HC Deb 14 February 1967 vol 741 cc483-503

10.3 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)

I beg to move, That the Teesside Order, 1967, dated 18th January, 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th January, be approved. I hope to move the adoption of this Order with reasonable brevity, concentrating on what the Order does and how it came about, and commenting on the Amendment, that the Order be not approved until after this House has received the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government". tabled by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), who enjoys the respect of all of us on both sides of the House. I shall not deal with the Order Article by Article.

The Order results from proposals for the reorganisation of the local government of Tees-side made by the Local Government Commission in its Report on the North East General Review Area. The Order constitutes a new county borough, the County Borough of Teesside, which will come into full operation on 1st April next year. It will comprise the areas of the County Borough of Middlesbrough, the Boroughs of Thornaby-on-Tees, Stockton-on-Tees, and Redcar except for a small part, most of the Urban Districts of Billingham and Eston, part of the Urban District of Guisborough, a very small part of the Urban District of Saltburn and Marske-by-the-Sea, and parts of the Rural Districts of Stockton and Stokesley.

A single administration will take the place of the present mixed system, under which the present urban area of Teesside is administered by two counties, one county borough, three non-county boroughs, three urban district councils, two rural district councils and a number of parish councils. It is estimated that the new county borough will have a population of about 398,000 and a rateable value of more than £18 million.

The Order is the culmination of a long process of review by the Local Government Commission and of further inquiry by the Minister under the pro- visions of the Local Government Act, 1958. The Commission began its review in the autumn of 1959. It consulted the local authorities and it published draft proposals in April, 1962. It held a statutory conference with the local authorities in November, 1962 and the final report was published in October, 1963. A public inquiry into the objections that had been lodged was held by the Minister's inspector in November, 1964.

After that, the Minister announced his acceptance of the recommendations on 6th October, 1965, subject to some boundary modifications. He excluded most of the Urban District of Saltburn and Marske, and extended the boundary of the county borough southwards. There was also a small extension of the boundary at Preston-on-Tees to bring within the county borough an art gallery and a museum which belonged to Stockton.

Tees-side as a whole is an area of rapid growth, both actual and potential. In the past 15 years the population has grown by 50,000, and the potentialities of the area are still not fully realised. The Commission came to the conclusion that Tees-side is now substantially a single entity—economic, physical and social—and that the present administrative structure is irrelevant to the area's needs. That was the reason for proposing a single county borough.

In its Report on the North-Eastern General Review Area, the Commission said at paragraph 95: It therefore seemed to us necessary to ensure that the pattern of local government was such as to make the planning of development and the organisation of services fully effective, and to make certain that new development, such as houses, main roads, bridges and shops would match the growth and location of industry instead of perpetuating the patterns of the past. We were impressed by the need on Tees-side for more housing to relieve overcrowding, to replace outworn properties, and to meet the increase in population due to industrial expansion. Yet unless Teesside could be planned as a whole, it seemed to us impossible to ensure that new houses would be built in places most convenient for the people who would live in them, as it was difficult for the present ten separate housing authorities, each with their own housing list, to do other than build within or near their own boundaries. Later, at paragraph 129 in its conclusion, the Commission said: With the southern moorland, the coast and the river, Tees-side has a splendid setting and it ought to be made worthy of its 400,000 inhabitants. This task requires a comprehensive plan for the whole area designed to secure the benefit of its port, its industries and its commerce, the reclamation of its marshlands, the building of new roads and bridges, the renewal of obsolete parts of the old riverside development, the designing of new centres and the provision of new amenities. This formidable task gives scope not for ten authorities to develop or redevelop ten towns but for a single authority to work out the details of the probable future growth and needs of Tees-side, and then prepare and carry out a single plan for the whole area. It is, I think, significant that, since the proposal for Tees-side was made, a full scale survey of the area has been undertaken and is under way. After putting it to the test of public opinion, the Minister substantially endorsed the Commission's proposal and it had the full support of Middlesbrough, Stockton and Redcar, representing between them about 70 per cent. of the electors in the area.

It is only right to say that two counties will be adversely affected by the Order. One is County Durham. We have already in this House approved an Order amalgamating Hartlepool Borough with West Hartlepool County Borough. Orders for the extension of Sunderland and for a small extension of Darlington have also been laid, and, taking these Orders in conjunction with this one, Durham will still have a population of over 814,000 and a rateable value of about £22½ million.

