HC Deb 22 January 1964 vol 687 cc1203-30

10.2 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)

I beg to move, That the Luton Order 1963, dated 12th December 1963, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th December, be approved. It may be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I say something now both about this Order, which relates to Luton, and also about the Solihull Order, which is the subject of the next Motion. I hope that that will be acceptable to you and to the House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Yes, if that is the wish of the House.

Sir K. Joseph

Both Orders are made under the same provisions of the Local Government Act, 1958, and are very similar in content. I propose, first, to deal with the process by which the Orders have emerged, and then with the contents of the two Orders themselves. If, during the subsequent discussion, points arise which I have not covered, I shall seek the leave of the House to speak again in order to try to give replies at the end of the debate.

These two Orders represent the first major measures of local government reorganisation outside Greater London for a quarter of a century. Their purpose is to constitute the boroughs of Luton and Solihull as county boroughs, with some alterations to their areas. The Local Government Act, 1958, established a Local Government Commission for England and charged it with the task of reviewing the organisation of local government and of making proposals desirable in the interests of effective and convenient local government.

Luton is a prosperous town of 136,000 people—that was the 1963 figure—and it is likely to grow still further. The Order would extend it to about 145,000 population. Its council asked the Commission to recommend county borough status. Neither Bedford County Council nor its neighbours Dunstable Borough Council and Luton Rural District Council opposed Luton's claim. Under Section 34 of the Act, a population of 100,000 is deemed sufficient to support the discharge of the functions of a county borough council. The Commission had no hesitation in saying that Luton's size and resources were adequate for the task. It was satisfied also that Bedford without Luton, which would have a population of 230,000, would continue to be an effective county and that Luton rural district, with a population of 24,000, would still be an effective county district.

The Commission went on to consider Luton's future area. It concluded that the neighbouring borough of Dunstable should not be included in the county borough but that some boundary adjustments between Luton, on the one hand, and Dunstable and Luton rural district, on the other, were desirable. On the publication of the Commission's report and proposals, there were no objections to the promotion of Luton to be a county borough, but Dunstable Borough Council objected to the proposed transfer to Luton of a strip on the eastern side of Poynters Road. Instead, they wanted the whole of the Luton area lying west of the M.1 to be transferred to Dunstable. A public local inquiry was held in May, 1962, and after considering the inspector's report I decided not to uphold the objection. This decision was announced in December, 1962.

I know from the representations which have been made to me by my hon. Friends the Members for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) and Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking) that the Dunstable council still feel, that if the Luton area west of the motorway is not to be transferred to it the boundary between the two boroughs should not be altered. But, having concluded that the area west of the motorway was an integral part of Luton, I decided that the Commission was right in suggesting that the land on the eastern side of Poynters Road had a more natural link with Luton than Dunstable and therefore should be transferred. The middle of Poynters Road should prove to be a convenient boundary and the loss of this small area, which is no more than 36 acres, will have very little effect on Dunstable. The sketch map on the back of the Order shows the line which has been adopted. It is the Commission's line subject to only one minor modification. Luton will gain about 9,000 people, mostly from areas in the rural district, which are now, in effect, built-up parts of the town.

I now turn to the Solihull Order. The House will be aware that Solihull is mainly a residential town with a history of extremely rapid growth. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Sir M. Lindsay) and the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) are present. When Solihull was created an urban district in 1932 its population was about 25,000. By the end of the war it stood at 63,000. It obtained its borough charter in 1954. Its population is already past the 100,000 mark, and it is likely to grow a good deal more.

Solihull also asked the Commission for county borough status. After some initial doubts, the Warwickshire County Council did not oppose its claims. The Commission looked first at the possibility of including Solihull in Birmingham but decided against it. Then it considered the Warwickshire position. It decided that it would remain an effective county without Solihull with a population of 480,000 and would be no less convenient since Solihull is somewhat isolated from the rest of the county by its position. Accordingly, the Commission proposed that Solihull should become a county borough.

However, in accordance with its policy of leaving green belt areas with the administrative counties, the Commission recommended that Solihull's area should be substantially reduced by the exclusion of as much land in the green belt as possible. It also recommended some minor boundary changes between Solihull and Birmingham. When the Commission's proposals were published there was no objection to the creation of Solihull as a county borough. Three objections about boundaries were considered at local inquiries as a result of which I decided broadly in favour of the objectors in two instances.

The sketch plan on the back of the Order shows the line which has been adopted Broadly, it is the Commission's line with modifications in the Solihull Lodge and Coventry Road area. While Solihull loses a substantial area it does not lose much population. Most of the lost area stays in Warwickshire, but for convenience a small part of the boundary in the north-west is to be transferred to Worcestershire.

If Solihull achieves county borough status its rise from a rural district to a county borough in just over thirty years must constitute a record of growth and civic achievement.

The two Orders are very similar. Of necessity they are not based on previous ones. Many of their provisions, however, follow the lines of the London Government Act, 1963. Others are based on provisions in the boundary orders which for many years have been made under the Local Government Act, 1933.

