§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
I beg to move,That this House welcomes the emphasis that has been placed by Her Majesty's Government on regional policies, in particular the establishment of the Regional Economic Planning Councils and the Royal Commission on Local Government, and hopes that the need to evolve an effective alternative unit of regional administration will be borne in mind when considering any recommendations of the Royal Commission.This Motion has been deliberately framed to encourage a wide-ranging debate on the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on Local Government in England. No doubt some speakers will not agree with the emphasis that I wish to place on having a first-tier regional authority of about 12 units, but I am sure we will all agree that the reform of local government is a subject on which Parliament should express an opinion, and, most important of all, should express it at a time when the Commission is still hearing evidence, and when there is some hope that we will have some influence on any eventual recommendations.
I am particularly concerned, as I believe many Members who will speak in this debate will be, about, to quote the words used in the terms of reference,the need to sustain a viable system of local democracy".Anyone who is concerned for reform in local or central government must be aware of the increasing tendency for control to pass to the bureaucratic machine, and I suggest to the House that this is the fundamental issue. Most of us want planning to become an essential part of decision-making. Equally, most of us realise that the increasing complexity of life pushes us remorselessly towards the larger units and greater centralisation, and yet we do not wish to lose those elements of individual participation and 538 identification which form the basis of democratic control.
I suggest that this is the essence of the democratic dilemma, and in postulating any changes in structure we should attempt to retain democratic representation and the manifestations of client control and consumer conscience at all levels of the decision-making apparatus.
It is, perhaps, easy, particularly at the present time, to exaggerate features of the public attitude which have no doubt always been present, and will continue to be there, but the degree of cynicism and denigration of political institutions which exists at the present time is, I suggest, allied to a new dynamic force which has not been present before. We hear a lot about the communication explosion, but it has been a lack of communication which has bedevilled participation for centuries. Now, with television, wireless, newspapers and greater education, I suggest that people have an enhanced awareness and sharpened knowledge, and that with this has emerged the wish to participate, and a newly-awakened political force.
Nationalism and regional feeling can no longer be scoffed at. Their very existence is a token of the frustrations that are being met by our present structure, and I suggest that if these forces are not to develop in such a way that they become divisive and destroy any coherent rational planning, and become just protest movements, there is a real and urgent need to harness them to the democratic machine, and I do not think that we have a great deal of time.
It is easy to exaggerate recent by-elections and recent trends, but I think that this is a force which is not transient, but will stay and possibly enlarge. Individual dissociation from, and disenchantment with, the democratic procedure could allow us to develop a mere facade of democratic government, whether at local or national level. It is apathy and disengagement which is democracy's most insidious foe.
In 1947, G. D. H. Cole, in his book "Local and Regional Government", made aplea for Regionalism, side by side with a revival of small scale neighbourhood government.He argued then—and I hope to continue to argue now—that there was a need to 539 give attention to both larger and smaller units of local administration, and that the large did not exclude, but rather made more essential the smaller unit. I hope that this will be compulsory reading for the members of the Royal Commission on Local Government.
As I have ploughed through all the 10 brown pamphlets containing the written evidence of the separate Ministries, I have looked in vain for any serious consideration being given to the need for a sounding board for local grievances and frustrations. I have looked in vain for any serious questioning whether the proposed 30 to 40 city regions as a first-tier authority will allow for a viable democracy. Even in their oral evidence there is a disturbing vagueness about the second-tier authorities and their functions. I feel bound to say that I dislike the proposals put forward by these Ministries. I wish that more people realised that their recommendations have nothing to do with the Government or with Ministers and that there is nothing sacrosanct about their advice.
I suggest to the Government that when this evidence is printed in future a rider should be attached to make this quite clear, because it is not so clear to those people outside the House who think that this comes from the Ministries with the full backing of the Ministers in charge of their respective Departments. Furthermore, I am extremely suspicious about their extraordinary degree of unanimity in proposing 30 to 40 city regions. Has each Ministry put forward this suggestion independently, or—as I suspect—has Whitehall reacted to the prospect of reform by closing its ranks and settling for a compromise which will have the least impact on the administration of Central Government? I say that the argument for larger groupings is an obvious and necessary one, and I welcome it. A second tier of small city regions seems sensible, but it is as a first tier that I object to the city regions.
Yet I realise that the city region concept may well win wide acceptance as a compromise between those who want a large first tier and those who want little change in the present system—and they are numerous. But is this the right size for an administration in the 1980s and beyond? Let us make no mistake. We 540 are legislating into the future. Local government will probably remain unchanged for 30, 40, or even 50 years.
Should not the problems of the North-East and the North-West be conceived as a whole? Boundary lines drawn across them will tend to disrupt coherent planning. The far South-West—which is a region that I know—is a far better planning unit than, say, Devon or Cornwall treated separately and in isolation. We have already had that, and the results have been far from satisfactory. This is what is envisaged in the city region concept.
Regional development in the depressed regions, regional regeneration, overspill schemes and traffic planning need to be assessed over fairly large areas and the continued growth of population makes one question the wisdom of choosing relatively small areas of administration for planning purposes.
In oral evidence the degree of unanimity between the separate Ministries has been broken down. The Ministry of Education felt that there was no danger in widening the boundaries even to a population of 3 million—and it quite rightly pointed to the success of the Inner London Education Authority and Lancashire—and that there were no grounds for thinking that there was any maximum size for an education authority. The Ministry of Health appears to be quite determined to keep a regional administration for hospitals, and wants to include the ambulance service, and is prepared to recommend this in isolation to local government reform—a somewhat surprising recommendation. Apparently, it is satisfied with the structure of the Health Service and the present arrangements for representing consumer interests. If so, I can only say that the people in the Ministry are the only ones who are satisfied.
The tripartite division of the Health Service is an absurdity. Even the British Medical Association—not renowned for being a radical organisation—wants a change in the administration and a re-examination of the feasibility of area health boards. To put evidence to a Royal Commission on Local Government without seriously discussing the possibility of linking local government health and welfare functions with the hospital services is an admission that 541 makes one seriously question the whole basis on which the evidence is formulated. I do not accept for a moment the argument that because the terms of reference talk purely of existing functions it means that the wider issues could not have been raised, because they have been raised in oral evidence.
The Ministry of Transport, in oral evidence, admitted that the figure of 30 to 40 city regions was chosen only because of an indication that this was the appropriate number for land use planning and for its purposes it could be 60 to 70.
I will not burden the House with more examples, but I hope that the point is taken that because 10 Ministries have advocated 30 to 40 first-tier city regions it does not mean that the argument is over and that all that needs to happen is for Parliament to pass the legislation. On the contrary, there is much to question in their evidence. Their superficial unanimity breaks down on close examination.
I now want to bring up a different subject. It is a tribute to this Government that we do not need to argue the need for regional policies. The establishment of the councils and the trend of Government legislation show quite clearly that the Government are committed to planning on a regional basis—and I welcome this. I think that they are right to allow a regional policy to evolve. While the councils do not have executive powers, I accept that the argument for democratic representation loses some of its dynamic, if not all its force.
When the plans have been laid, however, who is to supervise their execution? Who is to learn by their mistakes? Who is to be the sensitive antenna, changing and modifying regional plans? Is this function to be taken over solely by the Government? Will there not be a real need for regional executive-type bodies to do particular jobs—to analyse current policies and take decisions on short-term strategy? It seems hard to believe that the Government, having introduced a revolutionary step forward in respect of regional councils, are now going to stand by while those councils stagnate. But, equally, if they are to be given executive powers a more dynamic representation is vital, even though it might be worth retaining an element of 542 functional democratic representation rather than purely geographical representation.
If the effective unit for land use planning is the city region, why did the Government go for such large units for the regional economic planning authorities and select only eight for England. Why are we attempting to co-ordinate regional statistics on the basis of these large units? Why have Government Departments found it necessary to operate regional administrative units for so many years? Are we going to see 30 to 40 Ministry of Education divisional inspectorates, at present organised over ten regions?
One could go through every single Government Department. What about the electricity and gas industries and the Coal Board? They all have varying regions. What about the regional advisory bodies? What about the host of ad hoc bodies which are based on varying regions. Surely we should be working towards a unification of these regions.
It is interesting that the Department of Economic Affairs in its evidence to the Royal Commission—which was to me a great disappointment—felt that the present Government regional offices will largely remain. This means that we will perpetuate a separation of local from central Government. What about statistics? Will they also be separated? If there are to be two-and-a-half city regions to one Government region the situation will be ludicrous. We would reform local government, but leave central government quite unchanged.
I am convinced of the need for an effective structural link between central and local government. Such a relationship exists in embryo at the moment. The Chairman of the Regional Planning Council has direct access to the Secretary of State for the Department of Economic Affairs. This accessibility is important as a stage in power. I cannot see this being retained with many more than 30 first-tier authorities. Even then, it will be difficult.
I fully admit, as was admitted in evidence, that if there were only 30 authorities, the need for regional economic planning councils might be questioned and it would be hard to justify a separate regional first-tier unit. It is, however, worth 543 asking whether 30 city regions is a realistic figure. Will not the tendency be for this number to rise inexorably with all the very great pressures on Government and the special pleading which will follow their demarcation, so that instead of 30 to 40, there were 50 or even 60 city regions?
In the area which I know best, the West Country, it may look all right on paper to have the centre of Plymouth to embrace the whole of Cornwall. I am a Plymouth Member and want its greater glory, but I know that Cornishmen find this unacceptable. Much more realistic would be a first-tier region for the whole of the far South-west, based on Devon and Cornwall, with its centre at Plymouth and with five city regions based at Truro, Plymouth, Exeter, Torquay and Barnstaple. I realise that the last would be a questionable entity, with a low population of probably fewer than 150,000, but there are real geographical reasons for such an administrative centre. This sort of local objection to city regions will be made all over the country.
It would be far better to adopt the second main proposal of bodies like N.A.L.G.O. and the town and country planning associations and go for first-tier regions and for second-tier units which are flexible in area and population. This scheme has the advantage of fixing the region fairly rigidly, though every one believes that the present economic planning council boundaries need modifying and that their number should be increased to about 10 or 15. The now elected regional councils would have the regulating functions of police, fire, civil defence, ambulance service and co-ordination of public transport and public utility functions like water supply, river boards and airports. Possibly, they will eventually forge a structural link with the gas and electricity boards. Strategic planning functions involving development, new towns and urban renewal could be administered by them, and they would obviously have the economic planning functions.
Here, in particular, a case can be made for some devolution of central government decision-making particularly as it involves Board of Trade control of offices and the Industrial Development Act, and 544 the Ministry of Public Building and Works in respect of the Building Control Act. Some executive powers might well devolve to the regions.
Education, particularly higher education, could be administered by the regions with a general policy over the arts and the social services. We should also examine bringing the hospital service within the ambit of regional government. Remand centres, approved schools and specialised treatment centres also apply. These are all spelt out in much more detail in N.A.L.G.O.'s evidence and suggestions.
Arrangements for independent finance for regional councils seem premature at this stage. It may develop on the regional hospital board system of a centrally determined grant, the allocation of which is solely their concern. That would seem an appropriate initial form. It could possibly even retain a modified rating system, although I should like it replaced with something else, administered by the second-tier authority.
The Ministry of Housing and Local Government's evidence pointed out that the increasing national taxation had to some extent pre-empted any effective local taxation and there may not be this great pool which many think is ripe for taxation. Some see regional government in terms of a quite distinct structure, with a regional parliament directly elected and with autonomous financial provisions. I reject this solution. The gap between central and local government is too large at present and the last thing which I want is a quite separate, rootless structure interposed between the two.
I see the movement towards regional government in the framework of local government. A vital element is to ensure structural links between the region and the second tier. This could best be done by having the majority of the regional council from delegates of the second tier, with a percentage of directly elected members so as to ensure that some young people are brought into the structure who might otherwise not be prepared to go up through the second-tier authority.
With regard to the specialist boards which would be set up by any regional unit, there is much to be said for nominated and co-opted members; a reasonable balance would benefit everyone and 545 ensure, particularly in health, greater cooperation by such bodies as the B.M.A. which might otherwise be hostile to all elected boards. It would also ensure a range of expertise which might not otherwise be available.
The second-tier authorities would operate over an area which could vary considerably, arriving at a population of 250,000 and dropping below this figure only in exceptional circumstances, settling at the most for 80 or 90 authorities, although some people have suggested more. It should be possible to make a maximum of 25-mile radius as the catchment area, so as to retain the essential voluntary spirit in local government. Unlike the region, there would then be no need to consider either full-time or part-time payment. Some people feel that this would destroy the voluntary spirit which is the most important part of our present system, but it would be inescapable in a region.
The lowest level of government would be a most important community or neighbourhood councils, which would aim to be the closest to the individual, again with considerable flexibility as to size and area. It would be similar to the parish council and in cities would be an attempt to inject into the ward—at present, a lifeless political unit—some community feeling and would develop in most cases into a sounding board for local issues.
It would have no fundamental executive role and so would not really be a third tier of government, but would have the right to call to its meetings second-tier officials for consultation at an early stage on planning decisions affecting that area. It should have a distinctive local spirit.
A recent study has shown that parish councillors are substantially younger than the members of county or rural councils and that this is a valuable source of young and active participants in the democratic process, a source which should not lightly he cut off, particularly since it attracts a proportion of married women—
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Is not one reason for this that parish councils usually meet in the evening so that people who earn their living can attend, while county and rural councils tend to meet at times incompatible with most forms of employment?
§ Dr. Owen
This is a very important reason for it, which is why neighbourhood councils are important and would introduce people early to democratic government. If they want to go on and give more time—local government representatives do give a considerable amount of time—it is open to them to do so.
The logic of community participation is very important. I should like more flexibility. In some cases there is reason to retain elections for local councils where there is a long tradition. In wards, where there is no such tradition, there may be something to be said for nominating members from the political parties and other organisations in the area, and perhaps eventually elections will develop. These councillors would become managers of schools and have special interests like the arrangements of the community service in their area, particularly in relation to the social services, and serve as local hospital governors. Their own second-tier councillor, one hopes, would work closely with them.
This type of structure allows for a considerable centralisation of planning and decision-making and also assumes that central government can control, through a small number of regional units, the heavy expenditure on local government. This is important. At present, it represents about 30 per cent. of the total public expenditure and 14 per cent. of the gross national product. The scrutiny of individual items of local expenditure could be done by the regions and one would hope that the regional councils would work in close collaboration with the Government's regional departments, much as they do with the present regional boards.
The second tier, by being smaller than the proposed 30 to 40 city regions, would be more closely identified with the locality and the individual. I cannot escape the fear that a solution based on city regions would only ensure far greater central Government control. They would never be able to establish a close working relationship with the central Government or be powerful enough to argue with and challenge central Government decisions. They would also tend to involve a fewer number of people in the democratic system, with no obvious advantage in administrative efficiency and they would weaken local democracy.
547 We must beware of the bureaucratic intolerance of untidiness. Here, G. D. H. Cole reminds us that democracy, by its nature, depends on a little untidiness, variation and flexibility. Local government is best served by greater centralisation of planning accompanied by some devolution of central Government powers. To offset this, it is essential to foster individual participation at the community level and build up a structure of functionally distinct but overlapping units so as to offer the prospects of advance through the system for the councillor and allow for the feelings and frustrations of the individual to be felt at all levels.
It may be surprising to some hon. Members that a person with no experience of local government should introduce this debate, but I have always been extremely concerned about local government and feel that it offers a very great deal to democratic life. I can only claim to be experienced indirectly through a county councillor and a parish councillor in my mother and father but I have, through that, seen the real value of local government.
This is an important debate. My preference for large regional units and first-tier authorities may well be wrong and not shared by many people, but of one thing I am certain—that a sound system of local government is essential if we are to distribute power widely and to ensure that these powers are wielded through a structure that is democratic not only in name, but also in spirit.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)
I am sure that everyone would join with me in congratulating the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), firstly, on choosing such an important subject for debate and, secondly, on the most excellent and admirable speech that he has made in moving the Motion. I find myself in virtually complete agreement with nearly all he said, the exception being his opposition to directly elected regional parliaments or councils. But even if I did not agree with most of his speech, I would still think that it was most excellently done and put together. He has laid an excellent foundation for the rest of the debate.
548 Like him, I think that there is no need to argue for regional government. The argument is about what form it should take. Like him again, I share a suspicion about the general Whitehall consensus in favour of these 30 or 40 city regions. He has particular reason for opposition to them because, if I remember correctly, when this conception was originally put forward by a distinguished member of the Royal Commission, Mr. Derek Senior, Plymouth was left in an ante-natal state in not being regarded as a city region and not showing much signs of becoming one.
