the White Paper.
There are a number of matters still remaining to be settled. They must be settled in consultation. I must mention some of them. For example, precisely how should the boroughs be grouped? Exactly what constitutes the area of Greater London? What should be the precise boundaries and arrangements for the central education area? How should certain functions, like planning and housing, be shared? How should the financial arrangements be sorted out?
What does it all add up to? The need for a drastic reorganisation of the government of London stares us in the face, for at present there is no government of London as such—not of London as it is today. Will anybody say that the planning of this great city, its development and redevelopment, its living and working conditions, the movements of its traffic, are at present competently and confidently managed? They cannot be, for there is no manager.
Will anybody dare to suggest that this patchwork of local authorities provides a tolerable local government system for one of the greatest cities in the world—for the capital of a country where local government has been more powerful and more prized than perhaps in any other land?
On what we now decide, the future of local government in this great city depends.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 56considers that the proposals in the White Paper (Command Paper No. 1562) provide no adequate answer to the problems of planning and transport, would wreck the humane and efficient performance of several local government functions, notably education, housing and the children's service, in central London and elsewhere, and offer no solution to the difficulties created for the counties of Essex, Kent and Surrey; and, believing that wiser and more effective plans for Greater London government are available, calls on Her Majesty's Government to revise their policy".The Amendment summarises our case against these proposals, and that case can be stated as follows. The modified version of the Royal Commission's plan which the Government have put before us takes as its chief concern the problem of planning, transport and traffic. It was with those problems in mind that they made their first major recommendation for a Greater London Council. We say that the local government structure which they have offered for this planning and traffic purpose is at once too cramped and too feeble to fulfil the purpose for which it was designed. Yet into this structure, unsatisfactory as it is for what was supposed to be its first purpose, there are to be ruthlessly jammed the other local government services, some of them of great human import, and upon them the effect of that structure is likely to be ruinous.
Throughout the Royal Commission's Report, the White Paper and the Minister's speech there is a very grave disregard of the human services of housing, education and children's services. It is remarkable that the Minister's speech, which was not brief, included nothing at all about how these human services would work under the proposed set-up. That is not surprising because behind the Minister's speech lay the Report of the Royal Commission, which displayed, as we now come to realise, a very grave ignorance of how some of these human services worked, or the kind of task they had to do.
We say, next, that the proposals not only disregard these human services, but they disregard the difficulties created for the surrounding counties which are severed by this new plan. Further, all these errors are put before us at a time when there are sounder principles to be discovered, as I shall show, on which a real solution of this problem might be founded. We are not urging the Minister, to use his own phrase, to run away 57 from action. We are urging him, in the first instance, to look before he leaps, and this is what he and so many of his advisers on this matter have failed to do.
I regret that it was necessary to move the Amendment, but it was made clear before the debate began that we were not really being asked to take note of the proposals but to take note of the fact that the Government had made up their mind, whatever might be said in the debate, on all the major issues. In the light of that it would be wrong for us to allow this debate to go by without making clear our opinion and the opinion of many others on the major proposals.
Let us take, first, the great concerns of planning, transport and traffic. It is quite natural that anyone approaching the government of greater London should focus his attention first on that problem. It is, undoubtedly, the one group of topics where the present local government structure is least satisfactory and where changes are most necessary. That, I think, is not in dispute.
What is the problem that has to be solved? We have the review area, with its 8½ million people, its population thinning in the centre, growing slightly at the edges, and with a much greater growth of population outside the review area. Our problem is where is this increasing population to be housed, where is it to find employment, and how is it to be provided with schools, with recreation, and with all the other needs of human life which local government has to supply?
Perhaps, most alarming of all, how is it to be enabled to travel, with the number of motor cars increasing daily, from home to work and to recreation? Those are the problems that we have to solve. What we are offered for the solution of this problem is a Council for Greater London that will embrace the review area, and the review area only, and not the fermenting outer region where the real causes of the problem are to be found.
The Minister gave us no reason why that should be so, except to say that that was what the Royal Commission thought and that the Royal Commission said that this area was an entity, neither more nor less. An ipse dixit of that kind will not 58 answer the serious considerations that there are here. The Council for Greater London was to have some housing powers, powers of planning traffic and transport and an intelligence service. Why do we say that these proposals fail? They fail, I think, for four reasons at least.
First, because the area within which Council for Greater London will function is too cramped. If we take the figures that the Royal Commission itself supply, we find that in the coming years—and the Minister said that we must look to the future—the main growth of the population and the main new developments will lie outside the review area.
Further, that if the problem of housing the people inside the review area is to be solved, it must be by action taken outside the review area. Anyone who has studied London's housing problems knows that. Are we to go on with the process whereby more and more employment is concentrated inside the review area, sometimes well into the middle of it, and dwellings tend to be outside, to the ceaseless increase of the commuter-travel across the green belt. We cannot solve that problem unless the authority devised to solve it has jurisdiction across the green belt. What happens outside the green belt determines whether we can solve the problems of the people living within it.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman not rather defeat his argument by overlooking or, at any rate, not mentioning, the proposal in the White Paper with regard to the overspill powers of the Greater London Council?
§ Mr. Stewart
The point which the hon. Member has mentioned is within my cognisance and I shall have something to say about it.
I am saying that at the moment the body concerned with major planning and traffic decisions ought to be extended beyond the green belt and not limited to this inner area. It fails then, first, because its area is too cramped, and, next, because its powers are clipped.
The right hon. Gentleman did not mention that, although this authority is supposed to be a planning authority, not 59 only will decisions on planning applications be made by the smaller authorities within its area, but that if those authorities make decisions on planning applications which, in the view of the Council for Greater London, conflict with its plan, the lower authorities are to be the judge whether they conflict with its plan or not. That will make it impossible for the Council for Greater London to have any security that the plan it makes will be carried out. The extent to which it will be carried out will be at the decision of the 34 smaller authorities within its area.
Thirdly, its appeal to the electorate—the Minister was anxious that it should be directly elected—is to be somewhat shadowy. The Royal Commission wanted it to be directly elected and to be also an education authority. That proposal is universally abandoned as being unworkable. If we take that away, what is left? Some housing powers, very little housing powers within its own area, but overspill housing powers. The extent to which it can exercise these powers depends on the consent that it can get from authorities outside its own jurisdiction. It would not be acting with power then, but by consent.
The Council will have some housing powers, but it will have no education powers and it will have none of the human services, none of those services which give warmth, life and vigour to a local government election. I believe that we shall find that direct election of a body with these powers will be about as inspiring to the electorate as direct election of the Metropolitan Water Board. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is going to suggest that.
Further, it fails because if it is to work at all with this idea of a planning metropolitan authority its decisions on transport have to be reinforced by Government action, and the Royal Commission pointed out very clearly that we could do what we liked with local government structure, but we would never solve the travelling and traffic problem unless there could be greater certainty of what funds would be forthcoming over a period of years for the authorities of areas to spend on railways and roads.
The Commission was quite emphatic on that. It said: 60In their evidence the Ministry of Transport indulged in a good many criticisms of the structure of local authority machinery as it relates to highways.Indulging in criticism of other people is a characteristic of the present Minister of Transport.
The Royal Commission also said:It seemed to us that it was a great blemish upon the Ministry's evidence that they failed to draw attention to what has been the greatest obstacle in producing an adequate road system.This obstacle was the lack of certainty from year to year whether the money would be forthcoming to build the roads which the councils planned or to improve the railway system to keep pace with the immense increase in traffic across the green belt.
The Royal Commission urges that something of this kind should be done if its plan is to work. The White Paper says nothing. The Minister is silent. For the four reasons I have mentioned—too cramped in area, clipped in powers, shadowy in its appeal to the electorate, and unreinforced by the decisions on transport policy by the Government which the Royal Commission thought were essential—I believe this body fails in its traffic and planning purposes.
What can be deduced from that by way of principles of reconstruction? The Minister was elephantinely merry over alternatives proposed to the Royal Commission. It is not my function to give him a plan as detailed as the Royal Commission's, but I think that I can manage to be a little less sketchy than the White Paper. I shall give him the principles on which I believe the right answers can be found.
First, to get the planning and traffic aspects right, a wider area must be taken, probably something like the area of the Abercrombie Greater London Plan. Secondly, in this area there must be some authority with power to make major decisions concerning the location of housing and industry, the main structure of highways, and a solution of the traffic problem. I think that this may prove to be the answer to planning generally. We are all beginning to realise, with regard to planning, that regional grouping of the county areas will be necessary if we are to get planning right. If a major planning authority is desired, it is no good having one like this review 61 area, which is almost entirely urban. In such an authority the urban and the rural areas must be combined.
If we do get anywhere near to the regional solution for planning, it is also quite clear, if we value local government at all, that the regional authority ought not to take on a great many other services as well. Therefore, it ought to be something like the joint planning board which was proposed to the Minister by the five counties. I remind the Minister again that the statement in the White Paper that they proposed an advisory body is untrue. They made that quite clear.
§ Mr. Stewart
No, that is not the crucial question. The crucial question is this, and the Minister must try to answer it: is it a body which has power to make decisions to which the counties will have to conform? An advisory body clearly would not have such powers. What the five counties propose—I agree with them in this—is a body which would have power to make decisions to which the counties must conform. It is untrue to call a body with those powers a merely advisory body.
