HC Deb 14 February 1968 vol 758 cc1479-505

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Trevor Park (Derbyshire, South-East)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Derby Order 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 44), dated 12th January 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be annulled. The purpose of the Order is to transfer 11,000 acres of the rural districts of Be1per, Repton and South-East Derbyshire from the administrative County of Derbyshire to the County Borough of Derby. The population of the area affected is about 90,000, and the rateable value involved is over £3 million.

For Derbyshire, it means the loss of over twice the acreage, nearly three times the population, and almost four times the rateable value that it lost last year as a result of the Sheffield Order, which was resisted strenuously in this House.

This is no minor boundary adjustment, but a sweeping change of a most fundamental character carrying with it very serious implications for the future of local government and the prospects of local people in county and county borough alike. Yet this change is being forced on the people of the area concerned against their most clearly expressed wishes.

This has been admitted by Sir George Curtis, who presided over the public local inquiry, and, indeed, it has been admirably documented by him in his Report to the Minister. It has been accepted by no less a person than the Town Clerk of the County Borough of Derby on behalf of his authority and, so far as I am aware, no one—certainly not my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary—has ever sought to deny it.

The results of the postal plebiscite in the rural districts affected were overwhelmingly opposed to transfer to the county borough. I take a few of them at random. Within the rural district of South-East Derbyshire, in the Alvaston and Boulton parish, on an 86 per cent, poll, 88 per cent. voted against the proposals for transfer to the county borough. In the parish of Chaddesden, on a 77 per cent. poll, 83 per cent. voted against transfer to the county borough. In the parish of Spondon, on an 80 per cent. Poll, 88 per cent. Voted against these proposals.

Not only does this opinion exist in South-East Derbyshire; it also exists within the rural districts of Belper and Repton, which may be of interest to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. In the parish of Allestree, in the Belper rural district, on an 85 per cent. poll, 96 per cent. of the people voted against transfer to the county borough. In the parish of Mackworth, on a 67 per cent. poll, 74 per cent. voted against these proposals.

The evidence of the wishes of the inhabitants is completely overwhelming. At the public meetings over which Sir George Curtis presided, during the course of his inquiry, 93 speakers were against transfer to the borough and only two could be found who were willing to support it. At the inquiry itself the overwhelming weight of evidence, both oral and written, came from the opponents of the change and not one member, nor one officer even, of the County Borough of Derby gave evidence in its support. Here, if ever there was one, is an example of totally irresponsible and completely irrational bureaucracy in operation. I shall wait with interest to hear the way in which my hon. Friend seeks to justify it.

I now pass to another aspect on this question—that of administrative and financial efficiency. If people's wishes are to be brushed aside, is it possible to justify this Order in terms either of saving money or of improving the standard of their local government services?

Let us take, first, the financial point. The rates levied by the County Borough of Derby are in every case higher—in some cases considerably higher—than the rates levied in the areas affected by this Order. Ratepayers in these areas will, as a consequence of the Order, have to bear an increase of 6d. in the £ next year, and even greater increases in years to come. Ratepayers who remain in the diminished South-East Derbyshire rural district will have to pay an extra 1s. in the £, again as a direct consequence of this Order, and ratepayers in other parts of the county will have to pay an indeterminate amount more.

All these rate increases, all this added expenditure, are taking place at a time when, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, it is essential, because of the national economic situation, that increases in rates be held to the minimum. Does my right hon. Friend really expect the people of Derbyshire to take kindly to the Government's appeals for incomes restraint when, by a stroke of the pen, he subjects them to rises in their living costs in this way?

If the Order cannot be justified in terms of finance—and I have shown that it cannot be—there is even less justification for it in terms of administrative efficiency. Many local government services, such as education, are now pro-vided by the county on a regional basis. In the areas affected by this Order they will have to be replaced by services provided by the County Borough of Derby, which is a much smaller unit, and in the view of many of us, a considerably less efficient one.

It is well known that Derby Corporation's office accommodation is inadequate for the responsibilities which the county borough will have to assume. Whole departments are having to be dispersed throughout the town, and the county borough has found it necessary to seek the assistance of the county council in carrying out certain administrative services until such time as the borough feels it is well enough equipped to take them over. This is not, I submit, a very happy augury for what is likely to happen in terms of administrative efficiency if the Order is implemented. At a time when all the experts are agreed that the trend of the future will be more and more in the direction of regional administration, and larger types of local government structures, it makes no sense at all to take this step backwards into the past.

I come, now, to my final argument, the one which is most important of all. This Order is the product of a process of local government reform which the Government themselves have admitted to be gravely deficient, and which they abandoned more than two years ago. The Commission which proposed the changes contained in the Order no longer exists. It was abandoned because the Government realised that its terms of reference were too narrow for it to make a success of the job.

Its place has been taken by the Royal Commission on Local Government, which has a much wider task, and which is expected to report in the autumn of this year. We do not yet know what the report will contain, but it is abundantly clear that if the Commission is to discharge its work effectively it cannot consider itself bound by the recommendations of its predecessor, otherwise there would have been no point in setting it up. The prospect, therefore, is that if the Order is approved tonight the areas concerned may well have to face not one upheaval but two, and no sooner will they have settled down after the first change than they will be faced with all the problems and difficulties arising out of a second one.