The principal purpose of the two Orders is to declare the two towns to be county boroughs. This is done in Article 5 in each case. This Article goes on to make the necessary changes in the areas of the two towns and the surrounding counties and county districts. The remaining provisions in the two Orders are consequential or transitional in character and are made under Section 38 of the Act. I do not propose at this stage to deal with the articles in detail, but if any hon. Member has a particular point to raise I will try to answer it.

The articles do not need to empower the new county boroughs to provide the relevant services. The appropriate Acts of Parliament do this generally for all county boroughs. The articles are designed to lid the transfer of services from one authority to another. In some cases, such as in education, health, welfare and planning, both Luton and Solihull have enjoyed delegated powers for some years. They are, therefore, accustomed to dealing with a number of problems in areas of administration for which they will now assume complete responsibility.

The transfer of services makes necessary the transfer of some local authority officers. Because of delegation, nearly all these officers employed by the county councils are at present working in Luton and Solihull under the direction and control of the borough councils. They will, no doubt, continue on very much the same work with their new employing authority. The transfer of officers is effected by Article 54, which protects the terms and conditions of service of transferred officers on the lines laid down in Section 85 of the London Government Act.

There is, however, one provision of the Luton Order to which I might draw the attention of the House. Hon. Members will remember that provision was included in the London Government Act requiring payments to be made by the Greater London Council to the county councils of Essex, Bedfordshire, Kent and Surrey if those counties incurred an additional rate burden exceeding a 5d. rate as a result of the Act. This provision was based on the special circumstances of the London reorganisation. Outside London, circumstances vary widely and we must deal with the facts as they are.

As regards Bedfordshire and Luton, Luton is a highly rated area and has made a relatively large contribution to the county's expenses. When Bedfordshire put forward a claim for a provision in the Luton Order similar to that in the London Government Act, it looked as though there might be a prima facie case for some similar form of assistance. I therefore suggested that the practical course was for the two authorities concerned to discuss the question of transitional assistance to see whether agreement could be reached. I am glad to say that they came to an agreement, which is now incorporated in Article 45 of the Luton Order.

It is customary and convenient for local government changes to take effect at the beginning of the financial year. The two Orders therefore name 1st April, 1964, as the appointed day for the change in the status and areas of the two towns. Certain provisions such as the alteration of electoral registers and valuation lists to correspond with the new areas, the appointment of officers for, and expenditure on new services, come into operation at once if Parliament approves the Orders. This will enable the local authorities concerned to make preparations in advance of the appointed day for the effective running of the towns and their services.

As the House will realise, the two Orders are the beginning of local government reorganisation outside Greater London. They embody and give effect to the changes proposed by the Local Government Commission, which the Government accept to be conducive to the main objective of effective and convenient local government. There is no doubt that both borough councils have the resources and should be capable of discharging the functions of county boroughs in the years to come.

It is significant that there has been no objection to the promotion of these two boroughs. It is also a tribute to the sense of proportion and objectivity of the county councils of Bedford and Warwickshire, who have also given unstinting help in the drafting of the Orders and have co-operated in full and friendly fashion with the two borough councils in preparation for the smooth hand-over of services at the appointed day.

If Parliament approves these Orders, Luton and Solihull will be the first new county boroughs to be created since 1927, when Doncaster was successful in obtaining county borough status in a Private Bill. The House would, I think, wish to join me in sending our congratulations to these latest recruits to the ranks of county borough status and our best wishes to them for the future. I commend both these Orders to the House.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

Perhaps I may make a few general remarks on the Orders, after which I am sure that my hon. Friends will also want to make some comments. As the Minister has said, these are the first two Orders under Part II of the 1958 Act, which provides for the review of the organisation of local government in England and Wales. I am sure that they are the harbingers of many other changes to come.

I should like to make it quite clear at the very outset that it is, of course, the duty of the Opposition to look at all legislation, and certainly legislation in this form, but, quite apart from that duty, these Orders which create great all-purpose authorities deserve special study on their own merits because they are, after all, dealing with administrative arrangements under which many hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens will live. The arrangements will decide their local education facilities, their local welfare services, their services for children in care, their water supply, their burials, housing—indeed, a whole host of things.

It is right, therefore, that we should spend a few moments looking at both of these Orders and what they contain. They are quite formidable. They both consist of 57 articles, and in the case of Solihull eight schedules, presumably because of the rather more difficult boundary considerations involved.

I should like at this stage to make one suggestion about future orders. The Minister gave an estimate of the population now. There are already excellent maps on the back of the Orders. It would be a great help in trying in a future case to obtain an accurate picture of what a new authority is going to look like, and of exactly what it will comprise, if under the Explanatory Note which is not part of the Order, but is intended to indicate its general purport there could be figures of population and, possibly of rateable value. I have tried to find this out. I am glad that the Minister gave the Luton figure, for it is rather different from the figure quoted to me of the changes as a result of the Order. It is a small point, but it would help those whose duty it is to consider these matters both inside and outside the House.

Whatever view we may take about the wisdom of creating these all-purpose authorities, at this stage it would be very churlish if we showed any objection to the Luton Order. After all, the burgesses of Luton have been endeavouring to obtain this status for fifty years. I think that the first provisional order was in 1912. At any rate, it is a lesson in persistence being ultimately rewarded. Consequently, whatever reservations one may have about the general principles of this form of creation, I would join the Minister in congratulating the burgesses on their success in being the first county borough created since 1927.

