§ Postponed Proceeding on Amendment to Question, 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), resumed.
§ Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Bullus
At one minute to seven, I had made the opening gambit of my oration when we were interrupted for the L.C.C. Bill. I was in the process of asking that my congratulations should be added to those already given to the Royal Commission, whose members worked so hard and so speedily and with real understanding of the problems confronting them.
I should also like to ask that, if the London County Council and the Middlesex County Council are definitely to disappear, I might add my tribute to the work that these Councils have done so successfully over the years for the people of Greater London. Indeed, any new Greater London authority will have a useful guide and inspiration for its future work.
I was much impressed with the Royal Commission's Report, which has my full approval and support. I wish that the Minister would take some note of it. I was particularly pleased with paragraphs 695 and 696, which my right 120 hon. Friend has already quoted, but part of which I ask leave to quote again:Where things are working well our inclinations 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.Where I part company from my right hon. Friend the Minister is when he seeks to alter the terms and thereby to perpetuate some of the very evils that the Commission was set up to change.
I have been one of those who has always sought to give additional powers to those authorities that were sufficiently efficient to administer them, but I have never accepted that the criterion should be one of size. I have always been one of those who wishes to keep local government local. Indeed, the Tory Party has preached this creed for many a long year. One hundred thousand inhabitants can be ideal for a local government unit. That is why I have criticised the size of the London County Council as being too big, too remote and too impersonal. I have always felt that the citizen should be encouraged and should respond to the need to look to his town hall for help and guidance in local authority matters.
I am prepared to admit that some authorities are not as efficient as they should be. In these cases, alteration and, perhaps, amalgamation can be defended. Where, however, a local authority has proved its efficiency and its ability to administer all local affairs and it has the resources to do this, it should not be changed arbitrarily for the administrative convenience of a central authority. Wembley is such an authority, efficient and resourceful. The name Wembley is well known throughout the sporting world. It is also well known throughout the municipal world as an efficient and well administered area whose people are well cared for by its council. It is a borough well known in musical circles and for its voluntary work with the Eventide Homes, having set up voluntarily two splendid homes for elderly people.
Wembley as a borough is built up and has a population of 126,000. My right hon. Friend the Minister suggests that Wembley should be amalgamated with the neighbouring Borough of Willesden. 121 The Royal Commission recommended that minimum populations of 100,000 should remain as long as such boroughs have an adequate rateable value. This is stated in paragraph 19 of the White Paper. Indeed, 100,000 was the figure laid down by the Local Government Act, 1958, for boroughs seeking county borough status and the Royal Commission has confirmed this minimum figure. There is nothing in the White Paper to suggest that populations of from 100,000 to 150,000 would be insufficient to support and discharge any functions proposed to be conferred on the new boroughs.
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister is not in his place, because I want to be personal. I hope that he will not consider it maliciously personal. Twelve years ago, when my right hon. Friend sought all-county borough status for his own Borough of Luton, which was smaller than Wembley, I was one of his most ardent supporters and spoke in that debate which took place in the chamber of another place. All the arguments that my right hon. Friend then adduced for the independent status of his borough apply to the case of Wembley. I have no need, therefore, to go into them in detail. My right hon. Friend must be well aware that Wembley is just as capable, and has proved so, to administer all powers that can be conferred upon her.
The Minister wishes, however, according to his plan, to see Wembley amalgamated with Willesden. He and his advisers should know that there is absolutely no identity of interest between the two boroughs. Both councils are vehemently against the proposed merger and recognise that there cannot be two such adjacent authorities with less community of interest. They both have different problems and they both have different ways of dealing with them.
All three political parties in the Wembley Council are against this proposed amalgamation. It is impossible to imagine that this proposed merger could ever be to the advantage of the ratepayers of either borough. Speaking of my own borough—Wembley—I know what years of toil, effort and public spirit have gone towards the building of this efficient and attractive borough. Is all this to go for nought and to be changed arbitrarily by the Minister and 122 his officials, who can have no knowledge of local feeling and the human interests of the people to be affected?
I ask in all seriousness how one can sit down, take a map of London and change the boundaries of the existing boroughs without any guide or interest whatever except the rule of size. Why should size be the yardstick for these proposals? Has the Minister been converted to the policy, which he has attacked so often in the past, that the man in Whitehall knows best?
With other hon. Members, I ask my right hon. Friend to think again. In the general plan, he might find some authorities who welcome amalgamation and pooling of resources, whose people may have something in common with each other. Richmond and Twickenham may be a case in point. Where, however, there is a definite opposition, will the Minister reconsider his proposals? Will he not accept that an authority can be efficient and capable of administering all services with a population of under 200,000 and yet considerably over 100,000? I hope he will decide to let Wembley stand independent as she is.
In that connection, I ask the House to forgive my quoting just a few figures. The area of Wembley is 6,294 acres with a population of 126,000. Its rateable value is £3,067,223, which is a rate resource per head of £24 6s. 5d., or more than any other area in the County of Middlesex. It is interesting to compare those figures with existing county boroughs. For instance, Blackburn has a population of 105,000. Its rateable value is only £1,261,000 and the rate resource per head £11 19s.; or, in the case of Preston, 113,000 population, £1,453,000 rateable value, and a rate resource per head of £12 16s. And so I could go on in the case of Huddersfield, St. Helens, Edmonton, Tottenham and Walsall. I repeat, Wembley has £3,067,000 rateable value and a rate resource per head of £24 6s. 5d.
While it is recognised that it may be inescapable in some cases for smaller authorities well below the 100,000 limit to be attached to a borough, I believe that apart from this there is no justification for disturbing against their will the Wembley and Willesden boroughs. On the contrary, there are obvious and cogent reasons why they should remain undisturbed.
123 If the Minister is adamant, will he consider the transfer by agreement of some districts to Wembley to bring it to the required figure? If he will not contemplate surgical operations in his plan, will he look at alternative proposals for Wembley? Willesden can speak for itself. Indeed, I think it is almost large enough to stand alone as an independent borough.
Wembley has been a borough for 25 years and she was carved out of Harrow, which now stands alone with a population of 209,000. Harrow's Technical College stands on Wembley ground. Harrow School "ducker" and part of its playingfields are within the boundary of Wemlbley. Half the area of Wembley is in the postal district of Harrow, as my right hon. Friend ought to know, and Harrow's great new post office, opened last month, serves a major portion of the Borough of Wemlbley. If my right bon. Friend cannot look with favour on the idea of a return to mother Harrow, will he consider other poropsals? I understand that Northwood and Ruislip favour amalgamation with Harrow. If this is possible, perhaps some small area of Harrow may come to Wembley.
In conclusion, I do appeal to the Minister to look at this problem very carefully and sympathetically. He can have no conception of the anguish and sorrow and concern of the people of Wembley, and, I am sure, of other boroughs, at his proposals. I share their feelings, and I shall work with them and with my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), for more favourable consideration. Much as I favour the Royal Commission's proposals I would rather see them all ignored and no change made at all than agree to the death knell of the Borough of Wembley.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E, Oram (East Ham, South)
My remarks will follow somewhat closely the line of argument put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus), except, the House will not be surprised to know, that whereas he referred to Wembley I shall tend to refer to East Ham. I agree with a great deal of what he said, in particular the valuable point that efficiency in local government and 124 viability and desirability are not to be determined solely by the criterion of size. I think that many of the weaknesses which we can see in both the Royal Commission's Report and in the proposals of the Government are due to too close an attention to a formula of size. I very much welcome the hon. and gallant Member's critical remarks in that respect.
I shall speak quite briefly, becuase I claim no expertise in local Government. I have had no direct experience of it, but I have had sufficient secondhand experience of excellent local government in East Ham and am sufficiently persuaded of the dangers to that good government in East Ham which lie in the proposals of the Government that I join with those who have been speaking today in opposition to the proposals of the White Paper.
I hope that Ministers will have noted that so far the speeches from behind them have all been quite severely critical of what the Government propose, and I anticipate that throughout the course of tomorrow's debate they will still be getting critical speeches from both sides.
I particularly welcome the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris). Unfortunately, he is not now in his place. I listened particularly closely to what he had to say, because he represents part of a county borough involved in this London plan, just as I do. There are three county boroughs involved, Croydon, East Ham, and West Ham. I want to suggest that there are special considerations in the case of these county boroughs which ought to be taken more fully into account than they appear to have been.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wembley, North, like the Minister, quoted a very valuable sentence from the Commission's Report which is repeated in the White Paper. It bears repetition again:Where things are working well our inclination is to leave them alone.Local government in East Ham is working well, and my inclination, and the inclination of the residents of East Ham and of the Corporation of East Ham, is that they should be left well alone.
