§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill deals with two kinds of reviews. First, these are reviews under Part II of the Local Government Act, 1958, dealing with changes in local government organisation, and, secondly, the reviews provided for in section 30(6) of the London Government Act, 1963, of the administration of education in inner London and in Section 34(4) of the Youth Employment Service. I will deal with each kind in turn, starting with the local government reviews.
Under Part II of the 1958 Act, Local Government Commissions were set up to review the organisation of local government in all parts of England and Wales, apart from the metropolitan area, and to make proposals for changes which seemed desirable in the interests of effective and convenient local government. Except in areas known as "special review areas", which were the main conurbations, like West Yorkshire and the West Midlands, the Commissions were not called upon to propose changes for county districts; that was a job for the county councils. The Bill winds up the Local Government Commissions and frees county councils from their obligation to carry out county reviews.
Before I give the broad background to this part of the Bill, I should mention briefly the position of the Local Government Commission for Wales. The Commission finished its work in December, 1962, and its members went out of office when their warrants expired on 5th January, 1964. The dissolution of the Welsh Commission is, therefore, purely a formality. What I have to say from now on about the Local Government Commission will refer solely to the Commission for England.
The reason why the Local Government Commission for England is being wound up is that the Government have set up 1420 a new body to carry out a radical review of local government, the Royal Commission on Local Government in England, under the chairmanship of Sir John Maud. I think that I should say briefly why we thought that a new review was necessary.
Under the 1958 Act, the Local Government Commission was required to suggest changes within the existing structure of local government. It could not propose major changes in the structure and go thoroughly into the question of functions. This was a major weakness in the reviews under the Act. After all, the present pattern of local government has been in existence for over 70 years, and there is a limit to the adaptability of the old to fit the new.
The last 20 years have seen particularly rapid changes in the responsibilities of local authorities. Although, after the Second World War, some of their functions passed to other agencies—and how well I remember the heated debates we had 20 years ago on the subject—local authorities have had to cope with a spectacular growth of duties and problems—in town and country planning, housing and education, and the motor car alone has made much of our 70-year-old local government organisation and thinking out of date.
Let me say at this point that I believe that local authorities have coped well with massive tasks for which they were not originally designed. But there is a limit to what can reasonably be expected from a pattern devised when circumstances were quite different, and I am sure that it is in the interests both of local government itself and of the people it serves to consider afresh what form would be best suited to present conditions and to the even greater tasks that lie ahead.
That is why we set up the Royal Commission, which, unlike the Local Government Commission, can review both the basic structure functions of local government and its functions as well. The House will know that the main associations of local authorities all welcomed the new review. This, in itself, is a clear indication of the increasingly forward-looking approach to be found in local government circles today. The whole climate of thinking, in fact, has changed quite remarkably over the past few years.
1421 Within the limitations of their terms of reference, the Local Government Commission did a fine job and I should like to add my voice to the tribute which my predecessor paid to the Commission on a previous occasion. The Commissioners produced reports covering about two-thirds of the country, and orders have been made or will be made to put into effect many of their proposals. We intend in fact to extract as much benefit as possible from all the work which the Commission did.
The Government, however, did not think that it was worth asking the Commission to carry on with reviews of the remaining areas; the procedure under Part II of the 1958 Act is very long drawn-out and no changes under it could have been put into effect in those areas for many years—indeed, until well after the time when the Royal Commission will have reported.
A similar view was taken on the reviews of county districts by county councils. Where a county review had been completed, my predecessor decided that all the work put into it should not just be put on one side, but that it should be considered on its merits. Where, however, a county review had a fair way to go towards completion, or had not been started, so that early changes under the Act of 1958 would not be feasible, it seemed best to leave the area concerned for review by the Royal Commission. Local authorities were told in June, 1966, that, after consulting the local authority associations, my right hon. Friend had decided to confine consideration of further county review reports to those submitted by 31st August, 1966.
Before I turn to the provisions of the Bill which deal with the 1958 Act, I should mention the position of the members of the Local Government Commission, of whom there were four remaining when we decided to suspend its activities. All four held individual royal warrants of appointment expiring on 30th October, 1967. Although, in view of the nature of their employment, my predecessor was advised that there was no right enforceable at law to salary or remuneration at any particular rate or for any particular period, we felt that there was a clear moral obligation on the Government to provide compensation in some form because of the financial loss they sustained.
1422 Compensation has now been paid to all four members; and in calculating we four members; and in calculating it we would apply if there were a claim for damages in respect of wrongful dismissal or breach of contract of employment. I know that the House will feel that we were right to do so.
I turn now to the provisions of the Bill. Part II of the Act of 1958 is dealt with in the Bill in one operative Clause and a Schedule. In Clause 1, subsection (1) provides for the immediate dissolution of both the Local Government Commissions and deems that the duty of the Commission for England to carry out reviews ceased on 10th February, 1966. That was the date when the Prime Minister announced the decision to set up the Royal Commission.
Subsection (2) provides that the duty of county councils to carry out county reviews shall be deemed to have ceased on 31st August, 1966, the date which I mentioned earlier. Subsection (3), repeals various provisions in Part II of the Act of 1958 because they will be made obsolete, now or later, by subsections (1) and (2).
Part I of the Schedule contains provisions which can be repealed outright, but the provisions in Part II of the Schedule may still be needed for matters arising from former proposals of the Commissions and from county review proposals put forward by 31st August; these provisions continue in operation for these purposes. Subsection (4) of Clause 1 is simply a technical provision for preserving the effect of the definition in the London Government Act, 1963, of the expression "county review area", which is relevant to a number of provisions in that Act.
§ Clause 2 of the Bill repeals Sections 30(6) and 34(4) of the London Government Act, 1963, in implementation of the undertaking given to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science on 17th November last year. The London Government Act transferred to the newly-established Inner London Education Authority responsibility for education and the Youth Employment Service in the inner London area on a provisional basis.
§ The Act imposed on the Secretary of State for Education and Science an obligation to carry out a review of the arrangements for education, and to lay a 1423 report before Parliament not later than 31st March, 1970, with the object of determining whether, and if so to what extent, all or any of the functions of the I.L.E.A. should be transferred to the inner London boroughs or the City.
§ Section 34(4) of the London Government Act also imposed on the Minister of Labour the obliglation to carry out, in conjunction with this review, a review of the administration of the Youth Employment Service in the inner London area.
§ The educational service built up by the old L.C.C. was admirable, and won world-wide respect, and my hon. Friends always felt that the inclusion of the review provisions in Sections 30 and 34 of the London Government Act were both unnecessary and undesirable. We opposed these provisions when the Bill was considered in Committee.
§ We expressed very forcefully the view that they introduced an element of uncertainty into the future of the I.L.E.A. which would give rise to a great deal of anxiety in the minds of teachers and parents; and that, having taken the decision that there should be a unified education service in the inner London area, the Government should have been prepared to implement that decision completely.
§ We believed that it was highly undesirable that the air of uncertainty over the future of this most important service which had existed between the publication of the Herbert Commission's Report and the introduction of the then Government's proposals should be prolonged. To have persisted with the statutory review would have continued the period of uncertainty. Meanwhile, the staff of the I.L.E.A. would have been unsettled, and the authority itself might well have been inhibited from embarking on long-term planning.
§ This uncertainty might have been acceptable if anything in the nature of positive gain to the education service was likely to emerge from the review. But there is general agreement in the educational world that a unified educational service for the inner London area is clearly desirable, and, I believe, essential to progressive administration and development of the education service.1424
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
In view of what the Minister has just said, can he provide evidence that the existence of that subsection in the Act caused staff to leave the Inner London Education Authority; and examples of how long-term planning has been held up or prevented?
§ Mr. Greenwood
The erosion of staff and the reluctance to plan have been avoided by the very clear and specific pledges given by the Labour Party that the I.L.E.A. would be continued in existence, but, had we weakened in our resolve to remove the need for this review, I believe that a new element of uncertainty would have been introduced in the service. It was the very strongly held view of the I.L.E.A. and of the Greater London Council itself that the service should continue as it is at present.
Both the education and Youth Employment services of the I.L.E.A. are highly organised and efficiently administered and any disruption or fragmentation of their well-balanced service could only lead in our view to a lowering of standards. In the interests of sound local administration, the Government therefore propose to confirm the position of the I.L.E.A. and to preserve the long-established unified service in the inner London area by repealing the review Sections of the London Government Act.
I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
This Bill is a further chapter in the long story of Government ineptitude, vaccilation and dissimulation. The Minister has done his best to explain it—or rather to explain it away—but it was, perhaps, inevitable that he would not arouse much enthusiasm on either side of the House. I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman—we all have. He has had a dismal inheritance from his predecessor. This is not merely a wholly negative. Measure. It is retrospective as well.
The Local Government Commissions for England and Wales have already been killed, together with any hope of early progress towards local government reorganisation. Today, we are having only the legal burial service. As the Bill says, the English Commission is 1425 deemed to have been dead since 10th February, 1966, and the Local Government Commission for Wales finished its work in December, 1962. Therefore, as the Minister says, we are really most concerned now with the English Commission, and the effect of the Bill on English local government.
The publication of the Bill—which is, perhaps, significant—came just 13 unlucky months after the Minister's predecessor, the present Leader of the House and then Minister for Housing and Local Government, told the Conference of the Association of Municipal Corporations on 22nd September, 1965, quite categorically that he was determined that the work of the Commission should go on. On that: occasion, he said:I must admit I was tempted at one point to do a Bevan and hoist the Commission on a Ministerial petard; hut not for long. Interminable though the proceedings had often been, the results of the Commission's work mark a real advance, particularly in some of the special review areas. I am convinced that in the North-West there is still time for a real job of work to be done in reorganising Merseyside and the Manchester conurbation. So I take this opportunity of scotching all rumours that the Commission is to be wound up.Not merely did the right hon. Gentleman say that he was determined that the work of the Commission should go on; he added, for good measure, that its work would be accelerated, and that whenever it made proposals there would be a quick decision at his level. It was the purposive, gritty action that the Government have always offered the British people. In fact, the only decision the Government have made is to do nothing—and to do it, of course, for as long as possible. In this context, that is what the Leader of the House had in mind when he talked of "doing a Bevan."
The House will recall that when the Local Government Boundary Commission set up by the wartime Coalition Government, reported in 1947 that it required wider powers to propose changes in functions which were inseparable from major alterations in areas, it got short shrift from the late Mr. Bevan, who was then Minister of Health and responsible for local government. The previous Labour Government wound up that Commission, which met under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, now Lord Silsoe. They did so after Mr. Bevan had told the House: 1426… legislation on this particular matter will be highly contentious, highly involved, and unlikely to produce any very great unanimity among the local authorities concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April. 1948; Vol. 449, c. 337.]What is certain, therefore, is that Mr. Bevan killed the Trustram Eve Commission, not because it came up with some serious and carefully-worded suggestions that contravened its terms of reference, but because its recommendations involved changes that would be highly controversial. Of course, the Minister now says, "We look forward to, and do not mind, controversy, and welcome change, but we do not want it yet, and certainly not in this Parliament."
The Leader of the House, in effect, in spite of all his assurances to the Association of Municipal Corporations, mortally wounded its successor when, on 14th December last year, he rejected the Tyne-side proposals. Such was his legal right. No one complains about that, but one may doubt the wisdom of his action, particularly as three months earlier he had claimed that time- and money-wasting procedures had been deliberately exploited to frustrate change. The right hon. Gentleman said, "I will not do that. I will make decisions rapidly when the Commission comes forward with its proposals."
The only difference—it is a significant one—between Mr. Bevan and the present Government is that Mr. Bevan at least had the courage to say that he wanted to dodge unpopular and contentious decisions. It would be unfair, therefore, to say that the Government have "done a Bevan". They have "done a Wilson" once again, and that is much worse. The trouble has arisen because the credibility gap between what the Government say and what they do is always so wide.
In the end, it proved too much for the Local Government Commission. Therefore, on 21st December last year, the Commission wrote to the Minister of Housing and Local Government throwing in the sponge and asking local authorities not to bother preparing new material for submission. It is, therefore, a little disingenuous for the Minister this afternoon to say that the Government came to the conclusion that in the circumstances it would be wise not to ask the Commission to do more.
1427 Who can blame the Commission for the action it took? As The Guardian commented on 22nd December:This is an unprecedented step which reflects the mounting concern, and, indeed, resentment, created for the Commission by Mr. Crossman.Thus, so far from speeding up the reorganisation of local government, Socialist Ministers have seriously retarded it and, I suggest, have done so deliberately. Yet as the Leader of the House himself acknowledged, the results of the Local Government Commission's work marked a real advance. The whole House would wish to associate itself with the tribute paid by the Minister to the Commission's work, although it is a bit of a backhanded tribute from him in all the circumstances. We should pay tribute to the Commission for what it has done in contributing to providing effective and convenient local government.