With regard to Luton, there are two questions I should like to ask the Minister. Article 28 is about water supplies. I gather that some parts of the new county borough which are served at present by the Mid-Bedford Water Company will be transferred to the Luton Water Company. This is, I believe, a comparatively small company. I presume that the Ministry and all the authorities are satisfied that the water supply will be adequate for future expansion. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) may have something to say about this. I think that wherever there are new areas, where a large number of people are working together, water demands have a habit of multiplying. The Minister has power to make the necessary amalgamations of water undertakings and arrangements and perhaps he will say something about the adequacy of supplies.

I was very glad he mentioned the transitional arrangements under Article 45 of the Luton Order. I heard that Bedfordshire County Council would have liked something rather like Section 70 of the London Government Act, and I am very glad to note that under Article 45 there is agreement between the existing authorities and Bedfordshire County Council. There are, indeed, fairly substantial payments which may be made for some years from Luton to Bedfordshire County Council.

I see the hon. Member for Solihull (Sir M. Lindsay) is here—as also, indeed, is my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie). I read the inquiry about the new county borough of Solihull and I noticed that at one time there were something like 500 objections. How far they have all been assuaged I do not know. This is satisfactory so far as it goes; at any rate neither of these new county boroughs is opposed by any of the existing authorities. I say that it is satisfactory, but I want to utter just this one warning. I notice that Bedfordshire County Council hoped that the Minister would hold up the order until it knew what would happen to the rest of the area as a result of the recommendations of the Boundary Commission.

The Minister mentioned that the County population will be 200,000 against the 360,000 now, I gather that the rateable value will go down from £5 million to £3 million. The Minister's view in a letter of 19th December, 1962, was that Bedfordshire was still a viable unit, and I dare say he is right. It is a matter of judgment, and one can only do the best in the circumstances that the difficulties in which the remaining parts of the counties will be left cannot be overlooked. I wonder therefore how far it is wise to look forward to the creation of a large number of these multi-purpose authorities without considering the effect on the services which it is possible to provide for ratepayers who live outside. I hope that the House will be zealous in trying to get the balance right between those inside the new county boroughs, if we have any more of them, and those outside.

There is a further point, which is rather more technical than doctrinal. One of my hon. Friends said to me earlier this evening that we have upstairs in the House of Commons a Bill being considered for the merger of smaller police forces into larger police forces. This Bill will cause the reverse in the case of Luton. We know that the thinking in respect of fire prevention is for larger units rather than smaller units, and that in connection with the designation of land use and town and country planning, whatever Government are in charge in a few years' time, there are bound to be changes. I am wondering how far—I have what Luther called "a little worm of doubt"—these new county borough creations will fit into that picture when there is bound to be very considerable change.

I have no desire in any way to deprive Luton or Solihull of their new dignity and the privilege of their new status, but in considering these Orders we must have some regard to the effect upon the councils which remain outside. It is in that spirit, although I in no way suggest that we should oppose these Orders, that I hope we shall consider the problem in future.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) will not, because of our procedural arrangements, take it amiss if I speak first on the Luton Order, although he is the Member for the greater part of Luton and I sit for possibly only a quarter of the new county borough.

I should not like this occasion to pass, even though I sit for only part of the county of Bedford as well as for part of the county borough of Luton, without adding my own very warm congratulations on an outstanding occasion of this kind, on the new status shortly to be obtained by the town of Luton.

My constituency of South Bedfordshire includes part of the county—Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard and a substantial portion of the southern part of Bedfordshire—as well as approximately a quarter of the town and county borough of Luton, so it will be recognised that my position is a dual one in this matter. This gives me an opportunity to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to two matters, one of which he has dealt with. I congratulate my right hon. Friend in dealing with these very important Orders in his usual inimitably clear way and satisfying all of us who want the Orders.

The first of the two points to which I want to make reference is that referred to by my right hon. Friend, the Poynters Road boundary. I believe that his careful words and even more careful attention which it is clear that he has given to the matter in the initial representations in 1962 and then in the last few months will satisfy the borough of Dunstable, which is particularly affected by this matter. I thank my right hon. Friend for having given it his attention and deeming it of sufficient importance to include in his remarks in introducing the Order.

The other matter is not in my right hon. Friend's province except, perhaps, as a matter of residual law. It is, rather, addressed to the mayor and burgesses of the new corporation. This concerns the local government representation of the areas in my constituency at present outside the new confines of the county borough. There is some concern about the temporary position—I hasten to say that it is only temporary until April, 1965—of local government representation from 1st April this year when the new county borough will raise its head until April, 1965, when the new warding of the county borough will become a matter of law. I make these remarks to show that concern is felt by certain areas which will be proud and privileged to be joined in the new county borough when it is formed.