I have said that I myself have no direct experience of local government, 125 but all of us in this House have very close relations with people who are affected by the services provided by local government. We are visited regularly by people who are in particular personal difficulties. Very often, in seeking to solve their problems, we turn to the various departments of the local authority, or we turn for the advice and help of a councillor of our local authority. I have found that whenever the problem I have had to tackle has been one of housing, or education, or of one aspect or another of welfare, the local authority with which I am closely concerned has proved itself to be a healthy, efficient, viable unit of local government.
That being so, I cannot for the life of me see why these tremendous changes should have the effect they are proposed to have upon this particular local area, and others of which other hon. Members will speak or have spoken. The Ministry of Education, in its evidence to the Royal Commission, paid a tribute to the effectiveness of East Ham as an education authority. Some of my hon. Friends, the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and others, have tended, I have felt, to suggest in today's debate that an education authority in the London area needs to be a fairly big education authority. I should like to tell them that I see no evidence of that from the point of view of my own direct experience.
§ Mr. Mellish
The point, of course, being that in London it happens to be a large education authority which has done a first-class job. I know that my hon. Friend will agree. What some of us do not understand is why it is necessary, therefore, to destroy that in order to break it up into smaller units which may not necessarily work so successfully. If it has been a success, why smash it up?
§ Mr. Oram
I thank my hon. Friend for that explanation. I certainly join him in defending the tremendously good work which the London County Council has done for education.
Here again, reverting to the remark of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wembley, North, it is not a question of size. Here, we have a very effective education authority in the 126 London County Council. From my own experience, we also have a very effective education authority in East Ham. The size is very different indeed, and yet they are both viable educational units. Certainly, I agree that where the thing is proving a success it should not be broken up.
It is true, of course, that in our case we are not to be broken up. It is true, of course, that now education is to remain with the new London borough, and we welcome that. Giving credit where it is due, we welcome the change represented by the White Paper in this respect. We are glad that the Government have abandoned the completely unpractical suggestion, as I see it, of making the proposed Greater London Council an education authority. When this proposal was put forward we, together with many other people no doubt, argued strongly against it. We have derived some satisfaction at least from the fact that the Government have decided that the new London boroughs are to be education authorities, and certainly, in our case, that is a wise change.
Together with this, there has come an unwelcome feature, namely, the reduction in the number of boroughs compared with the recommendation in the Royal Commission's Report, and an increase in their size. I am far from convinced that the proposals in the White Paper about the number of authorities, the number of new boroughs, and their populations, are wise. I hope that the Government will see the wisdom of thinking very carefully again about that part of their proposals.
Hon. Members have said that local government should be local The Minister, in introducing the debate, told us, and we agree, that the test is how it affects people. We who are engaged in public affairs, be it as Members of Parliament, as councillors, or as administrators of one kind or another, can all too easily get a wrong view. We have a different horizon when it comes to accessibility and to the question of how near people are to the administrative machine. What from Whitehall or from this Chamber may seem to be a reasonably-sized unit may be, to the victim of a housing difficulty or to the victim of a welfare defect, a most unreasonable unit.
127 I think that it will prove to be the case that many of the units proposed by the Government are, in that respect, quite unreasonable. Even the present boroughs can be quite remote for many people. The town ball can be something which is to them distant and inaccessible. I am sure that some of the proposed boroughs, with populations well over the 300,000 mark, will be completely impersonal and will completely fail in their real responsibility for dealing with people in human terms.
I realise—the Minister repeated it this afternoon—that the proposed boundaries are subject to discussion and negotiation and that the Government's mind is not closed on any particular boundaries. That is something which, whatever may be our views about the general proposition, is valuable.
This debate does not provide the occasion for going into the details of the suggested boundaries, but there is one point in connection with the proposed amalgamation of East and West Ham which raises a matter of more general concern than the purely local consideration. In effect, the proposed new London boroughs will be county boroughs almost entirely with regard to their powers. They will be important units of local government, with power almost equal to that of existing county boroughs. If this plan is put into effect, one of the main practical problems will be the building up of new administrative machinery capable of providing the services of, in effect, a county borough.
As I have said, we have in existence three such machines—the Croydon machine, the East Ham machine and the West Ham machine. Under the new proposals, there is no doubt that the administrative machinery of Croydon will be effectively used. But I ask the Minister: why merge the other two? Will not that be a complete waste of resources? Will not that be a waste of experience and of personnel? Would it not be much better to consider, as I believe people in our area in East London are considering, alternative propositions?
I believe that it is almost pure bureaucracy which suggests that East and West Ham should be merged. If 128 one knows that area intimately, there is nothing logical or necessary about such a merger. There is much to be said for East Ham and Barking being merged, on the one hand, and, shall we say, West Ham and Leyton, on the other. The main argument in favour of that proposition is that the experience which is at the moment in the town halls of the two county boroughs will be carried forward to the new situation with good effect. It is most important that the Minister should consider this if and when the major plan goes through.
These are matters for debate when the Bill, if there is to be one, comes before the House. But I have been considering a number of defects from our local point of view. Other hon. Members are more competent to put forward much wider criticism. Others who are more competent in local government and London government have argued most forcefully against the proposition which the Government are presenting to the House. They see the matter in London terms and in terms of the needs of the whole area and say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham said most forcefully, that the mind of the Government is wrong in this respect.
Those of us who are not experts inevitably have to consider the matter from the point of view of how it affects the people with whom we are concerned. The Government should note that hon. Members on both sides of the House who considered the matter from that point of view, how it would affect the people whom they know as their Member of Parliament, have said that this is wrong and that it will do harm.
When the Government are faced with so much opposition from so many different kinds of political groupings and from so many different kinds of local authorities, it seems to me, inexpert in these matters though I am, that something is obviously seriously wrong with the Government's proposals. I therefore think that they would be well advised to withdraw this White Paper and not to proceed with the reorganisation of London which they propose.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Willesden, East)
The inertia of change is quite considerable. That is evident from the speech 129 of the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram). It has been constantly said that if a system is working satisfactorily then we should leave well alone.
I feel that as Members of this House we should not consider this matter simply as a review of past years, but should consider what the position will be ten years ahead to see whether some of these proposed alterations will be good for London and, in particular, good for the boroughs in question. I had the opportunity of listening to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) which he called an oration and which to me sounded like Pericles' funeral oration. But I admired its symmetry and construction. However, I cannot accept that his views are right.
There is common ground between my hon. and gallant Friend and myself in this respect. Our Parliamentary divisions were changed by the Representation of the People Act, 1918, and we are both offsprings of Harrow. We are integral parts of Middlesex and have therefore worked together for many years. As a result, it is not surprising that many people from the Willesden area have migrated to Wembley. That has just been the trend over the years, but we must look at this more carefully.
The Minister indicated that if there were to be serious repercussions on other groupings it might not be possible to have the sort of groupings envisaged by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North. For example, the Government have decided that they are not going to accept the Royal Commission's recommended groupings of 100,000–250,000 population but want a minimum of 200,000.
If that is going to be the position, let us look at the map. We there see Wembley and Willesden side by side. That looks on paper to be a natural, with a co-terminus borough. To the north there are Hendon, Barnet and Finchley, which I think are agreed on their groupings. Other possibly agreed groupings are Hampstead, St. Pancras and Holborn; St. Marylebone, Padding-ton and Westminster; Kensington, and Chelsea; Hammersmith and Fulham; and virtually agreed I understand is 130 Ealing, Southall and Acton. It would mean that Willesden, if it were not going to be associated with Wembley, would stand isolated unless we are going to take into account the idea of nibbling at several other boroughs.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North indicated that he could have certain of the territories of Harrow, and it has been put forward by the Willesden Borough Council—it will not agree with what I am saying tonight; it is only right that I should say that—that it would probably like to nibble at at least five boroughs over the border in the London area itself.
The Royal Commission gave a certain amount of guidance on this. In paragraph 929 it said:Where amalgamations are necessary—and we are satisfied that a substantial amount of amalgamation is required to produce boroughs of the necessary size and resources—we think it desirable to amalgamate two or more existing units as a whole rather than, except when unavoidable or to a minor degree, to divide and regroup.It is apparent on looking at this again that the more one moves towards London, the more one goes into areas of older housing and lower rateable value. If one moves towards Wembley one moves into an area of higher rateable value and newer houses, and from an education standpoint it is possible to provide more playing fields than would be available if one went further south.
Looking over the years ahead, I feel that we might be imposing on the Willesden Borough Council, if it is to remain in isolation, insuperable burdens which it could not carry. One of the factors indicated by the Minister is that he wants to be satisfied that the greater boroughs will have the necessary resources. I can say of Wembley that it is a successful and skilfully conducted authority. One could say that the two boroughs are complementary in that one can provide the resources which the other has not. I am not referring simply to rates; it may be administrative skill and other qualities.