The House—and, indeed, the Government—should be aware of the danger of establishing commissions, seeking the help of distinguished public figures and then throwing them overboard for the sake of political expediency. The New Towns Commission is another body which is also extremely worried that it is now under what my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) called suspended sentence of death, a comment which he made recently on Second Reading of the New Towns Bill. We simply will not get people to give up their energy and their time for public service if they are to be treated in such a cavalier fashion.
The dissolution of the Local Government Commission for England came at the very moment when a flood of recommendations for Parliamentary approval was pouring from the Commission. Of course, every recommendation and resolution would have ben controversial and would have annoyed some local interest. That must be expected in reforming measures. No change, not even for the better, is accomplished without difficulty.
The Conservative Government faced these decisions, many of which were extremely difficult and controversial. We made it clear that by April, 1965, we would have completed the West Midlands reorganisation, made a decision on Tyne-side, settled West Yorkshire and have had Merseyside and West Lancashire well 1428 on the way. That would have covered the six conurbations by April, 1965. In addition, Tees-side would have been settled. In short, by April, 1965, we would have settled most of the business of reorganisation and we would have got much of it into operation. That was made clear in the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) on 4th December, 1963.
The fact is that the party opposite have no policy for local government and they have very litle sympathy for it. They pursued the most bigoted opposition to the reform of London government, as the Minister has today reminded us. They have already buried their pledges to reorganise the finances of local government. For example, the return to percentage grant has gone by the board, and so also has the promise to transfer to the Exchequer the major part of the cost of teachers' salaries. For the rest, as the Minister has explained, the Government have passed the buck to Sir John Maud and his fellow Royal Commissioners. No doubt the Government will try to bury the report when they get it.
When the Prime Minister announced the names, I commented that it was an exercise—and it is an exercise, in kicking the ball into the long grass. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) wrote in the Local Government Chronicle on 19th March this year:There is no need for a Royal Commission on local government. All the evidence required is available. What we want now is action, not words.Many of us who are interested in local government know that we need that action urgently.
We on this side have made our policy quite clear. We have said that we want more regional administration with strong and modernised local government. But if, as we accept, larger authorities are needed to handle certain functions over a wider area, we must also see that they are subject to proper democratic control. We say here and now that the economic planning councils and ad hoc bodies appointed by Whitehall and which are at present operating are no substitute for effective regional local government.
The Conservative Government made a start with the London Government Act, 1429 1963, which was so bitterly opposed at every stage by the party opposite. If there has been a complaint against the Conservative Government, it was that we acted too fast. As the Association of Municipal Corporations said in its memorandum of evidence to the Royal Commission, published last month, at paragraph 280:Experience of the reorganisation of local government in London emphasises the need for plenty of time to be allowed between the enactment of legislation giving effect to changes in the system of local government and the date of the assumption of responsibilities by the new authorities. The time allowed in London was insufficient".The A.M.C. added thatin consequence, well-nigh intolerable strains were imposed on members and, even more so. on senior officers. In some cases health was seriously impaired. It must also be possible for further change to be made in the areas of the new authorities and in regard to their functions without undue complexity.It may be that we tried to get ahead too fast with this important work of reorganisation. I understand the pressures that these changes put upon staff. We accepted, however, the contention of the Association of Municipal Corporations that it must be possible for further change to be made in the areas of the new authorities and in regard to their functions without undue complexity. That was the purpose of the provisions in the 1963 Act for transitional arrangements for housing and certain other functions and, in particular, for a review of the working of the Inner London Education Authority, which, in the horrible jargon of today, we call ILEA.
The Minister said that it is proposed by Clause 2 of the Bill that that review should not now take place. None of us on this side need be surprised that the Government have decided to relieve the Secretary of State for Education and Science of his responsibilities, cast upon him by Statute under Section 30(6) of the 1963 Act, to review the administration of education in inner London. Understandably, the Government have no desire to have any report to Parliament on the workings of the Inner London Education Authority.
The activities of that body is one of the chief reasons for their gerrymandering tactics in seeking to postpone next year's London borough elections. On the other hand, it is obvious that, if the Government 1430 undertook a review in present circumstances, it would be simply a whitewashing exercise, so naturally the Minister says, and perhaps we ourselves can agree, that we might as well abandon it.
Since Parliament cast this clear duty upon the Government of the day, and it was well understood, at any rate for a period of time, that it would be fulfilled—and it must be assumed that it will be fulfilled until the Bill goes on to the Statute Book—in our view, they are guilty of a dereliction of duty in not carrying out the review. It is a disservice to local government, to education and, above all, to parents who are very concerned about what is going on in the London area at present.
For our part, I will make our position clear. We reserve the right in due course to review the activities of the Inner London Education Authority, either to dissolve it altogether or to make such changes in its composition, structure and functions as seem to us to be necessary.
What is needed now is for the Government not just to produce a negative Bill of this kind, nor another Royal Commission. What is needed is a Minister who will say to his advisers, "Our policy for the reform of local government should take place on these lines. Let me know the options—regional authorities, city regions, continuous counties, provincial authorities, and the rest." Let us hope that we have such a Minister now. We did not have one before.
If he had the necessary will, within six months, he could consult the local authority associations. In the light of the work which has been done already by the Local Government Commission, he would be in a position to announce the Government's decisions.
It is the Government who must decide what to recommend to Parliament. That is what they are elected for. There is no need for a Royal Commission, taking minutes and wasting years, to use a phrase of the old days. What we want is action, not words. Sooner or later—and, as far as we are concerned, the sooner the better—these decisions have to be made. As they are unlikely to be made by a Labour Government, I will undertake that they will be made by a Conservative Government.
1431 We have had frozen production and frozen wages. With this Bill, we have what is, in effect, frozen local government. So far from being able to shape the future, the Government cannot even keep up with yesterday.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)
While I welcome the Bill as a whole, I intend to devote the majority of my remarks to Clause 2, which relieves the Secretary of State of the duty to review Section 30(6) of the London Government Act, 1963.
This Clause will receive the full support and approbation of the London Teachers' Association, which represents the vast majority of the teachers who serve in the I.L.E.A. area. Many of them will recognise it as the culmination of a campaign which they began when the Royal Commission's proposals for the break up of the old L.C.C. were first announced some years ago.
Hon. Members will not need reminding that the original proposals of the last Conservative Government were forthwith to transfer all educational functions in the G.L.C. area, including those functions carried out by the old L.C.C. to the new London boroughs. That proposal produced an enormous wave of protest at the time that it was first mooted among teachers, parents and many people who had not normally been active in organisations of any sort.
As a London teacher in the service of the old L.C.C. at the time, I shudder now to think of the volume of letters, deputations and communications to which hon. Members must have been subjected. But it was made clear that, irrespective of party affiliations, most teachers and parents voiced very strong objections to the break up of the L.C.C. educational service. I remember that in the lobbying of hon. Members of the House which took place many teachers who participated were doing so for the first time in their lives, and probably the last time. I must warn right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that if there is any attempt to go back on the decision that we are making at present and to break up the I.L.E.A. that will meet with very strong opposition from the same people who opposed it in the past.
1432 It may be asked why there was that enormous wave of popular feeling against the break-up of the old L.C.C. educational service. It was because teachers, parents and education authorities everywhere recognised the superb education service which had been established for many years by the L.C.C. They recognised the enormous obstacles which would be placed in the way of continuing the service at that very high level if it were broken up and its powers transferred to the new Greater London boroughs and to the City.
The reasons which prevailed when the campaign against the break up began are as strong today as they were then. Failure to come to a firm decision on the matter and putting off the review once and for all would only do considerable harm to the educational service in London. As 1970 approaches, the I.L.E.A. and officers and employees of the service would not be sure what was going to happen to them after the review had taken place. It is in that spirit in particular that I welcome Clause 2.
Let us look for a moment at the arguments which have been advanced for the retention of the I.L.E.A. I remember that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), in the course of the Second Reading of the London Government Bill which changed government in London, stated drastically:… as one gets towards the centre of London so the pattern of schools and technical colleges becomes less and less related to borough boundaries. Furthermore … the transport system gets more and more closely integrated so that parents in inner London now take it for granted that their children can travel quite long distances to school."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1962; Vol. 669, c. 238.]At the primary stage, that is true. At the secondary stage, it is even more true, and a very large number of children attend schools outside the boroughs in which they happen to reside.
To base any educational pattern on the borough divisions would be quite unrealistic. Some boroughs have more school accommodation than they require for their own children and young people. Others have not got enough. It would be ridiculous to promote arguments about the need for building additional schools in a borough which had not sufficient 1433 schools to cater for its own child population. That is particularly true in London, where there is a tremendous shortage of land for all purposes. In any case, under present arrangements, we have much greater parental choice available to members of the population.
It may be argued that free trade in education would still be possible if the I.L.E.A. were broken up eventually. But one must ask, why break down the existing system if it would be necessary to recreate a system more cumbersome than the one which exists at present; because the present one has worked very well. Whatever its faults, it would be nothing like as awkward to manage as a system consisting of a large number of boroughs.
Each London borough would require its own staff. New directors and assistants would have to be appointed, and I maintain that the ratepayers no more want to pay for this than do other people in the educational service. It is possible that over the years standards might gradually vary. So would terms of service, and this would be extremely undesirable. The teacher shortage at the present time is difficult enough in all cities, but it is much easier to tackle the shortages which tend to arise in the less attractive areas covered by the I.L.E.A. than it would be if individual boroughs covering those areas had to deal with this task.
I do not believe that any borough could sustain the excellent central services maintained by the I.L.E.A., and which were maintained in the past by the L.C.C. I am thinking of things like the equipment centre, the education library, and the special courses which are run by the I.L.E.A. Few individual boroughs—in fact, I would prefer to say none—would be able to embark on the provision of experiments like the closed circuit schools television service, or the provision of training centres for inspectors, teachers and others, as at Stoke D'Abernon.
The question has also been raised of comprehensive school reorganisation. I know that many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are not particularly happy about this development, but a dreadful state of affairs would be produced if all these proposals for reorganisation within the I.L.E.A. area suddenly went into the melting pot after 1970, where they were 1434 already being developed, by individual boroughs being forced to tackle the problem.
There is, too, the question of special schools for the educationally sub-normal and other handicapped children. It is necessary to have a large area to carry out the economies of scale. The distribution of special schools is such that it would be utterly pointless, one might almost say criminal, to break up the I.L.E.A. and then try to find some means of vesting these schools in individual boroughs. Why break down something to replace it with another system which will probably be much worse? I therefore welcome very much the Government's decision on this question.
I believe that it might be fruitful for us to look in the future at whether or not it is better to have educational authorities on the scale of the I.L.E.A. within the rest of the Greater London area. I know that when the London Government Bill was before the House some of my hon. Friends—one of whom is no longer with us, George Pargiter—moved an Amendment to it to provide for similar authorities to be set up in the north-east, north-west, south-east and south-west of the Outer London area. I recognise the great work which has been done by individual boroughs to set up their own educational services, but I believe that it might have been possible to do it very much more effectively and efficiently if it had been possible in these areas to plan over a wider area than that covered by any of the Greater London boroughs.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I do not altogether quarrel with the hon. Gentleman's view that there is a strong case for looking at the Outer London tier and considering whether fewer authorities might not be a good idea, but surely the experience of the I.L.E.A. could be relevant to this case. I do not want to make an unfair debating point, but the hon. Gentleman has made an argument for a review of the I.L.E.A. and seeing how it works, rather than the reverse.
§ Mr. Newens
I think that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be desirable to look at the experience gained within the I.L.E.A. and see how far it was applicable in the Outer London area, but the purpose of the 1435 suggested review is not to enable that sort of comparison to be made but to break up the I.L.E.A. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said that the Opposition reserved the right to dissolve the I.L.E.A. if necessary, and all the emphasis has been placed on this use of the review. As I said, originally it was made clear that the L.C.C. was to be completely broken up and no I.L.E.A. was to be brought into existence. I am not opposed to the suggestion which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Sir E. Boyle) has just made.
I thought that the 1963 Act was, in many respects, a disaster, because it broke up many services, apart from education, which would have been much better carried on by an authority covering an area of the same scale as the I.L.E.A. covers, or maybe the whole G.L.C. area. I do not accept the argument advanced at the time that this would have resulted in less local democracy, because many of the Greater London borough authorities are now more remote from the electors because the members of these authorities represent larger areas than did the old authorities which they replaced.