As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) said, a local government adventure of this kind does not take place without a loss to the counties of which up to now these towns have formed a part. I do not hesitate to say that Bedfordshire will suffer a loss in both finance and population, as well as in social and other ways, by the severance of Luton from the county territory, but I would point out that the degree and the emphasis of the realisation of this loss is only an indication of the importance in which the town of Luton has hitherto been held and will continue to be held by the representatives and population of the county. It is a measurement of the appreciation of the present and ever-growing importance of the town which is shortly to become a new county borough.

It has been a long story, and a conspicuous part of the story has been the consistency and unwavering endeavour which has been shown by the town of Luton over very many years to achieve this new and important status. I believe that all of us, including those who will be affected by the severance of Luton from the territory of the administrative county of Bedfordshire, wish to join together in expressing our best wishes and hoping for a happy and outstanding future for the new county borough in the very great step which it has taken in local government.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. W. Howie (Luton)

I thank the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) for the kindly welcome that he has given to the new borough. His position has been rather difficult in that he represents part of Bedfordshire which is losing part of its territory, part of its population and part of its rateable value to the new county borough. He has perhaps been torn in two directions by separate groups of his constituents in the negotiations which have been going on. Nonetheless, he welcomes the new borough. I hope the whole House will welcome it and approve the Order.

This is the fulfilment of years of ambition on the part of a substantial number of people in Luton. For a number of years Luton has been one of the very largest municipal boroughs in the country, much bigger than many other towns which have been county boroughs for a substantial time. It has been, and certainly now is, big enough, vigorous enough and mature enough to look after its own affairs.

What has been notable throughout the last year or two of this affair has been the very high measure of agreement which has been reached by the people concerned in it. Luton's neighbours have granted and recognised the right of self-determination for the town, and the only disputes have been technical ones about boundaries and matters of that sort. The only large disputed area is that part claimed by Dunstable which lies to the west of the M.1, marked on the map as Leagrave.

Many people felt that the M.1 would form a natural boundary, and people in Dunstable certainly felt this. However, when the M.1 was built there were numerous bridges in that area and the connections between Leagrave and the remainder of Luton are quite substantial, and since they cross the M.1 by means of underpasses they are a good deal safer than many other parts of that road have shown themselves to be in the last day or two. Leagrave is very close to Luton, and the Minister's decision that it should remain part of the new county borough is surely a correct one.

I think the agreement was helped in part by the fact that Bedfordshire, even without Luton, is not merely a rump. Bedfordshire remains a county with a population approaching a quarter of a million, with a rateable value of £3 million or so. It is self-supporting and quite able to maintain itself in the future. In that respect, agreement has been reached on financial help from the new borough for a transitional period, and it is again heartening that the Minister did not have to impose the sums of money involved but that agreement was reached between the authorities.

I feel disquiet about only one aspect of this business. It is the matter raised by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South concerning the representations of the people who come from Bedfordshire into the new county borough. Originally, the timetable would have given time for the Order to have been approved by the House, for the wards to be redrawn, and so on, in ample time for the May elections. Unfortunately, this cannot now be done, and somewhat makeshift temporary arrangements have been entered into. As soon as possible the ward boundary within the new county borough must be redrawn to bring these people properly and equally into the affairs of the town so that they do not feel that they are being swallowed up by a bigger unit without having any great say in it.

I think that they can be reassured on this because the borough council will make this, I feel quite sure, a matter of some urgency, and in so far as I have any influence with the borough council—I do not know whether I have or not—I will certainly lend my efforts to help them. It is my hope that the House will approve this Order tonight and raise Luton to the civic dignity to which its dynamism entitles it.

10.35 p.m.

Sir Martin Lindsay (Solihull)

I rise for a moment or two to thank my right hon. Friend on behalf of my constituents for having laid this Order. It is not the first time that we have had reason to be grateful to him. Only a little while ago there was a proposal to knock a projection off the constituency boundaries and put some 2,000 of my constituents into the City of Birmingham, a proposal to which they strongly objected. My right hon. Friend considered the whole question on its merits and came down on the side of the objectors. He thought that their wishes should prevail rather than the idea of having a nice, straight boundary on the map.

I am very happy to acknowledge that and also to thank him for having taken the decision to proceed in this rather unusual way instead of saying that Solihull must wait until the rest of the West Midlands conurbation was dealt with, which I have no doubt many a lesser man would have said. That would have resulted in Solihull not having become an all-purpose authority for another two or three years, which would have been a great pity.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend reminded us that it is only just over 30 years since Solihull was but a parish in a rural district and that it is still less than ten years since we received our charter as a non-county borough, and that he has confirmed officially our understanding that the rapidity of our progress is without parallel in the history of local government.

I believe that the way in which Solihull has grown from a village into a township is something in which all the citizens of the borough, all members of the local authority and all their officials can take great pride. One is therefore particularly glad that this recognition and this promotion have not been unnecessarily delayed. On behalf of my constituents, I once again thank my right hon. Friend very much for the step he has taken.

10.38 p.m.

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

It is with great trepidation that I step into the middle of the congratulatory remarks about these two Orders and strike perhaps a slightly discordant note. I cannot see how these Orders fit in with the Government's moderisation plans which we have heard so much about.

The hon. Member for Solihull (Sir M. Lindsay) said that Solihull has grown from a village to a township in a very short period. That is true. But that is not because of what Solihull has done—and I say this with no disrespect to the town—but purely because the circumstances of the whole region have led to that development.