There is an alternative to the five counties' proposal, in which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) is interested. Instead of something created from the local authorities there ought to be, because of the special needs of the capital, an organ of the central Government to deal with this problem. If the Minister does not like the joint planning board, he should study this alternative.
The arguments for and against both proposals can be weighed up, but it certainly does not lie in the Government's mouth to say that they are horrified at the idea of central Government interference in metropolitan matters. The Royal Commission plan suggests that the Minister shall have power to say, as and when he pleases, to the Greater London Council, "This is a central planning area in which I, the Minister, have certain powers". He can say where such areas are to be and how wide his powers are to be in them. Therefore, it does not lie in the mouth of the Government to say that, a solution which calls on the 62 central Government might not be the right answer.
Have we observed that the present Minister of Transport is coy about taking a hand in solving metropolitan problems? This happens now when we have a Minister of Transport of a "shy and retiring disposition". What might happen if some day we had a Minister of Transport who was bouncy and cocky and fond of the limelight?
The essential principles are these: first, a wider area; secondly, within that area an authority—I have suggested two ways, and more could be suggested, of how it can be constructed—with power to make the major decisions. The third principle, which the Minister so sadly neglected, is that it must be reinforced by changes in Government policy about the finances of road and rail. The Government are merely playing with the problem if they think that they can solve it by altering local government boundaries alone. That is why I say, on planning and traffic, that the structure is cramped and too feeble for this job.
Take now the human services—housing, education, and the children's service. I want to say something about them. I think that it is universally agreed that these services could not be run by the Greater London Council by a uniform administration over the whole area. The Royal Commission rejects that. The Government reject it. Very few of the witnesses before the Royal Commission suggested that it could be done that way. Therefore, this question must be answered: within the whole area, what is the right size of authority which ought to carry out services like housing, education, and the children's services?
Let us look at housing first. Housing is normally a borough and district responsibility. The London County Council is unique among county councils in having concurrent housing powers. The reason for this is obvious enough. When there are great masses of people living close together, with a high density of population, what is done in one borough area is bound to have repercussions in another and the problems cannot be solved properly unless some body has powers over a larger area than the boroughs. That is why the L.C.C. has concurrent housing powers.
63 Common sense should suggest that there is a case for giving similar powers to the County of Middlesex, which is by now similarly urbanised. That is not what the Royal Commission or the Government propose to do. They propose to take housing and hand it over to each one of the thirty-four boroughs, with the exception of overspill housing and with the exception of a certain amount of housing to be done inside the area, but that could be done only with the consent of the borough in whose area it was done or, failing that, with the consent of the Minister. Building within the review area by the Greater London Council was regarded as a minor and, on the whole, exceptional part of the whole process of housing.
Why does this fail? To begin with, it fails for one very simple reason. There is a good deal of clearance and development work still to be done inside the review area. It is a simple enough principle that if clearance and development work is done in one borough some of the displaced people will inevitably have to be rehoused in other boroughs. The boroughs, even the Minister's boroughs, are not large enough to avoid that conclusion. I remind hon. Members of the Warwick Crescent scheme and the Kensal new town scheme. Two-thirds of the people displaced by these schemes had to be rehoused in an area which would have been outside the borough which, under the Minister's proposals, they would have been living in. In many such schemes it would be necessary constantly to call on this elaborate machinery of negotiation to get the work done.
The same applies to road schemes. The Cromwell Road scheme could not have been proceeded with if it had not been for the housing powers exercised over a county-wide area by the London Council Council. The people displaced could not have been rehoused in the borough from which they were displaced.
The same is true of educational building. It may be said that this is covered by the arrangements for special permission by the borough concerned for the central authority to build in its area. But that, of course, is not the problem at all. Why will the central 64 authority want to build in borough A? Because it has carried out a scheme in borough B. It is borough B which is benefiting directly, but it is borough A of whom the local authority must ask permission to do anything for borough B. That is not a very happy arrangement if one wants the thing done.
The same applies if a local authority does educational building. That also inevitably displaces people who cannot always be rehoused inside their own borough, even "borough" under the Minister's definiton. In the next twelve years there will probably be about 100,000 families affected, so the House will see that this building on a county-wide basis is not going to be an exceptional or minor part but a major and very important part. Yet the Greater London Council will not be able to move on that without seeking the consent of every borough in which it is going to do any building work at all.
It is not a sensible proposal and the Minister seems quite unaware of the difficulties involved and quite unaware, too, of what is going to happen to the architects' departments of the London and Middlesex County Councils. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman heard the editor of the Architectural Review giving a talk on the Third Programme a little time ago. It would have done him good to have listened. The number of things which the right hon. Gentleman has not heard about London mounts every minute. The editor told us that the London County Council architect's department had been responsible for some of the most successful and imaginative building of houses and flats, building them so as to meet human needs and to avoid monotony. There had been pioneering in the skilful use of materials. It was to be particularly praised for the encouragement given to young architects.
This was echoed at the meeting of the Architectural Association. I listened at that meeting and heard more praise of the London County Council than I had ever heard before, except when I read the Minister of Education's definition to the Royal Commission about the London County Council's education service. That architectural service is going to bits. What is the Greater London Council to be left with? It will be left 65 with a certain amount of villa and cottage building, fire stations and such building as may arise from the work in refuse disposal.
§ Dr. Hill
The hon. Gentleman is quite right about what he heard on the Third Programme, but ought he not, when speaking about the architects, to include the words of the Royal Institute of British Architects when it said that, in broad principle, it wholeheartedly welcomed the proposals for reform?
§ Mr. Stewart
I beg the right hon. Gentleman to read a little further than the first sentence. He will then find—
§ Mr. Stewart
The right hon. Gentleman had better study the whole document. If he will study the document he will see that what the architects want is to have the whole service transferred to the Council for Greater London. The Ministry does not approve of that, the Council does not approve of that and I do not advocate it myself. I think that the architects reached a point where they needed political knowledge which was not available to them. The point I am making is that nobody who knows the problem suggests that this service should go entirely to the Council for Greater London, but the arrangements whereby it is broken down to the smallness of boroughs is an unworkable one.—[An HON. MEMBER: "What does the hon. Gentleman suggest?"]—I am going to build up the same case with regard to another service and then the hon. Member will see not merely what I suggest but what follows from it.
§ Mr. E. Partridge (Battersea, South)
Has the hon. Gentleman seen the architectural beauty of the ambulance station on Battersea Rise? It is something of which the architects should be very proud indeed. It has been labelled in Battersea as a mammoth urinal.
§ Mr. Stewart
If the hon. Gentleman really thinks that that is an appreciation of the work of a service that is world famed, he draws attention only to his own ignorance.
Let us now take another service, the children's service, the most appealing and intimate of all the human services. This, of course, is not the service of 66 maternity and child welfare but of children in the care of local authorities. The Minister said nothing at all about it and the White Paper says precious little about it. Here again, as in housing, we find that the borough unit proposed is too small. I shall show why. Some of the considerations that apply to this service apply also to health and welfare, though not so markedly, and the transfer of power in the health or welfare service to the boroughs is something practicable and to be welcomed. But it is significant that the children's service is just tossed to the boroughs along with the other services in a single paragraph in the White Paper. This is a service for which hardly any of the smaller authorities asked when they gave evidence before the Royal Commission. It is not surprising that they did not ask. They know its difficulties, they know the appalling outcry that there would be if it were mishandled and they know the importance of having a larger authority than these boroughs to deal with it.
Why is that so? Primarily because there are many different categories of children who have to be brought into care. There are those who are seriously maladjusted and who, however loving and wise their parents may be, are still proving difficult. There are the children who have the misfortune to have foolish, careless or cruel parents. There are families where neither the child nor the parent is at fault but where, perhaps, some temporary misfortune has fallen on the family making it impossible, for a limited period, for the parent to look after the child. There are also those cases where the behaviour of the child or the parent has made it necessary for the courts to take action in order for the child to be put into care. There is a wide range of different types of children.
The Royal Commission failed to understand this at all. It told us—if we believe it—that at any given date 80 per cent. of the children in care are there only for a short stay. In actual fact, it is only 10 per cent. at any given date who are there only for a short stay. Nearly 90 per cent. are far more obstinate and difficult problems, and the children are there for months or years.
The Royal Commission also told us that only a small proportion of the children in care are there as a result of 67 decisions by the courts. In fact, the proportion is about one-quarter or one-third. The Royal Commission failed to understand the seriousness or the complexity of this problem, and the White Paper did not correct it. This was one of the many things on which the Minister was silent.
To deal with these many different categories of children a local authority must have a varied team of officers with a fairly wide range of qualifications. It must also be able to make a number of different types of provisions—for example, to have homes or boarding out arrangements of different kinds. Since, mercifully, the proportion of these unhappy children to the whole population is small, a small authority will not have many of them. The number which it may have requiring a particular type of provision may be very small indeed, so small, in fact, that the authority either has to say that it cannot be bothered to make precise provision for these children to meet their needs or it has to make provision on a scale which it knows will always be under-used and thus itself be subject to criticism for waste of money and resources. Therefore, to avoid that we need an authority of considerable size.
How big should the authority be? The Curtis Committee said that it ought to be an authority with about 500 children in care. That is certainly a substantially bigger number than in the boroughs proposed by the Minister. Can the right hon. Gentleman suggest that any of them which will have 500 children in care? If he does not know I could tell him. As it happens, there are a few such boroughs, but they are the authorities with the least financial resources.