The ratepayers in the outer Metropolitan ring who have been subjected to enormous rate increases certainly do not think very much of the 1963 Act. I can say this with great feeling in respect of my electors in Chingford, many of whom were Conservatives, who have been shocked by the effect on the rates of the Greater London reorganisation which took place as a result of the action taken by the previous Administration.
I believe that the destruction of the I.L.E.A., if it eventually takes place, could produce the same sort of results in central London on a smaller scale. We might find each borough having to appoint its own staff. This would have to be paid for, and it would result in increased rates for a poorer service.
It is a great pity that local government reform was tackled in the way that it was in the London area. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham to refer to gerrymandering activities on the part of the Government in postponing the Greater London Borough elections for a year. Do right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite not 1436 remember the purpose behind the creation of the G.L.C.? Do they not remember that many people thought that the political motive behind it was to wrest London from the control of the Labour Party? The ending by this Measure of the uncertainty which has hung over teachers, parents and officers of the I.L.E.A. since the passing of the original Bill is something which we all welcome, and I think that the Government are to be congratulated on introducing this Measure.
As I have said, I am sorry that more of the dismembered services of the old L.C.C. cannot be reconstituted at this stage, but the permanent reprieve of those which are still in existence is something which we should all heartily welcome. By taking this action the Government will win the applause not only of Labour supporters but of all those within the London area, including Conservatives, who recognise the great educational work done by both the L.C.C. and the I.L.E.A. I welcome the Bill, and I hope that it will pass speedily through the House.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)
The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) asked if we did not remember the real purpose of the London Government Act. He made it quite clear that he did not remember. He implied that it was a political racket to take control from the London County Council. I should have thought that that would have been a public service. If he remembered the Bill properly he would recall that the then Minister of Housing left out of the proposed area of the Greater London Council large Conservative-held areas which wished to stay out. If the proposal had been a political racket the Minister would have insisted on their coming in. The hon. Member's allegation was an absurd and unworthy one, which I hope that he is now going to withdraw.
§ Mr. Newens
Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that there was tremendous opposition from those Conservative areas—in particular from Surrey—and that it was in response to that pressure on the Conservative side as well that the Government of the day decided to change some of their proposals?
§ Mr. Gilmour
I am sorry that the hon. Member did not seek to withdraw 1437 his allegation. Of course there was pressure, but if the purpose had been what he alleged it would have been withstood, and those areas would have been brought into the Greater London area. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said that we now had a local government freeze. I welcome that local government freeze in a minor way. I welcome the winding up of the previous Local Government Commission; indeed, I introduced a Bill in the last Parliament which would have had that effect, and the year before I moved a lengthy Motion on the same lines. I am glad that the Government have now come round to the same view.
My constituency was closely affected by one set of proposals of the Local Government Commission, which was to extend the City of Norwich into the fringe parishes, which were in my constituency. Those constituents of mine who were affected were almost unanimous in their opposition. There was a great amount of public feeling; associations were set up and meetings were held. It was very agreeable to address full houses in large schools One parish even created a newspaper. As a result of this great public enthusiasm they won their fight.
The point is that my constituents, in their opposition, were not merely seeking to defend the past; they felt strongly that the proposals were not relevant either to Norfolk or to Norwich in the twentieth century; they felt that the proposals were interim and would not fit the requirements of East Anglia for the next ten years. Therefore, they were waiting for exciting and imaginative proposals. That, unfortunately, is just what the Government have not provided; they have produced no proposals at all.
I would have thought that there had been more than enough Royal Commissions and Committees set up on local government over the years and that it was time the Government stopped shuffling its own responsibility on to Royal Commissions, Committees and departmental bodies and all that sort of paraphernalia and acted themselves—because the matter is urgent. Local government is the sick man of England. That is a high claim to make at present, because there are many sick men about—but local government is the most sick. It does not always understand its own 1438 illness, and sometimes protests its health, but its illness is well known and is plain for all to see. We know the symptoms. Local authorities are the wrong size. There are far too many of them, they have lost power to Whitehall, and they are far too dependent, financially, on Whitehall. The whole system and manner of local government are obsolete. The Government should realise this. It is no good putting off reform.
I need not diagnose the illness; I am sure that the Minister is aware of it. Indeed, he touched upon it in his speech. Faced with this situation, however, the Government should have acted. To abolish one Commission and set up another does not come under the heading of action. The Government should have decided that the case for larger authorities is proved. They must know that to be so. There is an unanswerable case for regional government. We already have it, to some extent. The choice is between elected and non-elected regional government—between representative government and government by the appointees of the First Secretary for the time being. That is not a happy prospect, at any rate to hon. Members on this side of the House.
The Government should have set up regional authorities. Even if by doing so they had rationalised the structure of local government, nevertheless, the manner of local government would have remained, and that is what needs changing even more than the structure and the system. The sort of reforms that are needed are those which would bring some public interest to local government. The great purpose of local government is that it involves many people in the Government of the country. Under the present manner of local government, a great deal of the time of these people is wasted.
It will stop being wasted only when the manner of local government has been drastically altered. The recent by-elections in the greater London Area showed this to be true. As a result of the 1963 Act, Local Government in London is much less obsolete than it is elsewhere. It is not right, yet, but it is still better than in most other places. In the by-election in the borough of Brent there was a turnout of 12 per cent. It is true that that turn-out embodied a swing of 17 per cent. to this side, but even though 1439 that massive and mammoth swing means that the result was a good deal better from the point of view of those on this side of the House than of those on the other side, nobody can derive satisfaction from it because it shows the incredible apathy which exists about local government under the present system.
Even when the boundaries and functions of local government have to some extent been rationalised people still do not care and do not turn up to vote. The undergrowth of committees, subcommittees, aldermen, indirect elections and all the traditional mumbo-jumbo of local government cuts it off from those who elect local government members and cuts it off even more effectively from the much larger body of people who do not elect them. In order to get rid of this barrier, which is the only way that local government can be revived, something drastic must be done, namely, the abolition of the present collective anonymity of local government, together with the committee system.
The way to do that is to institute direct elections of the chief executives of the regions and the second tier authorities, which in my view should be continuous counties. At present the mayor is a purely honorific figure. He is nobody. He is purely ceremonial. He has nothing to lose but his chains.
§ Mr. Gilmour
That is true, and Mr. Deputy Speaker also has a casting vote, but I would not like to compare him too closely with a mayor. The mayor has that function, but it is not enough. The way to revive public interest in local government is to make the mayor a paid executive, a functional executive, and a powerful executive. The same could happen regionally, where there should be a directly elected governor. Election contests between well known or even powerful and famous characters for the post of governor or mayor would create considerable public interest. One can imagine who those people might be. It is probable that in this country we would not have quite the same enthusiasm for gubernatorial or mayoral elections that they do in America, but some of the public interest engendered there would 1440 be excellent in this country. We are a long way from that situation.
I do not believe that local government can be preserved in its present form. If we try to do so, local government will just die and we shall have government by civil servants. Therefore, the way to preserve local democracy is to have more of it, not less and to have direct elections. That is the only way to revive local government. Although I welcome the very small step of abolishing the previous Commission which the Government have taken, I regret that they have done absoluetly nothing else to bring in a properly reformed system of local government.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens), I am particularly interested in Clause 2 which, in effect, relieves the citizens of London of the implicit threat in the London Government Act of 1963 to wind up what were then the educational functions of the London County Council subsequently transferred to the Inner London Education Authority. Whatever right hon. and hon. Members opposite may say, we are all well aware of the object of the 1963 London Government Act. The Conservatives at that time, in their anxiety to scrap the London County Council, were also prepared to scrap its educational functions and in that way completely to fragment the service which had so well served the citizens of London for so many years.
However, as my hon. Friend said, in the face of overwhelming public opposition, the Government of the day gave way and instead inserted this review Clause in the Act. The present Government—I think rightly—have decided that the present system of education in inner London has proved its worth, that it should stay and that no review is now necessary. I had, however, hoped that the Government would go further and perhaps make reference to some of the recommendations on education by the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London. Many of these recommendations were completely side-stepped by the Conservative Government of that time in their haste to dismantle the London County Council.
One of the main recommendations of the Commission was that the Greater 1441 London Council should be the education authority for the whole of London, having certain well-defined powers, responsibility particularly—this is most important—for the statutory standard of education over the whole of London, together with certain other controls, particularly budgetary controls. The boroughs also, according to the recommendations, were to have the discharge of many important executive powers. Here there would be absolutely no suspicion of any idea of major and minor authorities, as the functions of both types of authority would be very well-defined. There would be co-operation on that basis.
Therefore, in that way it would maintain the intimate nature of the service—education is an intimate service—as between the parent and the school and between the parent and the authority. The Commission strongly recommended that any development plan for the Greater London area should be the responsibility of the Greater London Council. Such a recommendation, if implemented, would have the advantage of coherent reorganisation of education over the whole area instead of the piecemeal development taking place at present.
It has been suggested in the debate that we should look at the experience of the Inner London Education Authority and tie it to the possibility of similar organisation of the outer London authorities. It appears to me to be the other way round, that one should look at the experiences of the authorities in the outer fringe of the London area, see the mistakes being made there, and thus appreciate that, in the workings of the Inner London Education Authority, there is a model of how the educational system should be worked out in the whole Greater London area.
I would give an example from my own borough of Redbridge, of which my constituency forms part. Here we have a Tory council, which, bound by narrow party considerations, upholds selection at 11-plus and generally opposes the reorganisation of its secondary schools on comprehensive lines. Meanwhile, the neighbouring boroughs are proceeding apace with their plans for reorganisation, leaving Redbridge as a backwater in the stream of educational progress.
1442 At the same time, there is in Red-bridge a lack of provision of grammar school places. At present, the borough is exporting about 2,000 children to neighbouring authorities. These places, in time, will be less readily available, with the result that the percentage of children from Redbridge to be granted grammar school accommodation will be drastically reduced. This will come as a blow to many of those parents who have a great anxiety for the future of their children. I might also add that the fragmentation of education in the Metropolitan Essex region has resulted in a further shortage of accommodation for educationally subnormal children in the Borough of Redbridge.
I welcome Clause 2, but hope that the Government, perhaps at some future time, will see fit to introduce a Measure for the greater co-ordination of education throughout the whole of the Greater London area.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Oscar Murton (Poole)
It is true of many things, but particularly of local government, that Labour has a grievous disposition when in power for dismantling the half-finished work of previous Administrations. There was in existence a Local Government Commission which the late Mr. Aneurin Bevan wound up in 1949, but it was his own Government who had set it up in 1947. The Conservative Government formed a new Commission in England under the Local Government Act of 1958. One would have hoped and expected it would have been given time to be left alone to complete its work.
The right hon. Gentleman who is now the Lord President of the Council said, when he was the Minister responsible for these matters—he said this on 22nd September, 1965—that he would not dissolve the Commission. Then, in December—and not for the first time—he rejected a recommendation made by the Commission. Meanwhile, rumours were rife that the right hon. Gentleman was becoming impatient with this body. This was confirmed by the statements he made later about the relationship between the current work of the Commission and other proposals he had in mind for a committee to consider the long-term reform of local government.
This led the Local Government Commission to advise local authorities not to 1443 devote special effort to preparing new material for submission, as it was argued that work could not proceed in that climate. Then, on 10th February, 1966, the Prime Minister announced the setting up of a Royal Commission for England, and another for Scotland, and, within an hour, the discontinuance of the Local Government Commission was announced in Parliament.
Much time, money and effort had been expended throughout England by local authorities who found their efforts utterly wasted. This led to much frustration and, to illustrate this, I cite the case concerning the Borough of Poole, the Dorset County Council and the County Borough of Bournemouth. They had each provided what I can only describe as massive evidence—albeit somewhat conflicting and controversial—about their views on what would be the best structure for the area. The Commissioners were about to begin work on this problem when the then Minister stepped in and finished it.
My constituency of Poole had a particular grouse in this case because it was promised, as long ago as 1947, that it would receive consideration about becoming a county borough. Those assurances were repeated in 1955, but, when I asked the then Minister in March last, when the axe had fallen, what would happen, he replied that while he had great sympathy with Poole… I would point out that the time that it would take under our present procedure would mean that Poole could not hope to get any change of status until well into the '70s if I had left the Boundary Commission still functioning."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 1080.]I regret that the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Lord President of the Council is not in his place because I would like him to hear my comments on this important subject.