Looking at it from that standpoint, and bearing in mind also that if the Willesden Borough Council's recommendations were to go through—that is, to add in a piece of Hampstead, a piece of Paddington, a piece of Hammersmith and perhaps others—it would mean that 131 one would simply be adding in more of the older properties with a very much lower rateable value. This would be imposing on it a problem which is entirely beyond its resources.
Wembley alone has a population of 125,000. If one added on Harrow, it would bring it to about 340,000, and that would be beyond the requirements that have been indicated. However, if that area were added to Willesden itself, that would make a combined area to which these broader functions could be assigned.
There is another matter which I should like to mention, and I think I can put it perfectly fairly. The Willesden education officer, Mr. F. W. Wyeth, has indicated that the immediate problems would be very considerable if Willesden were to extend South into London. However, he says that:'One advantage in the Wembley merger is in regard to playing fields.' This merger offered prospects of a speedier fulfilment of obtaining playing fields at Northwick Park, whereas the movement Londonwards tended to worsen the overall situation.Looking further ahead, it seems that the advantages are the other way. Looking further ahead, it may be that many of the difficulties which are foreseen by the borough council will disappear completely.
Let us as Members of Parliament decide this not simply on the question of whether we are going to maintain the status quo in the hope that the thing will work. The Government have decided that the right size for the bigger boroughs is a minimum of 200,000 population. I should like to see Willesden left alone in the form of its present brough. If that cannot be we shall have to combine with another authority, and there is no point in nibbling at five or six other boroughs, nor would it be any better if Wembley nibbled at the boundaries of Harrow. The best answer is to combine Willesden and Wembley.
Perhaps I may leave that matter and make one or two general observations. The Royal Commission is to be congratulated on its proposals. There is one matter that we have not looked at very carefully—the question of finance. We are all standing in fear and trepidation at what may happen in 1963 and 1964 when we shall examine our new 132 rating assessments, although we appreciate that there is a clause which will enable householders to obtain some abatement. However, I feel that a little broader view of this should be taken. Have we not reached the time when we should look at the entire rating system, and might it not be desirable to consider a form of local income tax so that the burden could be more equitably distributed in respect of local services? These are matters that should be considered if there is to be an alteration in the structure and organisation of London.
Also I feel that the Government are correct in their assessments about housing. The Greater London Council will concern itself primarily with overspill, and it will, if a local authority asks for its services, have power to build within a borough's area. That could be particularly useful. In education, too, there can be great advantages, in spite of some of the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart).
I appreciate that many other hon. Members wish to take part in this debate, and I think that what I have said adequately deals with the points which I desired to make at this stage.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet) on being the only hon. Member so far in this debate who has given general support to the Government's proposals. I cannot follow him in that. I believe, however, that the general case has been made by hon. Members in favour of a healthy form of local government in which we decide to give a particular service to the body which we think will administer it best in the interests of those who are to be served, and of dropping any doctrinaire idea as to where services ought to go.
In Dagenham, among those who give thought to and are interested in local government—I also speak for many other people in the Metropolitan part of Essex—there is very strong criticism of the Government's proposals. First, there is a feeling that the proposed Greater London Council is much too large and a definite departure from our traditional ideas of county government into regional government. If we are to have an area containing 8½ million people under one 133 authority, then we shall be creating virtually a provincial form of government. That should not be done without careful thought. There is a feeling that we in Dagenham will have far too little influence in the Greater London Council. Dagenham will have only one representative out of 110 representatives there. At present, we have seven representatives out of the 140 on the Essex County Council.
Secondly, there is the question of the proposed greater Dagenham council. If we are to have units of a minimum of 200,000 population then this is one of the better of such proposals. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) on this matter, because I believe that the unit of Barking, Dagenham and the southern part of Hornchurch would probably be very suitable. None the less, there is strong local feeling in favour of keeping the existing local government units which are handy administrative units.
It is reasonably easy now to get candidates for the councils in units of that size, and also to get people to go to their civic centres. But if we have larger units, it will be very much more difficult to get councillors to serve, and much more difficult to get people to go to the town hall when they want matters looked into. I support the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) in the various suggestions he has made in the Press for a joint executive planning board for the whole of the Greater London area. It is not often that he and I agree on something, but I am pleased on his occasion to be able to support his views.
A point which needs to be made is that nobody is suggesting at this juncture, whatever may have been said in evidence to the Royal Commission, that such a body should be advisory. Those of us who support the proposal for such a planning board want to see it with definite powers to lay down a master plan—the main road network, targets of population, levels of employment, traffic control and such matters as that. Such proposals, when agreed, should have binding force on the various authorities in the area.
We should investigate much further the question of the Greater London Council. The body proposed by the 134 Government would be unsatisfactory, because it would have very little authority. Most of its powers would be administrative services—refuse disposal, ambulance and fire services, for instance. Planning comes in as well, but scarcely any policy questions will be dealt with by this body. How will it be possible to get people to serve on such a council if most of its decisions are purely administrative, for these could equally be well carried out by civil servants? It will be difficult to recruit good people to stand for election to that council, given the powers suggested in the Government's proposal.
If we are to have a Greater London Council it must have more power to do an effective job. It is suggested that the control of education in part of the present area under the London County Council should be under a special school board; this would be duplicating bodies unnecessarily. If we are to have a Greater London Council, then let it at least run the education service in the present L.C.C. area. Outside the present L.C.C. area there are a considerable number of education services which should also be dealt with by the new Council. What about further education colleges? We have two technical colleges in the Metropolitan part of Essex. They are on the boundaries of present local government units, and will so remain under the new arrangements. Planning for higher technical education and further education generally should be planned for the whole Greater London area and not for separate borough units. Certainly, we should await the report of the Robbins Committee before coming to final conclusions on that point.
Then we have the specialised services—the provision of education for the blind, and for the physically and mentally handicapped, and approved schools. It is necessary to provide these services over a fairly wide area, and my opinion is that whatever is done in this field of education should be done for the whole of the Greater London area. The standard educational services should be run by the boroughs outside the present L.C.C. area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) referred to the question of deprived children. In 135 December, 1960, there were 154 children in care in the metropolitan area of Essex. Of those, 13 were in Barking; 32 in Dagenham; 18 in Ilford; 16 in Romford; and four in Hornchurch. It would be ridiculous to divide up that number of children and endeavour to provide separate schools and arrangements for them. For the whole County of Essex the number of such children is about 250. I understand that the Essex County Council does a very good job in organising services for this group of deprived children, and it would be ridiculous to divide them up.
Mention has already been made of the good work done by the architects' department of the London County Council. The body which was responsible for building the Festival Hall and the Roehampton flats is one to which great credit should be given, and I do not see why it should be necessary to abolish it. A Greater London Council should have housing responsibilities, on equal terms with those of boroughs, as occurs now in the area of the L.C.C. There will obviously have to be big housing development schemes in future, which will cut across borough boundaries on many occasions.
There is the question of the rebuilding of Piccadilly Circus, which, presumably, should be carried out by the Greater London Council, and the Elephant and Castle redevelopment scheme. Many such schemes will be required in future in the London area, and it would surely be wise to retain the architects' department of the L.C.C. so that it could operate side by side with the housing departments of the boroughs, as is the case at present. This arrangement works very smoothly.
I now wish to refer to one question that affects Dagenham particularly. The Government's proposals include the handing over of L.C.C. estates to local councils, but no time limit is laid down in which this operation should take place. Dagenham feels very strongly that its L.C.C. estates should be transferred to the local council at an early date. The Royal Commission suggested that this should happen. The Government suggest that these estates should pas" to the new Greater London Council 136 and, perhaps, at a later stage, to the local councils.
I take the view that although the Greater London Council may continue housing developments, after ten years the control of a housing estate should pass to the borough in whose area it happens to be, so that it can then be filled with local people. When an estate has been running for ten years or more it is clear that there will be young people in the area who are eligible for rehousing when vacancies occur. They should not be forced to go elsewhere. The Government's statement is not precise enough on that point, and Dagenham wants more definite proposals for handing over the present L.C.C. estates to the borough councils whenever the Government's Bill goes forward.
One of the fortunate things about London is that it has three different kinds of authorities which are responsible for providing parks and open spaces. There is the Ministry of Works, with its excellent parks in Westminster, Greenwich, and elsewhere; the London County Council, with its many parks, including Battersea, Victoria Park Crystal Palace and Hainault Forest; and various other local authorities, with their many smaller parks.
The advantage of having three such different bodies is that there are three different styles of gardening and garden architecture. There are three different services to run them on different lines and, therefore, there is great variety in the type of public open space that is provided.