It is conceivable that a situation could arise in which the changes proposed in the Order could be totally reversed by the Royal Commission, and the principle of regional administration, which is now being abandoned, could be reintroduced. On 24th May, 1966, the Prime Minister told the House that, on the big issues of principle, it would be better to await the report of the Royal Commission rather than proceed on the existing recommendations on local government boundaries. I suggest to my hon. Friend that transferring 90,000 people from three-tier county administration to all-purpose county borough control at a time when the futures of counties and county boroughs alike are in the melting pot raises what my right hon. Friend called big issues of principle, and that, on these grounds, the Order should be withdrawn.

Only two days ago, the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply to this debate, replied to an Adjournment debate on Worcestershire County Council expenses. He defended the decision of his right hon. Friend the Minister not to give effect to the recommendations of county reviews and quoted his right hon. Friend's remarks on 3rd May last year, when he said: I shall be announcing final decisions shortly on the county reviews now before me and here too my approach will be to give effect only to those individual proposals which are generally agreed and urgently needed in advance of any wider reorganisation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1967; Vol. 746, c. 89.] The Parliamentary Secretary elaborated on this theme, saying: The situation changed with the knowledge that the Royal Commission was proceeding more rapidly than we had hoped, and we had the undertaking that the report was likely in the autumn of this year. When my right hon. Friend the now Leader of the House made his statement it all he could say was that it was expected that the Royal Commission would take about two years. The fact that it is making such excellent progress has created a new situation and it was in the light of that that the Minister decided on the policy announcement to which reference has been made and parts of which I have read out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1968; Vol. 758, c. 1110.] Why does my hon. Friend speak with one voice to Worcestershire, and a totally different one to the County of Derbyshire?

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

He may change his mind tonight.

Mr. Park

I hope that he does.

Why does he seek to impose a standstill on Monday night and then come to the House and perform a somersault by advocating sweeping changes on Wednesday night? This is not statesmanship, but absolute farce. If the changes in Worcestershire are to be held up because they are not generally agreed or urgently needed, why should not the Derbyshire changes be similarly suspended until the Royal Commission has reported, since they, too, are neither generally agreed nor urgently needed in any way?

In resisting these proposals, we are not resisting change, but seeking to expedite it on a more radical basis. We are not trying to perpetuate a local government structure which may have become out-dated in counties and county boroughs alike, but to prevent impediments to the establishment of a new structure being created. This Order, by prejudicing the speedy implementation of the Commission's report, would constitute such an impediment.

I appeal to my hon. Friend, even at this late stage, to withdraw his proposal. If he is not prepared to do so, we shall not hesitate to divide the House on this matter. Why the Government think it appropriate to put on the Whips on issues of this kind, I do not know—

Sir Harmar Nicholls


Mr. Park

These are not primarily party questions at all. To insist on a whipped vote in these circumstances seems precisely the kind of conduct which brings both the House and the party system generally into disrepute. I call on hon. Members on both sides to ignore their Whips tonight and, in the interests of democracy, efficient administration and plain common sense, to give their support to the Motion.

Mr. Speaker

I want to call as many hon. Members as possible who represent Derbyshire, and I shall be able to do so if hon. Members are reasonably brief.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

I intervene in the debate with a great deal of diffidence, as I am a very newly-elected Member for the County of Derby, and I do not pretend to understand all the intricacies of what has gone on in that county in days gone by.

I take up what the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park) said concerning the putting on of the Whips on his side. I can assure the House that, so far as I know, there is no question of any whipping on this side of the House, and I hope that as many of my hon. Friends as are persuaded by the arguments against the Order will join me in the Lobby, for I intend to vote with the hon. Member opposite against the Order.

I oppose the Order on two grounds, first, because I believe that my constituents will be affected adversely by the operation of the Order should it come into being. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I know from past experience, is a very flexible man, will listen to the arguments we put forward tonight and realise the hardships which could be caused by the Order. My constituency is not directly affected, in that, as the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary knows, there is no part of it going into the county borough. We are affected, however, because the County of Derby will lose about £3 million, give or take £100,000 either way, in rateable value, and this will have to be made up in the precepts of the boroughs and all the councils throughout the county in the coming years.

It has been calculated that an increase of about 2d. or 2½,d. in the £ is likely to have to be paid in increased rates by my constituents in the coming year, to make up for a certain proportion of the rateable value of the county to be lost to them by going to Derby. This is the basic reason why I believe that it is not in the interests of my constituents to allow this Order to go through.

My second reason is the obvious one that, as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East said, the Royal Commission will be reporting in the near future. We do not know when that will be. It may be in the summer. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us when, within a month or two, he expects the report from the Royal Commission. I understand that it may report in the summer or early autumn. I hope that this will be so, and that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us a definitive answer when this will be.

I do not know, either, what its conclusions will be, but I cannot help feeling that it is bound to edge towards the recommendation for larger local authorities, maybe on a regional basis. I would think that the existing pattern of local government, particularly in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire, will be completely and radically changed. If this is so it really does seem absolutely idiotic now, in 1968, to start reorganising and changing the services and the whole set-up as between the County Borough of Derby and the County of Derbyshire—when in three or two years, or even sooner, the pattern will be completely reorganised anyway.