The other county which will be adversely affected is the North Riding of Yorkshire. It will be reduced from a population of about 428,000 and a rateable value of £15.8 million to a population of 318,000 and a rateable value of £9.3 million. I have no wish to underestimate the effect of this change, but, even so, the county will still be able to support an administration which will serve it adequately and effectively, and I take this opportunity of expressing the gratitude of all of us to the two county councils for the co-operation they have given in the preparation of the Order, in spite of the adverse effects they knew it to have upon themselves.

I want to say something about election arrangements. These are set out in Articles 6, 8, 9 and 10. The new wards reflect my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's decision after a public inquiry, and elections for the new county borough will take place on 4th May next so that there will be almost a year in which to complete arrangements, with the assumption of full responsibility on 1st April, 1968. Article 10 cancels the elections that would otherwise have been held in May next for those authorities which cease to exist next year.

Now I shall deal with the Amendment on the Order Paper. It is, of course, at first glance an attractive argument that reorganisation on this scale should await the Report of the Royal Commission and I have basically a good deal of sympathy with it. But when it was decided to set up the Royal Commission on Local Government, it was thought right to make the most of the work which the Local Government Commission had completed, and my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said in the House on 10th February last year, in referring to the work of the Local Government Commission: The Commission has produced some valuable results within the limits open to it. … Most of the work it has completed will be carried through. Where decisions have already been announced on proposals by the Commission, the necessary orders will be brought before Parliament as soon as possible. Other proposals on which decisions have not yet been taken will be considered on their merits, in the light of the decision to appoint a Royal Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1966; Vol. 724, c. 644.] The decision broadly to accept the Local Government Commission's proposals for Teesside had been announced several months earlier, on 6th October, 1965, and this Motion represents the honouring of the firm commitment given then that the Order would be brought forward as soon as possible.

The question of Government commitments apart, there are strong practical reasons for the new county borough to be set up as soon as possible. The suggestion that this should be deferred until the report of the Royal Commission has been received can only reflect a misunderstanding, on the one hand of the urgency of the need for a united administration on Tees-side, and, on the other, of the essential processes which must follow the Royal Commission's Report. While I have every hope that the Commission's recommendations can be given speedy effect, there must still be time for consideration and consultation on issues so fundamental for the health of local government for many years to come. After the decision has been taken on what should be done, time will be needed for the preparation and enactment of legislation and for any new authorities set up to get ready for taking over on the ground. It is impossible at this stage to estimate accurately just how long these processes will take, but it is evident that with the best will in the world, and everything going as smoothly as possible, it must be some years before the present local government structure can be replaced by a new one. Meanwhile the needs of Tees-side are pressing and the development of the area will not wait.

This is something to which both the previous Government and this one have attached the utmost importance. The House will recall the Hailsham Report of November, 1963, on regional development and growth for the North East. That Report picked out Tees-side as one of the areas fitted to support rapid economic growth and said that there could be discussion with local authorities there about the exceptional step of a planning survey of the area, to be undertaken with Exchequer assistance.

This was followed up, and early in 1964 the authorities reached agreement on the project. In mid-1965 work began on the Tees-side survey and plan, commissioned by the local authorities, acting jointly, with the Ministers of Transport and Housing and Local Government together contributing about half of the cost. The work is being carried out by consultants and consists of a comprehensive land use and transport survey and plan for the area. The consultants' report and recommendations are expected to be ready early in 1968. It is vital that as soon as these are available they should be energetically followed up. For that reason I believe that this new administrative unit, the County Borough of Tees-side, is essential.

Mr. Speaker

I have not selected the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton).

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Michael Shaw (Scarborough and Whitby)

I thank the Minister for his very full explanation of this Order. In speaking to it and in adding my name to the Amendment I do so not in any spirit of not wishing to look forward, because I think that we all appreciate that there have to be some very big changes in local government boundaries in the years ahead.

As the Minister so rightly says, we are faced with a period of inevitable indecision in that, since the Local Government Commission started making some of its reports, there was announced in February, 1966, the proposal to appoint a Royal Commission on Local Government in England and Wales. This is the very real problem. I will admit at once that the North Riding of Yorkshire, the county council in which my constituency lies, takes very strong exception to the Order, and has produced many arguments against it. However, for myself and for it, this is water under the bridge.

