HC Deb 13 April 1972 vol 834 cc1526-67


  1. (1) England shall be divided into areas to be known as regions and the Secretary of State may by order provide a name for any such region.
  2. (2) Each region shall comprise such amalgamation of counties as are respectively described in the First Schedule to this Act as shall be determined by the Secretary of State subject to affirmative orders passed by both Houses of Parliament.
  3. (3) For every region there shall be a council consisting of a chairman and councillors and the council shall have all the functions as shall be vested in them by this Act or otherwise.
  4. (4) Each council mentioned in subsection (3) above shall be a body corporate by the name of the region.
  5. (5) Such regional council shall be deemed a principal council for the purpose of this Act and all the provisions of this Act relating to the election of chairman, the appointment of vice-chairman and their term of office, to the election of councillors and their term of office, and to qualification and disqualification shall apply to such regional councils as they apply to other principal councils under this Act.
  6. (6) For the purpose of election of regional councillors, every county shall be divided into 1527 electoral divisions, each returning one councillor and there shall be a separate election for each electoral division.
  7. (7) It shall be the duty of the English Commission to advise the Secretary of State as to the constitution and boundaries of such regions before 1st April 1977.—[Mr. Oakes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Oakes

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

I suggest that it would be convenient for the House to discuss at the same time new Clause 3—Powers of regions—and the following Amendments:

No. 233, in page 25, line 10, at end insert: (b) the constitution of local government regions outside Greater London by the amalgamation of two or more counties or parts of counties.

No. 263, in page 1, line 10, leave out 'counties and in these counties' and insert: 'regions and in these regions'.

Mr. Oakes

This is perhaps the most important new Clause we have discussed today. The object of the Opposition in tabling it is to create a structure of local government at a level where it does not exist today, but where there is a crying need for such a structure.

We seek, at the same time, to establish this structure in a way which, at regional level, will be on a democratic basis. Members of the regional council will, if the new Clause is adopted, be duly elected by the electors and not appointed by the Minister or selected from councils.

After 51 sessions in Committee upstairs, we made some improvements to the Bill following our strong attack on the Measure on Second Reading. Indeed, the Government have been very generous in accepting Amendments. One thing we have not got over in Committee—because it would be impossible so to do in Committee—is the need to deal with the philosophy behind the Bill. We attacked the philosophy on Second Reading. It is a Bill of shoddy compromise, in which the Government have juggled with existing structures of local government to the done nothing new or dynamic to create a dissatisfaction of many people but have new structure of local government at a level where it is needed.

The Secretary of State will know that the Maud Report saw the need for a level of local government which it called provincial. Under the Clause it is called regional level, but it is the same type of area, the same level of local government that we are seeking. The Government threw Maud out of the window along with the proposal for provincial government and many other proposals of hon. Members on both sides of the House, some of whom agreed and some of whom disagreed with some of the Maud proposals. But hon. Members on both sides of the House realise that there is a need for some form of provincial government in this country.

The Government have a commission sitting at present, the Crowther Commission on the Constitution, which will be reporting, presumably, at a fairly early date. One of the most important subjects on which the Commission will report is the amount of power, influence and self-determination that the House is prepared to give to the regions of this country. This major local government Bill makes no provision for what the Crowther Commission may say. I and my hon. Friends think that the Bill would be the appropriate vehicle for some structure of regional government to be laid down. It could be set up in the way that the Clause provides at a later date, after the Secretary of State had received advice from the Commission, because it may be many decades before we get around to restructuring local government at the level at which we are discussing it at present.

Since Second Reading, the Secretary of State, by his own actions, indicates to the House and the nation the need for some form of regional government. We had only just begun the Committee stage when the Secretary of State announced to the House his plan for water and sewerage. That plan was certainly attacked by the local government associations. Indeed, I said then that the Secretary of State had succeeded in uniting all three local government associations against him. That is a very difficult thing to do when one deals with county councils, rural districts and the A.M.C. But he succeeded in doing that.