This cannot but lead to an enormous waste of money. All kinds of services will be affected; the list of them is almost endless. The whole lot will be affected by this transfer from the county to the county borough. I have learned that there will be difficulties over accommodation; there will be difficulties over the transfer of powers; and difficulties for the County Borough of Derby in administering, with its old powers, its new areas, and this will cause dislocation which would be to the disadvantage of the citizens being transferred from the one to the other. It is bound to reflect to a certain extent on my constituency by reason of re-organisation.

Those are the two main reasons for my opposition to the Order, but I would also point out that this is an enormous Order. There are 53 pages of it, and anything between eight and a dozen maps have been placed in the Library. I should have liked to have been able to go through the document. Various parts and paragraphs of it are not clear to me nor, I believe, to those who will have to operate the Order.

For instance, we read in Article 3(6): Where the day or the last day on which anything is required or permitted by, or in pursuance of, this order to be done is a Sunday, Christmas Day, bank holiday…. I am not sure that this is necessary.

Again, we read in Article 5(6): The boundaries established by this order shall be mered by Ordnance Survey. What is the meaning of that phrase?

There are many other points to which I should have liked to have referred if we had had the time, but we have only 55 minutes left to us, and if all hon. Members who have an interest are to speak in that time we cannot deal properly with the subject. It is wrong of the Government to bring an Order like this to the House at this hour. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) on the Treasury Bench, because his constituency is affected. I am sure there are matters of detail, if not of principle, which he would like to take up with his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. Although time is short, I hope that we shall hear from him—

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)

I say at once that although my constituency is affected, whereas that of the hon. Member is not, I have no doubt at all that this is the right Order, and that it should be made.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

As I sought to explain—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was doing me the courtesy of listening—my constituents are affected, not directly, as his are, but affected adversely. They will not get any benefit from the Order.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will listen to our arguments and, if he can, will withdraw the Order to allow for re-consideration. I hope that he will say that he has further considered the matter, and will await the Report of the Royal Commission before starting to play around with the boundaries within the County of Derby.

10.39 p.m.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)

I speak as Member for a Derbyshire constituency and as a constituent of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins). On this occasion, at least, I am happy to endorse what he has said. He is right in saying that the Order will affect the interests of his constituents.

I have read quite a lot of the material relating to the Order and, as I understand it, the argument in its favour is not that the county council is ineffective as a local administrative unit, or that the services it provides for its ratepayers are inefficient. The same can be said of the rural district councils within the county. There is, therefore, no argument about the adequacy of the county as an administrative unit.

The chief inspector says that the county is "in the forefront of educational progress in the country, if not in the world." This is by no means an overstatement. I come relatively new to Derbyshire, but I am an educationist by profession. I have been agreeably surprised at the quality of the educational provisions even in a relatively sparsely populated county area. The county has pioneered two very valuable services, the museum service for schools and residential courses both for children and teachers. There must be thousands of children who are now in a position to enjoy these services who, when they are transferred to the county borough, will cease to enjoy them.

Derbyshire is unique in that it splits into three divisions. We are speaking tonight about the southern division, which will he seriously affected. About half the children who are covered by that division's administration will be transferred to the county borough administration. I draw attention to the evidence given by Mr. Longland, the county education on officer. He said that it was almost impossible to say how the situation arising from the transfer would be handled. It would be difficult and geographically inconvenient to absorb the administration of the schools in the defunct South Derbyshire division into an adjoining divisional area. If this proposal were adopted, it would mean that the administration of an important part of Derbyshire would be less accessible and more remote.

My right hon. Friend should be reminded of the effects the proposals will have not only on the county authority but on certain rural district councils. These are not matters we can dismiss lightly. South-East Derbyshire will lose about 80 per cent. of its area, 64 per cent. of the population and 59 per cent. of rate-able value through these proposals. South-East Derbyshire has been an effective local authority and had undertaken its planning functions. There was no criticism at the public inquiry of the services the rural district council has provided. Now it is to be completely broken up and to lose 59 per cent. of its rate-able value. That is a disastrous change for any local authority to contemplate.

Not only will South-East Derbyshire he affected. Belper rural district will also be affected and the consequences for it will be dire. It will lose about 35 per cent. of its population and about 41 per cent. in rate-able value. I feel very much for the officers of that authority who will be placed in a very difficult position. In his letter to the local authorities, the Minister recognised that to some extent there would he adverse consequences. He said that he appreciated the effects which the change will have on the county councils and district councils concerned, particularly South-East Derbyshire Rural District Council. But he does not go on —and this is significant—to talk of the adverse consequences of the proposals on the county borough itself.

My hon. Friend has already touched upon some of these effects. The Town Clerk has stated publicly that the county borough has inadequate office accommodation. Certain departments, such as the health and auditing departments, are having to be taken out of the town hall and put into rented accommodation. I am also told—and this, too, is on public record, that the borough council is embarrassed by having to maintain and undertake services which previously were undertaken by the county and has requested the county to continue providing these services until a convenient time.

So it is not merely the county and rural district councils which are adversely affected. The county borough is, too.

My hon. Friend has referred to the consequences of the Royal Commission on Local Government, which is now sitting. I am at a loss to understand the thinking of the Minister in this context. I understand that, in six months' time, the Royal Commission will be reporting and, from what I hear, the pattern of administration it will recommend will be a regional pattern. It will not be similar to the pattern envisaged under this Order.