The objection has been taken—and I freely state that I raise the matter because they have put it to me—because it is felt that their interests will be seriously prejudiced by the Order going forward, because, as far as we can see, the Royal Commission on Local Government in England is likely to report early in 1968, just at the very time, in April, 1968, when this Order comes into effect. It appears, on the face of it, that there is likely to be a double bite of this cherry before the reorganisation in this important area is thoroughly digested and the area is reorganised on a basis that is acceptable for the future.

I believe this to be the real problem. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the care with which he developed the arguments on this particular point. I was glad to notice that he expressed sympathy for this point of view. However, I have learned over the years spent in this House to realise that as soon as sympathy is expressed, hope can almost at the same time go out of the other door. So, alas, it has proved in this case.

There has, I am sure, been co-operation on the part of the North Riding County Council. I make this point quite clearly, but it must not be understood that there is now agreement. Let us take some practical examples.

The Ministry of Housing and Local Government has now published its evidence to the Royal Commission on Local Government, and presumably this evidence was submitted with the approval of the Minister. It proposed 30 to 40 major authorities covering wide areas on the basis of "city regions", the main object of which appears to be to get away from what is referred to as straitjacket of built up areas and to provide elbow room and flexibility to ensure that the solution of problems of growth as yet unforeseen will not be inhibited by narrow boundaries inherited from the past". There was no map with that evidence, but The Guardian on this occasion proved helpful by producing a map of its own, trying to interpret the ideas put forward by the Ministry.

If we look at this map dividing the country in a manner that would fit in with the submissions of the Ministry, we see that there is an area of local government covering Middlesbrough and Darlington and a wide section of country around those two areas. To the south there is a large area with its centre based at York, and another to the west with its centre based at Leeds.

If we look at that, surely it must be clear that if the recommendations of the Ministry are carried out in anything like this fashion—and I do not believe there can be large differences in interpreting their recommendations other than in the way The Guardian has done—we shall see that if the Order goes through and the recommendations of the Royal Commission are accepted, there will have to be a further large reorganisation of that area. There will thus be an interim period which will adversely affect the interests of the North Riding County Council. I have seen too often, when it is proposed to amalgamate local boroughs with others, the practical difficulties of local authorities about staffing, and so on, when their future is clearly unsure because the authority might well disappear in the next year or two.

Practical difficulties such as these will arise in this interim period. There will be a lack of confidence in this area knowing, as it must know, that the new set-up may well be altered in the next few years. I know that it is a long time since it was first mooted and, therefore, that there is great anxiety to get the Order into operation, but, since there has been this wholesale investigation by the Royal Commis- sion, there is a strong case for taking one sure step towards the final pattern which is to last for the foreseeable future rather than cause this widespread uncertainty which is bound to occur by taking this interim measure in the full knowledge that a later and major revision must follow.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. James Tinn (Cleveland)

I do not intend to detain the House long, but if I were not to speak on this Order I should be failing in my duty as, I believe, the only back bench Member whose constituency is considerably affected, although I recognise that there is an hon. Member opposite whose constituency is less seriously affected.

This is a decision taken as a result of a democratic procedure followed over a considerable period and after very full inquiry. While inevitably it aroused a conflict of opinion and a tremendous conflict of loyalty, it has been accepted and imaginatively and thoroughly implemented in the area directly concerned in Tees-side. I pay my tribute, which I know my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will share, to the officials and members of the local authorities concerned. While understandably there was a tremendous conflict of loyalty and interest among them, with many of them seeing the prospect of a lifetime of service in their own local communities being taken from them by the creation of this larger authority, they have accepted the decision loyally.

The difficulties in the way of an amalgamation such as this do not have to be outlined. We are all only too well acquainted with local government to be aware of the sort of difficulties which arise. It is remarkable, and it reflects the greatest credit on all concerned, that these difficulties have been overcome. The area concerned is now poised on the brink of local elections for the new authority. The impression which I have gained in my constituency and on Teesside is that everyone is taken aback at even the possibility of a check being made in this process which all have accepted and have furthered in the interests of the areas a whole.

There is a particularly urgent need on Tees-side. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, this is a growing dynamic area, in contrast to the rest of my native North Country. The increase in population in the Tees-side area is three times that of the national average, which is certainly a marked contrast with the rest of the North. This poses particular problems, making particularly and peculiarly urgent the need to strengthen the responsibilities of the local authorities in question and for the six authorities directly concerned to be reformed into a viable whole. I see no reason to suppose that this new authority, which we on Tees-side anxiously await and to which we look forward with hope and optimism, should in any way conflict with the Report of the Royal Commission.

Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)

My hon. Friend will appreciate that if the Order goes through, it is bound to have a bearing on the Royal Commission's Report. It is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is bound to have repercussions into the North and West Riding.

Mr. Tinn

The Minister specifically made the point that it will have repercussions, certainly on the North Riding. Any major—indeed, minor—step in local government reorganisation is bound to have repercussions on other local authorities, but on balance those repercussions on the existing authorities, certainly after the fullest inquiry, have to be accepted.

Without anticipating the findings of the Royal Commission, I would have thought that this step towards a new city area on the Tees, which will rank second only to Birmingham, is a step towards the regional development which many expect the Royal Commission to favour.

The people of Tees-side have cooperated vigorously and ably in making a reality of the proposals of the Local Government Commission and of the report of the Minister's inspector. It would be sad indeed if, after the local loyalties and, perhaps, prejudices have all been sunk by the people most directly concerned for the greater good of Tees-side as a whole, this House were to take a different view, as I am confident that it will not, and postpone or even negate the development which is generally welcomed in my constituency and, I believe, on Tees-side as a whole.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)

We might have had a much longer debate this evening if all right hon. and hon. Members who represent Teesside constituencies had been able to take part, but regrettably, for some reason or another, those on the Government side of the House all seem to sit on the Front Bench, with the exception of the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn).

I would like to say a few words on the Order because the hon. Member for Cleveland has suggested that all his constituents welcome the Order. I suggest to him that the many in his constituency who will be left in the North Riding—and there are a considerable number of them—will probably suffer quite considerably when the Order is put into operation.

Mr. Tinn

What I thought I said, and what I certainly intended to say, was that all my constituents on Tees-side, in the area delineated by the proposal, accept it. I agree that others who have been left out understandably may not share that view, but they, too, have come to accept it and, indeed, are discussing an amalgamation of the urban districts on the outskirts of the area.

Mr. Kitson

Yes, but I think that the constituents who are left out will probably suffer in some way by the very substantial reduction of the population and the rateable value of the North Riding.

I have been a member of the North Riding County Council, and part of my constituency will go into the Tees-side borough. I accept that there are probably few areas in the country which have a greater need for reorganisation at local government level than Tees-side. For that reason, I do not oppose the Order, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw) that this seems to be a very inopportune time for introducing it.

The North Riding County Council will lose 25 per cent. of its population. It will lose 40 per cent. of its rateable value. On the Tees-side side of the North Riding, there will be a loss of 75 schools, 900 full-time teachers and about 1,000 part-time teachers. One extraordinary situation which will be created is that at Cleveland Girls' Grammar School, there will be more children in attendance in September, 1967, from the North Riding than there will be from the Teesside borough. That is the sort of problem which will be created by the decision to introduce the Order before the Report of the Royal Commission is published. What worries me is that, on the south and south-west sides of the Tees-side borough, there is very little room for expansion of the borough.

I was interested in the remarks that the Minister made about the Tees-side Survey and Plan. I am sure that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we all wish to see that Survey and Plan brought to a successful conclusion. It will cost the local authorities something like £380,000, and the Minister is aware of the considerable concern that we have felt on Tees-side in the last few weeks about the dismissal of the Director of the Survey some 10 months before the completion of the Plan. We all recognise the job which he has done, and we feel that it is essential for the Tees-side area that, the Plan having been produced, it should be put into operation. We hope very much that the proposed reorganisation of management will have no detrimental effect eventually on the Plan.

The reason the Amendment has been tabled is that there is a very genuine feeling that the creation of the Tees-side borough before the Royal Commission reports is putting the cart before the horse. Our argument is that, rather than face a major upheaval and the consequent disruption of services twice in a period of something like five to 10 years, which is what could happen if the Order is accepted, it would have been better to wait until the Royal Commission reported.

At the same time, I recognise that, because of the local elections which are approaching and the great necessity for the reorganisation of local government in Tees-side probably the House will have to accept the Order.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

I propose to deal only briefly with this Order because I have a particular desire to be associated with it. My constituency is next door, just north of the river, and last week I had the pleasure of having the House accept the Hartlepools Order which brought a great deal of relief to my constituency.

Although we are a smaller borough, I can imagine the great amount of pleasure there will be on Tees-side where there is a greater complex of industry, of population, and of other economic and commercial undertakings which hitherto have had to depend largely on an overlapping of authorities, numbering about 12 in all. Here there is an opportunity for unity in this area, an opportunity for one authority to deal with the many problems which arise out of industrial growth and expansion.