But apart from that there is a lot to be said against city regions. First, they are not regions. The whole expression is misleading. This country does not possess 30 or 40 regions. It is far too small for that. It possesses eight to 12 approximately. The hon. Gentleman said he was in favour of 12 units. I do not know whether he included Scotland and Wales. If he did, then my figure is almost exactly the same as his. There is room to argue whether we should be eight to 15 regions, but it is certain however hard we look that we cannot find 30 or 40 city regions.
The second point of opposition to city regions is that the case for them by the Ministries has not really been argued. It has just been assumed. I will quote as an example the written evidence of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which is the Department most intimately concerned. Paragraph 10 of Part II of its evidence is the nearest it comes to an argument in favour of city regions. The evidence says:It is these wide areas which are becoming the most important communities of the second half of the twentieth century—and for which the expression 'city-regions' has been coined.The question is whether they are or are not communities. But that point is not argued. Nor does the Ministry argue the case against what is normally thought to be meant by a region in this country. Such regions, as I said, total about eight to 12. Paragraph 37 of the evidence says:Some of these regions have a sense of community and also possess a degree of interdependence. They are bigger than necessary for planning purposes,"—that is doubtful—however, since they encompass several areas or city regions, which are virtually distirct;549 That is far from self-evident, as is indicated by the set-up adopted by the Department of Economic Affairs in choosing its economic regions. The evidence continues:… for the most part they would be too large in area and population to constitute effective units of local government responsible for the planning functions discussed above.Why they would not be effective is nowhere stated.
The city region has been chosen by the Ministries for the reasons that the hon. Member knows—that Whitehall realises that there is a movement towards larger units, that it cannot defeat that movement and that these city regions are the least it can safely advocate without being landed with proper regional government which might be a serious rival to the total assumption of government by Whitehall. The city regions have been adopted because Whitehall thinks that it can get away with them. The term "city region" is misleading. It should be prefaced by the words "so-called". We are not talking about proper regional government when we talk about city regions.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the need is for local government units strong enough to stand up to Whitehall. Hon. Members opposite may object to certain actions by Birmingham City Council but, whether or not they agree with the merits of those actions, it is surely healthy to find a local government unit prepared to stand up to Whitehall and if we had proper regional units this would happen far more often.
The boundaries are only part of the problem of how to organise regional government and this is where I differ from the hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that, if we are to put into practice the admirable democratic sentiments that he enunciated, it is fundamental that these regional units—these first-tier units—should be directly and democratically elected. Quite apart from anything else, this would make them stronger against Whitehall. It is difficult for the electors to feel involved in the democratic processes of very large units.
The nearest we have to regional government at the moment is the Greater London Council. In a by-election in Brent last year there was the extraordinarily small turn-out of 12 per cent. 550 which, even by local government standards, is small. When the G.L.C. conducted a survey to see what knowledge people had of local government—the results were published in the minutes of the G.L.C.'s meeting of 13th December, 1966—it found that as many as one-third of Londoners did not know what the initials "G.L.C." represent and that, even when told the meaning, they failed to understand what that local authority was. It also revealed that one in 10 was unaware that he lived in Greater London—although I do not know where these people thought they did live—and that one in four did not know in which of the new London boroughs he lived. Surprisingly, however, more than half could correctly name their M.P.s, although only one in 50 could name one of his representatives on the Council. This shows how great is the divorce between the electors and the representatives of large units of local government. I suggest that this divorce would be even greater if regional councils or parliaments were not directly and properly elected.
The way to get round this problem is to adopt the method which I suggested in a Bill to reform local government which I introduced in the last Parliament. The idea was to go over to an executive form of local government and have directly elected executives; in other words, to follow the American system. People would run for the post of governor of, say, the south-west region, and be directly elected to that post. In the second tier, the mayor would also be directly elected and paid. There would then be an executive form of government like we have in Westminster and Whitehall. There would also be a parliament or council elected in the ordinary way, but instead of having the leaders elected by the representatives themselves, they would be elected by the ordinary electors. This would bring far greater interest to local and regional government and be more efficient than the present system.
Even where one does not find directly elected representatives of local government, the movement towards executive leadership is increasing. For example, in France the mayor, although elected by members of the council, is an important executive figure. We should move towards that system instead of getting 551 bogged down in the myriad of committees which, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), is time wasting. There would also be greater opportunity for young people wishing to enter local government because they would be paid and would be more or less full-time leaders of local communities and councils.
This is the way to get over the potential divorce between large units and the electors. It may be the wrong way, but it has a better chance of succeeding than any other. While these remarks disagree with the sentiments expressed in the second half of the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton, they endorse the first half of his speech. I strongly agree with him that it is important to have units which are large enough to stand up for democracy against Whitehall.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
This being my maiden speech, I will endeavour not to detain the House for long. I believe that I can claim to be doing something unique, for I am making my first speech in this House on my 25th birthday.
I begin by paying tribute to my predecessors. The first was returned as the hon. Member for Nuneaton exactly 25 years before I was elected to represent this constituency. He is now the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, and sits in a slightly different part of the Palace of Westminster—where, I believe, he has slightly more decorative and certainly more important functions to perform than making maiden speeches. The second was Mr. Frank Cousins, who stayed here long enough to make a significant contribution to the House. Indeed, I understand that he made a very important contribution in getting one of the Government's most significant Ministries off the ground.
With about 10,000 car workers, 4,000 miners, some railwaymen, workers in the quarries and hosiery trade and about 400 people who work at Bristol Siddeley all living in my constituency, I have been rather concerned about the topic on which I should speak when making my maiden speech.
The topic under discussion today affects everyone living in my constitu- 552 ency, not least the 2,000 or so miners who have been transferred from Scotland. The Motion affects the future of my constituency as a whole. It is a subject about which there has been much talk, but little action. The action we have had has been of an empire-building kind of which I am not in favour. One or two authorities have been doing some empire-building. For example, Coventry has been trying to gain domination over the surrounding authorities, even to the extent of insisting on the retention of its name in the creation of the new Warwickshire police force. This and similar actions are to be deplored, particularly when we have more important and constructive things to do.
The regional economic planning councils and boards have already done a lot of good work, although they are not armed with many teeth. I believe that the next step to be taken is to get together the various regional offices of the Ministries and Departments and to get together on a much more regional basis the various Departments which have offices in the regions. We already have the examples of the Department of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Transport. It is now time to have more regionalisation, involving the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Social Security and other Departments. This is the direction in which we should be proceeding and it is the next step that must be taken, following the regional councils which have already been created.
In our efforts towards regionalisation, we must not neglect the important problems of some of the constituent parts of the region. For example, there is a great tendency, as shown in the first Report of the West Midlands Economic Planning Council, to neglect the constituent parts of the region and concentrate merely on shifting people out of Birmingham. The same tendency appeared in the first Report of the Department of Economic Affairs on the West Midlands.
While we have some evidence of regionalism in this country, we seem to be primarily concerned with the problem at what one might call the primary level. There are more important things involved in regionalism than merely overspilling people from Birmingham. For example, although the figures for my constituency and areas like it may not show a great 553 deal of unemployment, we have great need for new jobs to be provided.
I represent a constituency in which about 10,000 people travel daily to work in the Coventry car trade. Many others have to travel elsewhere to work. We have just had one local pit closure and this sort of thing can easily involve the need to provide at least 1,000 new jobs. There are about 4,000 miners in my constituency. Since 1953, the labour force in mining and quarrying has been run down in this region by about 17,000 men, which is higher than the national average. Although the mining and quarrying community represents only 2 per cent. of the labour force in the area, it should not be thought that, because the area's unemployment figures are not high, we do not have serious unemployment problems. There is an extremely serious problem caused by hidden unemployment.
There seems to have been emerging the philosophy that everybody should have the right to work within his or her native region. I am wondering whether this is starting to mean that certain parts of the region have to be left as dormitories. This is beginning to emerge. Some kind of selective expansion will have to be made possible even in the areas which so far have not been granted industrial development certificates. It is O.K. to talk about shifting industry to different places and moving jobs to various places, but we have to have industrial development certificates to do so.
The present kind of regionalism seems to be mainly concerned not with this kind of problem, but with shifting people out of Birmingham into other areas, of which my constituency is not one. Some believe that dispersal so far has not worked and diversification so far has not worked and the first-aid principle has failed and because these things have failed the thing to do is to have outright regionalism. We have to have firms within the regions trading among themselves and more local autonomy, but they do not tell us how exactly the kind of philosophy is supposed to get a region off the ground. The way we have to go is the way I have suggested.
The economic planning councils have already done some good work in presenting the economic picture to regions as a whole. The next step is to get the various regional offices of the Ministries 554 together. Whatever areas of authority we are talking about, whether regions or something slightly larger, these regional offices have to be the basis.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
It is a very great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) and to have this opportunity to congratulate him on a maiden speech to which the whole House listened with attention and enjoyment.
He follows, as he said, a person who could not by any means be called a conformist, Mr. Frank Cousins, who came into this House and went out of it on his timing—something which very few of us succeed in achieving. He did however make a reputation for sincerity and forcefulness which we all admire. The hon. Member therefore inherits a constituency which must be slightly weary of elections. I thought he paid it a great tribute and what he said about it was of interest. It shed a new light on our discussion on regionalism today. In particular I thought his remarks about distribution of industry and policy to do with attracting new jobs were very relevant to what is one of the crucial aspects of what regionalism means.
The hon. Member said that it was his 25th birthday. I believe he is the Benjamin of the House. I end my tribute to his maiden speech by saying that I am sure all hon. Members will wish him many happy returns to our debates. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
I must also congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) on his good fortune and his wise choice of subject for today's debate. He should be particularly congratulated on having spoken for half an hour on regionalism without even mentioning Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland. Not to have made any reference to those three countries is a great achievement. Looking around the benches this morning, I find that the predominant number of hon. Members present are from English constituencies. It may be that at last the English are turning towards looking for some form of independence themselves as well as for the periphery of Celtic countries of the British Isles.
I did not think the Motion moved by the hon. Member is quite radical enough. 555 In fact I think it a trifle wet. His proposals do not go quite far enough. We have to ask ourselves, what do people actually want? What do people who have expressed uncomfortably large regional votes in recent by-elections mean? I do not think they mean independence and freedom for Scotland, Wales, the South-West and so on. I do not think this is a sort of "uhuru" movement, but the hon. Member was absolutely right in saying that this is a protest against Whitehall, centralisation and bureaucracy. This is what people. whether they live far from London or in London, are actually thinking.
One of the things we have done—and this is not a party matter for both Governments have done it—is to destroy the effectiveness of local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) offered some very revealing figures about what people know and care about the local government of the areas in which they live. I am sure that he is right. We are all astonished every year by the low percentage turn-out in elections for local government. It is not hard to see why that is. Take a major function such as that of providing roads. The priorities for roads in county council areas and cities are decided by the Ministry of Transport. The list is arranged by the local officer of the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry decides how many items on the list can be afforded for that year.
Whatever one may think about comprehensive versus selective schools, the fact is that the Minister of Education can send a circular to the local authority insisting on the type and pattern of education. This makes it less worth while for people to serve on local education committees as they cannot take major decisions about education in their areas. In housing, circulars are sent out and there is obvious pressure by the Minister of Housing and Local Government on local authorities not to sell council houses. These are examples of where, if local government wishes to assert itself, it is bullied and somehow made to shut up.
Having destroyed effective local government to a large extent, it seems that we are offering regionalism instead. I wonder how genuine we are in our desire 556 to do this. The Ministry regions which have been talked about are purely administrative sub-units. The 10 Ministries which the hon. Member for Sutton mentioned as having suggested city regions want city regions because they would be a most convenient form of administration for them. Electricity, gas and coal boards are simply sub-divisions of a centralised organisation.
I do not believe that hospitals boards, which are strictly arranged on a regional basis, or economic planning councils are anything but a hollow sham. They are nothing but the puppets of central Government in disguise. Do the members of economic planning councils really decide the economic pattern in their regions, or do the members of regional hospital boards really decide how much the people in those regions wish to spend on hospital facilities?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
As well as being to some extent puppets of the Government, they are insulators between the Government and local populations.
§ Mr. Ridley
That is very true. The alacrity with which nationalised industry boards refer complaints to their local Board supports what my hon. Friend has said. The protest we are witnessing is against the central decision-making machinery, against the tendency of Whitehall to accept responsibility for everything, to decide everything and to run almost everything there is.
The protest is against London, because Whitehall does not include the headquarters of the nationalised industries, or the T.U.C. or the C.B.I. and other organisations which, while not strictly governmental, are centralised. There is also the overwhelming and ever-growing army of civil servants—24,000 extra this year—and all this adds to the feeling of hopelessness, to the feeling that the odds against the local, the individual, and the particular region are too great.
This means bureaucracy and this feeling is a protest against what we all know as bureaucracy, and I take the word from the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton. The interest in things like the Ombudsman, the greatly increased number of people who are writing to individual hon. Members and to the Press, the increase in protesting, are a direct function of the feeling all events have been moving away from the periphery and towards the centre 557 where there is the power of decision taking.
I believe that this will be very much worse if we become members of the Common Market, which I sincerely hope and pray that we shall. This would mean that the centre of government would not only be in London, but to a large extent in Brussels, and that will remove it one stage further from those who live in the regions. It is very important that we should press on with giving much greater ability to local people to run their own affairs.
This does and must mean devolving the real power to whatever unit is taken as the unit of local government. If I criticise the hon. Member for Sutton, it is because he spent all his time arguing between one sort of region and another, between one sort of pattern and another, whether it should be one, or two, or three tiers, saying very little about what people in these areas want, which is to have what real power it is possible to give them over the whole range in their own hands.
There is nothing particularly wrong with many counties and cities as they now are. In terms of loyalty and identification one is more likely to identify oneself with, say, Cornwall than with the south-west region. For Gloucestershire, which I represent, to be a part of the south-west Midland region is not a terribly edifying patriotic tag to tie to one. Perhaps one can concentrate on the existing county structure where people have their loyalties, although in many cases it might be necessary to amalgamate some counties and perhaps amalgamate them with some cities, because we need slightly bigger units. However, I cannot believe that it is right to go for the very large regions, which in the end would become just as remote as Whitehall or Brussels. As the hon. Member for Sutton said, Plymouth is too far away from Cornwall, but Bristol, which is now the capital of the region, is much further still and to have too large regions would be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
I wonder what we should do. I am certain that we in England, particularly my hon. Friends, should resist one major temptation, which is that of suggesting that we should give the Celts their independence and therefore rid this country of another Socialist Government for ever, 558 which is what would be the result. Hon. Members opposite are starting on a very dangerous road if they talk about getting rid of Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland, because if they can do that for Northern Ireland, we can do it for Scotland and Wales as well. I do not advise that line to any hon. Member.
I believe that the unity of the kingdom, which is what we fought for hundreds of years ago, is an absolutely vital and essential need for the future. If we destroy the United Kingdom, as we call it, and break it into constituent parts, we shall lose the enormous economic advantages of what market we have and of what economies of scale we have. I further believe that it is impossible to conduct foreign policy and defence except as a United Kingdom, and any idea of removing the functions of a single economic foreign policy, and defence is absolutely out. Therefore, I am certain that for all time the regions of the United Kingdom must send Members of Parliament to this House.
But, having said that, I would go for as much devolution of power as is possible. I am not skilled enough—I am not an expert in local government—to say exactly what we can devolve, but pragmatically we should as the years go by think in terms of more and more responsible decisions and functions and services being pushed back to the regions.
There is one problem which is at the root of the whole matter and that is the question of local finance. The hon. Member for Sutton said that it was impossible to give financial devolution to the regions or local government at this stage. A very curious fact emerges. It is that the poorest regions—the Highlands, Cornwall, Devon, rural Wales and Northern Ireland—the regions with an income per head of as much as £100 a year below the average, £2 or £3 a week below the average for London and the South-East, are the regions which are most keen on achieving their independence. This is peculiar because financial independence from England would mean that those regions would be very much the poorer, because there is a large transfer of funds from the richer to the poorer areas.
I believe that even the distribution of industry policy is costing about £80 million or £90 million a year, and there 559 is a mass of other unquantifiable benefits which flow through the Exchequer Equalisation Grant and through communications and other means from the centre to the regions. One will find the same difficulty in any form of local taxation which is suggested to give a region an autonomous financial backing. With a local income tax, for instance, the income in the peripheral regions is lower. With a local property tax, like rates, the truth of the matter is that property values are much higher in London and the South-East than in the Highlands of Scotland. The difficulty with a local employment tax is that there is much less employment to tax, as was devastatingly pointed out by my hon. Friends from Scotland on Wednesday. Even with the premium on manufacturing employment through the S.E.T. machinery, Scotland is not benefited because the North of Scotland mostly has service industries. The same is true for the South-West. None of these financial devices appears to be particularly helpful to the regions.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that some 37 to 38 per cent. of the insured population of Wales receives the refund of the levy, as opposed to about 27 per cent. in London, so that his argument in respect of Wales is not borne out by the facts?