Thus, in two years' time, the extended Borough of Derby will be rescrambled. This is madness. I quote in support the words of the borough council itself: The review of local government … must he carried out on a long term basis as the whole object was to establish a pattern that would last a lifetime. This Order, if implemented, will not last a lifetime, but a mere two years, and the area will then have to be rescrambled. The weight of evidence is overwhelming and I invite my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider the Order.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

It may be wondered why I should seek to intervene in a debate primarily concerning hon. Members from Derbyshire, but I had the honour to live in that part of the country for a number of years in Chellaston and Shelton Lock and I was also at one time chairman of the Melbourne and District Darts League, whose area extended into the Bridge Inn at Shelton Lock. When I married, I lived in Littleover and was evicted from a furnished house there—an experience which I do not wish to repeat.

I have fond memories of that part of the country, nevertheless, and have been considerably interested in the results of this Order, which I have been giving some study. I agree with what hon. Members have said about the cost of these proposals. It is obvious that, when one is making a transfer of this magnitude, it must be a very expensive operation. No doubt it will be nugatory expenditure because, in a short time, the Royal Commission will have reported and fundamental changes in the struc- ture of local government will be put in hand.

There is one Article in the Order to show what I mean about the expenditure involved—and I agree with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) that we should have had more time to study the Order and to find out, if we could, what the effect of various Articles in it might be. Article 53, concerned with property liabilities, contracts, etc., gives an enormous list of obligations which are to be transferred from one authority to another and of property which is similarly to be transferred. One can imagine the enormous amount of work this will create for the local government officers concerned, which is of no benefit to the ratepayers or the inhabitants of the areas affected.

This reminds me of when we were discussing the re-organisation of local government in London, when it was falsely claimed by the then Government that the result would be great benefit and economies of administration, but we all know that that was not the case and that the result was higher rates and poorer services.

As I read this formidable Order I am convinced that the expense and the work involved will be detrimental to the services given by the local authorities to the inhabitants of the county borough and the county. The wishes of the inhabitants should not be lightly ignored. The Foreign Secretary, who graced us with his presence for a few moments at the beginning of the debate, said that his constituents were in favour of the Order.

Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)

I am one of them.

Mr. Lubbock

Judging from the letters which I have received from Derbyshire County Council, the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants in every part of the county have objected to it, and I am surprised to hear the Foreign Secretary tell the House that his constituency is an exception to the rule.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

In view of the Foreign Secretary's intervention, ought we not to urge the Parliamentary Secretary to intervene in the middle of the debate, rather than at the end, to see what answer he can give to explain that inconsistency?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us proceed with the debate.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order. This is a matter which affects the whole House. More than just Derbyshire is involved. There is a principle. Surely that was a proper question to put to an hon. Member addressing the House.

Mr. Speaker

I am aware of the importance of the Order to the whole House.

Mr. Lubbock

There was some inconsistency and it would be helpful to the House if the Parliamentary Secretary could clear it up before we reach the end of the debate so that hon. Members can comment on what he says.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

I can give the hon. Gentleman the information which he so earnestly wishes to have. I have the figures before me. In the Belper rural district the results were: Allestree, 85 per cent. poll, 96 per cent. against this proposal; Darley Abbey, 83 per cent. poll, 94 per cent. against; Duffield, 83 per cent. poll, 93 per cent. against, Mack-worth, 67 per cent. poll, 74 per cent. against; Quarndon, 49 per cent. poll, 99 per cent. against.

Mr. Lubbock

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those figures. It is shocking that the Foreign Secretary should purport to give the view of his constituents when he is so clearly contradicted by that information. The right hon. Gentleman should return to the Chamber and withdraw the false information which he has given to the House.

Another issue which I wish to raise concerns the delay following the Minister's decision letter. This letter was written last July, when the Minister said that it would be in the interests of more effective and convenient local government for the re-organisation to take place. That was the last time the Minister expressed a view on it, but it was not until this February that the Order was brought before the House. Therefore, this cannot be an urgent matter, or the Order would have been considered before the Summer Recess, or, at any rate, as soon as the House returned. The very fact that it is brought before the House only now indicates that it could not have been a matter of urgency. The Minister's de cision letter contains no statement to suggest that it is.

It is a year since we debated a similar Order on the boundaries of Sheffield. At that time, hon. Members were asking the Government not to take hasty action because the Royal Commission was getting on very well with its work and would recommend far-reaching changes in the structure of local government changes which might be prejudiced in that area by too early a change. With the lapse of time, that argument has become stronger and it cannot now be said, as the Parliamentary Secretary then said, that after the Royal Commission report there will be a period of consultation and that it may be two years before legislation is introduced. If that was true then, the period has been reduced by a year. Is it in the interests of the people of Derbyshire and of the people of the City of Derby that there should be two upheavals within such a short time?

I cannot believe that any sensible person would agree with this proposition, particularly at times of such economic stringency. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a contribution towards backing Britain, which is now the theme accepted by the Government, and the Prime Minister himself, then he will withdraw the Order.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)

I intend to be mercifully brief. I want to appeal to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary under the terms of an Act which is far more fundamental than that which empowers him to act in this way in relation to this Order. I am, of course, referring to the "Old pal's act ". In other areas of political controversy we are associates and not antagonists. I appeal to him tonight, not in the light of any brief observations that I want to make, but in the light of the general argument, to change his mind about this Order. After all, to change one's mind in politics is the surest indication that one has a mind at all.

