HC Deb 12 November 1963 vol 684 cc146-56

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peel]

10.0 p.m.

Mr. F. Crowder ( Ruislip Northwood)

I desire tonight to raise the question of the name of the proposed Borough No. 26, which falls within the division which I have the honour to represent. When I use the word "proposed", I mean that a gentle proposition has already been made by the Minister who has supreme responsibility in that matter, and when I seek to propose something else tonight I know that if the Minister has apparently got that far I shall require all the powers of advocacy which I can command.

At the same time, I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend is here tonight to answer on behalf of the Minister, because I know, as a fellow-member of his profession, that nobody will listen more carefully and sympathetically than he to such arguments as I have to put before him.

One might say, in a matter of this sort, "What is there in a name?" The other day I heard that there was some suggestion that a part of Cambridgeshire should find itself within the domain of Hertfordshire, and that there was an outcry from one old lady who said that she did not wish to live in Hertfordshire because the air was so much better in Cambridgeshire. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that the arguments that I have to put forward tonight are not on that basis; they are very much on a local basis, and a very strong basis of local feeling.

I want to put before the House the present position. This new Borough No. 26 will consist of Ruislip-Northwood, comprising about 75,000 people; Hayes and Harlington, with about 68,000; the Uxbridge division, with 62,000; and Yiewsley and West Drayton, with 22,000. This is an area of which I have some knowledge, and with which I have some association, because in January, 1945—nearly eighteen years ago—I set out as the prospective political candidate for what was then the old Uxbridge division, and Ruislip-Northwood, the present political division, was part of that division. It is for that part that I now sit.

I say at once that Uxbridge has a certain predominance in respect of the four areas, in that it was recently granted a charter of borough status. That was in 1955, eight years ago. At the same time, Ruislip-Northwood and Hayes and Harlington made similar applications, but the present Home Secretary issued a number of White Papers dealing with reorganisation, and I believe that it was for that reason that charters were not granted to those respective divisions.

So we have the situation in which, at the moment, the Minister is minded that the name of Borough No. 26 should be Uxbridge. I am against it, my constituents are against it, Hayes and Harlington are against it; and I believe that Yiewsley and West Drayton are against it. Only Uxbridge is for it.

I put this point to the Minister for his most careful consideration. When we have four very similar authorities being merged into one, it is rather unfortunate that a constituent authority

of those four should be given a name to encompass all of them. It lends to jealousy and to certain feelings. Tonight is not the first time that these matters have been mentioned by me or my friends.

In the correspondence I have had with the Minister, I think that he has quite wrongly got the idea that if the name of Uxbridge is given to Borough No. 26, Uxbridge will have a dominance and authority over the other three. Of course, there is absolutely no question of that. What can have put it into the Minister's mind, I am not quite sure. There is a psychological feeling that this might be the case, but, in fact, it is not the case and can never be the case, and in my argument tonight, apart from the psychological value of the case, I place no emphasis on it at all.

Somewhat naturally, when this matter, which will become historical long after we are gone, was raised, the four were all consulted. What did they say? Uxbridge, somewhat naturally, put forward the name of Uxbridge. Ruislip-Northwood, aided, abetted, assisted and comforted by Hayes and Harlington—note the figures, 75,000 plus 68,000 against a mere 62,000—said that they did not want the name of Uxbridge.

The name that they suggested was a wholly reasonable one. They wanted a name which is connected with the old Hundred, the name of Elthorne. Elthorne was the name of the old Hundred which comprised completely the four, Ruislip—Northwood, Hayes and Harlington, Uxbridge and Yiewsley, and West Drayton, the old name, the historical name in every sense of the four constituents of this assembly, if I may so described them, and one which could not possibly give offence to any one.

Yiewsley and West Drayton were in no way opposed to this, but, at the same time, they put forward a rather attractive and delightful suggestion that Borough No. 26 should be given the name of Queensborough. The idea that lay behind that was that it was at Heathrow, within the area of that authority, that Her Majesty the Queen first landed in this country from Kenya, when she ascended to the Throne. Whether or not such a name would be

in order without Her Majesty's commission, I do not know. But, in any event, it is not the name of Uxbridge. It is an attractive proposition which would be acceptable to all. In lieu of that they put forward another name, the name of Heathrow.

I hope that it will not be thought I am in any way antagonistic to the people and the inhabitants of Uxbridge when I oppose that name for this new borough. On the contrary. Having, delicately, in a sense, been their prospective political candidate, representing them in the period of about four-and-a-half years which we endured under Socialism, I have the greatest possible affection for them. But, knowing them as I do, I am sure that they would be the first to feel that here we want a name which would be acceptable to all of us.