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Gentleman has industrial Wales in mind. I do not know Wales well, but there are large rural areas of Wales where this could not be but a net tax. Any of these solutions do not help the poor agricultural region, even though they may benefit industry where industry is found.
The new poor are not industrial so much as those living in the declining agricultural and rural regions. I am certain that any system of local regional finance has to contain a large element of geographical redistribution—redistribution from rich parts of Britain to poorer parts. On the other hand, I do not think that this is possible, without putting central Government in a position where it can interfere with the autonomy of the units of local government receiving these transfers.
This dilemma is at the root of the problem. I have a suspicion that people have said that they would prefer to be 560 poor, and to be happy and free of central control. I believe that there is a mood in parts of Scotland and Wales, and certainly in Northern Ireland, which says: "Let us stand on our own feet to some extent and pay our own taxes in order to be free of the control of Whitehall." If this is so, it means that people think that they are not getting value for taxation and that the bureaucracy has become so top-heavy that it is worth cutting the tree down at the roots and allowing the roots to sprout again.
This could be a wrong analysis. I would not say that it was definitely right, but we must all ask ourselves whether this may not be so—that people have lost confidence in the effectiveness of the Whitehall machine to deliver anything like value for money, and that poorer though they will be on the surface, people think that they can do better by running their own show. Supposing one takes two major services of county councils, roads and education. Supposing whatever is spent on those is raised locally, and the priorities are allocated locally and the contracts made locally, it is conceivable that one would get a better bargain. We must think very seriously about whether this could be true.
We must think not in terms of drawing lines on the map of the United Kingdom and making boundaries and new regions, but we must think in terms of devolving real power. If the present system of local government is out of date, let us improve it and bring it up to date. But it is only by the earnest of our intention to give real power to the regions that we will give people the feeling that the massed battalions of faceless men who are apparently running this country are no longer in control throughout all areas of policy.
If I have not dwelt on the need to have elected people at whatever level it is, only because there is no need to do so. No one will take seriously our protestations that we want to see regional government unless we make an early start in giving some real power to the existing units of local government as a good foundation upon which to build.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Monmouth)
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) need have no 561 fears about the voice of Wales not being heard in this debate. Already, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) has smitten once, and I think, stands ready to smite again before the end of the debate. I too hope to make reference to Wales in my speech. I follow the remarks of the hon. Member for in pointing to the dilemma of local government finance and the need to equalise finance between the several units while at the same time preventing central Government control, although normally the principle follows that he who pays the piper calls the tune.
The idea of regionalism, both of devolving central Government responsibilities and of improving local government, is certainly growing in pace and is becoming respectable. This is largely due to the policies pursued by the Government. The question that I want to ask is whether and at what stage we conceive of an elected assembly at regional level? Where will the basic elective level be, either at region, city region or other appropriate authority? The answer to this must depend on where the effective powers are to lie under the new structure of government.
If there are to be real powers vested in the regional authorities, then there is a very strong case for having an elective body supervising these powers—the same sort of case that we deploy when dealing with the European Parliament overseeing the European Commission, when that has really effective powers. If it is not intended to give really effective powers to the regional body, but to some subordinate body, the city region or whatever name we choose, and if we only work towards giving effective powers to the regional bodies over a considerable period, in this interim we could have had the worst of all possible worlds. If we try to give an elective body to the regional unit, we could have all the disadvantages and none of the advantages. In addition, there could be friction between Members of Parliament and members of the regional bodies over demarcation disputes as to where functions and responsibilities began and ended.
There could similarly be friction with enlarged regional authorities. Possibly in the light of the development of city regions elected regional assemblies will become less accepted as a radical battle- 562 cry, rather like the Chartists' annual Parliament, which had been so respectable in radical circles once, and which has now died the death. I am not so suspicious of the city region as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen). There would be, as he pointed out, considerable problems of definition and demarcation between one and the other, and considerable local pressures. In Wales, at least, there is one attraction, in that if we have Cardiff and Newport in one city region authority, there could be a new city, called either Carport or Newdiff, which is no mean advantage.
Like the hon. Member for Sutton, I suspect the Departmental unanimity in the evidence given to the Royal Commission. It is as if the Ministry of Housing and Local Government had picked up a telephone and got in touch with all their colleagues in other Ministries and said, "We are going for the city region." It is rather sad that there has been this unanimity, and that there have not been several contributions from the Ministries which could pose alternatives, and contribute in a rather more effective way to the great debate on regional structure. If the city regions were to be established, the present regional authorities would be at best mere co-ordinators of work done by the effective authorities beneath them, and they might have to fade away, and be forgotten in time.
There are two aspects to the problem: one, devolution of central Government responsibilities; the other, building up the present obsolete structure of local government. Further, there are two basic considerations in determining the size of the major authority below the central one. First, there is the question of efficiency. One would want the new authority to be large enough to provide adequate services, to attract the right calibre of staff, and to have adequate financial resources. Second, there is the problem of democracy, to which the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury referred, the question of where the citizen may go to make his complaints in the present difficulties caused by urbanisation, the growing complexity of local problems and the increasing centralisation which many people think inevitable in our day.
The new effective authorities must be not so large as to be set apart from the 563 people they serve. It may well be that the city region is the best unit to meet both the criteria I have mentioned, one, efficiency and, two, democracy and the need not to be too large.
The present Government have pressed ahead vigorously in tackling both sides of this problem, the malaise of local government and over-centralisation on the part of the national Government. In Wales, for example, we have the local government reorganisation proposals which are shortly to be published and we have the whole new structure in the region which has given recognition to our distinct problems as a Welsh nation—the Secretary of State for Wales, the Welsh Economic Council and the planning board.
We have our criticisms of the structure, of course. We would want the new powers to be devolved to the Secretary of State in matters such as education, agriculture and health. We criticise the secrecy shrouding the work of the economic council. We are not satisfied that there seems to be not enough interchange with interested outsiders within the Principality who would have much to contribute to the work of the economic council. Yet, in spite of these criticisms, we recognise that a great step forward has been taken by the present Government.
Earlier this week, we heard Vice-President Humphrey say, "Blessed are the peacemakers, and not the peace talkers". Similarly, I feel, one can say that blessed are the region makers rather than those who have talked in parties over the years about regionalism, rather than those who have just sniped at the present developments from the sidelines and refused to give credit where credit is due. The present Government are the first to press ahead vigorously at the regional level, and for this reason they deserve credit.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
This has been an extremely interesting debate. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) on choosing regional government as his subject, and I congratulate, also, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) on the excellent contribution which he made in his maiden speech.
564 I notice that at one point in the Motion there is refernce to "regional government" and at another the reference is to "regional administration". This is an interesting distinction, because there are several different functions here to be considered. Administration means implementing in individual cases a policy laid down somewhere else. The function of government is to lay down the policy which the administration carries out. So far as we have a regional organisation at all now, therefore, we have regional administration rather than regional government.
If we are to have regional government, then more pressingly the question arises as to whether it should be elective or representative in some way other than by direct election. It is here that I have considerable reservations about regional government as opposed to regional administration. I cannot see where the people will come from to act as the elected representatives, and I am sure that, if it is to be government rather than administration, membership must consist primarily of elected representatives.
There are great difficulties at present in finding people to man the committees in which much of the work is done in county councils, county borough councils and other local authorities. If we have yet another layer of regional government, the system will break down somewhere if we attempt to use the same people.
This brings one to the purely physical question of the location of the centres of regional government. Fairly recently, I have observed that, looked at from Cornwall, for instance, Bristol appears more like a suburb of Birmingham than the edge of the West Country. Bristol is closer to Dover than it is to Truro, a fact which may not be immediately obvious. For Cornish representatives and for many Devon representatives to arrive in Bristol early enough for the beginning of committee meetings, to sit through to the end of the meetings, and then to have any discussions they wish with permanent officials of the regional administration would involve spending at least one night there. There is not even a proper daily air service. In my view, it was a bad mistake, in which both sides of the House must share responsibility, to choose Bristol—I do not want to talk exclusively about the South-West—as the centre for 565 regional administration in the South-West. It is far too remote.
There are certain obvious disadvantages in having a remote centre of regional administration, but it is comparatively easy to see those disadvantages. It is rather more difficult, but necessary none the less, to define the positive characteristics to be looked for in selecting a region. I suspect that any rules we lay down will have more exceptions than conforming examples. One of the basic rules must be that the centre of regional administration, let alone the centre of regional government, must be accessible by public transport in the normal course of the day, by which I mean that people should be able to go there by public transport in the morning, have time to take full part in the proceedings during the day, and then get back home, without the necessity to stay overnight. This is an elementary requirement but one which is not always met.
Second, there should be a perceptible community of interest among the various localities embraced within the region. Mere geographical contiguity does not necessarily entail community of interest. This is obvious to us all. Neither does the fact that county boundaries going back to the Domesday Book exist necessarily mean that, by grouping together certain counties, with their absurdly shaped boundaries, one establishes an area with a community of interest. Manifestly, it does not.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says about contiguity and community of interest, but there must nevertheless be a sense of unity and a realisation of being within the unit. Although the county boundaries may be obscure, sometimes dating from the Domesday Book, people have known these boundaries over many hundreds of years. If a person is asked whether he lives in the south-east Midland region, he may well have doubt about the boundaries, but no one anywhere in the United Kingdom will have much doubt about which county he is in.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I entirely agree. I was about to go on to yet another criterion—what I would call a human, as opposed to an economic, sense of mutual interest and cohesion. People should feel that they belong to a unit 566 of administration, which is in a sense an extrapolation of a healthy family relationship. It is true, as a number of hon. Members have already observed, that if one does not know what unit one is in one cannot feel loyalty to it.
A desirable condition to be met—I do not suggest that it is a necessity—is that there should be more than basic services than there are, for instance, in just medicine and normal government administration within the unit. For example, it is of immense benefit to a region if it has at least one major university. It can be very valuable to the regional administration, just as the regional administration can be very valuable to the university. One might say that it was a local working model.
Nevertheless, it is important that university politics, by which I mean the desire of one university to expand its academic disciplines, possibly at the expense of another, should not be allowed to colour the designation of regional boundaries. I suspect, although I do not know, that one of the reasons for the rear-guard action to preserve Bristol as the centre of regional government is not altogether unconnected with the fact that Bristol is a rather older university than Exeter, and is conscious that Exeter University is very much coming ahead in many ways. There are matters of that kind, particularly where certain of the more prominent personalities involved in regional administration may have close personal connections with one or other of the university establishments concerned.
If we are to have regional government rather than just regional administration, what should be its functions? Where decisions are to be made locally—if one can describe a region as being "local", which is very much an open question—what should be the distinction in function between decisions taken by Parliament; decisions taken by the existing substratum—county councils, urban district councils and rural district councils; and the new tier in the middle, if there is to be one, rather than just a replacement of some of the more cohesive and smaller forms of Government?
We must accept as a datum that Parliament will want to continue to exercise a considerable measure of control on how public funds voted in this House are spent. That may be just a matter 567 of controlling the allocation as between different regions and then saying, "Get on with it." But the House may want to have much more detailed control.
Even without any question of regional government arising, there is at present an imperceptible and extremely elastic line drawn between departmental responsibilities of Ministers to the House and the rather nebulous responsibilities of, for instance, hospital boards, electricity boards and gas boards, either to their respective Ministers or to the House. Even the Table Office often finds considerable difficulty in deciding whether a question is allowable. Very often when one writes to the Minister of Health, for example, it is suggested that although he could answer the query it would be more convenient if the question were directed to the regional hospital board. That is generally where the Minister does not want to say "No" to something reasonable for which one asks. On the other hand, when the hospital board finds itself in difficulties it will often reply that the question should be directed to the Minister, because he is the source of all funds and it must do the best it can, in terms of priorities, with the limited funds made available.
Therefore, even without regional government there is a considerable elasticity in the power of the House at the moment to extract from responsible Ministers responsibility for decisions which are shared between the Department of State or Ministry in London and public authorities of various kinds. Those that I have mentioned all share the characteristic that they are non-elected.
It was earlier drawn to the House's attention that some of the areas that one might have expected to be best represented in the debate are not very heavily represented. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nett) would have liked to participate, but the House will understand why he had to go to his constituency last night, for there are still many problems arising from the wreck of the "Torrey Canyon." It is, perhaps, a little surprising that the hon. Member who represents the interests of the Welsh Nationalist Party is not here.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
It may be for the convenience of the House to know that the hon. 568 Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) has an engagement in Llanelli this afternoon, where I understand that a bust of my right hon. Friend the Member for that area (Mr. James Griffiths) is being unveiled. I have no doubt that we should otherwise have heard from him, to our sorrow or pleasure. That should be said in his favour.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that we shall not go through a catalogue of all the right hon. and hon. Members who are not here.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
That would be a very lengthy procedure. I am sure that we should have had a very interesting contribution from the hon. Gentleman concerned.
The peripheral areas of the United Kingdom are particularly difficult to fit into the picture of regional government, because of their poor public transport facilities. They are also areas which tend to have less than the average population density. They are therefore more difficult to fit into the pattern, with the criteria which I tried to suggest earlier, than are the more heavily populated areas towards the centre of the United Kingdom. Those areas also have the advantage of much better public transport facilities, and often have less need for the special advantages which effective regional government could bring to the development of the more peripheral areas.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Speeches so far have been reasonably brief. If they continue like that every hon. Member who wishes to speak in the debate will be able to do so.
§ 12.39 p.m.
§ Mr. David Marquand (Ashfield)
The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), like another hon. Member earlier, said that it was surprising that fewer hon. Members were present from some of the outlying regions than one might have expected. I think that that is fortunate, because when we debate regional policies and planning in the House and in the country generally it often seems that a false impression is created that regional policy is aimed at helping "lame dog" regions, as a kind of charity dispensed by the central Government from the prosperous part to 569 the parts that are less prosperous. I feel very strongly that it should not be thought of in those terms. We should realise that effective regional planning is advantageous not simply to the less developed areas, but to the whole country.
The kind of economic management which we have been used to in this country since the acceptance of the Keynesian assumptions during the war has involved regulating the total level of demand in this country, but without discriminating very carefuly between different parts of the country, and this leads to gross and absurd anomalies. If there is overheating of the economy in Southampton men are laid off work in Sunderland; if there is overheating of the economy in Birmingham, men are laid off work in Bootle; even though there may not be overheating of the economy in Sunderland and Bootle.
This is one of the problems of sophisticated economic planning in the middle of the 20th century, and I believe myself that we ought to be working towards a situation where it would be possible to apply a sort of mini-Keynesian policy in different areas of the country so that it would be possible to be actively stimulating demand and expansion in Scotland, for example, while at the same time it would be contracting in the south-east of England.
This, I think, is the kind of situation we ought to be working towards. It is very difficult to do so, and at the moment we are only just beginning to tread this path. The Government's attempt to shield the development areas from the effects of the squeeze of last July is a step in the right direction, but only a very modest step.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am interested to know why the hon. Gentleman feels that this has been a step in the right direction. The figures show virtually no change at all from the last recession or the recession before that in terms of different distribution of unemployment throughout the country. It is exactly the same as previously.
§ Mr. Marquand
There has been a slight slowing down in the rate of increase as compared with the previous one, but I do not want to get involved in an argument about that because I agree that the step is only a very modest one.
570 We ought to be able to manage the economy in a much more sophisticated fashion in this regard, but it we are to do this—and this is the first main point I want to make—we must have far more effective regional statistics than we now possess. To try to carry out economic planning without proper statistics is like trying to drive a motor car without petrol. It simply cannot be done, and the statistics are an indispensable prerequisite of economic planning. I was a member of the Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee which carried out a long inquiry into Government statistical services last year. I must confess that when I became a member of that Committee it was with a certain amount of trepidation since I am myself not at all mathematically literate, but I discovered that in fact this is really a central problem of Government policy at the moment.
It was a very illuminating experience to be on that Committee. It became quite clear that in a number of important respects at present there is a serious lack of statistical apparatus for economic planning. The Secretary to the Cabinet described the existing regional statistics as perhaps more vulnerable to criticism than most of the other categories of statistics.
It was for this reason that the Government appointed Mr. Edward Jackson, of Oxford University, to investigate regional statistics about a year ago. Later, in the course of the inquiries of the Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee, a number of facts about defects in regional statistics were discovered and a number of recommendations were made, and I should like to refer very briefly to some of them.