During the past three years there have been precedents for governmental changes of mind. Since our Government, which from time to time enjoys my support, have changed their mind on everything else, why should they jib at a change of mind on this minor matter? I have no personal interest at all here. I belong to an area quaintly referred to in a document sent out by the South-East Derbyshire Rural District Council as the Ere-wash Valley Settlements. It makes us sound as though we were the last outpost of the Roman Empire. I am concerned with the general principle of the thing.

I want to put two questions which have arisen as a result of my going through the documentation. First, why the urgency of this change? Is the Derby County Borough tottering into bankruptcy? Does it face administrative chaos? Is it absolutely necessary tonight to come to its assistance by extending its boundaries in this way? I see no reason whatever for the urgency with which this Order has been presented. Secondly, if we appoint a Royal Commission, why is it necessary to act before it has even deliberated? As a matter of general principle, I do not like Royal Commissions. I would prefer a Select Committee of the House to examine such matters. Although I am not entirely in favour of Royal Commissions, if we do appoint one to do a job, we should wait for its deliberations.

This is the central argument, and it raises the question why should the Government act in advance of any recommendations which might come from the Royal Commission? My final point is this. There is a lot of feeling in Derbyshire about this Order. It is foolish to ignore local feeling on any question. I happen to believe that patriotism is a thing that is built up out of local feelings. We work and we strive not for an abstraction called Britain, but for our local street, our local town or village. We are flying in the face of something which, however intangible, is one of the most powerful forces in this nation if we fly in the face of the declared wishes of the people affected by this Order.

I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend: are the Government so afflicted with this terrible disease of masochism that they want to add to the unpopularity which we will certainly get after the Budget, by stirring up hostility in the, at present, Labour-controlled area of South-East Derbyshire? This I find totally ridiculous and I appeal to my hon. Friend to change his mind, on the grounds that this is precipitate, flies in the face of local feeling, and defies every principle of a Royal Commission. It is absolutely nonsensical. When I am asked to support this Order, then the only thing that I can say both to the House and to the Government is "I am damned if I will ".

11.0 p.m.

Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)

I, too, will be commendably brief. I am speaking not only as the Member for Burton which is no great distance away from Derby, but as a ratepayer in the rural district of Repton which is in the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary. He is my Member of Parliament and, as a ratepayer there, I have a vested interest in the solution of this problem.

I am very keen that this Order should be defeated because I think its adoption would affect efficiency in the Repton Rural District Council which, for years, has been a highly efficient authority. It will have its opportunities for showing future efficiency dreadfully impaired by the cession of a large, and in terms of rate-able value, highly valuable area to the County Borough of Derby. That is my first point. Secondly, I have been engaged all my life in fighting for the small man; that is natural. I hate being dominated by the big fellow next to me and, therefore, I have learned to be belligerent about these matters. I was engaged some years ago in this House in fighting off the ambitions of the Stafford-shire County Council against the Borough of Burton. That is my second point.

I object to the big authority seizing the neighbouring small authority and impairing its efficiency, and I cannot understand why there is this apparent urgency for this Order when the whole of our local government system is being so thoroughly examined by a Royal Commission, which. I understand, will report by the end of this year. I am most anxious that the Parliamentary Secretary should tell us in straightforward terms why it is necessary to have this Order. We do not know what the Royal Commission will report. One can envisage that there will be a move towards larger units and that there will be a recommendation for the elimination of some councils except perhaps for sentimental, geographical reasons, with the substitution of central regional authorities divided into smaller authorities of, say, 120,000 population. That would depend upon geographical considerations.

Yet, whatever happens, the whole of the work which this Order will put into operation will automatically he destroyed. This Order is sheer lunacy, and to borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister—and that is all I want to borrow from him, and I shall not include the adjective which he used—" This policy is sheer lunacy ". My fellow ratepayers with whom I live are against this Order.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)

I understand that one of the local authorities has advertised in the Press asking hon. Members to support its case tonight, and I am reminded that, when the House debated the Sheffield Order last year a great defence was put up by hon. Members from Sheffield. I want tonight to put the Derbyshire case.

This is a repetition of the Order last year and, as Orders go, it is unique. I am pleased to see that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is present, because it was made by him when he was Minister of Housing. It was rubber-stamped by the present Minister, who, significantly, is not present to listen to the arguments against it. It has to be defended by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who has my deepest sympathy in all matters, and particularly in attempting to defend an Order as ludicrous and ridiculous as the Derby Order.

Mr. Speaker, you said at the beginning of the debate that you would do your best to call as many Derbyshire men as possible. I do not know whether that description could be applied to the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), and I can hardly say that I am the first native of Derby to be called, because I am not, but my father rode a bicycle. However, I am affected by the Order because, although I live at the other end of the county in north Derbyshire, my rates will go up as a consequence of it. The smaller the rate-able value of the county after the Order has been approved, the greater will be the rate burden on every individual ratepayer for the county council to maintain the excellent services provided by it.