The right hon. Gentleman stated on 10th February last that the work of the Royal Commission would not take much more than two years. I find his reasoning strange indeed because, having pointed out that the Commission would not take more than two years to report, he embarked on a much more interesting point, when he said that the Commission would deal with a radical reconstruction and that there would be "a really radical overhaul."
1444 One wonders how, if there is to be a really radical overhaul, it can be effected and how the Commission can report in the short space of two years. I recall the Prime Minister saying on 7th September, 1964, in a different connection, that Royal Commissions "take minutes and waste time." I appreciate that he was not altogether serious in that epigram, but the right hon. Gentleman said on 24th May, when giving the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, that the review body would probably be the biggest review of local government this century and that "we must not underrate the importance or thoroughness with which the job must me done." That did not strike me as a simple task to be accomplished in two years.
Already one senses that the climate is changing. One has only to read Press reports summarising the evidence of various bodies being sent to the Royal Commission to comprehend that there may be some remarkable and far-reaching changes recommended in the local government structure when the Royal Commission reports.
In this connection—and one need only listen to the comments of hon. Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) to realise there are strong views on this matter—one can foresee the possibility of an end to county boroughs and county councils as we know them and, with their departure, the last chance of Poole becoming a county borough. That applies also to the other large non-county boroughs which have pursued this ambition for so long. One can see the emergence of much larger units and possibly even some form of regionalism. The Prime Minister said in this respect on 24th May that the Royal Commission would be able to consider this within its terms of reference and—
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South West)
On a point of order. I am reluctant to intervene, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but has it not been the custom of this House for hon. Members to deprecate the reading of speeches? I may be mistaken, but it seems that the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) is reading most of his speech.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
The hon. Member is perfectly 1445 right in saying that the reading of speeches is to be deprecated. It is contrary to the traditions of the House. Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to refer to notes, but it would destroy the reality of debates if the practice of reading speeches were to develop.
§ Mr. Murton
Perhaps I may say, in my own defence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have notes rather than a fully written speech. I have had to paraphrase a number of quotations and give several dates. I would find it difficult to remember them without referring to notes. I ask you to bear with me, Dr. Deputy Speaker, because I shortly wish to refer to a document and I am not able to read parts of it without referring to my notes.
I was about to say that there is also the question of local government finance which the Royal Commission must consider. There is another point. The Association of Municipal Corporations feels strongly about the subject of amalgamating certain police areas. It believes that the recent decision of the Government, through the Home Office, to amalgamate police authorities is, in certain instances, misconceived and it has several ideas which it believes should be introduced to make provision whereby one police authority could assume responsibility for the policing of part of an area of another police authority, as is possible under Section 12 of the Fire Services Act, 1947.
I do not wish to risk the chance of getting out of order by raising something which is not within the Bill, but I ask the Minister to consider—following the representations he has received about the amalgamation of police areas—incorporating a provision in the Bill to achieve what the Association of Municipal Corporations suggests. This would permit agreements to be made similar to those applying to fire services and would enable authorities to cope with difficulties in some urban areas where there is a population spillage into rural areas.
This is a complex measure. The Royal Commission has much work to do and its terms of reference are extremely wide. I doubt very much whether it can achieve its object in two years. I deprecate the fact that many local authorities which have done much work should have their work discontinued and should be frustrated. 1446 Do the Government want radical reconstruction? If they receive radical proposals will they have the courage to put them into effect? Will they bring them before the House as a basis for legislation and not as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said, "Kick the ball once more into the long grass"? That is a good expression because when a ball is kicked into the long grass it is lost. If this "ball" is lost it will mean that more time and money will be wasted and there will be more frustration. Then we shall be back where we started.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
To my surprise the debate so far has been one without any great illumination. I usually think that there are two subjects which amongst local government groups, Labour or Tory, generates dissension. One is local government boundaries and the other is water fluoridation, but this proposal for amending local government boundaries has been received quite amicably.
So far, so good. I part company with the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) if—and I do not know whether he was quite serious—he was contemplating that mayors should be paid officials, paid executives. I do not look forward to the day when we shall approach that in this country.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
I meant paid politicians in the sense of their being elected; not in the sense of being civil servants, but paid, yes.
§ Mr. Mapp
I stand to be corrected, but I think the hon. Member used the word "official". I have often said that there are three kinds of uniform for which I have tremendous respect, possibly exceeding the respect I have for any other. One is the uniform of the mayor, which is acquired for selfless service which is unpaid and, regardless of his party, I have great admiration for the mayor's robes of office. The second uniform is that of the mortar board of the schoolmaster. Here is the achievement of dedication to the pursuit of truth. The third is undoubtedly the nurses' uniform. I hope that the mayors of our cities and chairmen of urban district councils will remain as we have them now as elected persons. I have noticed that legislation 1447 has been proposed suggesting that they need not necessarily sit on the bench in future.
Coming to the subject before us, I suppose that this is a sort of funeral of Caesar. It is the end of a clumsy process which in the past has been used for the purpose of modernising local government. I think the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central described local government as a very sick man. In many ways I agree. Reviews have taken place concerning local government all over Britain, some with advantage and some with disadvantage. These have been made under different Governments, but the reports did not get very far. It was unfortunate that the most populous parts of Britain, Lancashire, London and the South-East comprising two areas most ripe for consideration in local government reform were the last to be considered. In fact the proposals for them were not considered at all. Because of that, I shall try to express some of the thoughts which have been communicated to me and to other hon. Members representing county boroughs in Lancashire where the shoe pinches most.
The Leader of the House, when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government, said in the debate on 10th February that he had been asked how long it would be before the Royal Commission reported. He said:I would say the Royal Commission can do its work in not much more than two years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1966; Vol. 724, c. 645.]I should like to hold him to that. While most of the rest of the country has been considered by reports on local government in the past, in the great area of Lancashire one can hardly discern which parts are in an urban district and which are in the district of a county borough. This applies right across from Oldham to Liverpool. Without some local knowledge one can hardly determine in which local authority one is. Yet this is an area where the problem of local government boundaries is overwhelmingly important. I therefore regret that, clumsy as was the old machinery, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government decided rather suddenly to cut its throat. My complaint is that he did not give adequate thought to the problem of the 1448 interim period before the new machinery begins to operate.
What is the interim period likely to be in Lancashire? I do not wish to get out of order. The Home Secretary is righly concerned with the problem of crime, and so are all hon. Members. I shall not debate that question except to say that the problem of dealing with crime involves the question of police forces as related to local government boundaries. Because of the Act of 1964 for which the whole House must carry responsibility, we cannot now deal with parts of police areas. The Home Secretary is committed and compelled because of the problem of local government in Lancashire, in particular, to pay regard to this in his amalgamation proposals. There will be three authorities in Lancashire, the two great cities and the county council at Preston.
This is pushing local government and local democracy back 30 or 40 years. Great conurbations which have populations of a quarter of a million people are to go back to the old county council structure, however suitable or unsuitable that may be. If the Minister of Housing and Local Government presses on with the work of the Royal Commission to be completed in two years from last February—which will be February, 1968—and as the Home Secretary says he would like to have the implements with which to combat crime put to the House in the next two or three years, then these two objects could be harmonised. This touches on local government or regional government. Not only in Lancashire, but I have every reason to believe, from special knowledge coming to me, in Yorkshire and South Wales, there is this problem of local government automony and democracy regarding police areas. If they cannot maintain police forces of adequate size they have to go back to the old county basis.
I therefore hope that the Minister, having entire responsibility for the shaping of local government and its powers, will see there is an urgent need to consider the problems of the Home Secretary in relation to local government boundaries. I hope he will see whether during the next two or three years, through legislation if necessary, we can enable local authorities in a revised form to maintain adequate police forces. It is an amazing fact that about 13 county 1449 boroughs of Lancashire are likely before long to come to this House for consideration of this problem as I gather they have reached a measure of agreement on revised areas. We welcome this. I ask the Minister to bear this in mind. If we are burying a clumsy and old-fashioned instrument which worked so slowly, for how long will the new high-powered body sit? How long will it take the Executive to decide? The case may be strong in Norfolk, but it is ten times as strong in great conurbations such as those in the North-West and I have reason to think the situation is similar in Yorkshire.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
The very title of the Bill—the Local Government (Termination of Reviews) Bill—suggests that there is something in the nature of a wake about this occasion. So it is. For all that, Clause 1(2) has implications which are considerable and far-reaching for one part of the countryside, namely, Shropshire, but which, in turn, have much wider implications for local government as a whole. Therefore, it is not a neat job of disposal which we are being asked to conduct. It may prove to be a much messier operation than that.
This turns very much on the power in Clause 1(2) to terminate the county reviews. This power is not clean cut. It is not to set aside the whole function of county reviews. It is merely to set aside that function in as much as it has not already been carried out. There are three county reviews which are in a process of gestation. There is the Shropshire County Review, which I think is by far the most advanced. In this, as in so much else—for example, being the cradle of the industrial revolution—Shropshire is a pioneer, but I am not here to make a constituency speech.
Some fairly solemn implications can be gleaned from the experience of the Shropshire County Review, and particularly from the experience of the Cornwall and Worcestershire County Reviews. I am delighted and fortified by the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mt. Nott). I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) were not incarcerated in the Committee which is considering the Iron and Steel Bill he, too, would be here. I regret the total 1450 absence of the Liberal Party on this occasion, because Liberal Members represent rural areas which have exactly the type of problem to which I shall refer. I notice particularly the absence of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe).
The Shropshire County Review proposes that the borough of Oswestry should be merged with the Oswestry Rural District Council. I would not for one moment suggest that I have any conception of what should be a future desirable pattern of local government in Shropshire or in rural areas generally, because it would be gross impertinence for me to make such propositions in advance of the report of the Royal Commission.
However, a county review has been conducted in Shropshire which has decided that Oswestry Borough shall be merged with the adjacent rural district and shall become what is known as a rural borough. When the Leader of the House was in opposition, he was very contemptuous of the rôle and prospective future of the rural borough. Indeed, one might be forgiven for thinking that it was partly this doubt and scepticism which prodded him into establishing the Royal Commission.
This afternoon we are asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, among other things, by virtue of the content of the Shropshire County Review, will establish a rural borough in Oswestry. I wish to raise three points. First—there is nothing unique about this—this proposal has created a great deal of local hostility. Almost every hon. Member who has spoken has conceded that all measures of local government reform excite hostility, but the hostility between a developing industrial community and a surrounding rural community can have considerable implications if it is in the context of wider plans for industrialisation.
The second, and I think by far the most important, point is that, by assenting to the establishment of a rural borough in Oswestry, the Minister must imply that he sees no future for the continued independent existence of any urban district or borough with a population of below 12,000 or with a rateable value of just below £½ million. This is a serious judgment to imply in advance of the recommendations, whatever they be, of the Royal Commission.
1451 Since the conclusion of the County Review was made known, the West Midlands Review has been published and the regional economic planning boards and councils have been established. I am not a great enthusiast for those bodies. I am not a great enthusiast for some of their proposals, but that is neither here nor there. The point is that these bodies have been established and, much more to the point, the Government have given a firm commitment to the establishment of Dawley New Town in the eastern extremity of the County of Shropshire. This must have considerable consequences upon the balance of population and the balance of industrial prospects throughout the rest of the county.
There is a pretty good case to be made—it is certainly made in the West Midlands Review—that Shrewsbury itself will expand as an industrial base It already contains some well-known manufacturing concerns, such as branches of Rolls Royce and also Hall Engineering. If Shrewsbury and Dawley New Town develop as an industrial core running from east to west through the centre of Shropshire, there will be the chance of a population increase in some of the market towns, both to the north and to the south. In the south, the future of Bridgnorth is of intimate concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More). In all these considerations, one is taking a considerable step if one assents to legislation which asserts that an urban area with a population of up to 12,000 has no independent future as an area of local government.
There is a good deal of evidence of Oswestry's success in attracting certain types of light industry, success gained without the advantages, if advantages they be, of various industrial development inducements. Oswestry does not lie in a development area but it is still, mercifully, successful in standing on its own feet and in attracting industry in its own way. But all this could be put at risk if that urban area were placed alongside a larger rural district which did not necessarily share the same views about the desirability of industrial development.