One important recommendation was that returns of the census of production should allow of analysis by regions and sub-regions as regards the production of goods and services. At the moment, it is possible for firms simply to lump their returns together, and the whole country is dealt with as a whole, without breaking the returns down regionally. If we want to pursue the kind of regional economic planning I have been talking about, the first thing to have is a much more sophisticated breakdown of all the undertakings of a firm, region by region.
At present, according to the Department of Economic Affairs, which carried 571 out the last industrial inquiry, only 22 out of 50 industries were able to provide estimates for employment regionally and only 15 out of 50 were able to supply estimates of investment in new capacity regionally. This, clearly, greatly inhibits the work of the regional planning councils. The Department of Economic Affairs itself suggested that when all the different regional planning councils had carried out their work and produced their plans they would almost certainly be inconsistent with one another and it would be necessary to engage in a great deal of hard work to make them consistent.
The appointment of Mr. Jackson was made by the Government about a year ago. The Estimates Committee reported to the House in December last year. Still there has not been, so far as I am aware, any reply by the Government to the Report of the Estimates Committee and no announcement of any end-product from the labours of Mr. Jackson. That is really quite extraordinary if the Government are serious about economic planning.
§ Mr. Marquand
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) is to be congratulated on bringing this subject up, but in view of this behaviour by the Government I think that the terms of his Motion could have been somewhat less congratulatory of his and my right hon. Friends, because we need more action by our Front Bench in this very important field.
I want to turn very briefly to another, completely different, aspect of the problem of regional planning and regional policies. We have talked about regional planning in terms of whole regions, and I think we have directed far too little attention to the problem of planning and balance within regions. This is a problem I feel acutely, because my own constituency is part of an extremely prosperous, expanding region, the East Midlands region, but the part of that region, the sub-region within the region, to which Ashfield division belongs, exhibits very different characteristics.
My constituency lies in the western part of the East Midlands coalfield, and according to the Study of the East Mid- 572 lands region produced by the Regional Council a few months ago the population is moving out of the western part of the East Midlands coalfield. Whereas the region as a whole is expanding, this part of it is going very slowly and slightly downhill. Yet at the moment, because of the way the Government frame their regional development policies, it is extremely difficult to do anything about this. The assumption is that the East Midlands as a whole is immensely prosperous, that there is overheating, that there is a labour shortage, and, therefore, it is almost impossible for firms in my part of the East Midlands to expand, even though their part of the region does not exhibit those characteristics.
The problem is even more acute than this, because if we take into account a likely development in the future it is surely clear that over the next few decades there is bound to be a lessening of the demand for labour in the coal mining industry, even in the prosperous East Midlands coalfield. We do not yet know what the full effects of North Sea gas will be, but, even discounting North Sea gas, technological progress in the mining industry must mean that the same amount of coal will be produced by fewer miners.
Even discounting North Sea gas, there is bound to be a diminution in the number of people employed in the coal mining industry in my part of that coalfield. Unless we are to produce in that part of the East Midlands coalfield the same kind of wastage of social capital and run down of population that occurred between the wars in the South Wales valleys, something will have to be done fairly soon to bring new industries into the area.
I appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends to look at this matter not in a static way, taking into account the unemployment figures at the moment, but in a dynamic way, taking into account the local development of the economy of this region over a period of years and even decades.
One topic raised by this debate has been the governmental structure in the regions. From my experience as Member of Parliament for this part of Nottinghamshire, I believe that the present structure of local government does not cater adequately for the problems 573 of an area such as mine. The county as a whole has different interests from those of my bit of the county. There are all kinds of conflicts between the urban district councils in my constituency and the county council, which represents a rather different kind of population as a whole. I am not convinced that the city region would improve matters. On the contrary, it would make matters a good deal worse. Like other hon. Members on this side of the House, I have doubts about the city region idea which has been propagated by a series of Departments in Whitehall.
To take Nottinghamshire, presumably my constituency would be part of a city region based on Nottingham. Nottingham is only 12 miles from Sutton-in-Ashfield, which is the largest centre of population in my constituency, but Sutton-in-Ashfield is in a different world from Nottingham. The interests of the people are different, and their experience is different. They do not look to Nottingham as a real capital. A city region based on Nottingham would tend to mean that the power came from Nottingham and that the practices of the city region government were dictated by the interests of Nottingham and not by outlying areas like my own, which have very little in common with Nottingham. That would be a worrying step from the point of view of an area such as mine.
The only answer lies in combining much larger units of regional government with smaller areas of local government. That is the right sort of combination between the two.
I hope that I have not detained the House too long. I want to end by joining in paying tribute to the foresight and imagination of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton in choosing this very important subject for debate this morning.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
May I add my congratulations to those which have already been expressed to the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield). I confirm what the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand) has said. It is a wise subject for the context of his hon. Friend's maiden speech. Tradition has it that maiden speeches are non-controversial. There is no great 574 political content in our debate this morning, so that the hon. Gentleman has been able to air his own views without running into the danger into which many of us have run when we have chosen other subjects. I am pleased to have the opportunity of congratulating him on his maiden speech and to say that we hope to hear from him on many future occasions.
May I also thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) for the context of this Motion and for the opportunity to deal with some of the points which he has raised. However, I challenge one comment which he made, because I understood him to say that he felt that it was not true that many wished to change the present structure of local government. I do not think that that is the case. There is a widespread recognition of the need for substantial reorganisation in local government. The discussions which have taken place in this House and elsewhere in the last two or three years particularly have conditioned opinion substantially at all levels in local government, both at officer level and, as those of us who have served or serve now as elected representatives know, at member level.
In saying that, I have to admit that it is difficult to separate the conception of regional government from that which we know now as local government. The difficulties of definition are confusing, and, during the course of the debate, we have found how they tend to misrepresent opinion. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) referred to regions, city regions, and regional units of administration. In that way, to some extent, local government itself is being omitted from our consideration.
I see regional government as part of local government, and I thought that an important point was brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) when he drew the distinction very clearly between regional administration, on the one hand, and regional government, on the other. As I see it, what we have now is regional administrations which are extensions of the Ministries. What we are now trying to address ourselves to is some form of reorganisation of local government, and it is unfortunate that the title "region" 575 has been linked to the new idea of the way in which units of local government administration shall be formed.
In many of his remarks, particularly in the economic sphere, the hon. Member for Ashfield referred to regional administration rather than to regional government. That is a difficulty which faces us, and there is widespread confusion between the purpose of regional government and its relationship with the central Government, on the one hand, and local government and the tasks which would face any revised form of larger unit of local government, on the other.
If we continue to discuss the matter on these grounds, the danger is that we shall have local government, central Government and something in between which is at present given the title "regional government." I should like to see the middle section disappear, so that we adhere to the form of government which we have known for many years past; that is, central and local.
The regional approach to administration arose from studies initiated by the Conservative Government in the early 1960s and led to special White Papers on the North-East, prepared by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), and on central Scotland in 1963. Studies of the different problems of the South-East also brought the South-East Study and the White Paper in March 1964. Building on this work, the Conservative Government decided to work out a policy of regional development for the whole country, and the new approach was marked by the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), in October 1963, with the new title of Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development and President of the Board of Trade.
West Midlands and North-West Studies were put in hand and encouragement and financial support given to a study of problems in Devon, Cornwall, parts of Somerset and Dorset.
An integral part of the new approach was the concept of focusing help on growth points, and we have seen an elaboration and extension of this since then—selected areas with particular advantages for industrial expansion whose 576 efforts would then spread out over wider areas with the aim of generating soundly-based long-term growth.
The present Government's first action was to establish a system of regional boards and councils, and I think that it is from the appointment of the regional councils that some of our difficulties of definition arise. The boards are bodies of civil servants, appointed by Whitehall, who are responsible for co-ordinating the policies of various departments in the various regions. The position of the regional councils is much less clear than that of the boards. They have no executive powers, their function being largely that of assisting in the formulation of regional plans, and of advising on the implementation of these plans.
I am sure that there is recognition by the whole House that we need to look afresh at the entire system of local government, and we on this side of the House have stressed that if larger authorities are needed we must also see that they are subject to proper democratic control. The present constitutional position of boards and regional councils is far too vague, and there is a clear need to define their position vis-à-vis existing governmental bodies concerned with regional development.
As I see it, regional boards are an extension of Ministerial Departments, concerned with the wide and independent issues contained in the descriptive title, "Economic Planning"—the gathering together of facts and statistics on which decisions and questions of policy will subsequently have to be based. They are responsible, as civil servants, to the Minister, and it is here that we find the gap which so many hon. Members have recognised this morning between Ministerial function at regional level and local government administrative responsibility.
Much of the information gathered by regional boards is, understandably, of a confidential nature, so it is important to know to whom it is made available. Do the reports of the regional boards go only to the appointed members of the regional economic planning councils? Do they form the basis of their deliberations? Are confidential documents of this character available to local authorities within the region? Are chairmen and members of the local authorities concerned allowed to have the documents to 577 which I have referred? Are they available to some local authorities and not to others? For example, where town and country planning considerations arise, is the information available to county boroughs and county councils as planning authorities, and have they in turn the authority—or is there not the authority?—to disclose it to, and if appropriate discuss it with, the district council authorities? These questions are fundamental to the whole issue of regionalism and its proper place in our administrative structure, particularly so when an attempt is made to see the purpose and establish the responsibility of the regional economic planning councils,
To read down the names of those who serve on these councils is to recognise the great response which there has been to this call to public service—those who served, or still serve, in local government, members of various professions, commerce and industry. To look through the various reports which have so far been presented is to gain some idea of the immense amount of inquiry, knowledge, and work which has gone into their production.
But is the activity of these councils as reflected in these reports not substantially a duplication and a restatement of information already available? The smallest one which I have seen so far is that issued only last week by the West Midlands. The others have been extremely voluminous documents, with a wealth of statistical information, graphs, growth points and so on, but I have a feeling that all this information, or at any rate a great deal of it, is already available, and one wonders to what extent these documents are purposive, or whether they are cluttering up communications already overloaded between Ministerial Departments and local authorities.
Do the members who are in an advisory capacity on these councils, with no power from, and no responsibility to, the electorate feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment? I recognise that this is not a fair question to ask the hon. Gentleman, because he is in no position to judge, but I feel that there is a limited feeling of purposiveness in their deliberations in the context of the appointment and the work which they have to do, and 578 the fact that it is only on a basis of recommendation.
In their work, are they breaking new ground, gathering new material, and putting up new ideas to both the Government and to the local authority? With what authority do they speak on questions of policy? My right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley dealt with this point in a speech at Preston on 30th March, when he emphasised that the view of the regions must be represented when Government decisions are taken, and I think that this is the position of the Government. My right hon. Friend went on to say that this is possible only where such views originate from those who areproperly elected and representative of the people as a whole. Only then can people feel that they are taking part in the decision-making that affects their own lives. Only then will they feel that they are involved and accept responsibility for these decisions.Support for that proposition comes from Mr. Dan Smith, the Chairman of the Northern Economic Planning Council. Speaking last month at the annual conference of the Urban District Councils' Association, he is reported as having said that hewould welcome the introduction of democratically elected regional councils, and the man in the street would feel that he had a responsibility in the new organisation. There would still be local councils watching his immediate interests.There we have two views from people of differing experience, coming to a similar conclusion.
Mr. Dan Smith also sounded a note of warning earlier in his speech, when dealing with the position of local authorities in the context of regional organisations, when he said thatlocal authorities must grasp every opportunity to develop the grand strategy for Britain. If they failed, they would lose control to Central Government.Do we need regional government in the terms of the Motion? I suggest that what we need is a revised form of local government, with extended responsibilities. What differences are there between the conceptions of regional and local government?
The points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton were important. Would regional government be possible on the basis of the present economic planning regions? I put this question to 579 the Minister because there is such a conflict of interests and a conflict in character and regional dispersion on the present regional basis. For example, the north-west region extends from Lancaster and Barrow-in-Furness to Crewe and from Bootle to Buxton—a tremendous range of differing types of industries and interests. The northern region comprises the four northern counties, together with the North Riding, divided here, geographically, almost in half by the Pennines. Is there sufficient community of interest to form a regional administrative basis in these circumstances?
Does the Minister see regionalism as a threat to local government, an overlord to local government, or a further step between local government and central administration? The Royal Commission, under Sir John Maud, is in the midst of its strenuous and vitally important task. I find it difficult to believe a recent Press report stating that it had already seen no less than 1,800 witnesses. With all the time it is giving to its task I cannot believe that it could have had that number of witnesses before it. But after what is perhaps an unequalled mass of written evidence, its members are now engaged in the verbal proceedings. The membership of the Royal Commission—which is compact, well-constituted and admirably qualified—has undertaken a tremendous task.
Can the Minister give us a date for the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission. This may be the catalyst required for the essential reorganisation. Rumour has it that the Report may appear towards the end of next year. If this should be the case, what time table does the Minister see for the examination of the Report, its discussion, and subsequent decisions on it? Can we think in terms of a time scale of one year for its examination, a further year for its discussion and three years for its implementation? That would mean a period of five years. We must think in terms of a limit to the time in which the question could be under discussion because so many aspects of local government are under review. Certainly by the time many of the Boundary Commission's Reports were implemented circumstances had completely changed from those upon which its recommendations were based.
580 From previous debates it is clear that questions of local government finance and the viability of new authorities are of great concern to the House. The question of finance is outside the general terms of reference of the Royal Commission, but in the context of the larger authorities we must have some idea of the form of financial disciplines on income which will apply. The Lord President of the Council, in a characteristic aside—or it may have been a case of purposeful provocation—referred to doing away with the rating system. What prospects are there for new forms of revenue, and what else is more safely predictable and less costly to administer than the existing rating system? If we are to have decision-taking, responsible administration, and a planned degree of independence, proper financial arrangements are fundamental.
Local government has a proud record, and justly so. From the pioneer work of many of the larger authorities stems much of our social progress and welfare provisions. Local government creates close loyalties among those who find rewarding public service in its ranks, in many spheres spanning party differences—and properly so—in the interests of the communities which they serve. The hitherto perhaps too narrow parochialism is ready to give way to new ideas and wider loyalties. There is a readiness for change among those who serve, and a quickening of interest throughout the community.
The great administrative centres away from London have every confidence in the management of their own affairs. We must recognise their right to determine the character and environment of their own localities. There must be the minimum possible interference with viable units of local government. I agree with the observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) that there is increasing evidence of the Government's wish to introduce greater uniformity throughout the country. This is so in education, in the requirement for a comprehensive system, and in housing and local government the present Minister has tried to force the Government's views on local authorities. For this to continue would be a denial of the freedom that local authorities have hitherto enjoyed, and which we must see are extended.
581 Down the years this House has ensured great independence for local government. We need to encourage diversity, variety and individuality This must be within the context of national budgetary control, but the independence of local authorities must be preserved and their responsibilities extended. Nothing will more effectively appeal to those men and women who are able to accept the onerous duties which are laid upon those who serve their communities in local government.
§ Dr. David Owen
I understand the hon. Member's difficulty in speaking on this subject and presenting a party viewpoint, but can he tell the House whether the Royal Commission will be given the benefit of the views of the Conservative Party on the way in which local government should be reorganised?
§ Mr. Jones
No. It has been made clear in the past that neither the Government nor the Opposition think it appropriate to submit evidence to the Royal Commission. One or other of them will eventually be asked to adjudicate on the evidence and recommendations submitted. I do not wish to prejudge the question.
In this House and in the country there are great hopes for the future of the reorganised system of local administration. Good intentions are one thing and the pursuit of sound policies another; this is the challenge and opportunity which faces the Government.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
It may be convenient if I intervene briefly now, but this does not conclude the debate and either I or my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of Economic Affairs will be present for the rest.
I echo the concluding sentiments of the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones), as I do much of what he said. One of the difficulties as a representative of the Ministry of Housing in this debate is that I have to toe an extremely narrow line, because 582 it would be utterly wrong to give any suggestion that the Government had already decided on any future structure, and thus inhibit the Royal Commission in its work.
I must, therefore, be careful in what I say, but that does not mean that we are not grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) for having allowed all those in the House and outside who are interested in local government, and want the most efficient and humane local administration combined with the best form of real democratic control, to hear the views of those who have spoken and who will speak in the debate.
My hon. Friend made an imaginative, thoughtful and constructive speech and I was particularly glad to note his references to the considerable work on local government by G. D. H. Cole. He and I and others who have spoken are members of a society of which Douglas Cole was a president and I have always been grateful to him both personally and because of his writings and I am sure that my hon. Friend is in the same position.