Reference has been made to three rural districts which are affected. As a long-serving member on the Derbyshire County Council before becoming a Member of Parliament, I know that the rural councils of Derbyshire are proud of their administrations. Derbyshire as a whole is very proud of its democratic three-tier system of government, mainly because the people of Derbyshire have had excellent service from their parish, rural and county authorities.

As my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) said, Derbyshire is the acme of perfection in providing educational services. I would remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that, up to a few short months ago when a tragedy occurred in Derbyshire and the party opposite took over, a comprehensive system of education was being pushed forward faster than in any other county. We were pleased about that, because we believe in the Socialist system of comprehensive education. I know that many people disagree with that sentiment, but I know, too, that I am not alone in thinking that this was one of the excellent services provided by the county council.

I do not think that the wishes of the people have been given due consideration by the Ministry, and this is not the first time. The same thing happened in Sheffield. Some Ministers past and present consider the ratepayers and taxpayers of the country as numbers and not as human beings. In Derbyshire, they are considered to be human beings, even if they are not in areas which other hon. Members represent.

A plebiscite was taken in South-East Derbyshire, and an impressive result was gathered from the poll. We feel that the wishes of the people should have been considered when the Order was made.

I promised not to delay the House for too long and to allow this magnificent defence of the Order to take place. I hope that as many hon. Members as possible will join us in the Lobbies against the Government by voting for the Prayer. It will be another black mark against some of us, but I believe that this will be one of the most sincere votes that we shall ever cast in the House, because it will be cast in the interests of people who have no voice.

Before sitting down, however, I must defend my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I think that he was mis-understood by the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party. My right hon. Friend said, "I believe that this is a good Order ", meaning himself. He did not say that his constituents believed it. This is not the first time that my right hon. Friend has not reflected the views of his constituents. I said that he was speaking in the personal sense, and it is on very, very rare occasions that I defend my right hon. Friend. I hope that this Order will be turned down tonight, and turned down by a large majority.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. George H. Perry (Nottingham, South)

I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but merely to interject during the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park). I have lived in Derby County Borough for about 47 years and I know that for some considerable time the Derby County Borough has been trying to extend its boundaries. I had hoped to intervene during the course of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East, if he had referred to the fact that Derby should not extend its boundaries.

In the census in 1931 Derby's population was 142,000, but in 1968 the population of Derby is 125,000. This has been occasioned mainly by the fact that the Derby County Borough Council has had to build 7,000 houses outside the county borough.

Mr. Park

I wonder if my hon. Friend could explain how he is using that argument to justify his support for the Order? It seems to me—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions must be brief, particularly at this stage.

Mr. Park

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that what this argument is saying is that a large number of residents in the county borough prefer to live in the County rather than in the county borough?

Mr. Perry

I am pleased with that intervention. The fact remains that since 1931, which was 37 years ago, there has been a tremendous exodus from the county borough into the proposed ex tended area. This has been occasioned mainly by virtue of the fact that the county borough could not find within itself room to build houses for its tenants or people affected by slum clearance, or what you will. This has been one of the reasons why Derby could not conform or hope to bring about any reasonable situation in this respect.

The fact remains that in Derby at present the population is 125,000, but the employed population in Derby is 117,000. This is a significant point. Ministry of Labour returns only recently showed that 117,000 people are employed in Derby itself, and yet the population of Derby is only 125,000. So it is obvious that thousands of people pour into Derby each day from this proposed extended area, and each day and each night people are coming into Derby itself to take part in social life—cinemas, theatres, football matches and so on.

This is bound to happen in an area like Derby. But, so far as I am concerned, there is not one blade of grass between Derby's Borough boundary and the actual intended area. Therefore in my opinion Derby is entitled, as it was in 1950 when it first set out to extend its boundaries through the House of Lords and failed in the Commons, to extend its boundaries, and to fulfil its rôle.

11.14 p.m.

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

May I begin by thanking all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate for the very considerate way in which they have made their speeches.

When one realises the considerable feeling behind the Prayer against this Order, I want to say, as one who was for more than a decade in local government, that I very much appreciate this. I have had a good deal of experience of this sort of thing, not only as a councillor but as one who, from time to time, appeared at inquiries dealing with the re-organisation of local government and local government boundaries. One realises what a tremendous loyalty and affection is built up by those who live and work in an area, and certainly by those who serve upon its local authority.

In these matters we are, I believe, all conservatives—but may I emphasise, conservatives with a little "c "—in the sense that we know and conserve the things which we come to cherish. Bearing in mind that some of my hon. Friends have been members of one of the local authorities affected, and remembering their long experience in these matters, I should have been very surprised, and indeed disappointed, if they had not spoken so strongly against the Order.