Nevertheless, the Secretary of State is right that the precious resource of water is not endless, and the future of the water industry ought to be dealt with on a regional basis, in the very way that the Secretary of State proposed. But our difficulty is that there is no democratic authority at that level which can deal with what the right hon. Gentleman seeks to do with water. The Bill is the vehicle by which such an authority should be set up. Much of the opposition from the local government associations and from hon. Members to the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for the regionalisation of water and sewerage lies in the very fact that existing regional boards are not democratically elected and most of their members are appointed by the Minister—although some are indirectly elected in that they are members of local authorities, and so on. But if there were a regional council, the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for water could be very easily fitted into that regional council and democratic control could be exercised over the future of our water industry. That is something which we can expect as of right.

The Secretary of State rightly deals with water and sewerage in one proposal. His concern is about the future of our rivers and about pollution of the environment. That is a very proper concern which he has shown so far as Minister. But again, when dealing with sewerage, we need a democratically elected body at a regional level to deal with its problems. When the Secretary of State announced his proposals, all sorts of Amendments had to be made in Committee to the existing Clauses of the Bill. So a hotchpotch of what was well described by one of my hon. Friends as "ad hocery" took place—joint boards, boards between different authorities merged together for one particular purpose. That is not the way to deal with it.

The way to deal with it is a regional council, democratically elected, which would be concerned with the whole question of, for example, river pollution and our water resources. If ever there were an example of the need for a regional council, the action of the Secretary of State since Second Reading of the Bill proves that need.

We find a gap in other functions. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill), who is not in the Chamber at present, mentioned education at polytechnic level. In the debate my hon. Friends, in dealing with education, talked of special schools and so on. Some of the counties we have set up under the Bill are not adequate to deal with specialised education in that way. Again, the proper authority would be a regional area, covering a much wider population and geographical area than any of the existing counties. That could and would be a proper function at regional level.

One of the difficulties under the Bill involves the police. I do not know why the Government insist on treating this as a local government matter today. The Police Federation want our police service to be structured on a regional basis. They are quite right. What the Bill does for the police is to destroy and break up existing police areas by trying to mould them into the new pattern of counties by the new local government structure, which bears no relation to many police areas.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Surely the Police Federation does not necessarily want a regional basis but, where forces have been very successfully amalgamated, as they have in Lancashire, it is unwilling for those amalgamations to be upset.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Oakes

I agree with the hon. Lady that they are very upset and that morale is very low because of it. The Lancashire police force is possibly the finest police force in the world. It pioneered pocket radios, the beat system, panda cars and so on. The areas of Greater Manchester and of Merseyside have precisely the same problems as those facing the Lancashire police force. They have the same crime patterns and I envisage that such areas should be amalgamated.

That kind of amalgamation is very much the sort of thing we are proposing in the Clause—a region with the same geographical area and the same population type. The Secretary of State should look very carefully at the future of the police force and whether he considers the existing local government pattern appropriate for the police. The existing police authorities consist of half local government representatives and half magistrates' representatives—I do not know whether that is exactly the proportion—and that is local democratic control as we know it. I do not know whether there should be that degree of democratic control at lower level but it should exist at much higher levels. The police could operate much more efficiently if worked on a regional basis, so there is a need for something above county level in dealing with police functions under the Bill.

The excellent industrial development councils are organised on a regional basis. The difficulty with them is that they are not democratic, they are not elected. They cover a regional area and that kind of function should be carried out democratically. The creation of such a council under the Bill could deal with the whole of industrial development in regions. Hon. Members from the North West and the North East want to see a much greater degree of local control in their areas because the people on the spot very often know the problem far better than the man in Witehall. They also want it done democratically, and such regional councils could be the spearhead for directing new industry to their area, preserving existing industry and helping to reduce unemployment.

Most important is the fact that we in this House are not the only possessors of ideas and knowledge. People in the regions can have good ideas which could apply in their regions and which may be taken up by other regions later. Ideas could be fostered at regional level because the region would have the resources which districts and councils could not possibly have under the terms of the Bill.