The Royal Commission on Mental Health reckoned that one needed an authority with a population of about 400,000 to make adequate provision for the mentally sub-normal and mentally disordered. The Government are supposed to be very keen on the development of treatment for mental health, but there is no consideration of this aspect. The Minister did not mention whether the authorities he proposes would be able to deal with the children, the old, the physically or the mentally handicapped. 68 There have been great improvements in the methods of treating children, the old and the handicapped since 1948—since the National Assistance Act and the Children's Act—and that improvement has largely taken the form of getting the children and the handicapped out of the older buildings of work-house type into smaller buildings where more precise attention can be given to their real needs.
Take an example—one authority was able to close down a large, depressing old people's home; it had to be replaced by fifteen smaller homes to accommodate the people. Will a borough of the size proposed be able to find the sites to carry out an operation of that kind? What amazes one is the wantoness of all this, because it is nowhere suggested in the Royal Commission's Report that the health, welfare or children's services are badly run. The Report points to only one defect; that there is not sufficient coordination between these services so that sometimes the same family was visited by various officials of these services although only one problem was involved. The Report stated that what it called a "team" was required but that, in order to get that team, one would need authorities of up to 200,000.
The Minister now proposes to make that figure his minimum. The one advantage that the Royal Commission thought could be reaped in the children's health and welfare services was one which could be reaped if one had authorities with less than 200,000. The Minister has chosen a figure that throws that advantage away without even giving the advantages about which the Curtis Committee was interested and which the experience of counties has proved—namely, authorities large enough to make provision for the proper operation of these services.
§ Mr. Stewart
Paragraph 19 of the White Paper will give the right hon. Gentleman the answer. It is perfectly true that in the case of a provincial city of about 250,000 with, beyond that, open country, one would be able to build that up to a 500,000 authority only by stretching it on the map and thus making it 69 geographically difficult to operate. The drawbacks would cancel out any advantages elsewhere and I agree that, in those circumstances, one must be content with 250,000. But in the Metropolitan area one can design authorities with more than 500,000 population, without making them too large on the map. The advantage of the larger population can be realised, and should be realised.
Some people have expressed the fear that if the services are handed over to the boroughs in this way it will impose a great rate burden on them. Of course, if the services are carried out adequately that will happen, but my fear is precisely the opposite; that having looked at the rate burden they will decide that they cannot run the services and keep them at the same standard. Thus, for the children's services, we shall go back to the era beyond the Curtis Committee and, for the welfare services and the care of the old, we shall go back in the direction of the workhouse.
There follows from this another principle of reconstruction. I depicted what I thought were the right principles of reconstruction for the planning and traffic problem—the larger area with the authoritative body for planning and traffic—but one must, nevertheless, ask how is it to be subdivided having these human services in mind? The whole area is too big and the proposed boroughs, for the reasons I have shown, are too small. One is, therefore-, looking for an area something like the present county size as was recommended to the Royal Commission by one of the groups giving evidence from the London School of Economics. This has been recommended again recently in another pamphlet coming from that source. That probably answers the question which the Minister raised a moment ago when he asked what size I would recommend.
Thus I believe that for these services—for the children's services and for education—something like the size of a county as we know it in the metropolitan area is probably the best size for the Government's purpose. While one must think in terms of such a size of authority for education, for the health and welfare services the case is not so strong. There is a much stronger case for transferring at least some of the functions to the boroughs. The Minister 70 was very eager that this should be done, for he talked of the limited powers of the metropolitan borough councils. But why are they so limited?
In 1955 a scheme for transferring their powers in the field of health and welfare services was agreed between the L.C.C. and the metropolitan boroughs The only reason that scheme was not put into effect was that the Government ordered that it should not be implemented pending the report of the Royal Commission. Now the Minister weeps tears over the small powers of the metropolitan boroughs.
I do not propose to say much about the education services because we shall debate that subject at greater length tomorrow, but I believe that the considerations I have advanced for suggesting that a size of authority something like a county is about right for the children's services and applies also to education. I need not say anything about the Royal Commission's proposal on education. The White Paper buries them more kindly than they deserve.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
As I understand the hon. Gentlman's argument he is specifically recommending the abolition of the excepted areas in Middlesex. Would he further express his views on this?
§ Mr. Stewart
I have just turned my remarks towards education and have been speaking on this subject for a very short while. The major concern in this field is what is to happen in education in the central area? The Royal Commission's proposals, we all agreed, were unworkable. The Government then produces this central area, of about 2 million, and we have not yet had an answer to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) as to whether the Government preclude the idea of extending that 2 million to embrace the whole of the present L.C.C. area. If they do not then we are bound to ask questions concerning the L.C.C. education service.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education, in his evidence to the Commission, thinks highly of this service. I never dreamed how highly he thought about it. Therefore, if the Government are proposing an area of 2 million—and to hack off three-eighths 71 of the L.C.C. area—we are entitled to ask why. What advantage do they suppose to gain by that hacking off? There is no suggestion of an answer to this question in either the Minister's speech or the White Paper. And it is not only a question of why, but where? Which bits are to be hacked off?
When that is done the Government will be left in the review area with an outside piece in which the Boroughs are the education authorities. The system of delegation was severely criticised by the Royal Commission for Middlesex. I do not have sufficient knowledge of Middlesex to know how far those criticisms were justified, but I think that outside the centre of London delegation is probably the right answer. It does not lie in the Government's mouth to say that it does not, because it is their general recipe throughout the country.
If there are difficulties in Middlesex, I should have thought that it would have been the aim of the local authorities there and the Ministry to see whether they could not sort them out. The example of other counties shows that delegation may be made to work elsewhere, and it would have been better to have seen whether it could be made to work in Middlesex.
What will be the position outside the central area, where the borough is the sole education authority? The Metropolitan boroughs, by the way, are not asking for this power. There are some boroughs that have some agreement with some of the Royal Commission's proposals. My own borough agreed with some of the Commission's proposals, and was very enthusiastic about the London County Council's conduct of education. It wanted a unified system of education throughout the whole of the review area. I disagree with my borough there, as, I think, most people do.
But what metropolitan borough now in the London County Council area is asking for education powers? What would be its position if it got them? Its teachers could not have the same opportunities for promotion. It would not have the wide and varied courses and services for teachers which the London County Council provides—the education library and the design and pictorial service, for example.
72 What about the parents and teachers? When children reach secondary age, probably at least a quarter of them—and, in some parts, up to two-fifths of them—seek their secondary education in what, under the Minister's plan, would be outside their borough. The proportion among those seeking a grammar-school course is even higher.
When we come to the more varied provision required for further education a rather depressing picture is presented to the citizen of London in an area on the fringe of the London County Council area if he finds that he can only use the very wide provisions for further education by means of some negotiations between the central education authority and the boroughs. I know that we shall be told, "Oh, well, mutual arrangements can be made." That means that we shall first cut up the London County Council education area and then invite the authorities diligently to write letters in order to sew it together again. What is the purpose of all this? We have never heard what the purpose is.
Inside the central education area, if we have lopped off the outer parts of London, we shall leave an inside area with a high proportion of old buildings. That will be nobody's fault—it has been inevitable national policy to build new schools where the growth of population required them—but this scheme will leave central London with a high proportion of old buildings; though some of them will be up to date because they will bear the initials S.B.L.—School Board for London.
The Royal Commission asked six questions about education, and answered them as follows: Is the capacity of the schools good, and is their siting good? Yes. Is there an adequate variety of educational provision? Yes. Is there freedom of movement between one part of the area and another? Absolute freedom. Does the service attract good teachers? Yes. Is there interference with professional freedom? No. Do the administrative arrangements interfere with the quality of the education service? No.
One might well ask: why on earth this disruption? The Royal Commission offers an answer. It says, in effect, that we must give the boroughs something to do—a disastrous and perverse 73 approach to local government. The services do not exist in order to give the councillors something to do; the authorities exist in order to perform the services. As the Minister said, we must look at the citizens, not at particular groups which are interested in getting functions for themselves. It is said that we must restore the health of local government, which is withering away. The Centre for Urban Studies, in its evidence to the Commission, pointed out that that was quite untrue about local government in the metropolitan area. We should all like to see more interest taken in local government throughout the country, but the case that it is withering away in the London area in particular cannot be sustained.
That case cannot be sustained, except in one part of the whole review area. It is a borough, if I may so call it, where aldermen are elected for life; where the councillors seem to be so addicted to their job that they, too—in fact, if not in law—are elected for life; where there can be wards with more councillors than electors; where one can find one ward that manages to send an alderman to the council without having any electors at all; and where most people could not become candidates for the council without the consent of those already sitting on the council. Where is it? I will give the Minister one guess. It is the City of London—the one part of the review area about which neither the Royal Commission, nor the White Paper, nor the Minister proposes to do anything at all. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman must have given way to what he described as fear and inertia when he faced that problem.
My last point concerns the very serious effects there will be on the counties, other than London and Middlesex which are to be swallowed up completely. Quite simply, one-third of Kent's population is brought in, one-half of the population of Essex, and five-eighths of the population of Surrey. In every case, the area brought in is much less. That means that what is left outside will be far more thinly populated, and we all know how that adds to the cost of running certain services. Yet, in every case, the amount of rateable value brought in is greater than the amount of population brought in, so the bits left out will not only have services that are 74 more costly to run but will have less resources with which to run them. It is not surprising that Surrey reckons it will need a 1s. 7d. rate increase.