Now we are being asked to put a wall round Solihull, to take it way back to the medieval days of the walled city, whose inhabitants could provide all local government facilities for themselves and could be completely cut off from the great city on one side and the rural area on the other. That is not the right way to modernise local government machinery.

I am not attacking either Luton or Solihull. They have used the law as it stands quite legitimately. They have applied for something they were entitled to apply for and have been granted it. But I am against the creation of new county boroughs, whether they happen to be Luton, Solihull or any others.

When the right hon. Gentleman starts to bring in Orders to demote some county boroughs under the 1958 Act, I shall support him, although he will not be in office long enough to bring them in. But these Orders tonight do not represent a good move. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) has mentioned one ridiculous aspect. The House is at present considering the Police Bill, one purpose of which is to set up machinery to get more efficient police forces by amalgamations. Tonight we are splitting one police force into two, but within ten years it will be back as one, probably with other bits added to it. We are destroying one police force tonight and creating two, but later this Session machinery will be set up to amalgamate police forces.

I notice that the Minister of Health has more sense in this matter both in Luton and Solihull, for he is not to allow these new county boroughs to have, as most county boroughs have, their own health executives. This is a new departure for which I am grateful. It is only the exceedingly small county boroughs which do not have their own health executives and which have to join with the surrounding counties in this respect; but these two new county boroughs are to have to join with the surrounding counties for health executive functions. That is the only sensible thing about the two Orders.

I also notice that the new county boroughs are to have their own commissions of the peace, while there are Greater London boroughs with populations considerably in excess of the populations of these two boroughs which cannot have their own separate justices' sessions and which have to be lumped together in ungainly groups throughout the London area. As these two new county boroughs are to have their own justices' sessions, I can see no justification for what is being done in this respect in the case of the London boroughs.

When the Local Government Act, 1958, was introduced, I was not a Member but I was advising the Labour Party on local government matters. I have no hesitation in saying that I supported that Measure. I thought that it was setting up reasonably good machinery for dealing with problems which everyone knew had to be tackled. I had one or two reservations, particularly about the way in which county district boundaries were to be dealt with at some time in the future, but on the whole I thought in 1958 that the machinery of the 1958 Act was correct.

We are now beginning to see that machinery produce Orders such as these and undoubtedly there will be many more in the next three or four years. However, so much has altered since 1958 that it is not now right to create new county boroughs such as Luton and Solihull. The idea was good in 1958, but it is not now. One has to consider the changes which have been taking place over the last few years. I go further and say that we have to consider the changes since the Local Government Boundary Commission held its hearings into the West Midlands Special Review Area.

The Commission began its work in 1959 and carried on during the early part of 1960. I was asked by the West Midlands Regional Council of the Labour Party to prepare evidence for it to submit to the Commission for the West Midlands Special Review Area. The Commission missed a splendid opportunity in the area by suggesting that it should be dealt with by being split into a number of separate county boroughs. If ever an area of this country justified the creation of a continuous county covering the whole of the region, it was the West Midlands Special Review Area.

Most of the evidence submitted to the Commission came from existing local authorities concerned either with maintaining their own status or with improving it. When I appeared before the Commission and argued the case for a continuous county, I was informed that that case had not been put to the Commission by anyone else. If we were to start the inquiry again, because of what has happened since 1958, rather more bodies would put forward evidence in support of the idea of regionalism in that area.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but the House should bear in mind that we are not considering the general question but the Luton and Solihull Orders, copies of which have been laid before the House. That does not entitle the House to discuss the whole principle of the matter in general.

Mr. Reynolds

I must, of course, accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but the Minister pointed out the procedure which was gone through in the hearings before the Commission and the objections raised. He went into all these details. I perhaps have been going into further detail than the Minister did.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If I may intervene again, that is why I permitted the hon. Member to go as far as he has gone, but I hope that he will not go further.

Mr. Reynolds

I shall therefore relate my case to these two specific boroughs. We have seen many changes since 1958, and all of them, I think, have militated against the creation of these two county boroughs. We have seen a terrific upsurge in land prices as a result of legislation which went through the House. We have the creation of the National Economic Development Council and possible regional councils. We have had the Government's policy for the North-East which gathers together civil servants in one large regional office. This will happen in Solihull. We have seen the emergency of the motorways. The M.1 is in the Luton area. I think it as good a natural boundary as one could get. Although I do not know the county, I think the motorway would form as good a boundary as a river and I am surprised that the new boundary should go across it.

We have had the Beeching Report which deals with railway transport in the regions, and the Buchanan Report on Traffic in Towns. These are bound to create considerable problems in future. We have had the New Towns Commission to take over the new towns because existing local authorities were not considered suitable. We have had the full realisation of the population explosion which has taken place in the country. In 1958 we thought the bulge in the schools had finished. Now we realise that it is beginning again, worse than before. All this happened before the hearings which eventually led to the production of these Orders. We have had suggestions for larger police forces, but now we are to have two smaller ones.