One generally accepted sentiment which would be true of any future structure and is built round Cole's dictum is that if one is determined to have a real democratic system of local Government one cannot expect an absolutely uniform, tidy, similar system through the whole country, because of the differences which are bound to arise from area to area. The element which the Government and the House must look for is of real community control of local or national administration.
It would help if I make it clear that I cannot express a view about any of the suggestions made, because that would make a mockery of the Royal Commission's work. The Commission's terms of reference are appropriate, covering many of the principles mentioned by my hon. Friend and others:To consider the structure of local government in England, outside Greater London, in relation to its existing functions; and to make recommendations for authorities and boundaries and for functions and their division, having regard to the size and character of areas in which these can be most effectively exercised and the need to sustain a viable system of local democracy.It is, of course, within those terms to consider regional forms of government. I am sure that we have no reason to believe 583 that it will not do so, particularly in the light of the evidence of Departments and many other organisations.
This type of regional structure was referred to by my hon. Friend in relation to the evidence of the National Association of Local Government Officers which is, coincidentally, at the moment giving oral evidence on its submissions to the Commission. The Commission will consider, of course, all the various proposals from many sources.
The hon. Member for Northants, South said that he had seen a report that there had been nearly 2,000 witnesses. I am sure that this must have been referring to 2,000 items of correspondence, although a number of bodies and individuals have been giving and will give personal testimony on written submissions. No one will be inhibited from submitting evidence, and when the Commission has received it it will have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives and to judge them by the twin tests in its terms of reference—efficient organisation and viable democracy—and to present its findings to the government. I must be careful to make no suggestions one way or the other, in case I prejudice the Commission's work.
The regional economic planning councils are referred to in the Resolution. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has heard most of the debate and I have made a note for him of those points which he unavoidably missed. We are both happy to say how highly the Government values the work of these councils and the service of their members. We are grateful to them, but it would be wrong, having set them up for the clear purpose of economic planning, to consider that they are connected with a step towards a form of regional government. Their purposes are distinct from those mentioned by my hon. Friend, and whatever future the structure of the councils may be, they will have to be considered in the light of the recommendations and final decisions brought by the House by the Government.
These councils exist for a particular purpose and, again, must in no way be thought of as a basis for any future structure. Their size, functions and boundaries may be quite different from those that the Royal Commission or the 584 Government may recommend. These will have to be considered in the light of the Commission's findings.
I want to refer to another possible misconception. The Motion… welcomes the emphasis … placed by Her Majesty's Government on regional policies, in particular the establishment of the Royal Commission on Local Government. …".It must be clearly understood that the Royal Commission has not been set up to further regional policies as such and, therefore, cannot be expected necessarily to recommend a regional structure of local government. It may recommend any structure it likes. It is completely free to do so. It could come forward with 400 units of local government if it thought that this was the best course to recommend. I repeat that it is free to make any representations it thinks appropriate in the light of the evidence it takes and of its own deliberations.
Hon. Members have mentioned the evidence submitted by Government Departments. I want to refute any suggestion that the issue has really already been determined because of the nature of the evidence that Government Departments have given. Perhaps I had better put on record again the answer to a Written Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) in January. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, replying to a point about the Department's evidence, said:The Department were invited to tender evidence to the Royal Commission and, as is usual on such occasions, the memorandum which was submitted reflects the experience and views of officials. The Government will not be expressing any line of policy to the Royal Commission but will remain free to consider their report and recommendations in 'due course."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1967; Vol. 739, c. 201.]I emphasise that the evidence is given by the Ministry and not by the Minister. He is in no way bound by it and it in no way limits the activities of the Commission or predetermines the issue.
§ Dr. David Owen
A great number of people do not feel happy about this distinction between the Ministry and the Minister. By our Constitution, the Minister speaks for his Ministry. A Ministry does not speak. We are very unhappy about this issue and would like 585 to see that evidence from Ministries in future is printed with a quite clear rider.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I have taken note of that point. I was about to refer to it. I referred to it myself in a debate on the Sheffield Order, a few weeks ago, and we shall continue to take every other opportunity to make the position absolutely clear.
The suggestion that there should be a sort of Ministerial disclaimer with evidence when submitted can be investigated. Of course, the Minister takes overall responsibility for everything done in his Department. He knows what the evidence is to be and in that sense he has, of course, the ultimate responsibility for it. But he is, nevertheless, not tied to that evidence, which is the thought and experience of his Department.
If my hon. Friend will recall previous occasions of this kind, when Royal Commissions or inter-Departmental committees have been appointed, a Department, as a Department, has related its experience and has tentatively suggested future courses that may be followed. Future policy by the Government has not been laid down on such occasions. This is not a new experience. However, I accept that it may have led to confusion and misgiving in this case and if there is any way in which we can make the situation absolutely clear to the public we shall do so. I am glad that my hon. Friend has pressed me on this again, because I am sure that this debate will add to the clarification we all want.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand) both referred to the fact that 10 Ministries had, broadly speaking, recommended in one form or another these larger authorities. They suggested that the argument was not over, however, and I hope that I myself have emphasised that point once more. The matter is still absolutely open. If hon. Members have their own suggestions, I hope that they will put them forward in any way that seems appropriate. I believe that some hon. Members have sent suggestions to the Royal Commission.
My hon. Friend referred to an extremely interesting proposal about what I would call, for the sake of brevity, "community participation" in the work 586 of local authorities. This must be most carefully considered, particularly when one is perhaps having to deal with a larger authority—I am not referring to any specific type. Here I must be taken as expressing a personal view in saying that I have always been greatly impressed by the work of those who serve on the smallest unit of all—the parish council. No one there can doubt the value of the participation of the local electors, although the parish council's functions are bound to be somewhat limited.
If we can devise ways of closely associating the members of a community with administration, it will be an admirable move forward. It is lacking in some areas and in some units of local administration, giving rise to suspicion and ill-feeling which are not good for Government.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) made an interesting speech. He is not with us now, but I want to answer two points, in particular. He suggested that there must be units strong enough to stand up to Whitehall. That is a reasonable sentiment supported on both sides of the House. But, if one accepts that as a desirable objective, one comes up against the fact that, if it is to be achieved, such units would have to be financially strong and be serviced by really top-grade officers.
Again, the unit must be truly representative. I shall not go into the merits of how far one should have direct or indirect elections. If elective elements were lacking, however, we should not get what the hon. Member wants. It would be much more constructive if one could regard the major unit, whatever it might become as a result of our recasting of local government, in terms of co-operation rather than of a deadly struggle. One of the things that has done great harm to the good name of local government is to think of it in terms of a struggle between local and central government, or between various elements within local government. We must devise a structure which leads to the maximum co-operation rather than the polarising of interests which are in continual conflict.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones
Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the present two-tier system of administration, which leads to friction?
§ Mr. Skeffington
I do not want to express, in the absolute neutralist role I have to perform this afternoon, too strong a view about the criticisms which have been made about the present structure—although, to be frank, we all appreciate that antagonisms can arise and that this is not good for local government. It is to be hoped that these antagonisms will be removed by a better structure which may be evolved.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central referred to directly electing what he described as "executives". He said that he would like to see not necessarily governors, but direct officers being elected. I thought that he was going on to suppose from that that the American system, whereby a whole range of officials are directly elected—from district attorney and mayor down to rodent operators—would remove some of the ignorance and apathy to which he referred. That may be so. It is an interesting proposal that demands careful study.
I have been present at a number of American local government elections, but I have not thought that the results were exactly like those the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central envisaged. I recall seeing an election card being handed to a Republican voter. It read, "Republican voters vote for all of Row A. You press the buttons on Row A." He was not certain of the names or offices of the various councillors or officials being elected. I mention this to show that one cannot assume that a mere change of system would balance either ignorance or apathy. However, the hon. Gentleman's remarks must be considered when thinking of any new scheme.
I join with those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) on making an interesting maiden speech. I warmly congratulate him and I am sure that his constituents will be extremely glad that he has taken the opportunity of making his first speech in the House on a subject which is of the utmost importance to the area he represents. I know that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs will be glad to read my hon. Friend's commendation of the work of the Regional Council for the area, and I assure my hon. Friend that we look forward to hearing him again in future.
588 The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who, I regret, is not in his place, made a series of interesting points. I gather that he is highly suspicious of any form of domination of a region by London or Whitehall. He said that he wanted a system which transferred the widest possible powers to the local community—an excellent sentiment, but I was not certain from his remarks how he thought that such a transference should be made. He did not seem to like the idea of grouping counties, although one of the problems facing us is the difficulty of achieving the transfer of wide powers in local government to units that are capable of exercising them. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman faced up to that difficulty.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury referred to the question of finance and said that it was very much a the root of the problem. I imagine that he does not altogether support the proposal, in the Conservative manifesto at the last election, on this subject, although I accept that the hon. Member for Northants, South, who spoke from the Front Bench opposite, does accept it. I refer to the sixth objective in the manifesto, which stated that there should be… more regional administration with strong modernised local government.That undoubtedly presupposes some substantial changes being made. However, it is not much use suggesting transfers of power unless one is prepared to say how the transfers are to be made.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) will read with interest the Minister's remarks on this topic. My hon. Friend asked me to extend his apologies for not remaining in the Chamber. He had an engagement to attend.
§ Mr. Skeffington
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury made a number of interesting points and I wanted, in answer to them, to get my remarks on the record.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson) drew attention to a number of Welsh problems. I assure him that they will be conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. I gather that my hon. Friend 589 or his local authorities have some criticisms to make about some perhaps minor points in the proposals for Wales, although he commended the proposals in general. I understand that my right hon. Friend is proposing to introduce a White Paper for Wales—and then there will be an opportunity to give these matters further consideration.
The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) made an interesting speech in which he drew a distinction—and this will have to receive our attention on many occasions when we get the recommendations of the Royal Commission or the proposals which the Government may bring forward, or both—between regional government and regional administration. I assure him that I have taken note of his remarks and all that flows from them. The examples he gave of how this distinction operates in practice were interesting and not, on the whole, necessarily to the disservice of much of the present regional administration.
The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to enter into a discussion this afternoon about whether or not Bristol is the proper centre for his region, although I understand that he had to make remarks about this issue. I am sure that his references will be noted if larger units are at any time to be considered for his part of the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ash-field raised a number of extremely interesting points about his constituency. He concentrated on the work of the regional economic planning councils rather than on regionalism and local government. After pointing out that the existing statistics were inadequate, the hon. Member quoted certain proposals that had been made and referred to an investigation. In this, as in many other spheres—this has been the experience of many Departments covering many interests and activities—statistical information is not perfect; indeed, is often far from perfect.
I recall sitting on the benches opposite and pressing the then Minister of Education to give statistics. He told me at that time that the Ministry of Education had only one statistician, although I have no doubt that he had a large staff of clerks. The hon. Baronet who was then the Minister of Education said that forecasts 590 about education were, to some extent, a bit like looking up the running times of trains in last year's Bradshaw. He said that statistics were like a rather creaking machine and were not always relevant to the problem being faced. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary who is in his place, will have noted what my hon. Friend said on this issue and will, I am sure, bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.
I have noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield said about the part of his region in which, owing to the fact that it is largely based on coal, there has been a certain run-down in activity and population and that, in that respect, his area is rather unlike the rest of the region. I agree that this point must be borne in mind when considering the application of regional policies to individual areas.
My hon. Friend also thought that in any future reorganisation of his area, the City of Nottingham would not be a good centre. I hope that he will follow his interesting observations by making some suggestions, and I assure him that they will be welcome. I am not certain whether it is too late to submit the matter to the Royal Commission, but, certainly, others of us who are charged with some responsibility in this task will be glad to receive any suggestions he may have.
The hon. Member for Northants, South, drew attention to the difficulties of definition, particularly since the regional economic planning councils have been set up. He also drew attention to the question, and asked me to express an opinion on it, whether regional organisation, regional administration and regional government were necessarily opposed to local government, and how far these two concepts are one. The results flowing from this have been pressed from both sides of the House. It is recognised that regional economic planning councils are excellent institutions which have had a profound effect on their regions, but undoubtedly, although we have this concept, all sorts of people have other ideas about recasting local government and there is a certain amount of confusion.
For certain purposes this organisation has been set up and in the light of the Royal Commission's Report and what reforms the Government bring forward the question of the councils will have to 591 be considered. We shall have to consider whether they are to exist in the same form, or to be changed or taken over, but whether or not that is done will obviously depend on the next stage, first, the proposals of the Royal Commission and then the proposals the Government bring forward.
The hon. Member asked about confidential documents supplied to members of economic planning councils. The position as I understand it is that these are confidential papers which are not passed on to other bodies nor to the authorities even where a council member may happen to be a member of the authority concerned. He is appointed in an individual capacity, and not as a representative of the authority, because his views are wanted on the region as a whole and not the views of the authority of which he is a member. If the hon. Member has other points to make, I hope that he will take them up with my right hon. Friend in correspondence.
The hon. Member asked about the possible date of publication of the Royal Commission's Report. My right hon. Friend has said that he hopes the recommendations will be available towards the latter end of next year. I do not think that I can go beyond that except to say that the Commission is working at very great speed. My right hon. Friend and everyone concerned is extremely grateful to Sir John Maud and his colleagues for the tremendous work they are putting in and the speed with which they are accomplishing their task. It is a mammoth task. I cannot pinpoint the actual date of publication beyond saying that.
The hon. Member asked an even more difficult question, which is what hon. Members speaking from the Opposition Front Bench always do. He asked how long it will take before the recommendations are implemented, if they are to be implemented. The Government might do what the previous Conservative Administration did after the Herbert Commission, accept some and revise other recommendations. I cannot go beyond what my right hon. Friend has said, but this might take some years. We have first to consider the recommendations and, as we imagine this will be a fundamental recasting of the system, that will take some time. Then there 592 will have to be consultations, because that is the way in which Governments proceed and generally that would be considered the right way. Then there has to be legislation which might or might not be controversial.
Finally, one has to allow a period of time for the changeover from the existing system to the new one, and that might be a matter of years. I should not like to say that it would be five years or more. The Government would like to make it as quickly and smoothly as possible, but not at the expense of adequate consultation. Those who have had experience of London government will realise that this is a very difficult operation if it necessitates the kind of changes which I have suggested, although I emphasise that I am not saying that it does necessitate those changes.
I have had to use these qualifications in everything I have said. I hope that it is not too disappointing for my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton. I think he realises that the Government must maintain an attitude of absolute neutrality. The Royal Commission has an extremely difficult task. This is the third time since the war that we have taken a fundamental look at English local government. We can only hope that this inquiry will have better luck than those by the Boundary Commission and the Local Government Commission, both of which operated within much narrower terms of reference. On this occasion we have very wide terms of reference for very experienced commissioners. I hope that their Report will pave the way for a reorganisation in the interests of the whole nation comparable with that which happened nearly 100 years ago.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that perhaps the Government consider a root and branch reform rather than the gradual reform proposed by the Boundary Commission is to be preferred?
§ Mr. Skeffington
If I answered that I do not know how far I should depart from the straight and narrow path of keeping neutrality, but I think that the terms of reference allow the Commissioners to make any kind of report which they feel right in the light of the evidence before them. Any recommendation of that character will obviously be extremely 593 seriously considered by the Government. When I put it that way, I cannot be said to be prejudging the issue.
Because we wish the Commission well, particularly as we have had two previous attempts, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw his Motion. It is not that there is anything objectionable in it as such. One or two speeches in the debate appear to be against regionalism and those hon. Members might have found it objectionable, but it is not on doctrinal grounds that I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the Motion, If I invited the House to accept the Motion it could be held that we were prejudicing the findings of the Commission, or were stressing too much the regional aspect. My hon. Friend has initiated a first-class debate and I hope that when the time comes he will feel able to withdraw the Motion.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
I welcome this opportunity to discuss the problems which are mentioned in the Motion. I particularly welcome the conversion of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) to a cause which has been dear to my heart for some time. I have already obtained the First Reading of a Bill which provides for the election of regional councils. At one point in his speech I thought that the hon. Gentleman might even come over and sign the Bill, but, unfortunately, his conversion did not go that far. I am glad that the breeze which is blowing across the Tamar has reached the English fastness of Plymouth. For a moment I thought that the hon. Gentleman had been dazzled by the light from the Celtic Cross on my Mebyon Kernow tie.
I hope that the Government will accept his arguments, as far as they go. The Parliamentary Secretary said that he hoped these changes might be expected in four or five years—a fairly vague phrase, but at least an improvement on what we were told by the Leader of the House, who, when Minister of Housing and Local Government, said:There will be no change in the basic structure of local government during the next ten years.