We have to consider here not only the direct financial calculations, but the damage done to the services. When the provision for grammar-school education, say, or for children's homes, or for foster-parents is so arranged over the county is cut up like this, it means that one part will have far more provision than it needs, and the other part will be desperately short. That will happen in service after service in each of these counties.
All that upheaval, I quite agree, could, and ought to be, borne if the final result at the end of the day justified it. Nobody would put up these difficulties as obstacles to any scheme, but they would be tolerable only on two conditions. The first would be that the Government should show some consideration for them, instead of this contemptuous passage in the White Paper that they will think about it but do not really like the idea of helping the counties in special difficulties. The other condition would be that the result would, at the end of the day, be worth the sacrifice. Well—is it?
I have tried to survey, I hope at not too great length, and, as I do not think the Minister did survey the thing that really matters in local government—the services, and their quality. There is not a single service that justifies what is to be done to metropolitan government. On traffic and planning, the Government are not bold enough; on the human services they are very often ignorant, and of the effect on the severed counties they are careless.
What degree of support does this scheme command? On 29th November, the Minister told me that the counties are about evenly divided; I do not think that that was true then, and it certainly is not true now. Let the Minister look at The Times of Saturday. All the county councils concerned have expressed their hostility to the scheme, and a decided majority of the smaller authorities in the whole of the review area are opposed to it.
It is not only the locally-elected people who are opposed to it, but the people who really know these services, 75 and work them. The Minister will not get to agree with the final plan he puts forward either the architects, the fire fighters, teachers, almoners, social workers—or anybody who knows those services. They may all, perhaps, have different reasons for their objections, but they will all feel that their services will suffer. The Minister, because of the weight of evidence, and because he must be aware of his responsibility for seeing that these services are well run, should look at the whole idea again.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North-West)
Like many other hon. Members, I entered this House following an apprenticeship in local government, in my case with the Croydon Borough Council and the Surrey County Council. Therefore, I have always been keenly interested in local government matters, particularly in regard to Croydon, which I consider I know well.
As the Minister himself said this afternoon, Croydon is unfortunately materially affected by these proposals, and I therefore hope that the House will forgive me if in my remarks I stress Croydon's position. I should explain that the strong views which I hold are also shared by over 90 per cent. of the Croydon Borough Council, which, after all, is the democratically elected body representative of Croydon's residents. I also expect that the views I express are shared by the majority of Croydonians, who have a very strong loyalty to their own town. In fairness to my two Ministerial colleagues, who, with myself, represent Croydon in this House, I wish to place on record that they support the principles of the Government proposals, in contrast to myself, who opposes these proposals.
Having studied the original Report of the Royal Commission, I regrettably concluded that I was against these proposals in principle, and I will explain why later. Those taking a real interest and an active part in the successful running of Croydon have always felt that our town, by size, by status and by good administration, which has been very well spoken of over the years, could look forward to city status. With many others in Croydon, I felt that it had a rightful claim to it. Unfortunately, this 76 claim was rejected. Therefore, one can understand the feelings of myself and many others when we read in paragraph 751 of the Royal Commission's Report:The loss of county borough status by Croydon, East and West Ham is an inescapable consequence of the fact that they are embedded in what is now the built-up area of Greater London.For the good of Greater London government as a whole, I have always realised that there is a need for certain changes, but in my submission these could mainly be effected by means of co-ordination; namely, certain functions that may not be required for the whole of Greater London could best be achieved by something simpler, certainly less costly, than all the upheaval which must be the outcome of this White Paper.
Apart from disagreeing with the Royal Commission's proposal, I was appalled at the original suggestion that the Greater London Council should take over education. I endeavoured to make my views known as strongly as I could to the Ministers concerned, to my colleagues in the House and in Croydon itself, and with others I have played my own small part in battling for the removal of education from these proposals as far as they affect Croydon. The White Paper has shown that at least that battle was won.
The second point which I have often emphasised is that I considered that in the original proposals, education represented about 90 per cent. of the net expenditure on the services which the Royal Commission proposed should be transferred to the Greater London Council. The remaining services to be transferred represent only about 10 per cent. of the net expenditure. Therefore, I want to ask the Minister what is the possible justification for this colossus which he intends to set up? One gathers that its area is six times the present L.C.C. area, with a population of about 8 million. For instance, how can the transfer of the fire brigade to the Greater London Council improve the service, which is already very highly standardised and working most effectively under a mutual assistance scheme? Surely, it is a mistake to use the proposed Greater London Council for an essentially operational service? I have been reliably advised by councillors in Croydon that the Royal Commission did not request 77 any evidence, certainly not from Croydon, in regard to the fire service, and the Commission's proposals and the Government's White Paper are certainly not critical of the present fire service administration. The local fire stations have to be maintained, so what possible improvement can be expected on transferring the fire service to the Greater London Council?
I now want to say a word about the ambulance service. This is a personal service, surely, needing very much the local touch and local management for efficiency. Quite honestly, I consider that the proposal to transfer this service to the Greater London Council is a quite unnecessary interference, and I think that these proposals have been included only to give the proposed Greater London Council something to do.
Having taken education out of the proposals, I appreciate that the Government may decide to find some other major services or any other services—we have not yet been told about them—to pass on to the Greater London Council, and, if this be true, it would emphasise my view that the Government are merely attempting to justify the Greater London proposals, which would be quite appalling.
Croydon considers that a joint board for the Greater London area could be established and could be an effective executive—and I stress executive—body. It could include representatives of the present nine local planning authorities, that is, the six county councils and three county boroughs, and one of its duties could be the preparation of a master development plan for the whole area, principal roads, major traffic problems, the green belt, outline zoning and regional or major planning, but with local planning authorities preparing their own development plans.
It could also deal with research and planning, and the co-ordination of other functions, such as major roads, the provision and sharing of sites for refuse disposal and the reception and treatment of sewage. But local traffic matters, such as roundabouts, traffic signals, parking meters, traffic signs, should not be the concern of such a joint board. Housing should remain a borough function, and the county councils should be 78 given the concurrent housing powers of the present L.C.C.
The Government say that the Royal Commission is right in the view that unless answers to the present problems were found within the framework of local government—my right hon. Friend the Minister said this again today—the central Government would gradually supersede the local authorities. This is the Government's reply to those, like myself, who say that the present proposals are not local government. I cannot concede the Government's argument. The White Paper proposals are not local government, but a co-ordinating body or a joint body would be and would also be the answer to the problem.
Since I have been concerned in local government, and also as a Member of Parliament, I have attempted to express concern on the subject of local government finance. I cannot foresee the time when rates go down. They will always go up at an alarming rate of increase. Therefore, I have always supported all moves to ease the ratepayer's burden and particularly that of the owner-occupier. I played my small part in the abolition of industrial derating and I have supported all major developments in Croydon, believing that this in turn would ease the rate burden. Now, however, we see again very shortly a further substantial rate increase in Croydon. With this worry very much in mind, surely it is right for me to ask the Government what are the financial implications of these proposals. I do not believe that anybody has yet endeavoured to work them out. I trust that I am sufficient of a businessman at least to know that they can only add to the rating expenses, sometimes very considerably.
We are told that the Greater London Council will raise its finance by precepting on the boroughs, but there is no intended direct representation for the boroughs on the proposed Greater London Council. At present, the local authorities meet other vast expenditure with virtually no control whatever, as the result of policy dictated by Parliament. I would almost go to the stage of saying, why not scrap rates altogether? Let the Treasury raise the finance through general taxation, because 79 from the viewpoint of the ordinary person rate demands are becoming farcical. They are certainly a considerable irritant to all ratepayers. Virtually, they are simply another form of taxation and in the main there is no rhyme or reason behind their build-up.
If the Greater London Council is forced on us, why should members be directly elected? What is the prospect of a substantial and representative vote at an election of members to what will be a body which is very remote indeed? It could result in members with little or no local government experience serving on the new authority. For example, a member elected on behalf of Croydon might know absolutely nothing about the town. Surely, local government needs local representation.
Why cannot the Greater London Council comprise members nominated by the boroughs—at least, people who are experienced in local government? To say that to be effective, remembering the powers and responsibilities that it will carry, the Greater London Council should be a directly-elected body is no answer to the question. I still believe that it could be an executive body if the members were nominated. What is better than appointing people nominated by the boroughs to secure their good will and effective co-ordination, since the boroughs themselves will be expected to be agents for the Greater London Council in many matters?
The House will, I am sure, understand why Croydon feels so strongly. Only a short time ago, we celebrated 1,000 years' history as a separate community. We are now threatened with the loss of our separate identity in spite of the White Paper, which states that:These proposals will not affect any existing cultural, social, sporting or other associations or loyalties which may be based on traditional counties.We are to lose our county borough status. This in itself is farcical, for the population of Croydon is a quarter of a million and we are to be replaced with a non-county borough of 360,000 people. For seventy years, Croydon has had the benefit of the most complete and unifying local government system yet devised—that is, the county borough system, which is more efficiently managed if left 80 alone rather than enlarged. I consider that the Government's proposals will create loss of authority and of efficiency.
The statement that all Croydon's citizens are Londoners cannot possibly be justified. We are Croydonians and we are proud of it. We challenge paragraph 17 of the White Paper, which suggests that the built-up areas outside the County of London are more part of Greater London than of the Home Counties. Croydon is not part of London's physical shape and state to the extent that it should be submerged in a system of local government designed essentially for London in preference to the known advantage of the integrated county borough system.