These are matters which rightly concern some of my constituents and they certainly concern me. I hope that I 1452 shall be excused if, in putting it to the House, I say that this is genuinely not just another constituency speech. These are matters of principle, perhaps only modest in significance but of principle nevertheless. They are matters which have exercised some of the local government associations also. I have in my hand a statement issued by the Non-County Boroughs' Committee for England and Wales entitled, "County reviews of local government in relation to smaller towns", the first paragraph of which comments that there isan urgent need for stating the case for the smaller towns which arises from the apparent intention of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to proceed with the implementation of county reviews of Shropshire, Cornwall and Worcestershire".My fear is that there may be a stubborn determination to put Oswestry through the mill. This would be both arbitrary and unfair, and I suspect that it would also prove to be, in terms of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money, an expensive piece of obstinacy on the part of Whitehall. Perhaps it is still not too late for the Minister to relent, and I hope that he will today tell us that he has.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
I welcome Clause 2 of the Bill. The Government's intentions in this matter will be widely welcomed by the people of London, including those who administer the education service in the inner London area, the teachers and, not least, the parents of children attending London schools.
The salient factor in the long argument we have had about London government and, particularly, London education, must be what the Herbert Commission concluded in paragraph 516 of its Report:We also have it very much in mind that the educational system of the London County Council has won a high reputation for itself not only in Greater London and the country as a whole but also in countries abroad.Since the Herbert Commission reported, most of us connected with London government, particularly in the Labour Party, have considered that the introduction of the London Government Bill in 1963 was the Conservatives' attempt to 1453 break Labour's hold on London. Fortunately, the efforts which they put into it did not bear fruit when the elections for the Greater London Council came. But what is more interesting is that not only the Herbert Commission found that there was nothing wrong—in fact, it praised it—with education in London but the Conservative Government supported that view at the lime. The White Paper said that where schools and institutions had been provided without regard to borough boundaries, and where there had been free movement of pupils across these boundaries, this had beenone of the strengths of London's educational system".At no time did the Conservative Party adduce any real arguments against the situation in London, and it never once argued against the educational merit of the London County Council's system.
I had the privilege of being a member of the London County Council during some of the, perhaps, stormiest years when the arguments were raging about the change-over and whether the whole of London's services ought to be interfered with. The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) spoke earlier of the apathy of the electorate in local government elections. When the London Government Bill was going through and the changes for London were proposed, we had meetings all over London, not meetings arranged by the Labour Party or by the Conservative Party but meetings of parents of children in ordinary schools and comprehensive schools asking the Government not to go forward with their changes for London's education. I only wish that as many people had felt as outraged about what would happen to the children's health and welfare services as they were about education.
The Government should now remove the uncertainty hanging over the future of education in London. If they wish to have reviews on the education structure, there are; plenty of places where they can start. I only wish that they would institute a review of the education services in such places as Surrey and Bournemouth. This is where there should be reviews, if there are to be reviews, but not in London, which has proved its 1454 worth not only in terms of education but in terms of people's votes and continued faith in London government throughout the years since 1934.
The Conservative Party when in office never gave any good grounds for saying that London's education service was inefficient or inadequate. We in the Labour Party were not alone in our protests against the 1963 Bill. The London Teachers' Association, a body drawing its membership from all political parties and from none, resolved at its annual conference in February this year,That this Conference welcomes the announcement of the Secretary of State for Education and Science that he intends to introduce legislation to repeal the Education Review Clauses of the London Government Act and calls upon the Government to introduce such legislation at the earliest possible moment".Without doubt, as stated by the President of the London Teachers' Association, this has been having some effect on the recruitment of teachers for London education. It has also been having an effect on the forward planning of the I.L.E.A. in terms of obtaining sites for future school buildings and of knowing whose responsibility it is to be to rehouse families from those sites. I am certain that the people of London will welcome this Bill.
§ Sir E. Boyle
What is the hon. Gentleman's evidence for the assertion that the fact that the review was on the Statute Book has affected the recruitment of teachers? I have been told on good authority that, but for the quota, London would have too many teachers. In this respect, London is in a quite different position from a big city like Birmingham.
§ Mr. Murray
I will quote my authority. Mr. Roy Porter, President of the London Teachers' Association, wrote in London Teacher in July, 1965:We already have evidence that some teachers are leaving the London Service because of uncertainty about the future and this situation will get progressively worse as time goes on.Not only the teachers are affected. We have had one upheaval in London and the nearer we get to the review date, the more it creates uncertainty in people's minds. The I.L.E.A. must be given an opportunity to move forward without this hanging over its head. Many of us 1455 fought bitterly against the London Government Act—and that included some of my old colleagues on the I.L.E.A. But now we are saying, "We have a new authority and must make it work, not because we want to score a political point but for the sake of the children of London and their future."
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
I hope that the hon. Member for Graves-end (Mr. Murray) will forgive me if I do not follow him in to his arguments about the I.L.E.A. and the question of review of the organisation. I am unqualified to speak on that aspect of the Bill and want to restrict my remarks to issues arising from Clause 1. Before doing so I want to touch on the rather unorthodox suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour).
I have seen reports of similar suggestions he has made elsewhere and I would ask him to consider local government in terms of its remarkable success in administration over a long period and in rapidly changing circumstances. There is a great deal to be said for a system of committee procedures, with the chairman being elected by the committee members who will serve under him agreeably.
This also applies to the position of the mayoralty, with mayors being elected to preside over councils by members of those councils. If mayors were to be imposed, as it were, as a result of an electoral decision, it might well do great damage to the system of local government as we know it today. It is one mat has served us so well. In my experience, those who serve in local government get the authority which their abilities deserve and one does not feel that people of ability in local government are restricted in any way under our present system.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) referred to the remarks made by the Leader of the House at the A.M.C. conference last year in the context of his expressed intention at that time to maintain the Boundary Commission. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would not agree that this is not the only occasion 1456 on which the Leader of the House has had to change his mind on local government questions.
The other outstanding change was his remark about doing away with the rates. Subsequently, he has had to tread very warily. He has searched for an alternative system to that of rating which again has served local government well over many years. These are two of the lessons the Government have learned about local government and they would be wise to hesitate with many of their proposals for it.
Local Government is an extremely complicated and involved procedure. There is an infinite variety of places and circumstances throughout England and Wales and to generalise is unwise in any context. The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) referred to the great conurbations. I think it unfortunate that it should have been found necessary, but I am in the position of having to accept the necessity for a complete review of the reorganisation of local government.
We know that the Boundary Commission, during no less than seven years of plentiful work, covered about two-thirds of the country and had to contend, naturally, with the proper parochialism that one finds. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has gone to some length to show how the issues with which he is concerned are raised in this type of reorganisation.
The practical proposals the Commission brought forward, and which both Governments to some extent made effective, have led to a substantial amount of new thinking in terms of local government administrative units and services. This has led, in turn, to a greater recognition on the part of all those serving in local government, whether elected or employed, to have a fresh look at the great problems with which local government is faced.
There is an indication of this in the many submissions to the Royal Commission from many local authorities and from organisations which have not in the past concerned themselves greatly with local government questions. This is a very hopeful aspect of the review that the Government have undertaken.
The task facing Sir John Maude and his colleagues is exciting and essential. But 1457 it will be laborious. It is bound to be, with all the mass of evidence that his been submitted. It will be an enormous task to sort it all out. One wonders how the wheat will be sifted from the tremendous amount of chaff that is bound to lie in the submissions. I hope that the two-year period for the work will be found possible. I understand that the Royal Commission intends, if possible, to get its work completed in that time and I am sure that we all hope that it will.
There is a growing opinion throughout the whole of local government that what people wish to see is democratically elected regional or provincial administration. It is thought that many of the economic planning regions are unsuitable as a base for local government administration, and I believe that the essence of local government lies in elected representation. If those two facets can be acknowledged, we might see provincial authorities responsible for example, for trunk roads, fuel and power, fire, police and ambulance services—and I would like to see hospitals reverting to the authority of local government—for technical and further education, main drainage and water—and we have often discussed the great importance of those last two to new towns and overspill; they are not local problems, but have much wider implications. National parks and rural conservancy and tourism, which might be an interesting feature for provincial administrations to look after, could also be included.
Surely, what we want is a lessening of the concentration of power in Westminster and the Ministries. I am sure that much of our planning appeal procedure is held up because there is no way in which to devolve it within the Ministries. Underneath the provincial administration, I think that it is generally recognised that there should be, most-purpose authorities, on the basis of a city region. Here, we come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Oldham, East, in that in the great conurbations it is impossible to link the urban area of the cities with any part of the rural countryside. But when there is an urban area in the countryside with country districts around, I am sure that there is much to be said for marrying town and city with the countryside, provided that there is an adequate community of interests to form local units of administration.
1458 My concern is that of those who have spoken of the delay which may be involved, perhaps not in the Report, but in the implementation of the proposals which may issue from the Royal Commission. I quote from the Local Government Chronicle of 29th October, in which the Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers), is quoted as saying, in an interview:The present regional machinery was an interim arrangement. What followed would be partly dependent on the non-central government structure that emerged. He estimated that it would be from seven to 10 years before any changes recommended by the Royal Commission could be carried out.If that is a reflection of Government opinion, we are in for a very long period of the uncertainty which has been created by the Bill.
I hope that we shall have an undertaking from the Government that they recognise the sense of urgency involved in this question and are prepared to bring to it a definite purpose in the interests of local government, from both an electoral and an administrative point of view. Two Boundary Commissions, as it happens, have been dissolved by Socialist Administrations, for quite different reasons, but now we have a Royal Commission. I welcome the fact that it has been set up, but I hope that we shall now be able to look to the Government for constructive determination in local government reform.
§ 6.35 p.m.
Mr. William Hunting (Woolwich, West)
May I, first, apologise to the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and to my right hon. Friend for not having been present at the beginning of the debate. I was engaged in a Select Committee upstairs.
The debate is somewhat unusual in as much as two rather diverse threads seem to be running through some of the speeches. The hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) has been concentrating more on Clause 1 than on Clause 2, but I am convinced that these two Clauses can be read together in the context of education.
One of the things which has emerged from local government during the last 40 years is the need for viable areas 1459 of local government, and this has often meant advocating the creation of larger units of government, for specific services, or as all-purpose authorities. I can remember writing more than 30 years ago, a paper on the necessity for setting up a county council of Merseyside.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) has just left the Chamber. Perhaps he expected that I would say that, for there is no question but that the creation of authorities such as a Merseyside county council or Manchester county council would impinge on the status of the surrounding areas and their economic viability. Perhaps it was for this reason as much as anything else that the Surrey Tories objected so strongly to being caught up in the creation of a Greater London Council, because by that they were robbed of rateable value and so impoverished. Perhaps Clauses 1 and 2 are not as diverse as might be thought.
In certain branches of education it is obvious that larger areas of administration are required. It is so obvious that it seems incredible to me that the Conservative Government were so bent on splitting up the London education service, obvious even on their own argument. By advocating the splitting of the education service, they were running counter to historical trends.
I ought to declare my own interests. I am a member of the London Teachers' Association, already mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray). As a teacher, I was formerly in the service of the London County Council and later the Inner London Education Authority and, of course, in the grand old days I was in the service of the Liverpool City Council, famous for many things other than education.
Over recent years, there has been constant pressure from the London Teachers' Association and parents and other educationists in London for a declaration by the Government of their determination to introduce the provisions outlined in Clause 2. There was constant opposition at the time of the Royal Commission and the introduction of the London Government Bill by the Conservative Government to the provision to split up London's 1460 education services. Ultimately, the Government of the day bowed to the storm and set up the Inner London Education Authority.
I am told that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham has announced to the House that the Conservative Party reserves the right to look again at the position of the Inner London Education Authority. I wonder why. Do the Opposition think that about the boroughs which were created by the 1963 Act? If the I.L.E.A. should be reviewed in 1970 and the Conservative Party feels that that should be the policy, why does it not include the boroughs?
The only educational authority to be reviewed under the London Government Act was the Inner London Education Authority. We have never been told why there should be one law for the rich, in this case the I.L.E.A., and another for the poor, in this case the outer London boroughs. There is no question that in educational matters the wealth of provision is in the Inner London Education Authority area and the poverty of provision is very often in the borough authorities outside.
If any areas were to be reviewed one would suppose them to be the areas which, educationally, appeared to be less viable as all-purpose educational authorities, rather than the Inner London Education Authority. What would happen if the Conservative view were to prevail is that the uncertainty, to which reference has already been made, might be renewed. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) who is, I understand, to wind up for the Opposition, is the last person ever to want to bring uncertainty into educational matters.
My hon. Friends have referred to the opinion of the President of the London Teachers' Association that this uncertainty in the past caused difficulty in recruiting teachers for the London service. The right hon. Gentleman begged to question this statement of opinion on the grounds that London has always been a magnet and that, if it was not for the quota, more teachers would come to London. There is no contradiction in these two arguments. London has always been a magnet, but it was the opinion 1461 of the President of the L.T.A. that as a result of this uncertainty, the London service was less favourably regarded by some people outside of London than it had been previously.