It would be a pity to destroy all that. I stress again that the various parks belonging to the London County Council, both inside and outside its present boundary, should belong to and be run by the Greater London Council if we are to have such a body. This could be important in respect of parks like Batter-sea, which is used by many people who come from areas outside Battersea, and Crystal Palace, which is being developed as a big sports centre and is used by a large proportion of London's population.
As I understand, the Royal Commission proposes to break up the weights and measures system in the London area. What is the point of doing this? We do not want a different system for administering weights and measures in one 137 borough compared with another. We do not want to add to the number of officials going round carrying out inspections. The wider the area over which weights and measures are administered by one body the better, because inspectors can be sent out by the local body to different areas and there is no likelihood of anyone being bribed. The whole administration of weights and measures ought to come under the Greater London Council.
Then there is the point about amenities. One of the important things done by the London County Council in recent years has been the building of the Festival Hall and the attempts it has made to encourage and build up the arts in the area. I think that it would be an advantage to have somebody supplementing the national Government in trying to build up the arts and amenity services in the Central London area, and I think that these, too, ought to come under the Greater London Council.
One thing that surprised me very much was that the Government made no suggestions to tackle other forms of administration in the Greater London area. If we are to have a Greater London unit, why not try to make all the other Greater London forms of organisation coincide with its boundaries? What about the Metropolitan Police area? Its boundaries are similar to those proposed for the Greater London Council. Why not make them coincide? My constituency is inside the Metropolitan Police area, but the neighbouring areas of Hornchurch and Romford are outside. They could all be brought in.
Why could not the Greater London Council have some say in the administration of the police in the Metropolitan Police area? I am sure that all hon. Members who represent constituencies within the Metropolitan Police area would like to continue their right to put questions to the Home Secretary and raise points with him about the administration of the police. I hope that as a result of any reorganisation of the police this might be extended all over the country but as the police rate forms a large part of local rates the people in the area should have some say in controlling the police. I think that some joint organisation between the Greater London Council and the Home Office for 138 the administration of the police in the area ought to be investigated and considered.
Next, I come to a minor point of administration with regard to the London postal area. Could not it also be made to coincide with the Greater London area? One of the irritations that exists in Essex is that the postal areas of Dagenham, Romford and Barking do not coincide with local government or Parliamentary constituencies. The result is that hon. Members for those areas get correspondence intended for their neighbours. Would not it be simpler to have those areas renumbered E.19, E.20, and E.21 and wipe out the local postal addresses?
Again, if we are to have an elected Greater London Council, why not let London Transport come under it? At present it covers an area a little greater than the proposed Greater London area. There would be advantages in enabling London Transport to be controlled by elected representatives of the people.
Another minor point concerns the Metropolitan Water Board. This, too, might be brought under the proposed body. It has been said that it is difficult to get representatives to serve on some of these bodies, but if they were all brought under the Greater London Council some people might be interested in serving on such a body and putting forward policies to be carried out by it.
I suggest, therefore, that if we are to have a Greater London Council, it should be given some worthwhile jobs to do. Then people might be persuaded to serve upon it in order to do something worthwhile. I would prefer, however, to keep to the ideas advanced by the hon. Member for Wimbledon. I hope that the Government will think again.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). Only once have I been to his constituency, and I can say that I am quite sure that all the people who live there, though technically they may be in Essex, are certain "Cockneys". Tonight I speak as a Member of Parliament representing a county constituency, and I am invited to note the proposals of Her Majesty's Government with 139 regard to the reorganisation of local government in Greater London. To that Motion are attached the names of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
I am unable to reveal to the House anything of the sporting activities of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. But I can reveal that among the sporting activities of the Leader of the House is a delight in racing. There may come a day when he will slip from his office, clap his grey top hat on his head, get into his motor car and say to his driver, "Drive to London Borough, No. 23, S.W.888—I am going to watch the Derby." That may happen if the present proposals as set out by my right hon. Friends are adopted.
I appreciated what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister about the tremendous need to tackle the problems of Greater London with urgency. All of us must have agreed in 1957, when the Royal Commission was appointed, that it would have to study the problem with great urgency. The fact that there should be a considerable degree of reorganisation was something well appreciated by hon. Members on both sides of the House and also that the "boundaries of London" in 1962 are different from the "boundaries" of 60 or 70 years ago. The Royal Commission also refers to Lord Rosebery. I wonder what Lord Rosebery would have said if he saw that The Durdens was to move to "S.W.888."
There are great responsibilities on the Government and on this House to see that there is direction and control over the spread of the urban conurbation cutting across the whole of the face of the nation. We see this spread of subtopia from the great cities in the North, but particularly from London. As I understand it, my right hon. Friends and their predecessors, as well as the predecessors of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, planned that there should be a Green Belt surrounding London and that this belt should be a "cordon sanitaire", as the Royal Commission described it, to circle and contain London. This circle was to be for the 140 advantage of those people who live within London and also those who live outside. I think it a grave responsibility upon all Parliamentarians to ensure that there is at least some countryside within a reasonable distance of London and that there should be a circle within which London is contained.
If my right hon. Friend agrees with that, the decision about what is inside London and what is outside is bound by where lies the green belt. This would define the boundaries of London. If my right hon. Friend accepts that, may I recommend that he looks at the Local Government Commission West Midlands Special Review Area recommendations? I know that my right hon. Friend will consider this matter with the gravest of concern, for I am well aware of his appreciation of the necessity to maintain the green belt. If he follows my recommendation, he will see that referring to peripheral green belt activities the recommendations state:We think that in general county councils rather than county borough councils are the better guardians of the green belts and we have therefore drawn the boundaries of the new county boroughs to include as little green belt land as possible.That, I am certain, my right hon. Friend would accept as a correct principle with regard to the green belt.
The defence of the green belt, in which all are interested inside or outside London, is best left to those authorities in the green belt and outside London rather than to those that are inside London. Therefore, it is with considerable surprise that one sees that the Royal Commission, which studied the matter with considerable care, should not have seen the essential nature of having the green belt controlled outside the Greater London area.
I must make perfectly clear that by these proposals Epsom is cut right in half, so I represent here today not only people like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) outside the area, but also those inside it. But I am sure that the Minister, before he makes a final decision, will consider that we in Epsom are bounded by the very old and ancient Nonsuch Park, by Woodcote Park, where some hon. Members may have played golf, and the Downs. There are many right hon. and hon. Members who 141 know Epsom Downs and who have enjoyed being able to sit in the stands or stand on Downs watching the races there. We have this wide area in an arc to the mental hospital, and 57 per cent. of Epsom is scheduled to be an unbuilt area.
We know perfectly well that if Epsom is included my right hon. Friend will say, "Not he", and, of course, I would accept that from him. But in some future time there may well be a Minister without such a kindly heart as my right hon. Friend who will say that this is a delicious unbuilt area; there are those hospitals there, but he will refer back to the Minister of Health and remember that he is pulling down the mental hospitals and making such hospitals very different. So he will think that this is just the place, and some hon. Members opposite, not from Battersea but from some parts of Central London, will agree and say, "That is where we want to go; build there, and we shall be able to use that part of the land in order to take the overflow and overspill.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that what he says about the green belt will carry the support also of many people in Essex?
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The hon. and learned Gentleman will not forget that the London County Council made a considerable contribution towards the preservation of Nonsuch Park and other places in the neighbourhood that he has mentioned.
§ Mr. Rawlinson
That may well be so. First, to deal with my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell, I well understand that he and others are concerned. With regard to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who is a most distinguished constituent of mine, I appreciate what the L.C.C. did, but I say to him: beware in the future of a great authority, of which Epsom and Ewell might be a part, which may well not take the view which was taken in the past but "Here is a great reservoir of land on which we want to place our overspill."
§ Mr. Doughty
The London County Council built a great many flats housing about 12,000 people at Chislehurst slap in the middle of the green belt.
§ Mr. Rawlinson
My right hon. Friend will see that this is indicative of the concern felt about this problem. Now what mandate has he to say that London spreads outwards to include Epsom? The Royal Commission said categorically that it was not a boundaries commission, so it has not been proved that these peripheral areas are part of Greater London.
The principle laid down by the Local Government Act and the 1958 Regulations is—in the interests of convenient and effective Government.There is often a great conflict between "convenient" and "effective". Convenient for whom? Borough No. 23 will be a borough of about 50 square miles. That is very different from the boroughs my right hon. Friend is thinking of establishing, in London proper, which may have very large populations but will be very much smaller in area.