If the Government are determined to steamroller these proposals through, why not call the new boroughs London county boroughs? Certainly, they will have greater responsibilities than the present provincial non-county boroughs and, therefore, higher status, too. In addition, they will be much larger.
I also foresee arguments about the grouping and the names of the future authorities. Much confusion will flow from all this. If the new authorities, elected in the autumn of 1964, have no effective take-over until April, 1965, uncertainty must apply to their staffs. What action will be contemplated to discourage staff from leaving parts of the Greater London area and to prevent the disintegration of the existing local government units? We cannot expect staff to last until 1964 in the hope of securing appointment to one of the new authorities.
From the point of view of population, finance, accessibility to the public, convenience of administration, public service and efficiency, and also even the diversity of territory, Croydon provides an ideal local government unit. As an all-purpose county borough, it does not seek any extension of its present boundaries. It has good relationships with its neighbours. It works well with the Surrey County Council, which also, understandably, is strongly opposed to the White Paper. In the opinion of those in Croydon who understand local government, the town could be more efficiently administered as an effective and convenient local government unit if allowed 81 to continue as it is now and not enlarged by grouping with other authorities.
The Government's proposals would, in effect, create a junior parliament, which would be out of touch with the detailed requirements of the areas, both in fact and by representation. If the Government intend to proceed with these proposals come what may, I strongly suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister that Croydon be permitted to retain its county borough status. In support of this I refer to paragraph 18 of the White Paper, which states that the Governmentwill give consideration to such related matters as the arrangements for the administration of justicewhen the best administrative structure for local government has been settled.
Unless special provisions are made, under these proposals Croydon not only loses its county borough status which it has enjoyed for over seventy years but also loses both its separate court of quarter sessions and its commission of the peace, and Croydon's recorder would go, and also Croydon magistrates and Croydon's magistrates' court. The argument inherent in the Government's proposals, that because no Metropolitan borough has ever enjoyed either of these privileges Croydon with its separate history and development must lose both, seems completely untenable.
Special provisions could still be made to allow Croydon to retain its present status and dignity, just as the City of London. The loss of Croydon's county borough status is not just merely a matter of sentiment. If we were grouped with our neighbours we should become the largest borough in the Greater London area, bigger than all the county boroughs in England except Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Bristol, but we should immediately lose our affinity with the other county boroughs and our constitution would be equal to that of the some 250 non-county boroughs outside London whose populations range from 2,000 upwards.
Because of these strong and, I consider, justified views, because I believe that the Government have indicated again this afternoon that they are not considering departing for one single moment from the principles of the White Paper and 82 that the door is virtually slammed, I shall strongly oppose these proposals. I put down an Amendment to this Motion, an Amendment completely rejecting these proposals, but it has not been called. However, I shall certainly take whatever opportunity presents itself to vote against these proposals, and if a Bill is eventually presented to us on the lines of the White Paper I shall also have no alternative but to vote against the Bill as well.
In conclusion, I would add one note of warning to many other hon. Members in the House. I believe that if this regional government is introduced in Greater London it may subsequently be introduced in large areas of population elsewhere. If so, the distress and disturbance which many of us in Croydon are feeling today will be experienced in other towns, directly affecting the Members of Parliament concerned.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I listened to the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) with a great deal more interest, support and approval than I did to the Minister. The Minister based his case and his White Paper on the findings of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Great London, but the actual words which the Royal Commission used in recommending the changes were very mild. What the Commission said, as set out in paragraph 2 of the White Paper, was that the present structure of local government in the review area was inadequate and needed overhaul, but that does not of necessity imply a complete revolution, which the Royal Commission then proceeded to put forward and which the Minister has now very largely endorsed.
One can have review and overhaul while retaining many of the existing features of local government in Greater London and, in particular, one can have some voluntary amalgamations of services, groupings and co-ordinating at the top, as already suggested by hon. Members in the debate. That would be much more in keeping with the very satisfactory evolution of local government as we have seen it in the past.
It is quite clear, looking at the maps and the suggestions now made, that what has dominated the groupings 83 suggested by the Minister has been—what he himself and all speakers, I think in support of the Government have referred to—the development of the motor car. The groupings follow the motorways, and the motor car seems to have dominated the thinking of the Government on the reorganisation of local government in Greater London.
Important though transport is—and I think everybody recognises the need for some overall direction of transport for the area as a whole—I would remind the Minister that the people who most use the services of local authorities, the people who are in the areas of those local authorities all day and every day, are, first, the children, who use the schools and clinics, the libraries, the parks and open spaces; secondly, the mothers, particularly those with young families, who use all the local facilities of the boroughs, including shopping facilities, without going outside those local areas very much at all, as do their husbands and the older members of the families going to work; and thirdly, the elderly people, who also use the local facilities to a very much greater extent than many other people. Very few of these people, very few of the elderly, very few of the wives and mothers, and certainly none of the children, have motor cars. It is for them essential that there should be administering the services which they must use, a unit of local government which is really local and accessible, and to which they can make representations without very great difficulty.
In Wood Green we have been preparing an analysis of all the people who call at the town hall during the course of a week, and it is a very long list, varying all the way from people who bring to the public health department articles of food found to be contaminated, to those who go to the housing department with queries, to school leavers who go to consult the education officer, and so on—an enormous list of people. For all those people, it is essential that there should be local government which is really local.
I should like to say just one word at this stage about the question of planning. I thought the Minister skipped over, both in the White Paper and in 84 what he said today, exactly how planning of the Greater London area is going to work out. I would remind him that the need for some kind of Greater London planning has already been accepted. During the past year or so, there have been regular meetings of the planning officers of the various county councils of the Greater London area with the Minister's chief planning officer to discuss and to consider the problems of the area as a whole. It would be comparatively easy, one would have thought, for that kind of machinery to be developed, so that there could be some member representation as well as officer representation, which would mean that existing county planning committees and departments could continue with, coordination of the matters which concern them as a group. That would seem to be very much to be preferred to the complete scrapping of the present London County Council and Middlesex County Council Planning Committees.
I can speak with firsthand experience only of Middlesex County Council. I have served on the county planning committee, on the area planning committee—because it has been divided into areas—and on the local district planning committee. What has happened in Middlesex has been of the very greatest importance and effectiveness in county planning. One had the intimate day-today knowledge of planning in the district councils with the check of the wider knowledge of the county council. It seems to me disastrous to propose that all that should be scrapped, because, however the Greater London Council functions with regard to planning, it is bound to be many years before it can hope to replace the knowledge and accumulated experience of, for example, the Middlesex County Planning Department.
It will also mean that in the transitional period there will be a gap in planning which may be very serious because the few years which we face when the changes are taking place are the vital years when the planning of London matters most of all. Already during the last year Middlesex County Council has lost thirty of its 100 planning staff and has been able to replace only half of them. That thirty includes its chief planning officer, who is renowned throughout the country for his 85 knowledge and experience of planning problems. For years, there will be this very serious situation in planning.
I should like the Minister to tell us exactly how this new planning scheme will work out for the boroughs. I believe that the boroughs which welcome the greater powers which the Minister proposes to confer on them are under an illusion. If they think that they will get very much greater planning powers than they have, they are mistaken. If I am wrong, I hope that the Minister will say so. It seems to me that the control from the top by the Greater London Council will be such that the boroughs will deal only with run-of-the-mill planning applications.
What applications of any significance do not impinge on the matters with which the Minister has decided to deal himself or with which the Greater London Council will deal?
What will happen to the very important question of the decentralisation of the relocation of industry? In the County of Middlesex, that problem was beginning to be tackled in a vigorous way with a system of grants. Will each borough have to tackle it in the same way on its own, or will this be a function of the Greater London Council?
This is an immense problem, but the Minister said nothing about it. I hoped that he would deal at length with some of these great difficulties, because, as I see it, the whole case for the revolutionary changes which he proposes and which the Royal Commission suggested turns on the question of planning. I believe that if the Royal Commission had been satisfied about the question of planning it would not have gone as far as it did. I therefore think that the Minister should say something more about how this matter will work out.
I suppose that every hon. Member who wishes to speak today and every hon. Member concerned with the Greater London problem has a direct interest in the grouping of boroughs. I did not feel satisfied about the Minister's reply concerning his acceptance of the much higher population figure being the minimum figure that a borough should have. The Association of Municipal Corporations made a very good case for boroughs of less than 100,000 people being efficient and effective units of local 86 government. The Minister has gone beyond what the Royal Commission suggested here. It is not sufficient to say that he did that because of the education proposals which he is making, because education is perhaps the most controversial of all the subjects covered by this review of London local government. There is to be a special debate on it tomorrow, and it may well be that the arguments against the Minister's suggestion will be so conclusive that he will have to think again about the matter. If he does, he will be left with these large groupings of local authorities without any real reason why they should be as large as he suggests.
In group 33 there are the authorities of Southgate, Hornsey, Wood Green, East Barnet, Friern Barnet and half of Enfield, a borough cut completely in half by the Minister's proposals. I foresee a very long period before anything like cohesion is achieved between those six authorities, lumped together irrespective of their local interests and of communications. The communications by public transport from certain parts of the area to another are very bad. The area is a strip ten miles long. It will be difficult for people to get from one end of it to the other. In the adjacent group, group 34, the area is a strip thirteen miles long, although here the transport communications are a little better.