London was and is a magnet because it is such an excellent educational authority. It always has been, not only because of its size and the wealth of opporturity offered to teachers and students, but because of the wide diversity of opportunities for education, administration and many other matters. There is no educational authority in the world possessing the same degree of wealth of opportunilty as the I.L.E.A.
If this review were to take place in 1970, if London education were to be split, it would create grave difficulties for London's education. The plan for the reorganisation of secondary education, announced by the I.L.E.A. recently, would go into the melting-pot. This plan provides for secondary reorganisation to be over a broad area and not on a borough basis. A review in 1970 and the splitting up of the service could wreck this planned reorganisation. Inheriting the traditions of the old L.C.C., the I.L.E.A. has set up many common services, such as advisory panels on new subjects, and on all aspects of education, as well as many other services, including library and television services.
There are also courses for teachers. All of this is only possible when one has an authority of such magnitude. There are other benefits to be gained from the present scheme and one is that the I.L.E.A. can divert teachers into areas of special difficulty. I speak as a teacher who taught in one of these areas for a long time, quite a long way from my home. It would be quite impossible to transfer teachers to deal with specific problems in this way if the education system were to be based on the boroughs.
Another provision made by the I.L.E.A. concerns special education. A borough cannot provide the diversity of special education which is provided by the I.L.E.A. and which has been built up over the years, regardless of borough boundaries. Residential schools are operated by the Authority in the country and there is a boarding school in East Anglia. There are about 23 per cent. of the secondary school population crossing 1462 borough boundaries to go to school and an even greater figure in connection with further education.
The last educational institution in which I served in the Inner London area was the London College of Printing, a very large college, of a very specialist character. I would regard it more in the nature of a national college rather than a regional college, providing for thousands of students, some full and others part-time, and situated in the Borough of Lambeth, but having a catchment area from Brighton in the south to Hertford in the north, Reading in the west, and Southend in the east.
What borough could afford to maintain institutions of this sort, which are not to be counted in single figures in London? This is the heritage from the old L.C.C., which is being built up by the Inner London Education Authority. No borough could stand the financial strain of operating institutions such as this. I have been told of one borough, outside London, which has a very large technical college, accounting for the biggest item in the rate demand of that borough. This has made some parochially-minded councillors, attempting to cut the rates, to look first at the technical college and to ask what can be cut out there? This is the parochialism from which London has never suffered, and will not suffer if the Bill is brought into being.
We have had experience of the splitting up of other London local government services. Nursing and midwifery were split for three or four years but this scheme was abandoned after pressure from the doctors. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend has already mentioned child services. In my view, London has suffered since the children's service was split. We now have a situation in which welfare is the responsibility of the local borough and housing, in large measure, the responsibility of the G.L.C. This is absurd, because any London Member knows that so often a housing problem is a welfare problem, and, to tackle the housing problem satisfactorily, he has to take it first to the welfare officer. We are hamstrung because of the split responsibility. If education were to be split we would have many other similar difficulties.
I said earlier that this break-up was opposed by parents and teachers. We have, of course, a very large labour 1463 majority in the area covered by the Inner London Education Authority. I do not believe that that is any accident. I believe that it is based largely upon Labour's record in education in London, and on the quality of service provided by the Authority. I have said before that I have fought every General Election since 1955 on successful comprehensive schools.
That has been an issue at every election I have worked on in London since I came here way back in 1950, and certainly, where we have fought the inner London elections on education, we have won them all—at least, so far as I am concerned. There are only one or two of the more benighted boroughs where Labour's majority rule does not hold sway, but on the Inner London Education Authority Labour has a big majority.
This, I consider, reflects the confidence of most of the electors in the inner London area, most of whom are parents. It reflects their confidence in the education provided by the I.L.E.A. London education is recognised by the Royal Commission as embodying the highest standards. The case for splitting up London's education was certainly never made by the Royal Commission, and it was certainly never made by the last Conservative Government, when they introduced the London Government Bill. It has never been made by the Conservative Party at any election I have seen in London, and this Bill embodies what I think is a very reasonable proposition, that the Inner London Education Authority is a good authority and that it should be confirmed as such, for good and all.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
I should like to apologise to the House and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) for being unable to be present for the opening of the debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Handing) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his observations, for, without implying any disrespect to hon. Members who have participated in the debate, it has been a somewhat inconsequential one for the remarkable reason that all the areas affected by the Bill are affected in two different ways.
1464 I think that I can claim that it affects my constituency perhaps more acutely than any other, and that is why I wish to say a few brief words. We had in the Ludlow division four small and ancient boroughs, names famous in Shropshire, in England and in history—the Boroughs of Much Wenlock, Bishop's Castle, Bridgnorth and Ludlow. Those boroughs have had to go through what might be called the traumatic experience of a county review under the Local Government Act, 1958. As a member of the Salop County Council, I witnessed that rather agonising process—and long-drawn-out it was—at uncomfortably close quarters. We in Shropshire had the feeling that a job, which, in many respects, was painful to do, had been done and that we had achieved some measure of finality.
It would be too much to say that the conclusions of the county council had been completely accepted by the boroughs which I have mentioned, but I think that the local authorities' staffs, who, in particular, were affected, had probably resigned themselves to a new future in local government, although difficulties and unhappy individual cases have arisen. What must have been our feelings, and their feelings, when, suddenly, by the announcement that the Government, through the mouthpiece of the present Minister's predecessor, we find in Shropshire that far from having achieved any kind of finality everything apparently may once more be in the melting pot.
The present Government have apparently decided to take half a bite at one of the four principal cherries which have to be devoured. They introduced a Salop review order with the object of constituting an urban district council for what was then visualised as Dawley New Town. That review order passed this Chamber, but even that has now been thrown into doubt by the report which has been produced on the area of Wellington, Oakengates and Dawley. Therefore, even that small achievement is now once again a subject of doubt and discussion.
What we in Shropshire want to know is what faces us in the future. Not to put too fine a point upon it—if it is, indeed, a Parliamentary phrase—we in Shropshire feel that we are being 1465 "proper messed up". Are we to expect that the Government will, in fact, now produce another Salop order to deal with the other areas which have not been dealt with by the previous order? Are we to have any guarantee that when the new Royal Commission reports, that we shall not once again be subjected to complete reorganisation?
I should like the Minister, who bears no personal responsibility for the mess which has been achieved in Shropshire, to give his personal attention to our problem, and try to give us, this evening, some kind of assurance which can at least give some prospect of certainty and assurance to all of those in my constituency who in their different ways have done their best to carry through the previous organisation, and whose only desire, indeed, is to get on with their proper job, which is that of proper local government in Shropshire.
§ 6.58 p.m.
Mr. Peter Manon (Preston, South)
I speak as a local government man who is now a Member of Parliament. I was 34 years in local government, and I have been a Member of Parliament for two years. It is said at times, with a degree of truth, that comparisons are supposed to be odious, but for my preference I come down on the side of local government. I have been a member and a chairman of local government committees during the past 34 years. Down through those years I have been a member of every local government committee: education, finance, fire brigade, watch, health, housing—Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Without being pharasaical, I can say that I have had a unique experience.
Our local government, with all its faults and failings, is the envy of the world, and if one is disposed to be unfriendly or unkind to local government, it cannot be gainsaid that it has served our country well. In its long experience, local government in this country has sustained many shocks. Today, we are considering the Local Government (Termination of Reviews) Bill. Terminations appear to be the order of the day in Parliament. Indeed, the penchant for terminating things is becoming all too pronounced. I have been tempted to become a little heretical since becoming 1466 a Member of Parliament. At times I have found myself wondering whether the Sword of Damocles would fall, and whether my experience in Parliament would be a lot more salutary than my experience in local government has ever been.
The Boundary Commission goes, and what is pertinent is: what takes its place? I was very closely in touch with the Commission, and I know that its work was monumental and went on for years. It showed great application to a very awkward task. The work of local authorities to produce the requisite evidence on which the Commission could be expected to make wise decisions was prodigious. Now, once again, everything is in the melting pot.
I gave evidence to the Boundary Commission on behalf of my own local authority in pursuance of our laudable ambitions to expand our boundaries and I was immensely impressed by the members' wisdom and knowledge, and their desire to make the right decisions. The question now to be asked is: will the remedies for many imagined defects in local government be more devastating than those alleged defects themselves?
What are the faults? I think that they are parochialism, little-mindedness and, perhaps, a lack of the dedication one could expect from men and women who have to work for their daily bread and who afterwards seek to serve their fellow men and women as members of local councils. When people work like that—unwept, unhonoured and unsung—there are bound to be defects and deficiencies, as has to a large extent been evident. But what is the alternative? Is it regionalisation? Is that to be the panacea of all ills?
In all sincerity, and without being supercritical or sceptical in any way, I want local government to succeed, because a great deal depends on it in the future. I am very anxious about its future, because I know that great good can accrue from it. Parliament has been lagging behind local government in its desire to get on with the work that is necessary. Would we have had our beautiful schools, our homes, our social services and all the things that go to make life bearable for people without the great co-operation of local government with 1467 the Mother of Parliaments? It is true to say that many times local government has worked at a tremendous disadvantage. We have had to pursue our social aims when the purse-strings have been tightly drown. That has meant going to the moneylenders, to the Stock Exchange, and then asking our people to repay the loans at very high rates of interest. We may not had made the progress we have always wanted to make, but that can be explained and justified.
The shock of the recent decision was, to say the least, profound, and the question now being asked by official and by by councillor alike is: is anything worth while? The hopes and aspirations of many people in these communities have once again been dashed to the ground, but I say fervently and sincerely that even should we make an adverse decision in the future—and a decision can be a nine-days' wonder—people can still do a lot of good work. Whatever decision is worked out, however, let us hope that in 10 or 15 years' time we shall not once again be trying to undo the work that has been done in the meantime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) became a little nostalgic about conditions on Merseyside years ago. The position was not resolved then, and a lot of water has since gone under the bridge—
Another Daniel must come to judgment before the position is resolved on Merseyside, and many other parts of the country. I wonder at times how we shall ever get over our difficulties, and whether it is wise continually to be changing horses when crossing the stream.
The House should be in no doubt that the winding-up of the Boundary Commission was a bitter disappointment to all and sundry. Councillors, local government officers, chief constables, medical officers of health, were all genuinely disappointed by it because they saw in the Boundary Commission the way to a wider vista. It is unfortunate that the work has been ended, because it would not have meant the end of all ideas of larger areas of local government and control. It could have led the way towards regionalisation.
1468 I am glad that I have not to explain to my people the facts of the tortuous minds of Ministers. I think that there will be a more beneficent outlook, and I will leave it there—when I become heretical, I sometimes fall foul of my best friends. I am glad that the Minister asked, "Will you help?" I thought it a nice touch of humility. Of course I will help. It is necessary that those with experience of local government should help. Those now engaged day by day in local government can help.
It is imperative in the interests of the country that we should make changes, and I hope that the changes envisaged for the future will be successful and will enhance and enrich the lives of the people. I wish the Minister well. I am glad that he was not responsible for this decision.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon), who hails from Bootle, not least because I believe that one of the projects prevented by more recent events was a possible junction of the boroughs of Bootle and Crosby. Not even the union of Hampstead and St. Pancras would have been more interesting than that union.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I had better not proceed too far on that road.
This has been an interesting debate in one or two ways. The subjects in Clauses 1 and 2 no doubt are linked, but at times I thought that the debate had been rather like a recording of carols by the Elizabethan Singers, whom hon. Members may have heard—one eventually realises that the tune and the accompaniment are connected, but it takes a little time. Further, I have never listened to a debate in which more hon. Members opposite have spoken and done a turn of work on the second bench above the Gangway.
I have two comments to make on Clause 1. First, I was very interested in the serious point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) when he suggested that local government was the sick man 1469 of England and suggested that we needed to dramatise local government rather more. I have a lot of sympathy with him about this, bearing in mind the very great responsibilities of local education authorities nowadays. Even despite the rather frightening remarks of the Minister of State from time to time, they are still very considerable responsibilities under the Act. When considering the large resources of which they dispose, I am always bothered by the gap between the reality of the responsibility of local government and the esteem in which local government is generally held.
In a sense, my hon. Friend's reference to dramatising local government was surely not out of place, because one of the reasons why we do not take local government more seriously is that councillors so seldom appear on television, except occasionally to make stupid remarks about expenditure on the arts or the like. It is very seldom that we hear a serious contribution on television from a local councillor who has major responsibilities for a local government service.
In commenting on Clause 1 of the Bill, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said that we will not get people to give up energy and time to work on commissions if they are to be treated in a cavalier fashion. I cannot help at times being struck by the gap between the work and attention that a commission gives to a subject and the outturn in terms of action taken.