We have had the colleges of advanced technology going out of the local government field. We have had the legislation on water resources, but tonight we are asked to perpetuate a couple of small water companies in the Luton area. We have had the London Government Act by which the Government decided that we should have a population of 200,000 as a local government area whereas I should have thought that completely superseded the 100,000 which the House approved in 1958.

We are in the awkward position of dealing with Orders resulting from legislation passed on the ideas of 1958, which in 1958 I must admit I thought perfectly right, but I think the circumstances have changed since then so much that we ought to look at the whole matter again and not approve Orders such as these. We are driving towards a situation where, whichever party is on the Treasury Bench, we shall have regional administration of some kind. If we create county boroughs such as Luton and Solihull, we shall find things exceedingly difficult in the near future. We shall have regional administration by civil servants on behalf of the central Government in regional offices. We shall have economic planning by trade union and industrial representatives sitting on regional Neddys. I cannot see where the elected representatives will come in at all, because if there are these hundred or more local bodies scattered throughout the regions there will be precious little consultation between them and the important central government officers sitting in the regions and the smaller regional N.E.D.Cs. We shall have land use, industrial development, new towns, police, all with a hotch-potch of joint committees, and water supplies with a hotch-potch of ad hoc committees, and all being drawn away from normal and natural local government machinery.

Mr. Cole

I think that this summarises all that the hon. Member has been saying, to which I have listened with great care. What has been evolving since 1958 is entirely a soulless and passionless kind of administration which, if he had his way, would take away all the natural aspirations and ambitions of people living in a town and their pride in progress and prosperity.

Mr. Reynolds

The hon. Member completely misunderstands me. We are drifting towards exactly what he describes, and I say that if we ignore what is happening and continue as if nothing had happened since 1958, continue creating county boroughs in this way, we shall be in the position in the very near future when many things which matter from a planning, transport and land use point of view, and many of the major services, are right outside the local government structure and the elected representatives will have no say whatever in them. That is what I believe we are drifting towards and what I think we must stop.

The creation of county boroughs will not stop it. My study of local government was carried out primarily in 1946 and 1947, and I have always regarded as my bible on this problem the report of the Local Government Boundaries commission in 1947, which advocated the creation not of county boroughs but of most-purpose authorities. That is one reason why on the London Government Bill I supported in general the idea of larger boroughs with greater powers. We should be moving towards the creation not of county boroughs, not of mediaeval walled cities, trying to drag them into the twenty-first century—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but he is straying from these two Orders, one affecting Solihull and the other affecting Luton, into generalisations which are out of order in this limited debate.

Mr. Reynolds

I was saying that we are trying to create two new county boroughs and to turn them into mediaeval cities, to put an iron curtain around them and to cut them off from the surrounding countryside on which they depend for their very existence, and to try to make it appear that they can be governed completely separately from the surrounding county area and, in the case of Solihull, from the large city which it borders. I do not think that that is possible.

I think that we ought to be going at present—and you will rise quickly if I dwell too long on this matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—for elected regional authorities, some 500 or 600 most-purpose authorities, which is the only way in which we can bring effective local government into the twentieth and twenty-first century. I wish that the Minister would withdraw the two Orders and not proceed with them tonight. We need a complete change in the machinery which was created in 1958. He should try to bring it up to date, for at the moment I think it is almost as old as if it were passed 50 years ago.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. Martin Maddan (Hitchin)

I will confine my remarks to the Luton Order, which I welcome, in the sense that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) welcomed it. But, in the rules of the game, they have scored their point. For the people of Luton and the aspirations which they have had, I feel very happy, but I wish to raise certain points of particular interest to me.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) alluded to the M.1 and Leagrave. Where one has a town through which a motorway is driven and then one considers the boundaries subsequently, that is one case, but I hope that this will not be taken in any way as a precedent to suggest that it is desirable to have an authority with a motorway running through it. To create a town on both sides of a motorway would be the final step of folly. I allude to proposals being considered for a town which is just off this map called Stevenage.

Another interesting thing about the motorway and this boundary is that, because of the motorway, certain parts of the old borough of Luton have been excluded from the new borough, which emphasises that it is desirable to regard the motorway as a boundary in its own right.

Mr. Howie

The two parts of Luton affected by the motorway are quite different. That part which has been excluded is totally rural. In that part the motorway provides a distinct boundary. This is not true in Leagrave. Communications across or under the motorway are reasonable. The map shows a railway line right up the middle of Luton, which is a much more impassable boundary than the motorway. I hope that no one will suggest that the railway should be the boundary.

Mr. Maddan

The railway is more impassable only because there are fewer bridges over it. In the natural way I do not think that it is either less or more impassable than the motorway. It may be one thing to approve an Order for a boundary through which a motorway has been driven. It would be a different matter to create a borough, new housing, and so on, spreading over a motorway. I hope that this point will not be taken as a precedent.