The Minister must justify groupings of this kind more effectively than he has done. He has said nothing about the financial implications of these groupings. The boroughs who accept these grouping may find themselves disillusioned when they come to understand the financial implications. What they are considering at the moment is the rateable value of an area as a whole, but no one knows what the Minister has in mind about this. No one knows what he has in mind about how re-rating will work out.
I ask the Minister to consider for a moment the Borough of Wood Green, not because I want to be partisan, but because I wish to show him what a small authority can do. In Wood Green we have a new town hall, the only one in Middlesex in which the county and district council services are linked together so that if people in Wood Green want a local government service they have 87 only to go to the town hall to get it. It can easily be reached by foot and by public transport.
People go to the town hall regularly and frequently. They know all the local officers very well and the officers know them. The town clerk, borough treasurer and borough engineer give voluntary service on a host of local organisations. Some people may think that this is irrelevant, but it is very important in building up a local community. The town clerk gives legal advice and the borough treasurer acts as honorary treasurer of bodies like the old people's welfare committee, the local district charity, horticultural society, and so on. Councillors are all within easy reach of the town hall. They know the people intimately. The borough not only carries out all the normal functions of a local authority but is coping with a comprehensive redevelopment scheme for a worn-out area and for the central area.
We rarely do anything in the borough without getting into contact with the people affected by the proposal. We do not even put up an electricity substation without obtaining the views of the people who live near to the proposed site about where it would best be sited. When it comes to slum clearance and redevelopment, we have all the people affected at the town hall, explain what we propose to do and get their views on it and perhaps modify our proposal to conform with what they want. Council tenants are represented in groups on a tenants' advisory committee which meets with the housing committee and the councillors to discuss the problem of the council estates.
I mention all these things because they make for a live and vigorous local community. If the town hall were shut and sold to some commercial body, and if the centre of the borough were moved several miles to a place where transport connections are difficult, the local community feeling which has been built up will be destroyed.
I am sure that what applies to Wood Green applies to almost every other local authority represented by hon. Members in the Chamber today. One cannot just knock it all down and spend years and years trying to create a fresh pattern 88 without destroying something which is absolutely vital. I warn the Minister that if he goes too far what he may well do is to smash local government completely in much the same way as happened in France when precise geographical areas were drawn up, which killed local government. Local government is for people and is run for people and administered by people, and one cannot just ride roughshod over all the local traditions and community interests.
On the question of grouping—it is not my function to say anything in detail about it—I would point out to the Minister that the Royal Commission made the point that one of the difficulties about Middlesex was that the lines of communication all go north and south into and out of London and that very few go east and west, but in group 33 there is a very good case, which I think the Royal Commission partly recognised, for saying that if one is to carry out any regrouping, it should be done horizontally on the east-west communications, which are much better than those on the longitudinal path which the Minister has taken.
If one is to regroup local authorities, it is logical to group them on the round table principle so that they are a neat unit rather than a great long strip with no natural centre. It is also logical to see that they are balanced in regard to local employment and those who go into central London to work, and between industrial and residential occupation of the area. None of these things has been observed in group 33. I urge the Minister—he will have many representations from the local authorities about this—to consider the point again and come nearer to the horizontal grouping instead of the grouping which he has suggested.
The Minister said—he threw it out as a challenge to them—that it was surely not beyond local authorities to cope with a problem of this magnitude. I would remind him that not only, as hon. Members have pointed out, will many of the local government staffs have drifted out of local government during the change-over period and so will not be there to help cope with the problem, but many councillors will be affected. It is unquestionable that the Greater 89 London Council will be almost a full-time job for those who serve on it. It will certainly be very difficult for young people who have to work all day to attend meetings of that Council, which almost inevitably will meet in the daytime. That will be a great handicap in recruiting the kind of people to the local government service that we want. In many of the smaller boroughs at the moment those who serve find it easy to get to the town hall after their work for an evening meeting. Because of that, they are able to find time for local government.
The reorganisation will have to be undertaken by bodies denuded of many of their officers and by councillors who find it extremely difficult to give the necessary time. They will have to put in a lot more time and work. The Minister is expecting a great deal in asking them to carry out the reorganisation. I should have thought that he would have done very much more in his Department instead of leaving so much to local authorities.
The net result of it all will be as follows. The Minister does not like two-tiered government, and so he is scrapping the top tier, the county councils, and reorganising the bottom tier into county boroughs of a type which he says will have much greater functions. I have yet to be convinced that their functions will be very much greater than they are now. In the case certainly of the personal health and welfare services, the Middlesex County Council was prepared to delegate to the boroughs, and some of the other county councils had discussed schemes of that kind. But the Minister will be replacing the existing two-tiered government, which he wants to scrap, with another two-tiered government—a two-tiered government of much larger boroughs with very little community of interest and which do not conform to the existing centres of the services provided by the county council.
I do not know whether the Minister has considered that point. The services of the Middlesex County Council in the various areas do not conform at all to his newly-grouped authorities. There is a whole range of education and welfare services, such as technical colleges, childrens homes, special schools and all that type of provision, which has been 90 provided for the county as a whole. It is anybody's guess who will administer these special schools and services.
But the Minister will be left with these bigger groupings which will take years and years to become effective local government units. His top tier will be the Greater London Council, which will be very much more remote than the county councils have ever been because of its size, and it will be difficult for people to serve on it because of the time it will take, and it will be very difficult for it to function because of the enormous problem which it will cover.
The only constant factor when the right hon. Gentleman has knocked everything down and built it up again with an exactly similar two-tier system will be the Minister himself, and he will have enormous power because he will be the one remaining constant factor in the complete chaos which can very easily emerge from the revolutionary scheme which he has put forward. I believe that he will have very great power with regard to planning and some of the other functions and that the local authorities, including the Greater London Council, will have very much less than they expect. That is as I see it.
I hope the Minister will think again. I hope he will realise that the opposition which has already been expressed today, and which I am sure will continue to be expressed, is not just special pleading on behalf of certain authorities. It comes from the people who live or work in London or have special knowledge of the human need in London, and that can very easily be overlooked by members of a Royal Commission and members of a Government Department who come by car through an area and see it as one enormous motorway problem and not as a problem of the best kind of government for the men, women and children who live, and have to live, in Greater London.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
No one, I am sure, would wish to speak in this debate without owning to a deep sense of responsibility. There are many of us, particularly in the counties affected by the scheme, who find ourselves in a position of considerable difficulty.
91 In my own case, representing an area of Surrey which is not to be included in the scheme, I find myself having to consider and to try to reconcile three quite different and, to some extent, conflicting points of view. There is, first, the national aspect of particular reference to Parliament's very special responsibility for the future of London. Secondly, there is the point of view of Surrey as it now stands, one of the great counties. Thirdly, there is the point of view of the future of those parts which will constitute the new Surrey if and when the truncation takes place.
I say at once that, after very careful consideration and many discussions, I have arrived at a clear view as to what my duty is. I am glad to find—though I have not the slightest right to speak for anyone else—that the view I have arrived at appears to be that which has been arrived at by at least the great majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends in Surrey. I know that that conclusion will be unwelcome at first, to some extent, to many people in Surrey, but when they have heard the whole story and have considered it, I hope and believe that they will agree that the view I am trying to express is the only practical view one can take in all the circumstances.
First, I deal with the national position. There can be no serious dispute with the findings of the Royal Commission that the present state of London government is unsatisfactory and, in fact, unworthy of this great City. Surrey County Council, which very strongly opposes the scheme, itself prefaces a very critical survey of the provisions of the scheme with the words. Its General Purposes Committee said, in January:The County Council made it clear that they warmly approve of the Commission's main objectives.Today, the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) himself agreed that the present structure was not satisfactory. So I do not believe that anyone could disagree with my right hon. Friend when he said that drastic reorganisation was required.
That being so, we cannot possibly justify leaving London alone. Whatever views we take about this scheme—and I intend to express strong objections to 92 it and to ask that they should be taken into account and dealt with—could not possibly justify voting in favour of the Opposition Amendment. The Motion calls upon us "to take note". That is all it does. It does not in any way prejudice anyone who wishes to criticise and oppose, and, if necessary, in due course to vote against the proposals.
§ Mr. Mellish
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a very fair point, but we on this side of the House put it to the Minister that, if the Motion meant merely "taking note", we should not put down an Amendment. But we were assured by the Government that the main principles of the proposals have been confirmed by the Government. Therefore, the words "to take note" mean nothing.
§ Sir L. Heald
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I say that, when there is no alternative executive scheme available for consideration, Parliament would be abdicating its duty of looking after the future of London if we were to take the course of voting against the Motion "to take note", which has to be done before the Amendment can be considered. We should thereby be saying that no note should be taken of the Royal Commission's Report and that no consideration whatever should be given to the plan.
If an alternative plan for executive control in the manner required were before us, it might be a very different matter, but we must realise that in truth no such scheme is today available. A number of very interesting suggestions were put, in a debating sort of way, by the hon. Member for Fulham, but there is no scheme on the table from the Opposition. The only seriously worked out alternative proposal is that which was suggested under the name of the "Joint Board Scheme" by Surrey County Council, acting in conjunction with several other councils.
That scheme was, rightly, given very careful consideration, particularly by those of us who live in and feel great responsibility for the County of Surrey. But the Government have made it clear that that scheme is unacceptable to them, and that is a definite decision of policy. It would be unrealistic to challenge that today.
93 I must also add, however, speaking for myself, that I feel bound to agree with the view, expressed in paragraph 17 of the White Paper, that a plan on the lines of the joint board suggestion simply would not begin to meet the needs of the situation. Therefore, in my view, the national interest clearly requires that we should accept the Motion and reject the Amendment.