§ Mr. Skeffington
In fairness, it should be said that that was before it was decided to set up a Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I fully understand that it was, but it displayed a certain attitude of mind by right hon. Members opposite towards the whole question of the structural reform of local government.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to add the observation of the Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, who estimated that it would be from seven to ten years before any changes recommended by the Royal Commission could be carried out. That was in the debate on Local Government (Determination of Reviews) on 23rd November, last year.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I hope that there will be no dubiety about what I have said. I said that I could not possibly give any time, except to say that it would be a matter of some years, and I went on to say that I could not state whether it would be four or five years. The only positive statement which I have made is that it must be a matter of some years. I hope that the House will not go beyond that.
§ Mr. Pardoe
If this is not a private quarrel, let me hasten to add that I hope that it will be considerably less than ten years.
There is already some danger in that changes are being made before the Royal Commission has had time to report, changes which I regard as anti-democratic. A series of ad hoc boards are being set up. We have had the regional planning councils, the regional boards, the new road construction units, quite apart from hospital boards and the new police units and a whole host of others which are being set up all over the country and covering different regions, with no kind of democratic representation. I regard this pattern as dangerous, because it means that when we come to reform local government we shall have already imposed on the present structure what I recently called "ad hocracy."
Democracy is not a static state. It is in continual need of reform and extension and it should not be allowed to stagnate. Democracy is not just a way of efficient government, nor even just a way of allowing individual protestors to let off steam, although it is a very good safety valve for that purpose. At its best, democracy is the foundation of a participating society. The whole of my 595 attitude to the reform of government is based on the idea that I believe it to be essentially beneficial to the development of human personality and the development of the community as a whole to involve people in the decision-making process; to bring far more people off the touch line and on to the field of play, so that even if there is not room for everyone on the field of play, those still left on the touchline feel directly involved and linked to those actually playing the game.
Local government is in considerable danger. Its power has dwindled considerably, which was no doubt part of the reason for setting up a Royal Commission, partly because of the tremendous centralist forces in any modern society. That can be seen in industry as in government, and it was one of Marx's foremost criticisms of the capitalist system. Another reason is the problem of local government finance. Whitehall now holds the purse strings over such a large part of the economy of local government and therefore has tended to take much of the control.
What I feel unhappy about in the debate so far is that there seems to be no consensus between hon. Members on both sides of the House who take the view that what we are discussing is merely a reform of local government. I do not regard regional government as a reform of local government, but as one essential part of the fundamental overhaul of the whole machinery of government in a democratic society.
I would not be in favour of regional government which was just a re-allocation of the existing powers of local government. I want a radical devolution of powers which have gone to Whitehall and which must now be brought back to the people. If we can do this then we will not have frittered away our forces on a fairly small reform of local government, but done something comprehensive and radical to our society.
The problem of what the regions should be has arisen. I do not intend to repeat all the very nasty things which I have said about Bristol and some of the nasty things which I have said about the regional economic planning council in the South-West. It is clear that the people of Cornwall, Devon and even a 596 large part of Somerset do not regard Bristol as the regional centre, or as any part of the South-West. That should be taken into account not only in a future structure of regional government, but in any selection of regional planning councils and boards for the areas.
I know that these boards have no powers and are merely advisory. Nevertheless, they have to formulate policies for recommendation to the Government and if those policies do not enjoy the support of the people of the region as a whole, they will not be of much use to the Government or to anyone else.
The regions themselves must be capable of exciting the imagination of those who live in them. This will be a very difficult task. It has been suggested that it will be impossible and that if Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and a few others are lumped together there will be no kind of patriotism, for want of a better word, without the Jingoism attached to it. We must carefully consider the areas to see whether we can devise them in such a way that they have a real community spirit. Where that is impossible, we shall have to devise methods to build up this spirit.
In the regions, and particularly in what have been called the peripheral regions, referring to Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, we have to release the energies of the people and harness them to the economic development and the general well-being of each area. The regions need not necessarily take account of county boundaries, but in some cases the county or country is of enormous importance and it would be very foolish to ignore the fact that this local community feeling exists and can be harnessed. Whether we should have Cornwall alone will be largely decided, I suppose, by the Government and by the Royal Commission on economic terms. There will be those who say that Cornwall is not a viable unit. Is the Isle of Man? I do not know.
Some of us in Cornwall might tend to ask whether we could be worse off than we now are. We now have the lowest level of income of any county in the country—approximately the same as the Highlands of Scotland—and we would probably not be any worse off on our own. But let me hasten to add that this is not a movement for home rule. There 597 are very few people in Cornwall who want home rule, or who even refer to it in those words.
There is a natural region in the South-West, west of a line from Bridgwater to Lyme Regis. It is a much more natural region, economically and geographically, than the present region. The problems of this region are common to the whole region. There is for instance the problem of rural depopulation. Once one reaches a point east of Bridgwater one notices an entirely different sort of world, economically and geographically. While there may be many in Cornwall who feel—and I do not dissociate myself from this—that Cornwall could perfectly well go it alone, it may be better if we eventually arrive at a region consisting of Cornwall, the whole of Devon and a part of west Somerset.
It is important to emphasise that regional development is not the same as regional government. I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when he said that the regional economic planning councils did not imply that the Government had taken a step on the road to regional government. I never believed that they had taken a step in the direction of regional government, although his denial may have come as a surprise to some hon. Gentlemen sitting behind him.
Ideas about regional development arise out of a feeling that this is a nation economically out of balance, and that the balance should be set right. The ideas for regional government are based on an entirely different concept; they are based on the feeling that people must take a part in the decision-making process. These two things can be mixed, but we should recognise that what has been done so far is in no sense a step towards regional government
I come to the fundamental question as to how one can make these regions mean something to the people. When I introduced my Bill recently, to have the members of regional economic planning councils directly elected, I was told by many people that it would not be any good, because no one would bother to vote; that already a large number of county council elections and rural district elections went by default. I was told that it would be impossible to stir up enthusiasm to get people to vote. I do 598 not think that this is true, and I speak with some semblance of authority because the only distinction which I have in this House is that I represent the constituency which polled the highest poll ever recorded in any Parliamentary election—a poll of 87.5 per cent.
A very large number of people who had never gone to the polls before came out to vote then. It is important, if we are to create these new regions, that the issues should be personalised, not party differentiated. I was interested in the suggestion, which is not entirely new to me, of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. Owen), that we might have the executive or certain members of it directly elected. It was interesting that the newspapers paid far more attention to the election of the Mayor of New York than they ever pay to the G.L.C. elections.
It would be a vital step if we were to have some sort of regional governor who could personalise the issues involved. The contest would thereby heighten the interest in the whole electoral process. The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said that he was in favour of regional administration but not of regional government. This is a disaster. If these regional councils or governments are to have any power at all, they must derive this power from the people.
He spoke of the shortage of people to fill the posts such as the committee chairmen. I agree that it is sometimes difficult to find people to fill these posts. One of the main reasons for this is that these people are not paid. Our present system of local government grew up in an age when there were plenty of people with leisure and money to spare to do the work, as well as the necessary social conscience. This is not true today. One simply cannot find enough people who can spare the time and make the economic sacrifices necessary to trudge from one end of Cornwall to the other in order to sit on a council committee for many hours every week. If we were to pay these regional councils and give them the feeling that they had real powers to dispose of, then we would get a considerable number of recruits.
My last point is one which has not so far been made, although it was touched upon by the hon. Member for 599 Sutton when he said that it was essential to retain the links between central and local government. One of the ways in which we could build up these links would be to reform our second Chamber here on a regional basis so that it directly represents the regions as regions. The sort of thing that I would like to do is to dispose of the whole of the hereditary nonsense in the House of Lords and to replace it by a second Chamber with real powers, representative of the regions, with elected representatives from those regions coming there to discuss matters directly affecting the regional governments.
There would be a division of powers. Certain powers would be deliberated upon in one Chamber and other powers, directly affecting the regions, would be deliberated upon in another. We might find that we could then spend a satisfactory amount of time discussing all the important issues which tend to be swept aside now because of lack of time.
The hon. Member for Sutton did not mention the problem of Europe. I noticed in this morning's papers that he has not only become a convert to regional government but a convert to the European idea. I welcome that, but it is extremely important to mention that if we are to go into a United States of Europe there must be a two-way process. If we are to centralise certain decisions in Brussels, or wherever it will be, we must at the same time ensure that people do not feel that power is being moved too far away, but that it is a two-way process. One has to reinforce local government as the corollary of sending certain decisions to a government of Europe.
It is in the context of trying to strengthen democracy, in the context of trying to create a distributivist society for power, influence and wealth, that I support the ideas put forward in this Motion. I would go further. I believe that the time for regional government has come, and I hope that we shall not have too great a delay now that a local government Royal Commission is sitting. I hope that the Government will take these ideas to heart and put them into practice, certainly in substantially less than 10 years.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) has proved once again that he is an optimist. I agree with some of the things that he has said, but certainly not all. His claim to have converted people is perhaps stretching it a little, but he certainly enlivened the tone of the debate, and it is time that it was warmed up a little.
I do not blame the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) for asking questions, the answers to most of which he already knew. He must have known that the Minister would be unable to answer the remainder at this stage. I do not blame the Minister for steering through the reefs and shoals, and saying more about what he did not mean than what he did mean. If my hon. Friend had been in charge of the "Torrey Canyon" it would never have gone aground.
The main difficulty is that because of the wording of the Motion it falls into two complete parts. It suffers from schizophrenia. Part of it is devoted to the Department of Economic Affairs, on which we could have had a useful debate, and part is devoted to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and, again, we could have had a very useful debate on this. I would have been interested to hear the comments of the Joint Under Secretary of State, in what must have been the shortest and quietest debate that the Department of Economic Affairs has ever had, trying to give some information about what his Department has done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) began by calling attention to "the need for regional government", and went on to refer, in his Motion, to economic planning, returning to regional government again later. This makes difficulties for us in the House. The most charitable comment I can pass on the Motion is that it should be acceptable to the Government. It is non-controversial. It is kindly. It is non-party-political. It is innocuous, almost meaningless, and quite harmless. It will have as much impact on Government policy as it deserves to have; that is, none at all.
The terms of the Motion are far behind the importance of the subject. Why this 601 coyness and reticence on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton? It is difficult to understand. He has considerable talent. He has shown in past debates that he says what he means and means what he says. He has no lack of courage, as he proved in the debate between Plymouth and Plympton, when the boundary ran through his own front garden. I could not understand his purpose in putting down such a harmless little Motion, and I was glad when, in his opening words, he said that the Motion had been deliberately framed in this way to encourage a wide-ranging debate. That is a worthy motive, and he certainly succeeded.
Nevertheless, what matters at the end of the day is not the debate, not what may be said by hon. Members or by Front Bench spokesmen, but what is passed and written in the Journal. It is a pity that we cannot on these occasions move an Amendment from the Floor. I should have liked to move an Amendment somewhat on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). I was rather disturbed by the amount of agreement I felt for some of the hon. Gentlemen's observations. However, unless there have been great changes between 7.30 last night and this morning, I cannot imagine the Chair accepting an Amendment to the Motion, and least of all can I imagine the Government accepting one.
The Amendment I should have liked to move would have been, after the reference to the Royal Commission on Local Government, to insert:urges Her Majesty's Government to set up a specialist committee on housing and local government, with special responsibility to consider the creation of regional councils of government based on the present economic planning council areas".This would have had a little more bite, and it would certainly have been better than an expression of hopethat the need to evolve an effective alternative unit of regional administration will be borne in mind".I think that the present Government are a little—just a little—more amenable to persuasion than Governments who have gone before them. It is nice at times to be kind to Governments, although the occasion does not often come. We usually need to be rather harsh with them, and we ought to spell out in this 602 Motion more of what we mean rather than just give an opportunity for things to be said and, possibly, taken note of at some stage or other.
There is tremendous interest in possible changes in local government boundaries. The Scottish and Welsh Nationalists are cavorting about all over the place. As the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said, the nationalist parties are now very active. We are a small island, all parts of which are easily accessible from one another by road, rail, air and water transport. We are economically dependent on the regions, and the regions are dependent on one another. There may be a few pure-blooded Celts and Gaels, even a few pure Anglo-Saxons and Cornishmen—I have some Cornish blood in my veins—but the vast majority of the British people are of mixed blood, and probably all the better for it.
Earlier this morning, I referred to the absence of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) on other duties. Perhaps I may get into difficulty for defending him in this debate, but I am sure that, if he had been here, we would have heard the cry for Welsh independence. My only comment on that claim—I leave it to my hon. Friends from Wales otherwise—is that it seems to me that what some of the Scots and Welsh are asking for is Scottish and Welsh independence supported by English money, and I would not support that. There seems to be a danger that some of my hon. Friends from Scotland may be tempted to be a little more nationalist than the nationalists themselves, and I cannot think that this is in the long-term interests of Scots, Welsh, Lancastrians, Yorkshiremen, Cornishmen, or anyone else.
Ulster presents us with a lesser problem because it has a Parliament of its own. It seems to me that there is an unanswerable case for having more Ulster Members of Parliament here at Westminster. Considering the size of some Northern Ireland constituencies, it cannot be said on any fair basis that it should take 35,000 Englishmen in one constituency to elect a Member of Parliament while it takes almost 100,000 to elect one Ulster Member. Moreover, I do not agree that Ulster Members in this House should have second-class powers 603 when they come here. We do not want first-class and second-class Members of Parliament at Westminster or anywhere else. What I want is that English Members of Parliament should have the same rights in Ulster as they have in Ulverstone. This is the answer to that problem, rather than the other way round.
With all the fervour of nationalism about now, if 23rd April had not fallen on a Sunday, it might have been an appropriate day to introduce a Bill under which the Kingdom of England seceded from the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear".] I think that that might have had majority support, in spite of the risk of permanent Conservative domination, which is not quite so certain nowadays as it was in the past.
The regional economic planning councils have been mentioned many times, and I join in the tributes which have been paid to the work which they have done. This does not mean that I am satisfied with their total work and, with the communications they have given to other bodies in the areas, or that there is nothing else for them to do. But such that they have done has been well done. I say only that they ought to do a great deal more and in much shorter time than has been done so far. But they have made a good start.
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North mentioned modestly that he had introduced a Bill providing for the election of members to the economic planning councils. I have read what he said when he introduced his Bill. I can only say that he is a pessimist about the state of local democracy and an optimist about the progress of his Bill. He has got his First Reading and a date for the Second Reading, but I think that that will be full stop. However, it will not be the end of what he is trying to achieve.
Not long after the then First Secretary of State, now Foreign Secretary, introduced the Measure creating the economic planning councils, it was made clear that this was a service to the community, so to speak, which had to be got off the ground right away. Someone had to start it, and by appointing members to the boards to represent all interests we got it done quickly at a time when it 604 was urgent to have the boards working. But it was hoped that at some time in the future, having got the question of local government and of the regions out of the way, there would be members directly elected by people in the regions.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I must take up what the hon. Gentleman says about my optimism over my Bill. No doubt, he has better information than I have. Is he informed, for instance, that the Government intend to block its passage?
§ Mr. Ogden
Members sometimes tell me to shut up, and I shall not speak on behalf of the Whips. The fact is that permission to introduce a Bill can lead to misconceptions outside the House. Private Members' Bills and Motions are frail fish, subject to all sorts of misfortunes. I was saying that, in spite of what may happen to the progress of the hon. Gentleman's Bill, he will eventually see what he wants to see in the economic planning councils. But this is not the kind of regional planning that I want, which is much more than that.
The regional councils must look after much more than economic planning. The Royal Commission on Local Government has yet to make its recommendations, but, as the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Aubrey Jones) has said, there is ample evidence justifying certain assumptions about the pattern of local boundaries throughout the country, with units of from 120,000 to 200,000 people in the first tier down to two-tier authorities in some of the rural county areas. It looks as though we shall have a series of first-tier all-purpose authorities of between 150,000 and 200,000 population, with some two-tier authorities left in the older rural areas. In the North-West, for instance, we are likely to have a Merseyside county borough and a Manchester county borough.
There has been a great expansion of regional boards, for water, for transport, for economic planning, and so on. The amalgamation of local governments is causing great difficulties and a great deal of interest, which contradicts the belief of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North that there is little interest in local government. The Liberal Party is in danger of saying that people should be interested in local government because it will do them good, whereas many people are happier the less they have to do with 605 government of any kind, and it is better for them. If they want to be involved, it should be made easy for them, but if they want to play golf, tennis, cricket, or bowls, they should be allowed to get on with that with as little interference as possible.
My own Borough Council of Middleton is anxious because it fears being taken over by Rochdale and swallowed up into a greater area. Knowing the members of Middleton Council, I should think that Rochdale has much more to fear than we have. It is a case of how much representatives stand up for local interests in their area.