On the other side of the map we see a little village called King's Walden. We see the extension of the borough eastwards to King's Walden. I dare say this is desirable from a local government point of view. On the other side of King's Walden, which is only four miles away, it is proposed that the western boundary of the new town of Stevenage should come. Therefore, King's Walden will be pinched between these two great conurbations of 150,000 people. What are the plans of the Borough of Luton and what will my right hon. Friend's attitude be if Luton suggests that the area shaded to the east of Luton Airport should be developed for housing or other purposes, because it is now largely a rural area? If as a result of it having been brought within the Borough of Luton it is to be developed, it will bring much closer the danger that already seems too close to the Borough of Luton fusing with the town of Stevenage, which is a very short distance away.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will say something to allay my fears about the effect of passing Orders of this sort upon the development of county services and the housing industry. It cannot escape the notice of people in Hertfordshire that just over the boundary a town of this size becomes a county borough, when it is proposed that a town just off this map should also grow to the size of Luton. Will it continue to be my right hon. Friend's policy to keep the rules as they are and grant county borough status at any foreseeable time in the future to any town which reaches the 100,000 mark? I personally think that he should not. I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, North; it is the most ludicrous proposition in this age. It would do something to ease some of the planning problems that he faces if he were to say "These are the rules. These Orders have been brought forward under them, so we are granting them. But in no way should anyone assume that these will be as the rules of the Medes and Persians, and will never change." Unless my right hon. Friend can give that assurance, the House will, by passing these Orders, be creating citadels of resistance to development that must take place.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the Solihull Order. To listen to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) was to hear the faint grinding of Greater London axes in the distance in a way which took one fairly far from these Orders. He criticised my right hon. Friend for grasping these two nettles in this way. It must be eleven or twelve years since I supported in this House with my vote—I think even with a speech—a Bill brought forward by the then Dr. Charles Hill to give county borough status to the Borough of Luton. At about the same time, I brought forward a Bill to give county borough status to a very large borough in the Greater London area. Both Bills were turned down flat.

In those days—and the hon. Member might do well to consider this—we had these Bills brought forward fairly often, and it was absolutely a recognised thing that all the borough and county borough Members voted for them, and every county Member voted against them, quite irrespective of what the area was, or what the borough was, or what were the merits of the case. The Association of Municipal Corporations briefed all the borough and county borough Members to vote for the Bills—and the county Members did not even need briefing; they voted against without the slightest hesitation. If the hon. Member thinks that that was a more satisfactory way of dealing with these matters than that of my right hon. Friend, he should look at some of those debates.

Having now become, in, perhaps, a more real sense than might at first sight appear, a poacher turned gamekeeper, since I am no longer the representative of an aspiring borough but of a county constituency in a county from which a large slab of rateable value is being taken under the Solihull Order, I trust that I shall not take the sort of view which county Members used to take in those days ten or twelve years ago. My constituents, and I—and many of my constituents have Solihull as their postal address—wish the new county borough well. We congratulate its people on achieving this status, which we believe to be merited, and we believe that the new county borough will have all the success it deserves, but I should be failing in my duty to my own constituents if I did not place on record certain facts on which I should like my right hon. Friend to comment.

My right hon. Friend referred to the effect which the removal of the borough of Luton from the county of Bedfordshire would have. He said, quite rightly, that it represented a very large slab of the rateable value of the county; that there had been some talk of introducing into this arrangement the same sort of compensation payments that have been introduced into the Greater London scheme, and that, as a result of this, an arrangement had been made between the two authorities. I think it is true that the same sort of proposal was mooted in the case of Solihull.

I would not for a moment suggest that the cases of the county of Warwickshire and Solihull are in the same order of magnitude as the case of Luton and Bedford. They are not. It is nevertheless true that the county borough area of Solihull represents something like one-sixth of the rateable value of the county of Warwickshire and that is not an inconsiderable slice. I find it difficult to believe that the creation of Solihull as a county borough will relieve the county of Warwickshire of anything like one-sixth of its expenditure on services.

I do not happen to believe—and I agree with my right hon. Friend—that the Greater London precedent Is a satisfactory one for this situation, because when one begins to cross the wires between local authorities in financial matters of this kind the jungle into which one gets is a very difficult one. All I want to ask is whether my right hon. Friend has appreciated the difficulties which this will place upon certain ratepayers, particularly in the borough of Stratford-on-Avon, where the recent rating valuation has already caused considerable concern and whether my right hon. Friend believes that financial adjustments which it is possible to make in the normal way will in any way reduce the extra burden which will be placed upon them.

11.6 p.m.

Sir K. Joseph

By leave of the House, I should like to try to answer some of the points that have been made. First, I will deal with the Orders themselves as physical objects. Certainly, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) has suggested, we shall try, in future, to insert population and rateable value figures if it is practicable in each case. His suggestion is very useful.

To turn to the general issues raised, I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) for reminding us of the bygone joys of the piecemeal approach. I think that the comprehensive approach has its virtues, of which we are all aware. I come next to the bigger issues still, raised by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) and the surprisingly long, considering the observations of the Chair, and most stimulating comments by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds).

The first issue, whether a county is or is not left as an effective and convenient unit of local government after a borough has been promoted to county borough status, must inevitably be a matter of judgment in each case. In this case, after careful consideration and in consonance with the views of the Local Government Commission, the Government have decided that the counties remain effective units of local government. Nevertheless, it remains true that we are not dealing here with the laws of the Medes and the Persians.