We deal in matters of majority, particularly at this moment. It is the majority which counts. Hon. Members opposite have said that the Government have not the authority of the country. One gets authority only through majority and in the two most recent by-elections what do we find? The Conservative Party polled 31,500 votes and the Labour Party 24,860. In the face of those figures a true democrat cannot but say that we have the authority of the country. I know that my hon. Friend will be looking the whole time at the figures in this matter and, prompted by the argument about majority, he will ask: where does public feeling lie? Where does the majority lie? Because it is upon that that authority lies and upon that, surely, must lie the decision of the Minister.

If Her Majesty's Government are to be criticised for their actions in recent months it must, in my respectful submission, be because there has been a feeling that through lack of liaison and public relations they are not in step and in tune with what people are thinking. This is a local affair, something which I make so bold to say that I know something about. Having served in one capacity or another for nearly eighteen years in that area, I think that I know what people are thinking, and most of them are feeling very strongly on this subject.

If I could boil down their feelings I think that it would amount to this. They do not want the name of Uxbridge.

From history, Uxbridge has many great and old associations. The magistrates' court and the county court are situated there purely from a geographical point of view and as a matter of convenience. Uxbridge has another claim to fame. It is the oldest sanitary district previous to the 1894 Act. Sanitation is of the greatest possible importance, but when one considers places like Manor Farm, at Ruislip, places of real antiquity, any historian, considering the four as I have described them, could make out on the basis of history and antiquity a perfectly equal claim for all of them.

I do not wish to see the Government falling into the error—as they have done before over other matters—of causing quite unnecessarily, over a name which means a great deal to local people, a tremendous amount of strong feeling and antipathy. I hope that will not happen.

I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) is present. He is a man for whom I have the greatest possible respect. No one could have worked harder or done more for that constituency than he has done. I have no doubt that, probably on the first and last occasion in our lives, we may find ourselves in gentle dispute and argument here tonight.

Be that as it may, I end with these words. All I ask, most firmly, but, at the same time, carefully, of the Minister tonight is this. Will he treat this rather like one of those letters one sleeps on and thinks about? In other words, will he come to no definite decision against what I have said tonight? Will he give an undertaking to reconsider it and, if he is so prepared to do, will he and the Minister meet representatives of the four? Of one thing I am quite certain. They will all be agreed—the three against Uxbridge—that they are not prepared to have the name of Uxbridge and they will all be equally amenable to accept any name that is either agreeable among themselves or that the Minister may suggest.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

I intervene in this debate on a mission of rescue. I want to protect the Minister from being seduced by the blandishments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder). He is an oratorical Casanova. He is doing his best to persuade the Minister to do something which is completely against the weight of the evidence.

I do not criticise him for that. He represents his constituency, and represents it very well. He is doing his best to put on behalf of his constituency a case which, I suggest, is not worth the attention of the Minister. I agree that I am also speaking on behalf of my constituency, but I suggest that my case is better than his. It is true that he put it with a great deal of persuasiveness and a great deal of cogency. The constituency of Ruislip-Northwood is very fortunate to have as its representative someone who is such an exceedingly persuasive advocate, but, in spite of his persuasiveness, I hope that the Minister will resist the arguments put before him.

The fact is that this new borough which is being created, Borough No. 26, is an area which must be named, I suggest, by relation to contemporary conditions. It is not any good suggesting that this Borough of Uxbridge, as I think it should be called, should be given a name which means nothing whatever to most of the people who live in it. It is idle for my hon. Friend to argue that the borough ought to be called Elthorne. I agree that the name Elthorne has a certain amount of historical support behind it. It is true that in Anglo-Saxon times, in the days of Alfred the Great, this area of Middlesex was called the Hundred of Elthorne.

I am not speaking contemptuously about tradition, but I suggest that it is idle to resurrect a name from the remote past for this borough unless that name has some meaning for the people who live in the area now. I decline to believe that the great majority of people who live in the area which my hon. Friend wants to be described as the Borough of Elthorne would agree that the name Elthorne signifies anything at all to them.

I should be very happy to make an offer to my hon. Friend—perhaps he will take me up on it—to join with him in standing outside Uxbridge station, or Ruislip station if he prefers it, and to ask the people who come out of the station how many of them have ever heard of the Hundred of Elthorne. I will gamble that 999 in every 1,000 would say that they had never heard of it, and if they were told what it was, I fancy that most of them would not be one bit wiser.