The way I would like to see local government progressing—and perhaps someone will take notice of this—is that we should have a series of new boroughs or city regions as a first-tier authority, with a second-tier authority of regional councils based on amalgamations of the present counties and county boroughs, which are useful geographical areas. There will be objections from county boroughs and from lord lieutenants, who will say that there has been the present system for X or Y hundreds of years. They could be reminded that in Lancashire we had an even older system of government, the Kingdom of Mercia, and then the national government, which might put the matter on a proper historical basis.
I now turn to the membership of the regional councils. The extension of the present system of the aldermanic or senatorial bench could accommodate delegates from the regions, the new city councils or the new boroughs and also those appointed to represent special interests such as the trade unions, industry and the medical profession, on a fixed basis. The councillors could be directly elected from the area. It would be necessary to pay the members, and certainly the chairmen of committees, and to allow more expenditure on expenses than there is at present. The services would have to be adequate for the members. Within that form of regional council one could have the independent development associations, the economic planning councils, the water boards, gas boards, transport boards, electricity boards and representatives of the services for the whole area.
606 One would have to be very careful about the division of responsibilities between the Government, regional councils and the new borough councils. Each part would have to be carefully thought out and agreed to prevent demarcation disputes. There is a great danger in the devolution of authority from Parliament to local councils of one form or another. It happened in Birmingham. We may say, "You have a certain independence to do what you like." But when something was done that the constituents did not like the constituents wrote and complained.
However, that is a danger to welcome rather than run away from. It will help increase the responsibility and involvement of electors, will be effective, efficient and democratic to a large degree, and form the basis of a lasting system of government for this country for many years to come.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
I join other hon. Members who have already paid tribute to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) for initiating this debate on a matter of immense social, economic and constitutional interest.
There are two fundamental aspects to the whole concept of regionalism. First, there is the egalitarian case for an equittable balance of fortunes between the life of one region and another. That case is founded not merely on the Teutonic passion for an orderly and regimented pattern of development, but turns, also, on economic and social considerations.
From the economic viewpoint, there is the abhorrence of the waste of human and physical assets. In many areas, resources of brains, hands, land and natural resources are not put to the fullest use. The most recent publication of the Department of Economic Affairs, "The Development Areas", published a few days ago, shows clearly how unemployment in the development areas over the past seven years has been consistently at a level about twice that of the British average and three times that of the rest of Britain outside the development areas. No system which is desirous of growth can tolerate such wastages.
There are also the social considerations, which I believe to be even more 607 important. The countries and regions of Britain are not only geographical areas but are organic communities and collections of communities. The people of those communities are entitled to live their lives in prosperity in their native localities. We all agree that few experiences are more stimulating for young people than travel, but the abstraction of the young, the virile and the adventurous elements from any community must have a completely disintegrative effect upon its life. That has been the fate of certain areas for almost the whole of this century.
To some, there is no tragedy in such happenings. They say that the inexorable law of natural economics must not be tampered with. The highest priest of that creed is, I believe, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). He regards it as wrong that there should be any plan to subsidise the economy of certain areas which industry and progress have shunned.
A great deal has already been done by the Government to bring about a more balanced development of such areas. Industrial development certificates are no longer flung about in a completely haphazard fashion as if they were confetti. The building of offices and similar developments is regulated in areas of booming affluence, and cash grants are attractive inducements to industrialists to go to the development areas. Advance factories can pilot development to other difficult districts.
Those measures are having their effect, and I should have been glad to hear my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary specify in detail what effect can now be discerned, even in the comparatively short term, bearing in mind that the Industrial Development Act itself came into force only at the end of last August. I should have liked to hear of the developments which have been set in train and how much added investment is flowing into the development areas.
Some effects are clearly seen. With all the difficulties that Wales experiences at present, it is worth remembering that in 1966 the total square footage of new factories permitted development in Wales was between three and four times the amounts of development in 1964, and between six and seven times the develop- 608 ment experienced in 1963. Yet those developments, those dynamic and radical polices, are inadequate in some areas, not because they are paltry but because of the immensity of the problems with which we are faced, when we remember that in the decade 1955–65, when the male labour force in England increased by some 780,000, that same force in Scotland decreased by over 40,000 and by over 10,000 in Wales.
Although the proposals for a regional premium which were outlined in this House a few days ago are most welcome, it is right and proper to say that there are certain areas which cannot benefit from this development. My own constituency, the rural constituency of Cardigan, is such a case in point. With little over one-twentieth of the insured population engaged in manufacturing industry a premium of even £5 per head per week would not materially change the situation, certainly in the short term. Nevertheless, I genuinely welcome this development. For Wales, particularly, I feel it would be extremely beneficial.
However, I would plead, bearing in mind the egalitarian aspect of regionalism, that more radical measures will, to my mind, in the near future have to he pursued. We should certainly not shut our minds to the need for experimenting with State-run industries in areas of high unemployment or depopulation where other, classical methods are unable to show a proper result. Again, I think we should study and emulate the experiments of other countries in substantially reducing taxation in certain areas as an inducement to channel industry to those localities of very great economic difficulty.
The second aspect of regionalism is that of regional government. The strongest case for regional government, as we have heard from so many speakers here today, is that it is the most perfect and efficient form of local government. It was Gladstone who said when the Local Government Bill of 1888 was being considered in this House that it was a plan for "local self-government". I am afraid that his hope in that respect did not materialise, and since that time the duties and the complexities of modern government have so increased as to make the decentralisation of the unit of government absolutely necessary. I think, in connection with local government, that it is 609 proper here to make and stress the point that the term "government" is a misnomer. It is not really local government at all. As others have suggested, it is merely a matter of local administration. The power of decision is not vested in the bodies we call "local government".
It was Lord Hewart who in 1929 wrote a book entitled "The New Despotism" and amongst other things he described how the pressures upon the time and interest of Parliament were such that it was not possible for more than a skeleton of an Act to be passed by this and the other House, leaving to Ministers wide powers of discretion over delegated legislation. What was true in 1929 must be more true today, and I am sure that against such a background the case for vesting regions with powers of management over their own affairs and the planning of their own social and economic development is irrefutable.
I think it is proper for us to ask against such a background how far we have really gone in the direction of regional government. The point has already been made by many previous speakers with regard to the economic planning boards that they are really non-authoritative bodies. An economic council is a non-elected body. Despite the ardour with which those who are members of these councils pursue their duties the fact still remains that they are not answerable by any democratic process to the people whom they represent, and I believe that this is something which not only satisfies academic and idealistic considerations of democracy, but which is the heart and kernel of an efficient system of government. That is why I was rather horrified to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) suggest that the highest proposed tier of local government had to be a mixed body of appointed members and elected members so that it might better commend itself to the mercies of the British Medical Association. With all the generous allowance which one can make for the Member for Sutton's membership of a senior profession, I do not think that is an idea which commends itself to any part of this House.
As for the planning councils, these have no executive power, but nevertheless, whilst they represent a welcome 610 development in concentrating attention upon a problem hitherto neglected, it must be remembered that they are primarily advisory bodies. I would not deny that the economic councils have important functions in the realm of research. I should have liked to have heard the Minister say how satisfied he is with the research facilities of those various bodies. It was only some months ago that Professor Carter, Chairman of the North-West Council, said that he could do with some 20 to 30 full-time research officers immediately. As far as the planning boards are concerned, in exercising autonomous jurisdiction it must be remembered that although they have executive powers they have no truly regional functions. They are the long stretching arms of a body which is anchored here in Whitehall. Therefore, the term "regional government" for such a system is a misnomer, in that it does not involve any devolution of decision making authority to the regions.
As I am sure most hon. Members will have gathered, my main interest in this topic of regional government is in relation to Wales. Wales is more than a region. It is a country, and the homeland of a nation, and I am sure that no one in this House would wish to gainsay that fact. Whilst even the most radical development of regional government could not satisfy the basic national needs of Wales, nevertheless, I believe and concede that the concepts of regional government can be valuable progressions towards such ultimate constitutional aims.
I am, and I have made this clear in this House on many previous occasions, a fervent believer in a Welsh Parliament. I cannot see how this House, even with the greatest dedication and the tenderest chivalry, can ever adequately deal with the affairs of Wales. I believe that it was Henry Campbell Bannerman who said that "even good government can never be any substitute for self-government" and from the miserable, grey 'twenties and 'thirties to the present day there have been many instances in Wales of neglect by Governments of various political colours, and it no surprise, I am sure, to most of us to learn that people like Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson fervently championed the cause of a Welsh Parliament, and certainly the need for the same has increased tenfold since their day.
611 The point has been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite and by some of my hon. Friends that the finances of Wales vis-à-vis England are such as to make the creation of such an institution as a Parliament impossible. I am afraid that there is a mountain of irrefutable evidence against them. The results of research by the University of Wales have been published on many occasions, showing quite clearly that, in the post-war period, the contribution made by Wales to the central Exchequer is far in excess of what she receives in return. Those figures can never be entirely relevant, because they can never reflect the true potential of Wales as a country and as a nation. But they are of the utmost relevance in that they refute any charge that there is some indigenous condition of poverty in Wales which debars my nation from the possibility of a Parliament.
If regional development in Wales is to lead progressively to constitutional status for Wales, it must aspire to some thing higher than an economic council which is advisory, and a planning board whose bureaucracy is centrally directed. I would wish to see economic councils and planning boards all over Britain given real executive power which is situated and directed locally.
However, in Wales there are two bodies which have a more dominant function to play in drawing Wales nearer to control over its own affairs. The first is the Welsh Office. There are many people who fail to understand the tremendous significance of the creation of that institution. For over 400 years in the Constitution of the United Kingdom, Wales did not exist. In October, 1964, it emerged once again as an entity and with a distinctiveness of its own.
Although the Welsh Office exercises important functions in Wales, particularly in local government, I would plead with the greatest respect that there is no reason in logic or equity why the Welsh Office should not at an early date be vested with the same functions for Wales as the Scottish Office has for Scotland in all matters other than judicial. Apart from education and health, there is at present an overwhelming case for the immediate transfer of functions relating to agriculture, the location of industry, and transport in Wales to the Welsh Office.
612 The second body which can contribute immensely to true home government in Wales is the elected council for Wales which has been mooted in connection with the proposed reorganisation of local government in Wales. Such a body has been advocated widely. Support for it was given by the Welsh Regional Council of Labour at its annual conference in 1966, and I am certain that it is an idea which commends itself to people of all shades of political belief in Wales.
The size of the country and of the population is such as to enable such a body to be both attractive and effective. I believe that it could be vested with functions drawn both from local government and from central Government, and I hope that, when the long awaited reform of local government comes in Wales, that will be the top tier of such a reformed structure. Only then will we have had the first exercise in Welsh government.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)
Until the recent by-elections I was the baby among hon. Members representing West Midland constituencies, though marginally so. It is, therefore, with great pleasure that I join in the congratulations which have been offered by many hon. Members today to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield). He made an excellent maiden speech, and I was particularly pleased to hear his references to the recent Report of the West Midlands Economic Planning Council. That is a Report to which I shall return later in my speech.
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) made an interesting contribution to the debate, but I was a little surprised to hear a further demonstration of that self-importance which sometimes affects hon. Members who sit on the second bench below the Gangway on the other side of the House. He suggested that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) must have been a convert to the cause of regionalism. However, many of us, particularly among the younger hon. Members on this side, have long been advocates of some form of regional government.
I am delighted—and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for 613 Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) will not mind my saying so—that the debate has not been dominated by the problems of Wales and Scotland. Regionalism is a thesis which is viable in all parts of the country, not just those parts which have a depressed economy, and certainly not just the Celtic fringe of the British Isles.
There are many arguments for regionalism, and I want to look at one or two which are particularly relevant to the topic of the debate. I am not impressed by the argument that we must try to harness the energies of the people to secure public participation in a new form of local government where it does not exist today. I am not convinced that any reform of local government will produce the sort of poll which the hon. Member for Cornwall, North told us that he achieved in his constituency. I am sure his qualities are rare, and we could expect this equally rarely in any poll. That is not a very impressive argument
There are powerful arguments concerned not least the need to achieve some unified system of planning, not simply for population distribution, which is of increasing importance as our population rises to a total by the end of the century nearly 20 million more than today, but also for transport, health, further education, which spreads beyond the boundary of a single city or county, and for larger recreation areas for the population of cities which cannot be cited in those cities. At the moment, unified planning is difficult, if not impossible, because boundaries separate cities from their hinterlands and towns from their commuter and overspill areas. Boundaries separate service areas from the areas which they are intended to serve.
There is a strong case for a review of the present system of local government at least, although that does not necessarily mean that we should have a system of regional government proper. Further, the present system of the division of powers between central and local Government, with the line drawn where it is, entails the creation of non-elected ad hoc boards such as the regional hospital boards or the road construction units, to take the new one, often covering very large regions and not just the small city regions which, I note with interest, are advocated by Whitehall.
614 When Whitehall creates regional boards, it creates them to cover rather wider areas than it suggests should be the basis for the future pattern of local government. Perhaps this again tells us something about the motive with which these city regions have been advocated. These boards are necessarily inimical to democracy, and it is inevitable that unless we have a radical reform of the division between central and local government we shall get more of them.
If we provide a radical solution to the problem of water supplies, we may have to set up a national water undertaking, and if we do it follows as surely as night follows day that we shall also set up regional water boards. One might say very properly so when one looks at the South-East Study and sees that there are 130 separate water undertakings in the area. Oddly enough, a few of them are still in private ownership. One might say, "Let us have a regional water board". Let us have that, but let us have a board which is democratically controlled, rather than non-elected and ad hoc, responsible to no one other than civil servants in Whitehall.
Because of the population growth which we can expect by the end of the century, whether we like it or not we shall, under the New Towns Act or Town Development Act have to create far more new towns and far more large-scale overspill developments that we have done hitherto. We may require 7 million new dwellings by the end of the century to take up the rise in population alone, and 3½ million to 4 million of those may have to be provided by some form of large-scale public development. If we are not careful, we will create a plethora of non-elected development corporations, non-elected bodies responsible ultimately to the Minister, but not to anyone locally. This is a strong case for having a viable authority in the regions, with resources large enough to undertake this new development.
We want a new structure, and I suggest it should be regional, but we have been talking about the size and shape of the regions. Some have taken the economic planning regions as the basis for the new system of regional government, or possibly the old standard regions. One or two might be of the right size. East Anglia 615 might be about the right size and type, but others are not.
Let us consider Northampton as an example, particularly if the Government decide to go ahead with their plans for expanding it. The southern part of Northamptonshire does not belong with Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, but with North Buckinghamshire. I am sure that the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) would agree. This part of Northamptonshire belongs with North Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, because it looks as though we shall have a series of expansions of new towns, all of which will form a pattern.
If one considers the northern economic planning region, I would argue that Cumberland and Westmorland do not belong with the North-East, but rather, because of the Pennine barrier, with North Lancashire, at the moment in the North-West planning region—Furness, separated from the rest of Lancashire, but in the North-West planning region because it is in Lancashire by reason of historical accident. Another odd protuberance which may belong here is the north-west of the West Riding, around the Sedburgh area, which has little connection with the industrial West Riding, but which, with Westmorland and Cumberland, could possibly be in a region in the extreme North-West in which Carlisle would be the biggest town. One might even include a small part of south-west Scotland if one were creating a region which was economically viable, rather than one which would satisfy nationalistic sentiment. I do not think that one would get away with that, but it is a pity that we cannot look at some of our national boundaries as well as some of our county and local authority boundaries.
Let us consider the West Midlands. It is not clear that the Potteries are an integral part of the West Midlands, or indeed of the North-West, or any other economic planning region as it exists today. And we have discussed today the South-West which should not in my view be administered from Bristol. We do not want regions based simply on the economic planning regions as they are today. On the other hand, I am convinced that we do not want the type of city region advocated by Whitehall with such sur- 616 prising unanimity. I am rather surprised that people act with such unanimity if they wish to convince outside bodies that there has not been collusion. Here we have ten independent Ministeries coming round to the same view. If one wants to convince people of that, it is batter to have some slight differences in the submission. It would be better to have such differences in order to carry conviction.
I am not convinced of the validity of such city regions, because there are too many of them. Certainly regions based on a city with its hinterland might make more sense than the economic planning regions, but not in all areas. For instance, it is perhaps sensible to split Sheffield from the West Riding or to split Liverpool from Manchester, otherwise we will produce regions with too great a concentration of population. It may be sensible to split Coventry from Birmingham though I am less convinced of that because the West Midlands is more of a unity than the Liverpool-Manchester area. But it certainly would be wrong to split Bradford from Leeds and Nottingham from Derby. In some areas there is no one dominant city. It is wrong to split these into a series of smaller towns with their hinterlands. If we divide the country into a plethora of city regions we find that many of them are too weak, in terms of population and resources.