Then there is the aspect of communications. Again, convenient for whom? Is the test to be the convenience of the administrators or of the people? Communications in this area do not flow laterally, and people will not easily be able to get from this borough to some headquarters at Sutton and Cheam. Is the destruction of the ancient town of Epsom "convenient"? The Royal Commission brushes aside the loyalty of people to counties. I ask my right hon. Friend to remember how wise the War Office was when it took county loyalty into consideration in amalgamating regiments. I dare say that this matter is well in the forefront of my right hon. Friend's mind, but I emphasise the importance of ancient loyalties.
If it is not convenient, is it effective? Who will serve on the Greater London authority, this regional government? From the outskirts they will find it very difficult to find persons. For the fact that it is not to be responsible for human services will not make it attractive. It may have at first sight a magnificent appearance, but it might become rather like a local government eunuch—a magnificent appearance but perhaps disappointing in performance.
143 How effective will it be? Perhaps it will attract people who sit for closer and tightly knit communities. But in a place like Epsom, when the divisional education officer and the divisional health and welfare officer are taken off to Sutton, with persons with only vague responsibilities being implanted in a Greater London authority, will that be very effective? I do not believe that it will suit anybody.
There remains the suspicion that these peripheral areas have been included only because they may provide a reservoir of land in future for places right in the centre of London, such as Chelsea and Kensington, which are land hungry. The declared aim of my right hon. Friend is that each authority should have a population of about 200,000. That is the figure that he insists upon. I agree that it may be suitable for the centre, but Borough No. 23 will have an acreage of 32,000, whereas Wolverhampton, which has a population of 150,000, has an acreage of 9,000.
Luton will perhaps strike a bell in my right hon. Friend's ear. The East Midlands Review Commission recommended that Luton should become a county borough, that it should become autonomous, and that it should have its own education authority. Luton, which has the good sense to return my right hon. Friend to the House, has a population of 123,000. I suppose it will be argued that Luton is outside London and is entirely different because the acreage is greater. If the Greater London area is to be extended right outside London, as it is to be to Carshalton, East Surrey, Esher and Epsom, the vastly greater acreages must be taken into account. The population of Borough No. 23 will be 300,000—that is 300,000 and an acreage of about 50 square miles.
Thus the premise seems to be that this is right for London but it is not right for the people outside London. Why? Is not outside the green belt outside London? I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the boundaries which he has, as it were, inherited from the Royal Commission need the most careful consideration. I appreciate that he has undertaken—he has said this before and 144 he repeated it today—to look at this again with the greatest care.
Some of the suggested procedure, and I know it is tentative, is causing considerable concern. For example, there is concern at the town clerk's tribunal and the terms of reference under which these town clerks will be operating. I do not know what precedent there is for such a procedure, but I presume that they will be used to assist my right hon. Friend in the difficult task he has been given.
Section 22 of the Local Government Act, 1958, laid down certain procedures; firstly of investigation, then of draft proposals being furnished, then conferences, and lastly the final proposals. It may be said that the Royal Commission has done that, but the Royal Commission was not a boundary commission. Section 22 of that Act contains the provision whereby notice is given to the public so that they may make representations and, if they wish, object, and then there can be a local inquiry. Why is it here necessary to have the summary procedure? The terms of reference to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) referred must concern all hon. Members and give rise to considerable anxiety to those who see that our areas are not in fact in London proper.
The terms of reference for the town clerks' inquiry declared: "… a minimum population of around 200,000 …" The letter from the Ministry refers to "the whole of the continuously decreasing area of London." Now that presumes that these parts are part of the continuously developing areas of London, and the Royal Commission presumed the same, although it was not a boundary commission.
Then there is the question of fixing the figure of 200,000, which may be perfectly and absolutely right for certain parts of London. But what about other areas where such a figure would cover perhaps fifty square miles? I invite my right hon. Friend, since he has said that this is a matter for negotiation, to look again at these terms of reference to ensure that they are not drawn too tightly and narrowly to prevent what he has in mind, which I know comprises a sensible and proper negotiation as to where the boundary of London should be.
145 It would be a mistake and regrettable if it was thought that some form of Star Chamber procedure were to be adopted whereby experts were brought in from other parts of the country to hear what the other experts have to say so that the whole thing did not touch upon the local people and their conveniences. Public opinion in this matter has not been artificially stimulated. I realise that some such suggestions may have come to my right hon. Friend's ears. I know that this is not so and that my right hon. Friend, on a matter as serious as this, will consider this matter very seriously, for it touches the concern, the hearts and the loyalties and, let it not be forgotten, the pockets of many persons.
In my constituency and elsewhere—in East Surrey, Carshalton and in other parts—there is deep concern. This concern is felt by local authorities and local political parties, and I had the honour for the first time in my life of receiving a letter from the Epsom Labour Party giving me support in some respect.
I have the support of the chamber of commerce, of the Local Protection Association, and of four residents' societies. I have had 150 individual supporting letters, some 40 of them arriving this morning, and a town's meeting has been arranged for about 1,400 people. I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not want to have going after him my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) and the Epsom trainers to whom he should pay a great deal of regard, because I now speak of our local industry. Does the Minister really think that the Derby should be run in London?
I therefore express my very serious and profound concern. What steps has my right hon. Friend taken, and what steps will he take, to consult local opinion? What weight will he attach to that local opinion? Will he balance the minimum population of 200,000 against the principle of the well-knit area? If he finds that Epsom and Banstead is not a well-knit area, why not apply the principles of the Local Government Act, 1958, and have a population of 100,000, or something like that?
How can he justify this disorganisation of local life by creating borough 23 with a population of 300,000 and an area of fifty square miles? Will he visit the area? If he does, he will see for him-self 146 that this is not the densely-built-up area of which so much has been said. Why does he have to choose my other boundary, when he already has the boundary of the green belt? I believe that he should say that only inside the green belt is London. In taking note of my right hon. Friend's proposals, I sincerely urge upon him that he should provide a proper boundary for London, and that that boundary should most certainly not include Epsom Downs.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
We have so far had about twelve speeches in this debate, and it can be fairly said that only two of them have been wholeheartedly in favour of the Government's proposals. Needless to say, one of those two was that of the Minister himself—we expected him to support the Government's proposals. The only other supporting speech was that of the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet), who quite frankly admitted that he spoke entirely for himself and not for his borough council or his neighbours. Every other speech has been critical of the Government's proposals.
The Government asks the House to "take note of", but I have never, during the fifteen years I have been a Member of this House, heard a debate in which there has been so much criticism, not only of matters of detail concerning individual constituencies but on the main principles of the proposals. I put it to the Minister quite fairly—because I do not intend to make a party political speech, but a speech which, I hope, will be accepted by him as being as sincere as the others he has heard—that the trouble with the Motion is that he had already committed his party to this idea, as was confirmed by the Leader of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman had decided that, whatever was said in this debate, he would not change his mind on the main principles. It was for that reason, and for that reason alone, that we put down our Amendment. I can assure hon. Members opposite that we had no such intention until the Leader of the House was questioned by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
It is against that background that I say, quite frankly, that it is with regret that 147 we note that as far we can now judge the Government have said, "Whatever may be said in the House of Commons, we have decided, first, that there will be a Greater London Council and, secondly, that there will be some form, it may be, of London school board, which will operate for a certain area inside London, and we will look at the whole question of boundaries."
Every speech from this side of the House has been directed to the wider issues, whereas hon. Members opposite have made constituency speeches. I certainly do not complain about that—it is fair enough—but it indicates the bitter feeling that exists among Conservatives about the Government's proposals.
The Minister has referred to planning and traffic. I want to put it on record at once that we on this side do not object, and never have objected, to the principle that planning and traffic should be under one central control. We believe that if traffic and planning—and planning, in particular—are to mean anything at all, they should cover an area much wider even than the Greater London area which is proposed.
We think that there is much to be said for the Abercrombie plan. I will go this far—I am not being facetious—and say that the Minister of Transport, whatever we think of him, has a lively mind, and I believe that if this Committee is to be effective, either the Minister or his representative should be the chairman of that body. The time is coming fast when, whatever we have now, whether it be Metropolitan boroughs or even county councils, there should be at the end of the day not only power over planning and power for the direction of traffic, but power given to the Minister to ensure that what is best in the interests of all should be achieved.
If we look back on the debates on traffic and planning in the past, we see that the Minister has said that when he put forward any simple scheme, so many objections were made by small people. I agree that that was so, but that was because he should have had greater powers on planning and traffic. I say to the Minister that in the planning of traffic we are 100 per cent. behind 148 this proposed change to take away control from the county councils and put it in the hands of a body with Ministerial authority and power and operating over a wider area.
The Minister has said today, and it has been repeated in the debate, that town clerks from outside the review area could come in to act as arbitrators. I plead with the Minister not to go on with that, because I believe that it will have very serious repercussions indeed and cause a great deal of friction between town clerks themselves. I do not think that the Minister realises that under his contemplated plan, town clerks, say from Manchester, Birmingham and other large cities who might be asked to take part in the review, might be young men, and might be interested in promotion. I ask him not to do it, because they might want promotion in such a review area, and it might be embarrassing to them. I declare to him that I have had representations made to me by town clerks outside the review area urging that this should not be done.