In giving a name to this new borough the Minister must look at the contemporary realities. Here is an area in which, whether my hon. and learned Friend likes it or not, the principal and best-known unit of population is Uxbridge. It is by the name of Uxbridgethat most of the people who live in this area know it. I do not believe that it is the slightest use to exhume a name from the remote past. I believe that the Minister is right in deciding that this new borough should be called Uxbridge, and that he has made a decision which conforms to the contemporary realities of the neighbourhood

None of the alternative names has any significance to the people who live there. I do not think that the name of Elthorne signifies anything to them or that the alernative suggestion of Westborough, which has been put forward by one of the local authorities in the area, has any significance. Nor do I think that the name Queensborough or Queenborough signifies anything. If we were to take Queensborough it might be confused with the name of another borough in Kent. I hope that the Minister will dig in his toes. He has made a decision which in my view is sensible, reasonable and workable, and I hope that he will refuse to be driven back from this decision by the arguments, persuasive as they are, of my hon. Friend.

10.22 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)

I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) in that I have only seven minutes left in which to reply to the debate, but I wish to impress upon him from the start that this is certainly not a matter in which my right hon. Friend thinks that either Whitehall or he knows best. It is a matter in which he has made a very genuine effort to find a sensible answer to a difficult problem.

In selecting names to be submitted to the Privy Council of the new London boroughs, his main concern has been to find names which are likely to command local loyalties and thereby to facilitatethe setting up of local government units suitable to the great tasks which the London Government Act places upon them. He has adopted certain rules in the sense of guidance. He has said that he would not like to accept hyphenated names which gave the impression that the new borough remained an amalgam of separate communities rather than a single community in its own right. I think that the complexity of the names of the units in this new borough would rule out such a combination from the start. We should have Uxbridge-Ruislip-Northwood-Hayes-Harlington-Yiewsley-West Drayton. I think that that is hardly a runner.

The corollary is that we tried to look for fairly simple and natural names in the sense that they are not artificial hybrids which I do not think anybody would think likely to carry the support of public opinion and to engender local loyalties. It does not take much to imagine the sort of things we might get if we started on that type of name.

It is clearly desirable that any name selected should have some geographical significance to the people in the area. Lastly, but by no means least, it is clearly desirable that we should have a name which is as generally acceptable as possible. Where there is no agreement, when my right hon. Friend clearly cannot guarantee that there will be, he is in a difficulty and may well have to impose a name, in which case it is bound to offend somebody. I am sure that my hon. Friend, and indeed the House, would agree that we should not accept hybrid names and that there is substance in the argument that hyphenated names might continue to give the impression of split communities and should be avoided where possible.

In other cases my right hon. Friend has shown a willingness to accept names, often with an ancient historical connection, though not very commonly used today, where there has been complete agreement. Perhaps the best example of that is the name "Tower Hamlets", selected for Borough No. 5, comprising the present Metropolitan Boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney.

If there were in this case unanimity of any sort in a name of that type, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be very reluctant indeed to reject it. As my hon. Friend suggested, the present authorities in this borough have displayed almostthe maximum amount of divergence of view on the subject, because his own constituency—Ruislip-Northwood—has pressed for the name "Elthorne". This has been supported by Hayes and Harlington. As a second choice, Hayes and Harlington has favoured "Westborough", which would have been acceptable as an alternative to Ruislip-Northwood, which would also have agreed to "Queensborough". Now we hear that Yiewsley and West Drayton were also interested in "Queensborough", but have equally favoured "Heathrow". On the other hand, Uxbridge has had no doubt in its mind that the name should be "Uxbridge". Finally, I believe that the name "West Middlesex" has been considered locally but not put forward officially.

Out of this maze I think it is fair to say that the only real candidates have been "Elthorne," on the one hand, and "Uxbridge,"on the other. I agree that "Elthorne"has an ancient connection as one of the old Hundreds covering this area and a slightly wider area; but, as far as I know, there is only one local place name which incorporates Elthorne. There is an Elthorne Road in Uxbridge. There is an Elthorne Park and a Hanwell and Elthorne station, both in Ealing. I believe that there are Elthorne Roads in two other boroughs—Wembley and Islington. I hardly think that it can be said that this has a great significance to the area with which we are concerned. Indeed, the Yiewsley and West Drayton Council has specifically said that the name— has no known current connection and would not therefore be likely to command the loyalty which it is felt the new borough needs … My time is short and I can only end by assuring my hon. and learned Friend that we will sleep and think. However, I should be wrong to hold out any hope that in the difficult circumstances facing my right hon. Friend he could be likely to change his mind. If my hon. Friend feels that it would help to bring a delegation, even if my right hon. Friend cannot see it I certainly will, then he can do so. As I said earlier, I do not think that it would be right to hold out any great hope, as there is no name commanding unanimous support and as Uxbridge is one of the centres selected or mentioned by the Royal Commission, and indeed by the four town clerks when they were considering the sort of centres on which these new boroughs should be built, that it is likely that an alternative will emerge which will either have the unanimity necessary or the central features which Uxbridge has, which is why my right hon. Friend has selected it.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.