I am satisfied—and this is the essence of brevity—that the House is in the mood to let us have the Order, but it is important, in saying the last few words on the long-drawn-out procedural requirements of the local boundary commission, to be able to say the right things.

We have here the need for a radical change in local government administration. The case for it has been made out. It is desirable, and it is accepted by the vast majority of the people. A single county borough certainly provides the best way of meeting the needs of this complex industrial area. A strong unified authority is best able to harness the energies and the resources of the area to deal with the tasks which lie ahead.

During the months ahead there will be a pertinent examination of the work and recommendations of the Tees-side Survey and Study, and it is important that the House should recognise that it is essential to implement this Order so that the new single authority, representing as it will most of the previous 12 authorities, will be able, with the expertise that it will have at hand, with the staff which it will have, and with the administrative integration which it will possess, to implement the recommendations of the Tees-side Study and Survey.

Having had the pleasure in my constituency of seeing the advantages which flow from an Order of this kind, and knowing full well that the 398,000 people in this area south of the river to be known in future as the new County Borough of Tees-side are in favour of it, I am satisfied that my experience will be the experience in this highly important part of the country, and I wish it well.

In an exercise such as this, someone is bound to appear to lose, but I suggest to the House that any local government reorganisation must carry with it the principle that the primary consideration must be the interests of conurbations such as this, and their interests have been made out. It may be regrettable that Durham appears to lose, and that the North Riding appears to lose, but the considered calculation is that they will not lose in the manner in which they fear they will.

Unless we are bold enough to carry out this local government reorganisation in the manner recommended by the Local Boundary Commission, the country will suffer, and this Order provides the right answer for Tees-side, just as the Order approved by the House last week provides the right answer for the Hartlepools.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

For a Tyneside Member to intervene in a debate about Tees-side may be a case of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread, but this fool will be on his feet for less than two minutes. We must congratulate the Minister on bringing the Order before the House. As a Member for Tyneside, where local authorities are still divided on their future, I look with envy at the fact that the Tees-side authorities have pulled together to decide this problem.

The essence of the Amendment is simply that nothing should be done about the problem of the conurbation and the administration of Tees-side, or anything else, until the Royal Commission has not only received all its evidence but has reached its conclusions—in other words, that there should be no alteration of local government structure at all for another two, three or more years. But when the Minister appointed the Royal Commission on Local Government this was never his intention. There were some areas of the country where a decision had not yet been reached as to their future. It was clearly the Minister's intention that these areas should not be radically altered until the Royal Commission had made its recommendations.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. The hon. Member is getting wide of the Order. He must relate it to Tees-side, and to no other area.

Mr. Rhodes

There were other areas of the country—and Tees-side is one—where the Minister had already announced his decisions and proposals, and it is precisely in those areas that it was intended that the Minister should proceed with the Order and bring it before the House, even before the Royal Commission had met and received its evidence. There was only one area which was in no-man's-land—Tyneside. It is precisely in Tyneside that we have been unable to reach the kind of conclusions that our friends on Teesside have been able to do. That is all I wish to say about Tyneside, except to express some regret at the fact that tonight there is no order in respect of Tyneside, too.

I congratulate our friends from Teesside in pulling together for their mutual benefit. Those who wish to amend the Order are saying that it is very bad because in solving the problems of the conurbation of local government the counties will suffer. They are bound to suffer—and they will be bound to suffer after the Royal Commission has made its recommendations, because there is no solution to the integration of transport and civic planning, and police and education administration, in these growing conurbations with between 500,000 and 1 million populations, except through a unified system of local government, and this automatically brings into the new county boroughs parts of adjoining counties. This will be so whether we have the Order tonight or wait until the Royal Commission has reached the same kind of conclusions about conurbations.

The only outcome of the deliberations of the Royal Commission is that perhaps the conurbation would be a larger area than is provided for under the Order. It would not be a benefit to county authorities; it would be even more to their detriment. There will be uncertainty on Tees-side whatever happens tonight, but the uncertainty will be less if a decision is taken tonight. I wish that Tyneside were doing the same thing as is Tees-side.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I do not agree with the assertion of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) that the Tyneside authorities are not agreed——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member will remember that I ruled the other hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne out of order for discussing Tyneside. The Order relates to Tees-side, and Tees-side alone.