It must be clearly understood, however, that by doing that we do not in the least lose our freedom to criticise the details and different points of the scheme. After all, there are several quite different headings of it which require quite different consideration. We are bound to say, as representing in my case what will be the remnant of Surrey eventually—we hope that it will be more than a remnant if our views are considered—that if we are not able to obtain satisfaction on these matters we must reserve our right to speak and, if necessary, to vote against these proposals.
I fully appreciate the view which Surrey County Council has adopted. I have very great sympathy for the Council, but I cannot go anything like all the way with it. I am prepared to say at once, however—and I believe that this is the view of the great majority of my hon. Friends who represent other parts of Surrey—that the area of Surrey at present proposed to be included in the scheme is far too big. It is greatly in excess of what is either necessary or desirable, and it should be reduced to the very minimum.
There again, however, it is unrealistic—although I must admit that my very good friends do not take the same view—to talk about excluding the whole of Surrey. Take Richmond as an example. I have no right to speak about Richmond, but I have read and I understand that in Richmond people want to go into the scheme. Who are we to say that they are not to go in? Is it really suggested that people in other parts of Surrey should say to Richmond, "You want to go into this Greater London scheme, but we will not allow it "? That is not really a possible line to take.
§ Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very valid point about Richmond's position, but by the same reasoning does not he agree that other districts which do not 94 want to go in should be allowed to stay out?
§ Sir L. Heald
They can all put forward their arguments, but to say that we ought to forbid Richmond to go in on this ground seems to me to be an impossible thing to do. In other words, we cannot possibly approach these arguments on that sort of basis.
On the other hand, to suggest that our neighbours in Chertsey, on the other side of the railway—Esher, Weybridge and Chobham—are Londoners, appears to us to be quite absurd and to be tidiness for the sake of tidiness.
§ Sir L. Heald
It does not really seem to be tidy, because we in Chertsey are just as urban as our neighbours, and, of course, a very large number of those who work in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown) on the other side of the railway at Brooklands come under the bridge at West Weybridge and go back to where they live in mine.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the terms of reference of the town clerks' inquiry includeWhether any existing county district or part of a district should be added to or left out of the suggested area,and that if the town clerks think that it should be added, then it will be added?
§ Sir L. Heald
I think that it is appreciated in Surrey—and it ought also to be appreciated in Whitehall—that the scheme got off on the wrong foot, at least in regard to the counties. The Royal Commission was limited to the review area, and it was assumed that it was a foregone conclusion that the boundaries would be the boundaries of the review area. I do not blame the Royal Commission for not asking to have its terms of reference extended; it had enough on its plate already, and some of us know from past experience that once we start talking about terms of reference things are apt to become very awkward.
But the unfortunate result was, first, that a wrong impression was spread about and, secondly—and much more important—that the Royal Commission did not give any consideration to the 95 question of the financial result of carrying out the scheme. Still less could it say anything about the future of the County of Surrey, and matters were made still worse by certain things that were said. I heard one great pundit on the subject of government saying that, of course, the Royal Commission was not in the least interested in the financial or organisational effect upon the excluded areas, and that that was a completely irrelevant consideration.
In the circumstances, how can anyone be surprised at the amount of indignation and strong feeling that has grown up in Surrey ever since it woke up one morning and found that the proposal was to reduce its population from 1½ million to 1 million; to reduce the area by a quarter, and the rateable value by two-thirds? In paragraph 968 of its Report, the Royal Commission said something which upset many people very much, and I am sure that hon. Members will not be surprised when they hear what it was. The Royal Commission said:We have, therefore, come to the conclusion that our proposals will not reduce the Counties of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey to a level where in absolute terms or by comparison with other counties in the country they will not be financially viable.Many people took the view that such a statement was like telling somebody who was on the operating table, about to have his leg off, "You will be all right, Jack. You will be able to walk." That is the sort of feeling that many people in Surrey have about these proposals.
The White Paper made it worse, because it did not add anything about the effects; in fact, it hardly referred to them at all. Whereas, taking up my own metaphor, the Royal Commission at least said that this was a surgical operation of an unusual character and that special treatment might well be justified, the White Paper, with the usual caution of the place where it was printed, hastily put on the brake by saying that no one must assume that there would be any financial assistance. In those circumstances, can anyone be surprised that there has been a great deal of ill-feeling and bitterness in Surrey? I cannot agree with the tone and vehemence of some of the things that have been said and done, but the lack of public relations 96 with which the scheme has been presented to the counties has been very unfortunate, and has been the cause of many people becoming hot under the collar without really understanding what is at issue.
That is the position of Surrey. I now turn to the position of the "remnant of Israel"—Chertsey, and other similarly excluded areas. Whatever was the position of the Royal Commission, and whatever justification it had for saying that the future of Surrey was not within its terms of reference, the Government are not bound by terms of reference. Nor is Parliament. Therefore, we are entitled to ask how Chertsey and similar areas will be dealt with, and what will be their position. They cannot be expected to buy a pig in a poke without being given some information about its weight and condition.
Many points of objection could be taken, and probably will be, but it is not suitable to take up time on matters of detail. There are two subjects of cardinal importance which cannot be left without mention. One subject is finance, and the other is education. In the truncated County of Surrey there will be a minimum direct requirement of an increased rate of 1s. 7d. in the £. But that is only the beginning of the story, because there will be capital commitments of a serious nature when buildings which are now available for use are no longer available, having been swallowed up in Greater London.
The amount of money involved in this operation may be very large. However, it should be pointed out that if the area is reduced—as we believe it can be and should be—to a very much smaller size, with the result that the remaining population may be nearer 1 million than 500,000, the financial results will be much more tolerable. That is a matter for further consideration and, I suggest, for open negotiations with an open mind and with good will on both sides. We cannot agree to give a blank cheque for increased expenditure on an unknown scale in respect of Surrey.
The question of education is one of deep concern to Surrey. It will be spoken about tomorrow by people who are much more qualified to talk about it than I am—people like my hon. 97 Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black). There is without question a first-class system of education in Surrey. It is efficient and broad-minded, and something of which all those concerned—parents, teachers, local authorities and ratepayers—are justly proud. The Ministry of Education gave evidence before the Royal Commission, in which considerable anxiety was expressed about the effect of the scheme if it went through in the present form. There is also much evidence of probable dislocation. Further, we cannot overlook the importance of secondary education. Surrey is proud of its secondary education system, which was originally built up with the encouragement of the Government. Surrey carried on on its own lines, and has made great progress. That, too, must be the subject of further open-minded and unprejudiced consultation.
When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education speaks tomorrow, I hope that he will be able to show us that he is deeply and personally concerned with the future of education in Surrey and elsewhere. We know his ideals in matters of education. We know what care he has taken in studying the subject, and we know his personal interest in our own local matters. We are sure that he would not wish it to be thought that he would willingly agree to anything which would result in a lowering of standards. If he can give us such an assurance, and if we can be satisfied that open-minded consultations will take place, a great deal of the present heat and ill-feeling in Surrey will quickly disappear.
But that assurance must be given, because at present there is fear and resentment, and all those other feelings that make any kind of successful negotiation impossible. I therefore make an appeal to my right hon. Friend and the Government on one side, and some of my friends in Surrey on the other. We are all very good friends together there, and we have a great loyalty for our county. If they realise, as I feel they must, that for the reasons which have been given the joint board scheme is not acceptable to the Government as a matter of policy, I appeal to them to help us to join in negotiations and discussions at every level with the Government and 98 everyone else to see whether we can make this thing work.
§ 6 40 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
It is interesting for hon. Members on this side of the House to note the rather different emphasis of support—or I should say lack of support—for the White Paper we are discussing, particularly amongst hon. Members representing constituencies in Surrey. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) kept us in suspense for some minutes before we knew on which side he was coming down. In fact, I am not certain even now that I fully appreciate his position, but that is no doubt a tribute to his negotiating power with the Government on behalf of his constituency and local authority.
I admired the outspoken and direct speech of the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris). It was a speech which everyone in the House appreciated. Quite apart from what he might do about casting his vote, we know where he and I and, I imagine, many others whom he represents stand in this matter.
§ Mr. Skeffington
It was that aspect of the hon. Gentleman's speech which gave me the most pleasure.
Without in any way wishing to be pompous or hypercritical of Ministers, it is a long time since I heard a more one-sided speech by a Minister introducing a debate on a White Paper. Obviously the Minister opening the debate must give an indication of the Government's views and finally come down to stating the line the Government propose to take and what their intentions are, but I thought that this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman gave a wholly ex parte picture of the existing set-up. He painted it in the worst possible colours. I may have misunderstood him, but he did not even correctly designate the important powers of the boroughs. He left out their functions in respect of art and entertainment, on which they can spend a 6d. rate. I did not hear him say anything about highway powers.
99 The right hon. Gentleman left me with the impression, particularly when he spoke with such relish about the destruction which the new proposals will wreak on the existing system, that there was more in this than the administrative need for change. He said that we must consider people; that we must not create a scheme which merely takes into account the convenience of councillors or administrators, and yet we find that the City of London, with not 300,000 or 200,000 inhabitants, but with only 4,000, most of whom go away at week-end, is not only to be left intact, but is to have the inflated powers of the new Greater London boroughs. This seems to be a strange conclusion to his statement of unexceptionable political principle. If the interests of people is the major consideration, as it ought to be, I should like some evidence from the Government that there is a widespread desire for this change. I have not heard of any monster petitions. I have not been deluged with letters or invited to attend mass meetings to decry the present set-up in Surrey or Kent, or Middlesex or London. If the Minister has given the impression that there are political factors behind these proposals to get rid of, for example, the London County Council, he has only himself to blame because of the tenor and inadequacy of his speech.