I took the opportunity of an address to the County Councils Association last year to discuss the implications of a rapidly increasing population on the promotion prospects of boroughs to county borough status. I stressed that the area of my thoughts at that stage was only in connection with the time after this round of local government reorganisation. This is not the time for me to go into the matters raised by the hon. Member for Islington, North at length. The Government are convinced that there is still a valuable place for one-tier and two-tier authorities. The Local Government Commission has thrown up a number of different solutions to different problems in different parts of the country, including groups of county boroughs sufficiently few in number to be able to co-operate with broader services where necessary and including also continuous county solutions. There is, in the Government's view at the moment, no single panacea.

The comments of the hon. Member for Islington, North on regional government are far too broad to deal with now. I would only say that be there government on a regional basis or not there will always have to be units of local government to administer services in a human, personal way. There will, also, always have to be units of local government to look after the interests of urban communities in a planning, transport and housing manner. Therefore, however far the hon. Member's thoughts may lead him into the future, the communities that, I hope, we create tonight will continue, as far as we can foretell, to have great services to give to their citizens.

I come now to the detailed points that were raised concerning each Order. In connection with Luton, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington on his splendid homework on the water front. I have acquainted myself with the issue raised by the hon. Member and I discover that the area to which he referred, which is being transferred from the Mid-Bedfordshire Water Board to the Luton Water Company, covers only about 6 acres. I congratulate the hon. Member on his discovery that there was this small area. There are no buildings on it. I am not teasing the hon. Member, who has done his homework extremely well. This is merely a matter of tidying up so that the whole area of the extended Luton will be the area of the Luton Water Company. I do not think that there is any water implication from the Order.

Now, I come to the more formidable question which hon. Members on both sides—my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) and the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie)—raised, namely, the representation of the added area. Both hon. Members expressed the position perfectly well. Luton will now set in process the procedure, first making proposals for new wards, including the new area, after which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will, I understand, appoint a commissioner to take an inquiry, at which public views can be expressed about the rightness of the new warding proposals. In due course, the Home Secretary will make his decisions about the wards. Both hon. Members were, therefore, right in reassuring the citizens concerned that the wards will be adjusted in a fair and proper way as soon as practicable.

With regard to some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin, I must point out to him that none of the Orders is an exact precedent for any other order. Each local government matter must be considered on its merits. My hon. Friend asked me to give a view about the use of the land lying to the east of Luton, next to Kings Walden. Obviously, I cannot at this Box give definitive planning decisions on hypothetical land issues, but I understand that most of the added land to the east of Luton is connected with the airport; and while the planning decisions on the use of that land would be, in the first case, for Luton in its new manifestation, I know that it will accept that any decision to use such land for housing would almost inevitably be such a departure from the development plan that it would want to refer it to me. Consequently, my hon. Friend's question cannot be answered decisively at this Box, but all the signs are that there is no early prospect of any use of that land for housing.

Next, I come to the points that were made on the Solihull Order. I am grateful for the kind remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Sir M. Lindsay) and I wish, with him, a splendid and prosperous future to the citizens of the new county borough, as I hope it will be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon described with great fairness and accuracy the present position. It only remains for me to add that after Warwickshire had put a case to Solihull for some transitional assistance, and after Solihull pointed out that it did not think that the respective rateable contributions justified any such transitional assistance, Warwickshire, I understand, consulted the County Councils Association. As far as I know, the present position is that the County Councils Association is considering the whole issue and this will enable the Association, if it so wishes, to formulate a general case, which it will be able to discuss, if it so desires, with me and with the other local authority associations.

What my hon. Friend would, perhaps, wish me to add, and I am glad to be able to add it, is that if at the end of the road there should emerge any conclusions of a general nature about transitional assistance in this sort of position, and if it appears that had that formula, if one emerges, been in effect now Warwickshire would have benefited, we would have to try to find a way to take that into account if we can then manage to do so.

Sir M. Lindsay

To get the matter in perspective, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether I am right in saying that this question under consideration is no more than a 2d. rate? The highest figure I have heard put is 2½d.—not really a very great amount.

Sir K. Joseph

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was relying on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon and pointing out this was not of the same order of magnitude as in the case of Luton or the same order of magnitude as in the case of Greater London—

Mr. Maude

But not insignificant.

Sir K. Joseph

It is neither insignificant nor is it extremely onerous. It falls below any likely threshold on which these transitional financial arrangements are made. I am simply leaving the door open. If, in due course, agreement between the local authority associations and my Department emerges, it may be necessary to look again at this. So I am being extremely cautious. I do not think the difficulties in the case of Solihull and Warwickshire will bring my undertaking into effect.

Mr. Reynolds

There will not be agreement anyway.

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Gentleman says that they will never get agreement, but in the case of Luton and Bedford- shire we have an example of agreement being achieved in the most civilised way.

Mr. Reynolds

But between the associations?

Sir K. Joseph

Ah, yes. I think I have now covered most of the points and the questions put to me.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Luton Order 1963, dated 12th December, 1963, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th December, be approved.

Solihull Order 1963, dated 12th December, 1963 [copy laid before the House, 18th December], approved.—[Sir K. Joseph.]