That, of course, is not always true. To be frank, there have been moments when I felt that Lord Robbins has underrated the amount of his report that has been accepted both by successive Governments and by public opinion. At times, however, members of commissions must surely feel a little of the melancholy satisfaction of the Cambridge philosopher, Professor Broad, when, having finished his five-volume work on Mc-Taggart, said: "At least, I have the satisfaction of knowing more than anyone else on this one subject, save God if he exists or McTaggart if he still survives." Occasionally, that must be the melancholy satisfaction of a member of a commission. We should not make it a 1470 habit to treat these commissions in too cavalier a fashion.
I come now to Clause 2 of the Bill. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) was not correct in suggesting that the decision of the previous Government to have a review in 1970 meant, in effect, a decision to split up the inner London service in 1970. At one or two points in his speech, the hon. Member used the phrase, "if the review were to take place and if London education were to be split", suggesting automatically that the one would follow the other. I contradict that straight away.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am well aware that these were two successive events and that one might follow upon the other. I am not suggesting that it might happen, but it was the feeling that it might happen which lay behind the teachers' agitation.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I appreciate that and I shall, therefore, deal with the point.
The hon. Member also went, I thought, too far in talking about the previous Government bowing to the storm over inner London. There was never any doubt in the mind of the Ministry of Education and of successive Ministers about the undesirability of splitting up inner London education. Both Lord Eccles and I at one time or another put forward arguments on this subject. The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) quoted a paragraph of my speech on 11th December, 1962, showing how I pointed out that as one gets towards the centre of London, so the pattern of schools and technical colleges becomes less and less related to borough boundaries, and the transport system gets more closely integrated, so that parents in inner London take it for granted that their children can travel quite long distances to school.
I was glad that in that context the hon. Member for Epping talked about parental choice. I have myself quoted the figure which shows that a very high proportion—85 per cent.—of those in inner London were able last autumn to go to the school of their first choice. In view of the fact that hon. Members opposite have referred during the debate to comprehensive schools, I feel I should briefly reply. That figure suggests that in an authority the size of inner London it 1471 is not impossible to have a growing number of comprehensive schools and a certain number of selective schools side by side and also to achieve a very high rate of parental choice. I certainly recognise the advantage in London of the considerably greater degree of parental choice that the larger authority brings about. The advantages within the I.L.E.A. area of boroughs being able to do things together, and of being able to use a number of common services, are also of great importance.
When I spoke on the Second Reading of the Bill in 1962, I was careful to stress that when the review took place the decision following the review would be taken strictly on educational grounds. I have looked through my speech again and I cannot discover one of the sentences which the hon. Member for Epping ascribed to me about the Government having the right to break up I.L.E.A. I did, however, say, and it seems to me to be the crux of the matter, that in 1970 it would be open to the Government to give whatever advice to Parliament they liked when they had considered where the balance of advantage lay from an educational point of view.
§ Mr. Newens
If I may correct my words, I meant that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said it in his speech today. I suggest that we check HANSARD to see what I actually said. The right hon. and learned Member said that the Opposition reserved the right to dissolve the I.L.E.A. after the review. That was the objection that I was making. I was certainly making no reference to any statement of that sort in the speech by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) on Second Reading of the London Government Bill.
§ Sir E. Boyle
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham supports me in emphasising that the point of his remark was that the decision should depend upon where the balance of educational advantage lay after the review had taken place.
Why did we want the review? In reply I should like to remind the House of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said in winding up the debate in 1472 December, 1962, because he put the point precisely. He said that:It would be wrong … that we should at this stage close our minds entirely to the possibility that we can find some effective way of bringing the boroughs, which will be administering all the other human and personal services, still more closely into contact with the administration of education."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1962; Vol. 669, c. 355.]In other words, while the final decision was to be taken on educational grounds, we felt that it was wrong in 1962 to close our minds entirely to the possibility of the boroughs becoming more directly associated with the education service.
There were three reasons for feeling as we did, and I should like to mention them. First, it is worth remembering that the decision to keep the London boroughs right out of education, so to speak, was a decision which many of them regretted, and to some extent this cut across party lines. That is to say, certainly there were some Labour-controlled authorities outside Inner London which regretted that they could not be in a larger scheme.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)
Did the right hon. Gentleman say outside the inner London area?
§ Sir E. Boyle
Yes. Equally, some boroughs in London, including some that were Labour-controlled regretted the notion that they should be excluded from any direct participation in the education service. In that connection, one had to remember the financial situation that under the 1963 Act I.L.E.A's demands had to be accepted by the Greater London Council and added to the precept on the London boroughs. The House should remember the very large sums of money involved.
Taking, for example, next year's budget figures for the I.L.E.A. area—
§ Sir E. Boyle
The hon. Member will find that in 1966–67 the figures are higher still. The total of the estimate for next year is £102 million. Even in real terms, it means that I.L.E.A.'s estimates for next year will be approximately 50 per cent. of the total expenditure on education in England and Wales for 1946–47. Again, since it would be unreal to keep politics out of this, last year the 1473 boroughs which were not controlled by the majority party in I.L.E.A. paid for over 50 per cent. of I.L.E.A.'s budget. In those circumstances, it was only natural that the boroughs felt strongly on the issue of being excluded from direct participation, and therefore it was right not to close our minds to the possibility of participation in some form.
But this was not the only argument in favour of the review. One point which particularly strikes me is that I.L.E.A. is the only ad hoc local education authority in the country. Its members are not directly elected like the members of other local education authorities.
I have always believed that there were many attractions in the idea of ad hoc L.E.A.'s. Before 1944, we had 316 education authorities in the country whose basic job was elementary education only. After the 1944 Act, we had 146 authorities, now increased to 166 and, over the twenty years since 1944, local administration has stretched out into further and higher education, and the whole service of education is beginning to loom very large in the local authority administrative structure. That is one side of the argument. On the other hand, if one takes education right out of general local government, it would be the last big service gone. What is left would be hardly worth creating new machinery for.
All those are important questions which are very relevant to the work of the present Royal Commission. With the whole of local government in a state of flux, and with London specifically excluded from the Royal Commission's terms of reference, surely the case for a review of I.L.E.A. is strengthened rather than weakened.
My own inclinations are on the side of a considerably smaller number of all-purpose authorties. I start with an inclination towards the sort of pattern proposed in the A.E.C's evidence to the Royal Commission which was published last week. I am speaking very much for myself on this matter, but, at a time when we are considering the whole pattern of local education administration, and when the issue of ad hoc local education authorities must come into question—and when, as the hon. Member for Epping pointed out, there have been those who have 1474 proposed an I.L.E.A. type solution for the outer boroughs—the case for an inquiry into the workings of I.L.E.A. becomes strengthened.
Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, in that case, the review should not be of I.L.E.A. but of the outer London boroughs?
§ Sir E. Boyle
The experience of I.L.E.A. is surely the unique experience here. After all, the outer London boroughs are not all that differently placed from many other smaller boroughs—and not only the smaller ones because, as I pointed out in 1962, a good many of the outer London ring are considerably larger boroughs than a number of county boroughs in the country as a whole.
The third argument for the review is that in another respect, also, I.L.E.A. is in a peculiar position. The whole rationale of I.L.E.A. is that all its members should be interested in education. If one is a member of an ordinary county council or county borough, one has to specialise in one's local government responsibilities. But the logic of the 1962 Act was that all I.L.E.A. members should be interested in education. Yet one knows that a number of them, while they are compelled to serve because they are G.L.C. members, are primarily interested in other subjects. In practice I.L.E.A. has become increasingly yet another committee of the G.L.C. in a manner not envisaged when the London Government Act was passed.
These are some of the reasons why we believed that the review was right in 1962, and why we still think it should be retained. I would make the last point that I do not think that there are only two alternatives here; namely, either to scrap the review or to split up and Balkanise inner London education. I do not think that those are the only two possible alternatives.
Even if one holds the view that, on balance, as we have believed hitherto, the unified service in inner London should be kept, there are alternative methods of organising education in inner London. As the House will know, the membership of I.L.E.A. consists partly of all members of the G.L.C. elected from the inner area constituencies, partly of one member sent up from each inner 1475 London borough, and partly of 16 additional members appointed on a party basis—
Is it not true that it is the Education Committee which is so constituted, and not the I.L.E.A.?
§ Sir E. Boyle
No. I think that I am giving the correct analysis of the membership of I.L.E.A. itself—the members of the G.L.C. elected from the inner area, then one member from each borough, and 16 members appointed on a party basis. If I am wrong, perhaps the Minister will correct me.
§ Mr. Greenwood
My impression is that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong, but this is something into which we must conduct further researches. I think that he has given the membership of the Education Committee and not that of the Authority.
§ Sir E. Boyle
If I am wrong, I apologise. But I am not sure this is a point of great substance, since in any case the Education Committee is the important body. I understand that the meetings of I.L.E.A. are fairly short and formal.
My point is that the constitution of the body to administer education in inner London is not something which we should look upon as immutable. For example, it would be possible to increase the numbers sent up as educational specialists from the inner London boroughs. It would be possible to go even further, and have the whole of education run by some kind of joint committee of the inner boroughs. In other words, the point which I make is that, without fragmenting the education of inner London and whilst retaining the old L.C.C. boundaries, there are a number of patterns in which it would be possible to identify the boroughs more directly with the education service. We can discuss the matter at greater length and, if I have misinformed the House, I will take the opportunity of apologising when we reach the Committee stage and deal with Clause 2.
For these reasons we are not convinced that it is right to dispense with the review which we put into the London Government Act. While I feel as strongly 1476 as ever that the case for maintaining the Inner London Education area intact in 1962 was an overwhelming one, and while I re-emphasise that the result of any review should be based entirely on educational grounds and no others, none the less, there is a strong case for having an inquiry into the workings of I.L.E.A. and considering what is the best pattern of educational administration for the area.
It is for those reasons that, when we get to the Committee stage, we shall vote against Clause 2.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Edward Redhead)
I sympathise with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Sir E. Boyle) in as much as Clauses 1 and 2, while linked in a sense, nevertheless have a detached and separate purpose, as he has rightly said. It has been a little difficult to keep track of the debate as, quite properly, different hon. Members have made their divers contributions on the various aspects in which they are interested.
Before I come to Clause 2, which is my principal responsibility, I should like to take up some of the points which have been raised in connection with Clause 1, dealing with the dissolution of the local government commissions and the discontinuance of the county reviews.
It is obvious that one has no need to explain further the position in regard to the Local Government Commission for Wales, because it has finished its labours and, as my right hon. Friend said, its discharge through this Clause is a mere formality.
Clause 1 is a direct, and necessary, and I think desirable, consequence of the appointment of the Royal Commission on Local Government in England, a Commission which has been charged to undertake a completely comprehensive review of local government, with terms of reference wide enough to take account of the linked, and in my view inseparable, aspects of structure, function, and finance. I think that it must be clear to anyone who has studied the results of the labours of the Local Government Commissions, that the terms of reference have been too limited really to produce wholly satisfactory results in a field of such complexity, 1477 where it is under pressure from rapidly changing circumstances in the modern world.
Clearly, once having appointed a Royal Commission for this purpose, it would be an unnecessary duplication to perpetuate the Local Government Commissions. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend has made it clear that the recommendations made to date by those Commissions, and by the county reviews, will not be ignored, and I think that it was a little misleading for the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) to suggest that this decision represented a decision to do nothing.
§ Mr. Redhead
I think that the right hon. Gentleman should already be aware of quite a number of cases where decisions have been reached by the Minister consequent on recommendations made by the Local Government Commissions. I shall not weary the House with a list of them, though I have it here, and I think that it would be permissible to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the information which he desires and which I am sure will convince him that he was not correct in saying that this decision represents doing nothing.
§ Mr. Redhead
My right hon. Friend has made it clear, likewise, that in so far as any decisions have not become operative where firm recommendations have been made, these will be considered on their merits, and will be the subject of Orders placed before the House. I think that it has to be borne in mind, before too much is made of the suggestion that the work of the Local Government Commissions has been wasted, that the results of that work will clearly be available, from within the more limited terms of reference under which they have laboured, to the Royal Commission in considering these wider issues under these wider terms of reference.
During the debate on this Clause I thought that I detected a divergence of view among hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. and learned Member for 1478 Hexham seemed to dismiss the concept of the Royal Commission and the discharge of the Local Government Commissions as the evasion of Ministerial responsibility. One could not be other than impressed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's plea about the need for a quick decision, and indeed he represented his party as virtually ready to jump in with well thought out solutions to these problems.
I thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) rather upset his plea in this regard when he begged the Government to be hesitant in their approaches to this problem, underlining the complexity of it, and telling us that it was of a varied character throughout the country, an argument which I should have thought justified a comprehensive review by the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones
I made the comment in the context of the thinking aloud process in which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House exercised himself in his capacity as Minister of Housing and Local Government. This is where the caution should have been.
§ Mr. Redhead
I appreciated what the hon. Gentleman was getting at, but I think that he was quite right to underline the fact that, contrary to the view expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham, one cannot dash into local government and pretend—and it is a pretence—that one knows all the answers to this complex problem. I think that we have all to come to the conclusion, looking at the picture as a whole, that what is necessary is a comprehensive review of the character of the problem, which is now possible under the terms of reference of the Royal Commission.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham made some play of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, when he was Minister in charge of the responsible Department, when he addressed the conference of the A.M.C. in 1965. He quoted my right hon. Friend as saying that he had rejected the idea of discharging the Local Government Commissions. If my right hon. Friend did modify his decision, or his view, on this 1479 matter as a result of considerable discussions with local authority associations and others, perhaps I might point out that he is not the first Minister, on either side, to change his mind. Indeed, this was demonstrated to be very much the case in relation to the subject on which I shall touch in a moment, and which falls under Clause 2. All Ministers, on both sides, changed their views on that subject when they were in office.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) welcomed the discharge of the Local Government Commissions. He did so very cheerfully, I thought, and made a number of interesting suggestions in connection with local government reform, many of which will, I am sure, come within the review of the Royal Commission, as they deservedly should. I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's reference to what I thought was a somewhat exaggerated view of local government as "sick" taken up by his hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South, and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon), and I join in paying tribute to those engaged in local government.
I do not pretend that local government does not have its problems. Of course it does. It has very serious problems, but I agree with what the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham said about the need perhaps to dramatise local government a little more. Those who are engaged in local government give their services voluntarily, as members of all political parties. They do so with a deep sense of public duty. Often they fail to realise that they are not making an impact on the general electorate, and to realise the importance of the job they are doing, and I join in the tributes which have been paid to them. Local government has been one of the most socially beneficial forces in this country, and we should not exaggerate its problems to the point of suggesting that it is sick to the degree which I thought the hon. Gentleman was implying.
We all realise that one of the major difficulties confronting local government today is the problem of the rapid change in the modern world, changes in population, developments in industry, and so on. The structure and finance of local government 1480 have clearly not kept pace with these changes, and I suggest that it is not possible to find an adequate solution except by means of a comprehensive review.
One of the besetting difficulties in the past—and it is a difficulty which has faced not only this Government, but the previous Conservative Administration—is that of securing agreement between the local authority associations themselves. To carry the local authority associations with one, it is clearly necessary to do so by conviction. It is significant in this context that the decision to set up a Royal Commission has received a general welcome from the main local authority associations. I think that this is of the greatest significance. Many of the current difficulties to which reference has been made, and the local problems into which I am sure the House would not expect me to be drawn in detail this afternoon, are demonstrations of the need for a review of the kind which the Royal Commission will make possible.
The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton)—and I think that it may have found expression elsewhere—took up the suggestion made by the former Minister that the Royal Commission might be expected to finish its labours within two years. I am asked whether I can reaffirm that kind of assurance. No Minister can dictate to a Royal Commission and say precisely by what time it should finish its labours and prepare its report. This was a firm declaration, hope and expectation on the part of the Minister of the day. The Commission has already got down to its task very energetically, and we have the utmost confidence in its chairman and members, who well recognise the urgency of the problems with which they will have to deal.
I now turn to Clause 2, which is designed to remove the uncertainty hanging over the London education service—an uncertainty which has been hanging over it for the past six years. As the Secretary of State for Education and Science said when he made his announcement last November of the intention to introduce legislation to this effect,This uncertainty … must be removed, and the Authority itself must be given confidence to embark on long-term plans without the threat of further upheaval."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1965; Vol. 720, c. 1347.]1481 The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham suggests, without very great definition, that it was the activities of the I.L.E.A. which were responsible for the alleged gerrymandering by the Government with the elections next year. It ill becomes hon. Members opposite to talk about political gerrymandering when we recall the London Government Act, 1963. The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central is naïve in the extreme if he imagines that he can persuade us that that Measure was entirely devoid of any consideration of party political advantage.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says emphatically that his party reserves the right to review and dissolve the I.L.E.A. if again it should have such an opportunity. I am sure that those concerned with the administration of the service, and all those who have protested so vigorously against the threat hanging over the I.L.E.A. for six years, will take careful note of the significance of his remarks.
§ Mr. Rippon
It is important that the hon. Gentleman should not misquote what I said. I said that we reserved the right to review the operation of the Inner London Education Authority, and either to dissolve it or to amend its composition or structure in a way that seemed necessary to us. As my right hon. Friend explained, those decisions would be taken on educational grounds. We have in mind a wide review, and it is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to give the impression that we have any intention to dissolve the I.L.E.A. We have given a pledge to review its activities.
§ Mr. Redhead
I am sure that the purport of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said in further explanation of his point of view will be evaluated in the light of experience by those concerned with the administration of the I.L.E.A.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman complains that the action to be taken in the Bill is virtually to freeze local government. I am entitled to point out that, on the contrary, the relevant Clause thaws the freeze of uncertainty imposed by the review provisions of the Act.
It is worth reminding the House of the origins of this period of uncertainty. They were to be found in the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Local Government in London—the Herbert Report 1482 —when the Royal Commission recommended the division of functions respecting education between the Greater London Council and the 52 proposed new London boroughs. The recommendations were imprecise and left many important issues concerning the division of functions between the varying authorities to be settled by discussion and agreement, itself a process which would have been productive of a great deal of delay and uncertainty.
It is pertinent to recall that the Royal Commission did not challenge the efficiency or adequacy of the then existing service in the L.C.C. area, which it recognised had developed as a unit with conspicuous success. Indeed, in its Report it paid tribute, in words which were quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray). It said:We also have it very much in mind that the educational system of the L.C.C. has won a high reputation for itself not only in Greater London and the country as a whole but also in countries abroad.I would have thought that that was an incontrovertible conclusion on the part of anyone who took a really objective view of the educational system in the L.C.C. area. I want to add my tribute to the magnificent job that this body has done throughout its existence, both in its present form and previously as the London County Council.
It is not surprising that the recommendations of the Royal Commission were described as a "leap in the dark" for which no valid reason was given in the Report. They aroused widespread apprehension which was not confined to the L.C.C. or to political parties, for 7,500 teachers within the London area responded immediately by sending a petition to the L.C.C. urging that authority to resist the recommendations of the Commission, while the London Group of Parent-Teacher Associations indicated that not only teachers, but also parents were concerned by passing a resolutionThat the London Group of Parent-Teacher Associations seeks the co-operation of the National Federation in its efforts to oppose the findings of the Royal Commission on Local Government in so far as it seeks to set up a radically different body as the education authority for London.There is no question that the point and purpose of the Royal Commission's recommendations were widely resisted by 1483 all those who had a deep and passionate interest in education in London.
In November, 1961, the Government of the day published a White Paper rejecting the Royal Commission's recommendations in the form presented in the Report, proposing instead the establishment of borough education authorities, and a smaller number of larger boroughs for the whole of the Greater London area, except for an inner ring for which there should be a central area authority comprising a population of about 2 million.
That proposal—it is interesting to note at this stage—involved the cutting off of one-third or more of the existing L.C.C. education service. Bearing in mind the words of the right hon. Member for Handsworth this afternoon and his disavowal of any definite intention to split up the service, I am entitled to remind him that this alternative action, proposed by the Government of the day, to the recommendations of the Royal Commission was a measure of fragmentation of that service.
The alternative proposal did nothing to mollify those who opposed the original Royal Commission recommendations. The London Group of Parent-Teacher Associations mounted a campaign which it carried to Parliament, and it was not without significance that six teacher organisations in London banded together in united opposition to the Government's proposals as laid down in the White Paper. When six main teacher organisations band together in complete unity we can believe that they are concerned with a matter of some importance. Many other local manifestations were apparent at that time. Parents, teachers, managers, and governors throughout the London area protested vigorously about the then Government's proposals.
The reasons for this opposition, and the apprehensions that existed and were so widely expressed, are not far to seek. They will remain—and this is why I mention them now—in the minds of those concerned so long as uncertainty about the future persists. The L.C.C. service was built up as a unit and was planned for the area as a whole, with a degree of flexibility to which several hon. Members have referred, allowing for mobility across metropolitan borough boundaries 1484 of teachers, specialists and pupils, to permit the exercise of a fair and reasonable degree of parental choice, whereas fragmentation would have brought its inevitable problems in special education, where the provision is obviously best made in the large area.
It would have left us in the difficulties to which my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) referred, that fragmentation of this character would have resulted in some areas being possessed of more provision than they required, while others were being denuded of it. This is true of playing fields, school meals, and technical education, to mention only a few.
Many of the centralised services of the I.L.E.A., built up as a result of the resources available to an authority of this size and character, could not possibly have been sustained by the multiplicity of boroughs which would have come into the picture even under the Government's recommendations and proposals of that time.
The upshot of all this was, of course, that the Government bowed partly to the opposition. They decided that the L.C.C. education service should be taken over as it stood and administered by a committee of the G.L.C. This was embraced ultimately in the London Government Act of 1963, which provided for the establishment of the present day I.L.E.A. But the Government's surrender to the opposition was only partial and the respite for the authority only temporary, for it was conditioned by the review Clauses, which we now seek to repeal.
When the announcement of this decision was made, the Education Committee of the G.L.C. recorded this view, which it is still appropriate to quote today:The Government's decision to transfer the education service as it stands to a committee of the Greater London Council is an implicit acceptance of the arguments consistently advanced by the Council that the service is one and indivisible and to that extent is to be welcomed. It is, however, a matter for regret that it appears from the wording of the Minister's statement, that the education service has not been given a permanent release from the threat overhanging it. As a result there is likely to be a period of uncertainty and anxiety during which the education service will suffer, with the possibility that at the end of or during the five year period the service might still be broken up. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the final word has not been said. If uncertainties about the future are not to impede the 1485 progressive development of the London education service, its continued existence should be unequivocally confirmed.We on this side persistently opposed these review Clauses, as the record shows, at every stage—both in this House and in another place.
The London Teachers' Association, having formed a liaison committee with their fellow associations, mounted a Parliamentary campaign of a vigorous character such as will be long remembered by those who were in the House at the time. Our opposition to the review Clauses, we made clear, was on the grounds that the review was unnecessary, that it perpetuated an undesirable degree of uncertainty, with the possibly deleterious effects which might follow.
That all these deleterious effects may not have followed and that apprehensions might perhaps have been a little greater than has proved to be justified in recent years is perhaps not unconnected with the fact that this Party made its opposition clear in this matter and its intentions clear for the future and, furthermore, that it won the General Elections of 1964 and 1966 and was, therefore, able to give a measure of encouragement to those who might otherwise still have felt that the threat was very severe.
The right hon. Member for Hands-worth gave his reasons for feeling that the review was a desirable thing to provide for and even canvassed alternative possibilities to either the review or a split-up. He is very beguiling in references of this character and I am prepared to accept his own good faith and an expression of his personal point of view. However, although I would be very happy in many respects to accept what the right hon. Gentleman's intentions are, the future does not necessarily lie with him exclusively. I would prefer 1486 to have something much firmer in the way of removing the threat than the assurances blandly, but sincerely, given by the right hon. Gentleman.
For that reason, I look for the removal of these review Clauses. Nothing which has happened since has changed our view in the slightest, nor has it changed that of informed opinion. Following my right hon. Friend's announcement of 17th November, 1965, of the intention to introduce legislation of this kind, the London Teachers' Association passed the resolution quoted earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend and today my right hon. Friend received a letter from the same organisation, which says:You will remember that my colleagues and I have discussed with you from time to time the possibility of deleting the Review Clauses from the London Government Act. I write now to inform you that the London Teachers' Association, representing the majority of teachers in the area of the Inner London Education authority, welcomes the London Government (Review Clauses) Bill and regards it as a just outcome of the struggle against the effort to break up the excellent educational service established and maintained by the London County Council for so many years.We are very glad that you have at last been able to find Parliamentary time to take this amending Bill, and we hope that it is passed with the minimum of trouble".It is signed by the General Secretary of the Association.
I think that this makes it clear where those who are so vitally concerned with London's education stand on this matter. I invite the House to endorse that view by according the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).