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) put his finger on the problem of those who are living on the fringe of the review area when he said, that, at the end of the day, in a constituency such as he represents there would be a sort of rump left, which would hardly be catered for at all. What is to happen to these people, who are now receiving what they regard as efficient services in Surrey? The Surrey County Council is not controlled by the political party of my choice, but I have to say from my experience of local government that when people get elected to these bodies, party politics go by the board. Certainly, Surrey has a lot to be proud of. I do not think it has done as good a job as the L.C.C., but it has done a good' job, and, quite rightly, the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey was very much concerned with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) referred to the Herbert Committee—and I hope that we shall get a reply about this—the body constituted as the Royal Commission. There is part of its Report which refers to independent witnesses. We ought to be told more 149 about that. The main weight of the evidence to the Herbert Committee was against the very things that the Minister now proposes. We do not know what the independent witnesses said, or who they were, but it seems that a great deal of reliance has been placed on their evidence. Because we have had a Royal Commission which came to certain conclusions, that does not mean that its Report is sacrosanct.
We have had many Royal Commissions with the recommendations of which the Government of the day have disagreed. I do not want to make a party point, but I will make this simple one. Before the war we had Royal Commission after Royal Commission agreeing that State ownership of transport was inevitable, but, understandably, the party in power did not approve and did not implement the Report. It does not follow that because this Royal Commission recommended something its proposals should be accepted. I say quite frankly to the right hon. Gentleman that I hope he will not put too much weight upon it.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman to accept that the test is whether his proposals will give the citizens of this Greater London area a better service than they are getting today. If there is the slightest reasonable doubt about that, then they ought not to be implemented. It is my task to show, as I believe that there is a tremendous doubt whether the citizens, certainly in London, can hope to get under the new proposals the same services as they are getting today.
I start by saying what, in effect, the Government's proposals add up to. We shall have an area of 840 square miles, or seven times as big as the London County Council area, with about 8½ million people. We shall get some new boroughs, apart from the London boroughs which are to be merged into Greater London boroughs. The oddest things come out of the Report. Cater-ham and Warlingham, Coulsdon and Purley and the demoted County Borough of Croydon are to be lumped together and called a London borough.
Part of Chigwell, Chingford, Leyton, Walthamstow, Wanstead and Woodford are to be lumped together with a population of 355,000. Even the smallest—with the exception of the City of 150 London, about which I shall have something to say—is to be made up of Barnes, Richmond and Twickenham and will have a tremendous acreage and a population of 181,000.
The hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) pointed out that up north, there are county boroughs with a tiny population in comparison with these figures. The Government say—
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Member has been very definite. How does he reach the conclusion that these boroughs will be organised on the basis which he has outlined? It seems to me that this was a basis for consultation about how the larger boroughs might work out.
§ Mr. Mellish
All I ask the hon. Member to do is to read the papers which I have read, which have been supplied by the Government. I have not suddenly thought up these names and figures. The hon. Member should do a bit of homework, as I have had to do.
Let us look at the Government's proposals. What is their case? Today, the Minister spent a long time on a historical survey of how London had grown. I am a Londoner born and bred, and so, also, is the right hon. Gentleman. Both of us have in common a love of London and we are proud of it. In this great big London town of ours, we have some parochial interests. I am a southeast Londoner not an east-ender. I do not come from the north of London, but from south-east London and I am proud of it. The east-ender is proud of coming from the East End. It means something. In spite of the curious way in which this London of ours has grown up, it has a heart and soul. To talk as if, somehow, all that is happening is very untidy, and must be put in order, is, to many of us, monstrous.
One of the matters which has been attacked is the smallness of some of the so-called boroughs. This is a bit odd. I come from a very small London borough. The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) knows it well and is associated with a great deal of welfare work there, or his societies are. This small London borough is almost one of the smallest in London. As a result of its own efforts, it owns one-third of the 151 borough. The average rate fund contribution per dwelling is the fifth lowest in London. A few weeks ago, this tiny borough was visited by the former Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, when he said that the borough was doing a magnificent job and he was proud of it.
That borough, however, is small and is to be swept away. It is regarded as not being efficient, or giving a proper service to the people. I have never known a borough council so busy. It is true that it can do with the other powers which have been mentioned, such as in connection with maternity and child welfare, a service which it could do efficiently, but I know of no London borough which has asked for the powers that the Minister now proposes to give. I know of no London borough which has asked for powers connected with education. Our authority would be the first to admit that it could not do the service if given those powers. It is madness to say that a borough is to be merged in this way with people who have no community of interest and that at the end of the day it will get powers for which it has not asked. That is the oddest way to carry out local government.
A small borough such as the one I have described is poor, but it benefits from the existing situation concerning the rate equalisation grant. We have heard nothing about this, not a word about finance, from the Minister. What will be the position of those authorities which, in spite of amalgamation, will still need extra finance? What contribution will the richer boroughs make? The problem has already arisen in Surrey, parts of which subsidise the poorer parts. We have got to know, but all we get are vague generalisations.
I put it on record for some of my hon. Friends listening to this debate, and for others who, I hope, will read it, that what is now proposed by the Government for London may well happen to the other great cities. I say this to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool. If this London of ours is mutilated in this way purely on the argument of administrative tidiness—for it is no more than that, and no reason other than that has been given—then the day cannot be long 152 delayed when Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool are dealt with—because, surely, they cannot be left untidy any more than the Metropolis, can they? Surely the same thing will have to be done to them. Therefore, our arguments today for London are the arguments of the provinces tomorrow, so this debate is their debate, just as much as it is ours.
I come to the City of London. It is so obvious that the whole issue of the City of London is monstrous. About 4,000 people are to be left, and given these powers of a Greater London borough. There was no justification by the Minister for this. I do not know who will make it. I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary is not replying to the debate tonight—that in fact the debate is to be wound up this evening from the back benches opposite. But we are dying to know why the City of London is left in this position. It is an extraordinary thing. Here is the complete opposite of everything the Minister has suggested.
If there is to be this new authority why not give it the functions of the Metropolitan Water Board? Why has it been left out? What is the purpose of that? May we know? What about the police force? If we are making a Greater London authority and we want it to work effectively, and if it is to do its job properly over the area—and the Greater London area is the Metropolitan Police area—why have the police been left outside of these arrangements? Because of pressure from the Home Secretary? He has a vested interest. Did he urge it? If he did, good luck to him, but he cannot complain about vested interests on this side of the House if he did. We should like to know. We put the simple question: why?
Let us assume that the Government get their way. They listen to the debate, they make one or two minor changes in response to, say, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), or to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Epsom, so that there emerges some sort of good old British compromise, but at the end of the day they stick to their main proposals. Let us see how they work out. Let us have clearly in view the new structure.
153 There will have to be redistribution of functions, new constitutions, new areas, new electoral districts, new staffs, new organisations, new policies. Over 100 local authorities will be involved. Main roads, refuse disposal—that goes from the smaller to the larger authority; health and welfare and children's services go from the larger to the smaller. Amost every service organised as a whole by one single authority will have to be divided and redistributed. It means redeployment of staff, reorganisation of records and establishments, the transfer of property, financial adjustments, and so on. The Minister proposes to tell the new authorities, against all this background of work which they will have to do, that they will have to work alongside existing authorities. Would he like to say something about that at some time? How is all that to go on? The services will have to be worked alongside existing services.
I plead with the Minister. Does he really think that this complete upheaval will give us the services needed and give them so much better? Take housing. I mentioned that my own borough owns one-third of its area. In 1939, we had a population of 125,000. Today, we have a population of only 56,000. Where have the others gone? Who rehoused them? Not Bermondsey. They have been rehoused, in the main, in other parts of London by the London County Council. Many of them were people who wanted to go outside the borough for one reason or another. So the rehousing has been done by the borough and by the County Council working alongside each other through population pressures. There has been overspill, a great overspill, between the boroughs and from London to areas outside London.
I put this to the Minister as a good Londoner. Consider a south Londoner. He wants to stay in south London. Suppose that he is slum cleared or is the victim of road planning or road widening. Suppose that 200 families have to be dealt with and that the vast majority of them want to go to another area in south London, as I would certainly want to do. We are told that in this case the Greater London authority will help. Suppose that some of my constituents want to go to live in the area next door to Bermondsey, to Deptford, and that 154 Deptford does not want them. What happens? Who decides what? Who has the power of authority? Does not the Minister realise that the provision of housing today, with all its difficulties, is working to the benefit of those in need.