If we operate on the basis of a policy of dividing up cities with very narrow hinterlands and calling them regions, eventually we will have separated the remoter hinterlands of the larger cities into very weak and non-viable units. This may happen if such a policy is implemented in the West Midlands—where my seat is situated. The rural West could well be separated to form a separate region, possibly based on Shrewsbury or Dawley New Town, if it develops sufficiently rapidly. That would be a disaster. I believe that it has been advocated by people in powerful places, but I hope that it will not materialise.
I notice that in drawing up the police regions my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary suggested the creation of just such a unit. He seems to have forgotten that the incidence of crime does not normally run along the back-tracks and by-ways of Shropshire and Herefordshire, from North to South; it runs outwards from the conurbation. If we are to 617 have a sensible overspill policy we should separate the broader hinterlands from the large conurbations.
If we operated on these principles and divided the country into city regions based upon ties of history and sentiment and social and economic geography, largely disregarding historical boundaries but including the remoter hinterlands with the conurbations, we should end up with perhaps 20 viable regions in England. We should then have regional authorities responsible for broad land use planning, large-scale regional development, possibly regional roads and traffic arteries, and public transport along them—and possibly even the integration of road and rail services.
By contrast, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport proposes conurbation transport authorities. I would prefer to see regional transport authorities, for the simple reason that we must try to integrate not just the commuter areas but also the overspill areas, which will still look for some services to and will still have powerful ties with the conurbations. We must build these areas into the same transport system.
With such regional authorities we could plan more specialised services in a way that we cannot do today. I would hope that we could also integrate some non-elected statutory boards, such as regional hospital boards and county health executives. In the Health Service we have a fragmented system of control, most of it anti-democratic. One result of the separation of health planning from regional economic planning can be found in the document published annually by the Ministry of Health on health and welfare services, where the population predictions for ten years ahead are done in the most extraordinary manner. The calculators simply take a global prediction for the region and assume that each area inside it will receive the same proportion of population increase as has occurred in the previous ten years.
This is totally to neglect any proposal for a new town, or any overspill development, as well as any evidence that the population of a large city declines rather than increases. Here we have a model example of the divorce of Central Government planning for a region from true regional planning.
618 I hope, too, that with such a body we can move towards a regional tax structure. I say this not only in the hope that we can at last have a tax system to replace the rates but also in the hope that we might then be able to entrust to a strong regional authority the task of collecting many national taxes of personal or corporate kinds.
If we did that, we should have the opportunity of introducing into the tax system a regional variant in the national component of a tax levied by a regional authority. That would be the best possible way of boosting our economy. In the less prosperous regions, if tax rates were lower than in other areas and they were receiving a heavy subsidy from the more prosperous areas, there would be a great incentive to firms and individuals to move there.
I contrast this with the First Secretary's proposal for a regional employment premium. It is not simply that this affects only manufacturing industries. It can be argued that it is much too crude because the development areas each cover a wide area with wide variations within it, while the rest of the country, including many "grey" areas, is totally neglected.
The first report of the West Midlands Regional Economic Planning Council, published last week, points out that, since 1945, although over 100,000 jobs have been moved from the West Midlands, only 25,000 people have been moved to other parts of the region in planned overspill schemes and 20 times the number which has moved in the last 20 years must move in the next 15 if we are to relieve Birmingham's problem. The Council goes on to suggest that, in consequence, we must give financial incentives for the areas within the region which will serve as overspill areas for the population of the conurbation, parallel with the financial incentives for the development areas, though on a lower scale.
The Report says that the Council suggested this to the Department of Economic Affairs as early as November, 1965, and it hopes that there will be a rapid decision. I hope so, too. This is long overdue; if we are to settle as many people as this in overspill areas in the West Midlands, such a rapid decision is needed. This can be done easily through a regional tax structure. 619 If it is done simply through national concessions, we will end with a complex system of graduation of areas covering the whole country, for some of which firms will receive concessions and for others not. With a system of regional government such tax concessions are much more readily given.
In any case, the present structure of economic planning councils responsible ultimately to Whitehall is inadequate for the problems of rural stagnation or depopulation. The West Midlands Report seemed uninterested in the market towns and the remoter rural areas and how to bring new life to them, save as a means of accommodating overspill population. It is not interested in them as communities in their own right.
Regional economic planning councils cannot deal with everything because they have been given a limited task which they are doing their best to fulfil, in some cases extremely well—a task which prohibits them from attempting other no less worthwhile tasks which could be the responsibility of a regional government.
Although I am entirely in favour of the type of regional structure for government in this country which I have outlined, it goes along with a shake-up in Whitehall. We cannot do this unless we are prepared to devolve from central government many of the functions which Whitehall at the moment clings to, barnacle-like.
I believe that if we create regional units of government and give them real power and amalgamate with them boards which now merely exercise powers delegated to them from Whitehall, we can revivify the economies of the less prosperous areas and can help the more prosperous areas—which is just as significant a job—to deal with their massive overspill problems in a much more effectual way than can be done at the moment.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) on introducing this important subject and would add how pleased I am that he polarised his speech around the two main problems—the size of any regional unit of government and the question of democratic control. Like 620 the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler), I come from a county which has gone through, and is still going through, the process of local government reorganisation.
Most hon. Members who have spoken have agreed on the need to strengthen local government. The first thing we have to face is that any form of local government reorganisation runs a grave risk of weakening local government. Therefore, in anything we do, we should try as far as possible to preserve what can be preserved of the past where there is a real live tradition.
There has not been much political party difference in this debate. The Conservative manifesto, at the last election, said that we favoured more regional administration with strong and modernised local government. That, broadly speaking, expresses what all who have spoken today have urged as the important feature of any new shape that we produce after the Royal Commission has reported.
Without having read all the volumes of evidence so far produced—and obviously more evidence is to come—I confess myself a regionalist. I rank myself with those opposed to what seems to be the idea of most Ministries—that there should be as many as 30 or 40 city regions. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary was at pains to explain that what was said in evidence by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government did not represent a Ministerial point of view. It is fair to ask him whose view it represents. The Ministry's evidence is a curious document.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I hoped that I had made it clear that the evidence represents the experience of the Department, both in relation to past working and to a possible future structure. The evidence was asked for by the Royal Commission. This course has been followed on many occasions. The opinion it represents is that of the Ministry. Of course, the Minister takes responsibility in the fact that the evidence is published, but it does not in any way represent his point of view or that of any member of the Cabinet.
§ Mr. More
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman intervened at that point, because he has failed to answer the question that I want to put.
621 Just whose view does this evidence represent? Are we to assume that every single responsible official of the Ministry has precisely the same view of what should be done in local government reorganisation? If there is a minority view among officials, will there be opportunity for it to be represented? That is a matter of importance. What concerns me about this printed evidence is that, although the letter of invitation was signed by the Chairman of the Royal Commission, there is no signature at the end of the written evidence. Surely someone at some stage should take personal responsibility for what is said.
§ Mr. Skeffington
The evidence was a consensus of past experience. It was followed up by the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry giving oral evidence, which the hon. Gentleman has no doubt seen.
§ Mr. Ridley
Would not my hon. Friend also agree that it is slightly peculiar to have two different published views, one of the Ministry and one of the Minister? Is not this a new conception in our constitution?
§ Mr. More
I do not wish to detain the House. I agree with my hon. Friend that this is a peculiar state of affairs. We would, indeed, be happier if the evidence was presented under the names of the persons in the Ministry who wish to give their views. However, I leave the matter there in the hope that the Minister will look into it further.
I agree with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for The Wrekin, who comes from the same county as I do. It is important that we should take the 622 opportunity, whatever form of regional government we have, of seeing that proper local responsibility is exercised in respect of some of these boards and bodies which are now responsible apparently to nobody except Whitehall. A number of examples have been given, including the new towns authorities, hospital boards and water boards. There would be greater local satisfaction if it was known that local democratic control could operate, either directly or indirectly, in respect of these bodies and their functions which are primarily local.
I also agree with those who say that there is no virtue in tidiness. As to the criteria which determine the size and shape of regional areas, I suggest that the most important criteria of all is that of employment and industry. Coming from a rural area, I recognise—and this must be recognised—the hard fact that Britain is now an industrial country and that, however rural the area in which one lives, the question of employment must ultimately get tied up more and more with the country's industrial development.
That being so, I do not mind how far away my regional centre is, provided that it is a real source from which comes the life and impulse of the industry for which we in the rural areas, however far from that industry we may be, can be sub contractors in our local factories. That is more important than either roads or planning.
As for democratic control, I am convinced that democracy is not something that just happens. The plant must be carefully watered and manured. One of the great dangers which we do not appreciate is that it can be over-manured. We are already doing that by subjecting the electors of this country to at least three, and sometimes four, different stages of elections, one for Parliament, one for county councils or county boroughs, one for district councils and one for parishes. There is everything to be said for reducing this number and giving people only two elections, one national and one local.
This brings me to a point which has exercised the minds of many hon. Members, namely, the method and degree of democratic control of any regional authority. My view on this is definite. It is that the right method is indirect democratic control. By that I mean that the 623 local election, of which there should be only one, should be that for the tier of government which we already have, such as the rural or urban district council, and that the members of the democratic body which rules the region should be elected by the elected members of the lower district council.
That is our only hope of getting a real feeling in local regions that there is real democratic control because every local council will then have an opportunity of feeling that it is democratically represented in the region and every local elector will have the same feeling.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), who so ably opened the debate, can take some satisfaction as to its course. In his substantial maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huck-field) referred to the Scottish miners who have come to his constituency. Perhaps some of them were from my constituency and are now his constituents. I agree with all he said about the need for selective expansion because this is extremely germane to the problem of his constituents who were formerly my constituents.
I back up what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand) said of Government statistics, particularly regional statistics, and repeat the quotation he made from Sir Burke Trend to the effect that perhaps regional statistics are more vulnerable to criticism than other statistics in the Government service. I attach the greatest importance to the Jackson inquiry. I am not at all convinced that we can have effective regional planning unless we have a great deal more knowledge about investment decisions. Investment knowledge is crucial if there is to be effective regional planning. Therefore, the inquiry set up under Mr. Jackson, who I hope has had a good return to health, is of considerable importance and not least important to the Scottish Economic Planning Council.
I should like my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to pass on to the Secretary of State for Scotland the view that the Scottish Economic Planning Council should publish far more of its work. It is doing extremely good and solid work but we in Scotland would like to know and have available to us a 624 great deal more information about the actual pattern of achievement. I hope that this as well as questions of statistics and the Jackson inquiry will be looked into. Perhaps I ought to declare that for domestic reasons, because my father-in-law is chairman of the Scottish Royal Commission on Local Government, I have no intention of following English colleagues and entering into details of their work, or trying to tell them how they should go about their business. Nevertheless, it should also go on record that we in Scotland attach the greatest importance to the recommendations of Sir John Maud's Commission and the Scottish Commission and wish them well in their vital work.
Because my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) has been waiting for a long time to speak, I shall be brief. My main point is the concern of many Scots about what will happen to regional development if and when we go into the Common Market. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary come back from their European tour and say that they found that regional development problems are less pressing than they thought they would be.
In their judgment regional problems in relation to Europe are nothing like so great as they thought when they set out. This is an opinion I certainly accept. They say that this regional problem is not the problem they thought it was. They say that the Continent is allowed to have regional policies. Those of us who have been round Europe know well the great work done in Italy, France, especially Germany, and West Berlin, and other countries of the E.E.C. We have no worries about the actual rules of the Treaty of Rome. I do not think anyone who looks at the Treaty of Rome can have many worries about regional development, in the matter of actual regulations.
This is not our concern. Our Scottish concern it that the present development programme of the Government depends to a large extent on a negative stick, and may have to be adapted. We want to know what happens if this negative stick is removed because I.D.C.s are a negative way of operating. What I mean is this. It is perfectly legitimate to argue in terms of the effectiveness of the Government's refusal to allow a development in 625 south-east England or the English Midlands and the effect which that will have in persuading industry to go to Linwood, or Bathgate, or North Wales, or the south-west of England. Planning in this context is very effective and the statistics show that a great proportion of development is now going to the North. The Government have been increasingly successful in this matter.
But supposing a new variable is introduced into the situation, things might be altered. If we go into the Common Market, the choice for the regions becomes different. It might be said that if a British firm is told not to expand in the South-East, it will go to Scotland. But if we go into the European Economic Community and a firm is told not to expand in the South-East, it also has the choice of going to Cologne or Northern Italy, and this is a very urgent matter for us Scots. The Government must be concerned to anticipate the position.
I happen to be in favour of going into the Common Market and I am just stating what the problem is. This is of particular importance to Scotland in relation to firms from the United States, firms such as Camerons, Hewlett Packard, Marbon Chemicals.
Hitherto, many firms from the United States have decided to have a plant both in the United Kingdom and on the European Continent, but when Britain goes into the Common Market, it is very likely that, because of the economies of scale, these firms will choose to have one plant in Europe. The plant might have been destined for Britain, but, if it is, no longer will the British Government in London be able to tell a firm that it must not settle in the South-East or in the Midlands and that it must go to Scotland or the North-West or the South-West, because the firm could reply, "If you will not oblige us, we shall decide to go to Milan or Cologne or Dusseldorf." This is a situation which will affect us in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) is present and so is my hon. Friend the Member for Govan. We are very concerned, because in our present system of planning the whole system of decision-making is going to be subject to alteration. Here I return to the subject of the Channel Tunnel.
626 I think that there will be tremendous pressure, particularly from firms with financial relations with the United States, but also from British firms, to settle near the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) where they will be within easy striking distance of the Channel Tunnel. Much of what the Government are doing in planning and which is just coming to maturity—and I am a great supporter of the Government in this matter—may well be negated if we do not try to foresee the situation which is likely to come to pass. It is extremely difficult to take account of the flow of capital. If this speech is about anything, it is about the need to pay attention to the flow of capital in relation to the outer areas as seen from London and the Channel Tunnel, because industrialists cannot be forced to move in this situation to places other than those which suit them.
If there is a system which works basically by telling people that they cannot build a plant in a certain place, we must expect decisions which will attract firms to the Continent rather than to Scotland, or to Wales, or to comparable areas. To defend Scotland and Wales, we may need a different, more positive, planning.
In a Common Market situation Britain must be prepared to oblige investors. But there are answers to this problem. The first answer is that if there is a decision made to go into the Common Market, the general total level of investment will be dynamised to such an extent that it will ripple round the whole country and the outer areas of England, Scotland and Wales will benefit. This is a partial result. The object of my speech, particularly in the light of what would happen in terms of the Kennedy Round, is to bring to the attention of the Government certain other solutions to which they ought to pay attention.
My second solution concerns the economic way in which one gives help to the areas. As I said after the First Secretary's statement, for heaven's sake we must introduce an element of selectivity into the financial decision-making. There are parts of my constituency where public money should not be spent. West Lothian is bound to benefit very greately from the present measures of the Government. Having said this, I, as the 627 representative for West Lothian, am not at all convinced that in the east part of the area where I live, public money should be spent. Let us concentrate public money where it is really required, in my case on the border of my own area and the area represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). In this situation a measure of selectivity should be introduced to make optimum use of public money.
My third solution is that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand), when he talked about the need to think in terms of sub-regions. Sub-regional planning is a far more sophisticated kind of help than previously given. We ought to do more to fulfil the contract made with the electors in 1964. We should try to put certain money into small publicly-owned industries where it is needed. This would help areas such as those in my constituency, like Fauldhouse and Stoney-burn which are midway from the centres of industry and where people have long hours to travel to work. Again, in Scotland, there should be a drive to step up the forestry programme. There are 14 million acres which should be planted. At least 3 million could come within easy range of a practical plan.
Particularly in a Common Market situation, great attention must be paid to the Scottish Highlands and the tourist industry. All the measures so far announced will not be of very great help to that industry. I hope that the Chancellor may have some proposals on Tuesday to help the situation. There are other ways of stepping up publicly-owned developments. There is the Atomic Energy Authority at Dounreay, where there is a massive excess of hot water coming out of the new fast reactor developments, which should be developed. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton may laugh, but how does one implement publicly-owned industry? These are matters to which he and I are committed. They will be unpractical unless they are built on the nucleus of existing industry. It is no laughing matter to people in Caithness and Sutherland. I have many other things to say, but my hon. Friend the Member for Govan has been waiting for a long time and it is 628 right and proper that he should be given time to speak.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.