Mr. Brown

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I also want to say how lucky the people of Tees-side are to have this Order. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, I envy Tees-side for the fact that this Order is going through this evening. Tees-side will forge ahead as one big conurbation, but I fear that unless my right hon. Friend makes a decision which the majority of authorities on Tyneside, with the exception of——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member cannot relate his remarks to Tyneside; he must stick to Tees-side.

Mr. Brown

I have made the point which I wished to make. I congratulate the people of Tees-side on having this great benefit bestowed on them by the Government.

10.51 p.m.

Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)

My hon. Friends who have spoken come from north of the Tees. As a Yorkshireman, I am opposed to the Order, which is bound to affect the Royal Commission's negotiations. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul. It may mean some demands being made on the West Riding, and, as one who represents a West Riding constituency, I would favour Yorkshire being a province. I do not believe some of the patronising talk about those living on the Tees being in favour of the Order. The decisions have been made in advance of the Royal Commission Report.

I disagree with my hon. Friends on another point. This spread and sprawl from our boroughs and county boroughs has been going on for generations, and agreeing to the Order will encourage the trend. I hope that an Order will go through, but I am opposed to this one, just as I was opposed to the Sheffield Order taking in a mining village nine miles away. It would have been better to deal with the county as a whole instead of hotch-potches here and there.

Those who have been paying tribute to the Order live in Durham and Northumberland. My sympathy goes out to the North Riding. I want to preserve all three Ridings. The only thing which I would concede would be a province of Yorkshire——

Mr. Kitson

I am also a Yorkshireman. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that we would be better off with home rule for Yorkshire at the moment?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Order is concerned with Tees-side, not with Yorkshire as a whole.

Mr. Roberts

I am not ashamed to speak up on this, and I am not patronising. Some of these decisions were made by the Leader of the House, when he was Minister of Housing, and were inherited by the present Minister. It is only right that we should express our views. Many hon. Members on this side disagree silently with what my right hon. Friend is doing in pushing the Order through. I hope that it will be the last pushed through before the Royal Commission reports.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Albert Roberts) introduced some welcome liveliness into the debate, but we are, in discussing this Order, dealing with perhaps one of the most exciting areas of development in the country, if not in Europe, over the past few years.

The towns of Tees-side between the North Yorkshire moorlands and the hills of South Durham, with the level land bordering the tidal waters, have had a phenomenal growth and modernisation of industries in the past century, based on the natural resources of the area. The development of the Tees-side towns over this period undoubtedly calls for a reconstitution of local government in the area. The industrial development of coal, shipbuilding, ironstone, the constructional steel works and the great single concentration of the chemical industry at Billingham make it a unique area for local government consideration in relation to the recommended population of about 400,000 people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson)—whose remarks were confirmed by the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn)—said that this was an occasion for reform in local government but that when a Measure dealing with an area of this importance, with a population of 400,000, comes before the House, hon. Members should be told more about Government policy for local government reform and the way in which the Order fits into that policy.

The Government have stopped the work of the Local Government Commission and have appointed a Royal Commission. Yet in the past few weeks we have had Orders coming before the House creating county boroughs with populations ranging from fewer than 100 to 400,000. How many more of these piecemeal orders are we to have and what policy is emerging from them?

We are tonight considering a population of 398,000, to be formed into a county borough. The Department of Education and Science has said that the figure of population for urban areas should be about 500,000. The Ministry of Health has said that, for certain purposes, it should be less than 250,000. The Home Office has said that 250,000 would be appropriate from the point of view of the children's services, while figures of from 500,000 to 1 million have been suggested from the police point of view. Thus there is a controversy between Government Departments about the right unit of local government for the central Government services administered by local government.

In presenting the Order the Minister's statement was desperately disappointing, but of vital importance. He said that it would be a long time before any new local government structure could take effect. We had hoped, from the statements of the former Minister of Housing and Local Government—who I am pleased to see in his place, and who is now Leader of the House—that there was a dynamic policy for reforming local government. A Royal Commission was to be set up; it was to report quickly and the new structure was to be brought into operation quickly. Do the Government consider that these piecemeal Orders represent dynamic policy? Do they think that these Measures—one or two orders a week presented to Parliament during farcical morning sittings at which hon. Gentlemen opposite do not bother to turn up to support their Ministers—represent dynamic local government policy?