But, having said that, I am entitled to quote in defence of the Order this fact: knowing the strength of feeling which has been expressed by many of the elected members of local authorities and of this House, there must be a pretty convincing reason for the Government to go ahead with the Order, in the light, not only of these feelings, but of the knowledge of the setting up of the Royal Commission and the excellent progress it has made. I assure my hon. Friends that unless the Government felt that there was an overwhelming case, not purely on administrative grounds, but also in the interests of local government and the inhabitants of the area concerned, we would not be proceeding with the Order. The very strength of their feelings indicates equally the conviction of the Government that there was a very strong case for going ahead with the proposal. May I say how gratified I am to find at least one Member who spoke in favour of the Order.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the apparent speed with which the Order has been presented. I must place this on record. If anyone can point to an instance of similar changes which have taken longer than this, I shall be glad to hear of it. The Local Government Commission gave notice in January, 1960, that its review in this area would begin in April of that year. It began, in the winter of 1960, to hold meetings with the county borough councils. It met the county district councils affected. It then considered these matters, and in September, 1962, it published its draft proposals. In April, 1963, the Commission held its statutory conference in Derby, as it was bound to do. Finally, in June, 1964, the Commission published its final proposals.

But even this was nowhere near the end of the matter, because in May, 1965. there was a public local inquiry, presided over by Sir George Curtis, into all the objections which had been received. Only on 28th July, 1966, was the Minister's decision taken. It is inaccurate to say that these proceedings have been rapid, bearing in mind that there have been six years of consultations and public inquiries, in addition to the deputations that I have received. Even after the decision, the letter was written—

Mr. Ron. Lewis (Carlisle)

Accepting everything that my hon. Friend has said —and may I say that I am sorry that I missed part of the debate, having been in the Committee on the Transport Bill —would not my hon. Friend agree that the Government gave an undertaking about this Order and said that they were only prepared to push through those proposals which were non-controversial? Yet, in spite of that undertaking, they are pushing the controversial ones through.

Mr. Skeffington

I shall deal with that point. I do not think it can be said that I am attempting to hog the time available. I wanted to hear as many Members as possible, and now I shall try to answer all the points which have been raised in the remaining 10 minutes left to me. The last thing that can be said of this procedure is that it has been unduly speedy. The matter has been looked at again and again, quite properly, although I must confess to the belief that a rather more speedy method will, in future, have to be adopted if we are to make the sort of chances which may well be required when the Royal Commission reports.

I ought to address myself to two of the major questions, although I will take up as many individual points as I can. The Order extends into certain areas the boundaries of the City of Derby. The first thing to be asked is whether it is a reasonable proposition that those areas should be added to the city in view of the general problems of which all hon. Members who have spoken on local government in the area are aware.

Here I must refer to two paragraphs of Report No. 8 of the Local Government Commission for England. The Commission inspected all the areas which are subject to the Order except one at Mackworth, which, after representations were made, was taken out of the proposals. The Commission said, in paragraph 423: We made an inspection of all the disputed places in the company of the authorities concerned. Our inspection left us convinced of the continuity of physical development across the present boundary … and that with the exception of Mackworth"— which has been deleted— all the places in dispute belonged to the town and not the country.… We found no difference in character between the housing areas on either side of the boundary, and although in some cases we could descry an old village street, the original village had been surrounded by a sea of suburban houses. We saw no more than minor shopping centres; the corporation motor and trolley buses serve all the areas and clearly the residents are greatly dependent on the shopping and entertainment facilities of the central area in the town. That is long quotation, but it is important to put it on record that the areas to be included in the new city are similar.

Mr. Lubbockrose

Mr. Skeffington

I am sorry, I cannot give way. I have been very patient. I have only eight minutes left and I want to answer a number of points. I can best serve the House by answering as many of the points as I can.

Despite that recommendation, which was made by the Local Government Commission, which visited the area with the officers of the authorities concerned and personally investigated all the circumstances, there was the statutory inquiry, to which I have reffered, presided over by the inspector, who, after hearing all the evidence put forward, in paragraphs 136 and 139—

Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)

Will my hon. friend give way?

Mr. Skeffington

I really cannot give way—came to the same conclusion

I want now to refer to the effect of population moves before I come to the point about the Royal Commission. It is true that there has been considerable movement of population out of the old centre of the City of Derby. In 1949, the population of Derby was approximately 143,00. That was about its peak figure. Since then, the population of the borough has gradually declined to its present total about 128,000. There has been a steady movement of people out of Derby to new houses across the boundary in one or other of the rural districts.

Many of those people have been council tenants who have been moved to houses which the Derby Corporation has built beyond its boundaries. Indeed, out of a total of 17,000 houses owned by Derby, about one-third of them—5,500 houses—have been built by Derby outside its boundaries and in the areas to which I have referred, knowing that they were virtually part of the community of the city.

I want to come to the point about the Royal Commission, although there are many other matters with which I should like to deal in the remaining five minutes. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) gave some information which certainly was news to me. He said, I gather, that the Royal Commission would report in the sense that the future system of local government should be based on regions. That may be so. My hon. Friend's guess is as good as mine. It would, however, be quite wrong to let the impression go out from this House tonight that we have officially—or unofficially, for that matter—any intimation of what the Royal Commission will propose.

On the point affecting Derby itself, if the Order is passed by the House tonight, as I hope it will be, and if building across the city boundary takes place on areas already largely built up, or on areas which will have to be built on in the next few years, if Derby is to reach the housing target it has set itself, it is very unlikely that any reform of local government will cut back the boundary again to the built-up area. Whatever may be the future recommendation, I am quite convinced in my own mind that the enlarged area, whether there be a first-tier or second-tier authority, is not likely to be upset by anything the Royal Commission may say.

Having put on record the fact that the Commission is entirely free to make whatever recommendations it likes, and that we certainly have no knowledge at this stage of how it intends to report, I come to the question, why have we gone on with this Order?