These proposals are based on the massive report of the Herbert Commission. I think we are all agreed that this must have been an extremely conscientious and hard-working body of individuals. The fact that they spent 88 days visiting the various areas is a principle which might be copied by more Royal Commissions. This takes us back to some of the great Royal Commissions of the past, like that which considered housing of the working classes in London. That Royal Commission spent a considerable amount of time actually seeing the things that it was investigating.
There are, though, one or two curious things about this Royal Commission. It is unfortunate that not one of its members had any extensive experience in local government, either inside or outside the London area, yet it put forward these great administrative changes 100 affecting people so closely. It consisted of a lawyer—I am the last person to complain about that—two political scientists, a chartered accountant, and an industrialist, but there was no one with intimate personal knowledge of the human problems that arise, and of the relationship between councillors and the electorate. This may well have helped give the impression that the Report advocates in theory a new tidy administrative set-up, but the human factor has been left out, and I believe that this accounts for the grave mistakes which the Commission has made in its proposals for dealing with the children, the aged, and education.
One other curious point which I have not before noticed in a report of a Royal Commission is that in its first paragraph it says:We have also had private interviews with a few individuals who have special knowledge and experience of the problems with which we have to deal.It would be interesting to know who they were. One of my hon. Friends suggests that the Minister was one, but I think that that is rather far-fetched. One presumes that these individuals had some influence, because the Commission says that on the whole it did not find the evidence of the local authorities "helpful". Presumably, therefore, these witnesses were of some assistance, and it would be helpful if we were enlightened as to their status and qualifications.
Leaving aside the possible political implications of the scheme, I come to the major issues. I do not think that there is much dispute that the major defect in the existing arrangements to which the Royal Commission drew attention and emphasised is the absence of any authority in the review area to undertake planning tasks as a whole. This was known before the Royal Commission reported. It was not necessary to appoint one to find that out. We in the Labour Party drew attention to this as long ago as 1954, and proposed that in the great conurbations, including London, there should be a body which had power to undertake planning tasks and power to supervise communications. This seems to us to be essential, particularly as for ten years we have had respective Ministers of Housing and 101 Local Government who have not taken the initiative in these matters.
There was nothing to prevent the Minister in this greater London Area getting the nine planning authorities together and saying, "Our roads are getting jammed", or, "We are having difficulties about overspill and location of industry. We must act." But nothing has been done. Some criticism must be laid at the door of the Government for not having taken the initiative that they could have done. In the review area there is not an authority to take charge of planning, as there must if we are not to get into an even worse muddle.
How do the Government propose to correct this defect in the set-up for the Greater London area? They propose to create a Greater London body which will be quite inadequate for the task. What is proposed is an area composed almost continuously of the built-up part of the Home Counties. There is very little open space and almost complete similarity in the area inside the boundaries of this new Council.
All the previous experts, Royal Commissions and reports on planning for the Home Counties have stressed the need for a large area. The Abercrombie Report referred to an area of 4,000 square miles. Even in 1923—before there was anything like the present industrial pressure in the Home Counties and the Greater London area—a Royal Commission talked about an area of 3,700 miles. Although the proposed new area of 850 square miles is too big for certain of the purposes which have been mentioned, for others like planning it is far too small.
It is necessary to have such an authority large enough to cover the daily journeys of people between their homes and their places of work. Questions of transport and location of industry are among the considerations which must be taken into account, and so it is necessary to have an area which would continue probably to the coast and would take in a good deal of Sussex. Unless that is the case, the problem has not been dealt with, and exactly the same kind of criticism which is voiced by the Royal Commission about the review area now will be applied to the Home Counties in five year's time. Are 102 we then to have another White Paper and another set of proposals? If we are to have all this vast dislocation, the first thing to do is to get the new area the right size and, from the point of view of planning and communications, the Government have got the area wrong. If that be so, most of the basis of their case for change falls to the ground.
From the point of view of the Greater London boroughs, the Government have made the opposite mistake in regard to size. As I said before, this is partly due to the attitude and experience of those forming the membership of the Royal Commission. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), regarding children, education services and services for the aged, these proposed new boroughs are too small. My hon. Friend gave examples, and I do not wish to weary the House with more examples. But it is clear that the Government recognise the force of the argument advanced by most of the experts—including some who speak for the Minister of Education—that generally speaking, the counties are the right size with respect to education. Because of this, within a central London area covering a population of about 2 million, there is now to be a third tier superimposed for education. If this arrangement is valid in that area, why does it not apply to most of the rest of London and, indeed, to Middlesex? This is a most illogical scheme. We cannot have a three-tier organisation dealing with education where now we have only the county and the country will require far more justification and explanation for it before such an arrangement is accepted.
What about the problems which will arise in education? What about the fringe authorities? What about the people who live in Lewisham or Woolwich who go to London to work and who now go in the evening to one of the 60 or 70 institutions for further education which are run by the London County Council? More than 50 per cent. of all the secondary school children in all the London County Council schools attend a school which is not in the borough in which they live, and five out of six of the grammar school children are educated in schools which are not in the borough where they live. Why upset 103 all this? It is admitted that something must be done about the inner London area, but this scheme is not reasonable. I hope, for the sake of the children, and the teachers—practically all the organisations representing teachers have protested about it—the Government will think again most seriously about this scheme
The same arguments may be applied in the case of children's committees. Facts were given by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham which I do not propose to repeat. In the L.C.C. area there are 113 homes for deprived children and children in need of care and protection. This number can cover every type of establishment required and all the kinds of staff available. But, 66 of the homes are outside the county borough and one is 80 miles away. How can such a problem as that be sorted out? Which borough will pay for these homes in future? Why create such a problem? Under the present system, instead of putting the cost on one borough which may have a large number of children or seven or eight homes in it, the cost is spread over the whole of the boroughs in London; it is an excellent scheme, without harming one area financially. To smash it up for the reasons which have been given—very "phoney" reasons—by the Royal Commission is, I believe, shameful and scandalous. Almost precisely the same argument can be used in connection with the homes for old people.
I wish to say a word about borough grouping. I do not want to go into details now because I think it much too early at this stage to do so. But I warn the Minister that if he proposes to obtain advice from town clerks outside London about what shall happen to the boundaries of the areas administered by town clerks in London, the right hon. Gentleman will create a great deal of extra trouble for himself, and rightly so. Some of the town clerks outside London may at some time be candidates for advancement within the Greater London of the future, and their interference will be resented. I do not know who is responsible for this "brain child", but I hope that the idea will be dropped.
We cannot pass from this matter without expressing grave concern about what 104 is to happen to the truncated counties of Kent, Essex and Surrey. Kent is to lose 30 per cent. of its population and 35 per cent. of its rateable value. Essex will lose 54 per cent. of its population and 58 per cent. of its rateable value and Surrey—about which many hon. Members wish to speak—will lose 60 per cent. of its population and 66 per cent. of its rateable value.
It seems to me that the financial problems which will result from this and about which we have no guidance or information from the Government, will be formidable. Unless there is to be a radical deterioration in the services, or a large subvention from the central Government—something which I should have thought hon. Gentlemen opposite would not have wanted—I cannot see how the administration in Surrey can be maintained at anything like the existing level. It is impossible to take away a great area and a large proportion of the population, and imagine that things will go on in just the same way as before. And all this is to effect a change in government which it is very doubtful will work even in the inner London area, let alone on the outside.
I notice that in page 18 of its interesting memorandum the Surrey County Council's General Purposes Committee draws attention to the difficulty of the transitional period which:would be complicated by the existence of running contracts. … Waiting lists for houses would have to be adjusted, case papers of social service cases sorted, classified and transferred, and in matters requiring registration, such as local land charges and the licensing of motor vehicles, there would be great likelihood of confusion until the records, involving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of entries, could be split and transferred to the new authorities.On top of that we have the difficulties of the staff. Every hon. Member has received a memoranda from the staffs of the counties who are worried. I should be prepared to face all this—I think that it must be faced by the country—if we were really going to deal with the major defects which were revealed by the Royal Commission with regard to planning and communication. But this proposal will not solve the problems. It is illogical, unwieldy and impracticable. I do not think that we have any right to play ducks and drakes with the lives of people, council officials, parents and teachers in London by a scheme 105 which, if it is ever adopted, will not meet the major defects which have been outlined. I hope that in this respect, as in many others, the country may be saved by a General Election.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
I am grateful to be called this early in the debate. I intend to be brief, but I am afraid that one minute will not be enough. I shall require at least two-and-a-half. Therefore—it is in order that I may keep my speech short—perhaps I may be forgiven for not taking up the points mentioned by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington).
To save time, I wish to point out, in conjunction with my colleague the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), that my hon. Friend has agreed that I should speak on behalf of Wembley, and that he is very much in sympathy with the views I hope to advance. I should like to congratulate the members of the Royal Commission who have worked so hard and speedily with a real understanding of the problems with which they were confronted. If the London County Council and the Middlesex County Council are definitely to disappear, may I also add my tribute to the work which those Councils have done—
§ It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.