Let me say a word or two about the other services being carried out by the central authority, the London County Council. I mention one as a good example, that concerned with mental health. This should appeal to the Minister as a doctor. What services are being provided which will become the responsibility of the Greater London boroughs? On mental health alone, at this moment, as I am talking, the L.C.C. is maintaining a central system to deal with emergency calls outside office hours. Over 3,000 calls were made by doctors on that service last year in respect of mentally sick people. The L.C.C. has on that emergency call system a fully-trained staff. What happens if it is smashed up? From where will the service operate? Unless every Greater London authority runs a service, what will happen?
Let me now consider the community care for the mentally disordered and training centres and hostels for the mentally sick. In London alone there are nine training centres for mentally sick children, seven for adolescent girls and women, five for adolescent youths and men, one industrial centre for youths and men, one day centre for the mentally sick and one hospital for high-grade mentally sub-normal girls. Where will they go? Who will take charge of them unless they are split up among the Greater London authorities? Whichever way one argues the case, something which is good will be destroyed. The Government cannot do that unless they can show that what they propose will be a substantial improvement. Has any hon. Member on either side of the House had a complaint about the welfare of the mentally sick, handicapped or old-age people from anyone in London?
On what basis was the last election in May fought, an election in which there was the highest percentage poll for a number of years? It was fought on arguments concerning the mentally sick, on the care of the old, on housing, and so on. Imagine the next election for a Greater London authority and the 155 excitement, as one hon. Member called it, which will be aroused in electing a greater central London authority covering 8½ million people. Heaven help those who are elected. There will be about a 5 per cent. poll. No one could care less what happens.
I now come to the question of local government. One cannot tell people in an area like mine, "You will have to walk six miles to the town hall". We have a job to make them walk three or four hundred yards to it. To tell them that government is to be more local yet they will have to walk six miles to get an answer to a simple question is too ludicrous for words.
I now wish to deal with education. I understand that we are to get a great speech from the Minister of Education tomorrow—at least we are expecting one. He is to explain why it is necessary to destroy the present educational services in London, why we are to have a school board for London to deal with a population of 2 million, and why the rest of the educational services in the rest of the area—Surrey, and so on—will be fragmented and given to the Greater London borough. Neither in the White Paper nor in the Royal Commission's Report was there a word about denominational schools. I have been authorised to say something on behalf of the hierarchy of the Catholic church, who are concerned about the question of denominational schools. They have asked me to say frankly and firmly to the Minister of Education that they are shocked at the proposals to fragment education.
It may interest the House to know that the records of both baptism and birth registration will show that in 1965 one child in three in the central London area is a Catholic and will require education at a Catholic school. The Minister will know that there are discussions going on between the central education authority of London and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. They are alarmed that in the middle of these discussions there come the proposals.
I am asked to say quite emphatically that they cannot believe that the good relationship which has been established with Surrey, London, Essex and Kent will continue if education is to be hived 156 off in this way with so many other authorities. They feel that a great deal of evil must come out of this. I understand that a brief has been sent to the Minister and his Department; the right hon. Gentleman had better make inquiries about it.
One child in three by 1965 is not a bad proportion to start asking about now. At least, these people have a point of view. It is very important that we should retain that good relationship. Both the Conservative Government and the Labour Government have done their very best to maintain a happy relationship. For the future, what is to be done about this? What plans has the Minister for these people? What can he say? I tell him frankly that they are alarmed, too, at the fact that the children's services, in which they are very interested, are going to be hived off.
I end on this serious note. There are certain interests in connection with these plans which I do not think have even been considered by the Government. There has not been a single word in the White Paper or the Royal Commission's Report about the denominational schools. These problems are looming large at the moment, and I hope that tomorrow the Minister of Education will say something about them.
I believe that at the end of the day these proposals will prove to be abortive. I must say that I hope the Government will have the courage to withdraw them, saying, after they have listened to this debate and also to local authorities and county councils generally, that while there is a case to be made for the transfer of some facilities and services to some of the London boroughs, there is no case to be made out for this wholesale transfer.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman to consider this. If, at the end of the day, he blindly goes on and presents a Bill to Parliament, it will be fought not only by my hon. Friends and myself, but also by some hon. Members on his own side of the House. I also warn him that when one talks about these services, one is talking about men, women and children. I warn the Minister that there will be a fight the like of which he has never seen or heard before, because for most of us what he is now dealing with is something which we are not prepared 157 to give up easily. He must do more than give us an early history of London. He must tell us something about the future. Unless he can do that, he will be heading for trouble the like of which he has never seen.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. William Roots (Kensington, South)
As the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has already said, this has been an interesting and, I hope, valuable debate. I think that it will not have surprised my right hon. Friend that on any view he must be wrong in some way, because the views which have been expressed on either side of the House have varied in practically every respect.
However, I—and, I am sure, many other hon. Members—welcomed my right hon. Friend's statement at the outset of the debate that he would be prepared to consider representations within the framework which he himself has laid down, and, in particular, on the subjects to which so many of the speeches have been directed—the amalgamations, the sizes of the areas and, particularly, the representations by what have been referred to as the fringe or periphey areas.
Perhaps I might add that when my right hon. Friend considers the eloquent representations by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson), who sought, it appeared to me, to wring his withers by a reference to the Derby being run in London, I hope that he will bear in mind the importance on the other side of the scale, of returning to this great capital city the right to its "City and Suburban" and even the "Great Metropolitan".
To be serious for a moment, from the debate and the representations which I have received, and which have gone to every hon. Member—I have read them all, at any rate, all that I have received; if there are any that I have not read, it is because I have not received them—two basic principles emerge. There are two principles which the Commission found. The first is that the London boroughs should be the primary units of local government in the area and should have transferred to them as many as possible of the powers and duties of local government, assuming that they have been increased, if necessary, to 158 such a size as is viable. I prefer to put it the other way—that they should be as small as is consistent with their still being viable, not losing the capacity to carry out their duties.
When one comes to weigh up the various provisions, one finds that ideas of what is the right size must, of necessity, vary. We bear in mind the paradise which has been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) and realise that a borough of 250,000 apparently yields a life which he, at any rate, and his constituents have found very pleasant, although the loss of their ambulance and fire services will, in his view, affect the happiness of those dwelling in the area. That must be a matter of judgment for my right hon. Friend. I am sure that he will take it into account.
The other principle is that there must be a plan for the whole of the London area. There has been a suggestion that it might be for a larger area, and I will deal with that in a moment. But nobody has suggested that, in this day and age, one can plan for some area or areas which do not cover the London built-up area and its requirements in traffic, planning and so forth. The hon. Member for Bermondsey conceded that, but many hon. Members have not and therefore I will detain the House for a moment on some aspects of it.
We must recognise that in London today planning has fallen far behind. We are not up-to-date, and many of the speeches have borne that out. We have not got a co-ordinated system, whether it be of main roads or anything else. At present, it is the policy to remove office building from central London. Only five years ago, in one of the councils, a proposal to construct a block of offices at a terminal underground railway station was turned down with horror. Even more recently, a plan to provide a multi-storey garage at a terminal of the district railway was also turned down. Admittedly, however, this was allowed on appeal to my right hon. Friend.
The fact is that the interests of the planning authorities and of the outer suburban area are not in accordance and not in relation with the needs and ideas of the central areas. Therefore, we must have one body to prepare a 159 development plan for the built-up area of London.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
The hon. and learned Member complains that certain planning applications were turned down. He will realise, however, that, under the Government's proposed set-up, power to say "Yes" or "No" to planning applications will still reside with the boroughs and not with the Greater London Council.
§ Mr. Roots
I realise that perfectly well. But, at the moment, the fact is that there is no co-ordinated policy for the built-up area. Certainly, an overall plan as to whether office building is to take place on the periphery or only in the centre must be conceded to be a matter of policy and of principle.
The provision of outer area garaging facilities must be made, as I have said. It will be possible to lay down the places where those provisions are to be made in the outer area. Office building plans can also be laid down for the whole area. I take those two examples because I have already mentioned them, but there are many others.
It is said against that that the architects' department of the London County Council will still be needed for great developments, especially in the central area. That may or may not be so. The redevelopment of Piccadilly Circus was given as an example. When one reaches a scheme of that size, however, one is dealing with a national problem, for a national capital. But whether we should retain the architectural staff for the Greater London Council to plan a development of that kind—because they will not have to build it themselves—is a matter of detail about which I do not wish to quarrel with hon. Members opposite.
There is nothing in the White Paper which precludes the Greater London Council from having an architectural staff—and I hope that it would be one of high quality—to plan major developments of the Elephant and Castle and Piccadilly Circus type. To read into the White Paper a departure from that principle, or a refusal to admit it, is quite wrong.