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park) men- tioned a dispute about payment of money in the case of the review in Worcestershire, a county district review which was a very small matter and which was not proceeded with. There have been two statements about the future orders. My right hon. Friend the present Leader of the House said in February, 1966, that where decisions had already been announced on proposals the necessary Orders would be brought before Parliament as soon as possible. However, proposals on which decisions had yet to be taken—and this included Derbyshire—had still to be considered on their merits in the light of the decision to appoint the Royal Commission. Then my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Housing and Local Government said that where there were cases for general organisation they would go ahead if the need for it was urgent.

We believe that it is in the interests of getting on with the vast slum clearance problem in Derby that it should be able to build on land outside the borough, for inside the borough there is not nearly sufficient land; there is some, but not nearly enough. Land in the county is urgently required if people are to be decently re-housed by 1981 who are now living in obsolescent houses in the City of Derby. Some 3,000 of the houses were built before 1852.

The question which many hon. Members have addressed to me is, if the report of the Royal Commission is expected this year, why go ahead? I had to deal with the question in the Sheffield case. I will say it again. As we see it, we believe we shall receive the report this autumn. I think the late autumn is the best forecast I can make. It will

take at least a year for the normal consultations with the local authority associations, the G.L.C., and other bodies which may be concerned. Subsequently it will take at least one to two years to prepare the legislation. We think it will be at least five to six years before the Royal Commission's recommendations are put upon the Statute Book. Because of the grave housing situation in Derby, and for many other good administrative reasons, we do not believe we ought to delay this Order in this case, and I hope the House will approve it.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has not had a full opportunity to answer the debate. As we know, he has had many points to answer, and there are many other hon. Members on both sides of the House who yet want to speak. Could we have an extension of the debate, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has put this question to me before. He must leave it to the discretion of the Chair. Mr. Skeffington.

Mr. Skeffington

I was just coming to my peroration. In view of the case which I have advanced, because it will be some five years at the earliest before we can implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and because of the need to get on with the great housing work in Derby, I hope that the Order will be approved.

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 100 (Statutory Instruments, &c. (procedure)):

The House divided: Ayes, 41, Noes 176.

Division No. 53.] AYES [11.30 p.m.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Scott-Hopkins, James
Bessell, Peter Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Sharples, Richard
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Spriggs, Leslie
Burden, F. A. Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Concannon, J. D. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Swain, Thomas
Currie, G. B. H. Kelley, Richard Teeling, Sir William
Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire,W.) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Mackenzie, Alasdair(Ross&Crom'ly) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Eyre, Reginald Neal, Harold Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Farr, John Newens, Stan Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Pardoe, John Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Park, Trevor
Gardner, Tony Percival, Ian TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gower, Raymond Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Mr. Eric Lubbock and
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Russell, Sir Ronald Mr. Eric Ogden.
Abse, Leo Armstrong, Ernest Beaney, Alan
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Bence, Cyril
Archer, Peter Bagier, Gordon A. T. Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Oakes, Gordon
Binns, John Haseldine, Norman O'Malley, Brian
Bishop, E. S. Hattersley, Roy Orme, Stanley
Booth, Albert Henig, Stanley Oswald, Thomas
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Horner, John Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Palmer, Arthur
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Howie, W. Pentland, Norman
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Hoy, James Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Buchan, Norman Huckfield, Leslie Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Cant, R. B. Hunter, Adam Price, William (Rugby)
Carmichael, Neil Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Probert, Arthur
Carter-Jones, Lewis Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Reynolds, G. W.
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rhodes. Geoffrey
Coe, Denis Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Coleman, Donald Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Crawshaw, Richard Judd, Frank Roebuck, Roy
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Kenyon, Clifford Rose, Paul
Dalyell, Tam Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Leadbitter, Ted Ryan, John
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Shaw, Arnold (iiford, S.)
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Lomas, Kenneth Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Loughlin, Charles Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Delargy, Hugh Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Dell, Edmund Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Skeffington, Arthur
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John McBride, Neil Slater, Joseph
Dickens, James McCann, John Small, William
Dobson, Ray MacColl, James Swingler, Stephen
Doig, Peter MacDermot, Niall Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Dunnett, Jack Macdonald, A. H. Thornton, Ernest
Dun woody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) McGuire, Michael Tuck, Raphael
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Urwin, T. W.
Eadie, Alex Mackintosh, John p. Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Maclennan, Robert Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Ellis, John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Watkins, David (Consett)
Ennals, David McNamara, J. Kevin Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Ensor, David MacPherson, Malcolm Wellbeloved, James
Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Faulds, Andrew Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Whitaker, Ben
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.) White, Mrs. Eirene
Foley, Maurice Manuel, Archie Wilkins, W. A.
Ford, Ben Marks, Kenneth Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Forrester, John Marquand, David Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Fowler, Gerry Millan,. Bruce Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Fraser, John (Norwood) Miller, Dr. M. S. Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Freeson, Reginald Milne, Edward (Blyth) Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Galpern, Sir Myer Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Garrett, W. E. Molloy, William Woof, Robert
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Yates, Victor
Gregory, Arnold Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Grey, Charles (Durham) Morris, John (Aberavon) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Murray, Albert Mr. Joseph Haroer and
Hannan, William Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Mr. Alan Fitch.