Mr. Bob Brown

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Orders which are being presented to Parliament are being introduced as a result of many years' work by the Local Government Boundary Commission and that it would be wrong for the Government to ignore that work? Is he aware that people who advocate that because we have a Royal Commission we should do nothing, are really saying that we should stand still in local government matters, remembering that to stand still in these matters is the same as going backwards?

Mr. Page

I agree with the hon. Member. A great deal of work has been done by the Commission, and by the county reviews before that, in order to decide what form local government should take. I am surprised that those who support the Government have taken so little interest when these Orders have been brought forward. We have had them at morning sittings and at this late hour of the night. Is this the policy of the Government in having an overall review of local government structure? This policy is wholly undefined and it is time that we knew where all these Orders fitted into future policy relating to local authorities and the reform and reconstitution of the structure of local government.

We have before us tonight a very important Order. It is one which causes controversy in the county authorities and the county district authorities now to be formed into a county borough. It is proper to bring it forward and for the House to accept it. In saying that, I wish that the Minister had told the House more of the Government's policy and had stated whether this Order represents that policy and whether the other Orders which we have discussed lately, like the Torbay Order, represent that policy. We are left in complete doubt as to what is meant by this great drive by the Socialist Government to reform local government.

11.3 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)

I appreciate that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), whatever he may say about this Order, is in a rather delicate and embarrassing position. He thinks that it is a very good Order but he cannot say that too loudly without offending some of his very revered friends. I understand that, and I would not bully him about it.

I am surprised that he took this line about the Government's policy on local government reform. This is something which we have deployed fairly frequently in the course of the debates. My right hon. Friend dealt with it on the Second Reading of the Local Government (Termination of Reviews) Bill which passed through the House a few minutes ago. It was raised when we discussed the Shropshire review and it was debated on the Salop Order and the Torbay Order. On all these occasions we explained the attitude which we were adopting. We do not want to waste the work of the Local Government Commission. In any cases where the Local Government Commission has completed its job and handed its report to my right hon. Friend, the report is looked at by the Minister who makes his decision on whether it should be carried out, on the merits of the case. It is as a result of that, that we have had the Torbay Order, the Tyneside Order which has been alluded to, and this Order.

My right hon. Friend said in answer to a question that he would refer the Tyneside Order to the Royal Commission to get the Commission's views, on whether it was consistent with its ideas on local government reorganisation. He has carried out a consistent and coherent policy to get as much practical value out of the work of the Local Government Commission as he could. The point of doing that, and not merely scrapping the work while we wait for the Royal Commission, has been shown in this debate. Practically nobody has been able to make out an argument against the proposals.

In a desperate attempt to find some ground of opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Albert Roberts) expressed surprise that nobody south of the Tees had supported the Order. However, in all fairness, the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) explained the reason. My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) was here fervently desiring the Order to go through, but was muzzled. So brilliant is the renaissance of Tees-side, of which this Order is an expression, that practically all the hon. Members from the area are members of the Government and in very high office. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn), whose constituency is south of the Tees—I have checked with the map to make sure—has only a short pause until he joins the rest Tees-side ranks second only to Lancashire as a centre of political power.

The most valuable thing about the Order is that it is an early experiment in regarding a river not as a frontier, but as a source of common interest, and this is true of Tyneside and Merseyside. The hon. Member for Crosby and I have similar interests on Merseyside in that sense. It is of value to the work of the Royal Commission and not a handicap to it that this experiment should begin of seeing how, building on an area of substantial agreement, this can be made to work. As my hon. Friend the Member of Cleveland fairly said, in getting to this agreement on the Order there has been a democratic resolution of a great conflict of opinions and loyalties, and there is now a determination to get on with it.

The only substantial objection to the Order is that it is made at the cost of the North Riding to which it will be a severe blow financially. It will not severely cripple Durham which, in the league table of counties, will remain substantially above the middle, worse off, but not absolutely crippled. I am certain that we can be confident that it will continue to do a useful job.

I remind the House that Article 64 of the Order provides for transitional assistance from Tees-side if the increase in the rate burden on the North Riding gets beyond a 6d. rate. I do not say that that provision was welcomed by Tees-side with an outburst of filial loyalty to the North Riding, but it has been accepted as a responsibility which Teesside will shoulder.

For those reasons, the fact that the Order has had general approval, that it is consistent with the new approaches to local government and that it will not cause substantial harm to the counties from which the area is taken, I ask the House to accept the Order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Teesside Order, 1967, dated 18th January, 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th January, be approved.