The other advantage that will come from having one overall authority is that 160 having made the plan it can press for its implementation. Ring roads have been marked on London plans in ever-increasing circles for as long as I can remember; but to try to find my way through parts of south London on one of them is a task that has strained my intelligence. I realise that that perhaps calls for the obvious comment that it is not the plan that is at fault.
§ Mrs. Corbet
I hope that the hon. Member realises that it was the Ministry of Transport which refused to allow these ring roads to be developed, or even started.
§ Mr. Roots
In that case, the very existence of a planning authority for the whole of London will be of considerable advantage. It is just that sort of major scheme which an authority able to devote itself to planning should be able to develop far better than the existing authority. I am completely convinced that for the good of planning in London the segregation of the planning power from the housing and constructional powers which the London County Council has can do nothing but good.
What we want is a body which will be able to devote its attention to planning. Hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent London constituencies know that far too much of the energies and attention of the London County Council is devoted to the architectural attractions of its own schemes, while it largely ignores the need to help other people to plan overall for the London area.
§ Mr. Doughty
That is exactly what terrifies the outer areas of London. They are afraid that the central London planning authority may look upon their green belt land which has not been built upon as desirable building land. What protection will they have from this octopus which will attack their open spaces?
§ Mr. Roots
The protection they will have is that which they have at the moment—and the only protection that they can have. Part of the green belt is statutory; the existence of the remainder depends on the assurances of successive Ministers. That situation must exist under any system. It exists now.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
The hon. and learned Gentleman made certain criticisms of the London County Council and said that in its planning it thought only of itself and not of other organisations. In my constituency, the Royal Victuallers Yard, which is of historic importance, is being turned into a vast housing estate by the L.C.C. in cooperation with the Deptford Borough Council. It is taking over a task which the Deptford Council could not do.
§ Mr. Roots
In that case, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will support a proposal to increase the size of Deptford so that it can be effective in carrying out its own housing plans. As tine hon. Gentleman has made that point, may I say that many boroughs, particularly those in the eastern half of London, have allowed the London County Council to come in and do the job. If the boroughs were given the powers to do the work, I am sure that they could do it. The hon. Member for Bermondsey praised his borough. Of course it can build houses, and we have seen what it can do.
I am particularly anxious to correct one point made by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) when he gave as an example the fact that the London County Council had to house two-thirds of the population from the development of Kensal in the Borough of Kensington. I looked up the minutes of the meeting with the London County Council, and I found that the Kensington Borough Council could undertake to deal with its own overspill. At the moment. I understand that the London County Council has done exactly what I think is one of the faults. It has insisted on taking over part of this area of 21 acres. It is not helping Kensington with its overspill. It is the overspill from the L.C.C. area which it is choosing to put into another borough.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
My point was that the carrying through of this scheme required the rehousing of about two-thirds of the people concerned outside the borough. It would not be possible to carry out that kind of scheme if building were a purely borough responsibility.
§ Mr. Roots
I am saying that I have looked at the minutes of the meeting, and that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. 162 The Kensington Borough Council satisfied the London County Council that it could do the housing, and on that basis the scheme was allowed to go forward. That scheme was the subject of endless objections and obstruction by the London County Council because it did not like the Kensington Borough Council undertaking a scheme of 21 acres. The Kensington Borough Council would never have been able to undertake the scheme if it had not known that that was coming and armed itself with a card which even the London County Council could not trump.
The present scheme of planning in London and the location and division of labour is resulting in complete concentration of planning control. The capital works which could be planned and carried out, and the overall policies, are not being effectively planned, or have not been in the past, by the London County Council in its present organisation, and a division of the planning power to cover the overall area would be of the utmost benefit to London.
The only alternative plan has been put forward by the Surrey County Council. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) pointed out, it expressly approved these two main principles of the Royal Commission. It is an alternative plan designed to prevent the eastern part of Surrey being separated from the remainder of the county. I leave aside the question of what I call the fringe area. I regard that as a separate point. In fact, the solution put forward is that we are to have, I understand, a joint planning board for an area to cover the Abercrombie plan.
I should have thought that was only making worse the position for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty). All that we are doing is extending the area to cover land which should not be developed. The green belt is not to have development in it, so one hopes that all we shall plan are roads to go across it. That suggestion, apparently, would merely add another body and that body would include people from Chelmsford, or Haslemere, or from however far it went out. It was suggested once this evening that it should go to the coast. Gentlemen would come from Dover, or 163 wherever it may be, in order to prepare a development plan for London.
Alternatively, there is what, I think, is called the master plan. Below the master plan someone has to prepare the actual development plan for the London area. That is the essential deficiency in this alternative proposal of a joint planning board. I do not say one way or the other now, because to do so would take too long, but it may well be necessary to have a regional plan for the whole of south-east England. But if we are to have that, it must be for south-east England. It is no use fiddling about, and going out as far as Dorking and cutting out Buckinghamshire, which would not be connected with London, and so on.
The joint planning board, in those circumstances, in terms of London, simply represents a master plan which is handed down to these bodies. There are nine of them, county councils and county boroughs, who are to prepare one plan for the built-up area. Nine "cooks". Worse still, nine staffs. One "broth". Does anybody really believe that the "broth" will be anything like drinkable when we have got it?
§ Sir C. Black
My hon. and learned Friend has talked about the need for a master plan and no one has denied that. It has been common ground with everyone who has spoken in the debate. If the Abercrombie plan area was right at the time when the last master plan was prepared, and at a time when London had spread less widely than it has spread now, why is that area now much too large for the next master plan?
§ Mr. Roots
Because the Abercrombie plan did not purport to be a development plan under the present Act. The development plan is designed to deal with development in London.
I cannot help thinking that among hon. Members on this side of the House it will be realised that, to use a technicality, we need a development plan for the development part of London. We cannot have nine people trying to prepare it of whom some, apparently, would come from Haslemere, Chelmsford, or Dover. Are we to be asked to plan Dover and to say where there are to be open spaces? The position gets 164 more foolish as one goes on. The fact is that we need a plan for the whole of London and boroughs with larger powers to implement the execution of that plan. I believe that something on the lines proposed will be of the utmost benefit to London.
I should like to say a word about the London boroughs, since my constituency lies in one of them. At the moment anyone who has studied the matter will, I am sure, agree that the powers of the London boroughs are ludicrous in relation to their rateable value or population or whatever it may be. There is no reason why a Metropolitan borough should have infinitely less power than a provincial borough half its size with half its rateable value and half its importance. Surely the test is which of the London boroughs has publicly stated, "If you give us these powers we cannot operate them, we are too incompetent to undertake them." I know of no borough which has done that.
§ Mr. Mellish
No one has said that. What has been said is that the London boroughs are so competent and are doing the job so well that there is no reason to transfer them.
§ Mr. Roots
The London County Councils's criticisms were three in number in the document that it sent me. First, it said that the boroughs were too big. In fact, the difference between the White Paper proposals and the Commission's proposals is the difference between 18 and 14 and the difference in size is really negligible. I think that the Commission put it at four with 160,000 population as against seven with a population of under 200,000.
It is said that the housing powers will be exercisable only by the Greater London Council with consent. We know from the debate that that is not correct. It will be responsible for overspill powers and I have no doubt that if further powers are needed in London agreement will be readily forthcoming. But, again, if it confines itself to planning it will achieve a far more beneficial effect for London than 165 anything done in the past. Anyone who has been in the provinces in an area within 100 miles of London—this is another point falling within the ambit of the joint planning board—knows that the one thing in common with every county planning authority is that they loathe the sight and the arrival of the L.C.C. There is an immediate "hoo-ha" against the advent of the L.C.C. I have yet to know of any authority which has not objected in the first instance.
In fact, the London County Council will achieve far more if it arranges, as has been done at Basingstoke, for the receiving authority to do the building and undertake the reception. Basingstoke is a very interesting example of the way of setting about it. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) represents a constituency where there is a picture of what happens when the London County Council dumps down a vast population which is, in many respects, completely cut off.
There are obviously a number of other points of detail, but that does not mean that they are not important. The real decision which we are asked to take is on the two main principles of one plan which will be implemented for the whole area and more personal powers for the London boroughs. Those are the main principles. I hope that the House will, at the end of the debate, accept those main principles and the principles set out in the White Paper, subject to the discussions to which my right hon. Friend has referred.
If there is one thing that is really needed more than any other, it is a decision by all of us, and all of the constituencies that we represent which are affected, to do something positive which will not leave this great capital to moulder, and to recognise that we are doing something worth while. It is not enough to sit on it. We must lead it forward, as we can if we adopt the proposals recommended by the Commission and adopted in large part by my right hon. Friend.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.