There is another gap in the Bill which obviously shows the need for some form of regional council, and that is that it contains no mention of airports. Many authorities have their own municipal airports. Sometimes this creates difficulties. There is rivalry, for example, between Liverpool and Manchester and it is not certain whether a municipal council, whether it be county borough or county, is large enough and is the appropriate authority to have its own airport. Again this is a regional function. Under the Bill there is no structure to deal with this very important subject now or in the future, important for the future of trade and for the future of local authorities.

Elected councils should be represented on an authority where they can make their views known and put forward complaints by their constituents about aircraft noise and aircraft pollution. Near any airport there are always loud cries from the inhabitants about being kept up at night by the noise of aeroplanes. They have no one they can directly approach. They could approach their Member of Parliament but they would have no one on the authority that controlled the airport. Airport development and existing airports should be administered at regional level in this country. These are just some of the existing services where there is no adequate provision under the terms of the Bill.

The value of a regional council has greater importance even than on the questiton of existing services. I can best show what I mean by an example—the example of the Morecambe Barrage. Someone sometime has to decide whether we need a barrage across Morecambe Bay and whether the water that could be saved there, the future development of the area that could take place there because of such a barrage, is feasible. The areas involved in this project are Cambria, Lancashire and Merseyside all of which would, in one way or another, have some responsibility.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Oakes

Yes, even Merseyside. I know the hon. Lady was somewhat surprised, but major alterations to the coast, such as the Morecambe Barrage would involve, would have repercussions on silting and other problems many miles away. Greater Manchester would be involved. One of the great quarrels in the North-West is about Manchester's tendency to rape the Lake District for its water, and a barrage at Morecambe could provide adequate quantities of water for Manchester if someone would get on with developing it. It is a new sort of scheme which it is beyond county councils or district councils to consider. It is a proper function for a level of local government bigger in population, resources and area than is provided for in the Bill.

The same would be true of a barrage in the Wash or the Dee Estuary, though we could be in trouble on the latter because there are not only two counties involved but the Principality, which means that two countries are involved. But we need a democratic structure at a much higher level than under the Bill.

The Clause differs from new Clause 3 in that it spells out that there shall be regions, and not as things that may be created under a subsequent Clause by amalgamation in particular instances. It is a declaration of faith that there will exist local government at a regional level. That is spelled out in the first subsection. The regions could probably best be created by an amalgamation of the existing counties by the Secretary of State, subject to an affirmative Resolution passed by the House.

The other subsections make the regional council a democratic body elected by the people, not appointed by the Minister and not created from councillors of existing counties and districts, but directly elected by people in electoral areas.

The last subsection does not envisage that such councils should be set up immediately. That is not possible. It gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to ask the English Commission which will be set up under the Bill to look into the question of regions now, to look into the question when Crowther reports, and to report back to him by 1st April, 1977 with a feasible scheme for regional government. I should say, "Report back to the Secretary of State", because I am certain that it will be not the right hon. Gentleman but one of my right hon. Friends.

The Clause is declaratory, stating that regions shall exist. It describes how they shall be formed. It says that they shall be democratically elected, and asks the English Commission to do the hard research now to advise the Secretary of State, by a given date, from when regional government could be a reality.

The time to create the structure for regional government is not in the future but now, in this Bill, a major Bill dealing with local government reorganisation. Democratic local government at that level is necessary for existing services, some of which I have described. Far more important, it could create a new dynamic in local government. New ideas could be sparked off by the regional councils, ideas of large schemes that the House does not have time to consider and that county councils and district councils are too small in resources, and sometimes in ideas, to consider. The Clause creates the possibilities of such councils existing, and therefore I ask the House to adopt it.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)

I much regret that more hon. Members were not present to hear the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) and to join in the debate.

This has been a fascinating day. I doubt whether there has ever been a Report stage before in which the two Whips of the Committee have spoken so much on the first day. This seems an historic precedent. Both of them spoke very well. I am particularly grateful for the speech of the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong). The speech of the hon. Member for Widnes was typical of the standards achieved during the Committee stage. I pay tribute both to the Minister for Local Government and Development and the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) for the high quality of debating in their leadership in Committee. I shall refer any critic of the House of Commons and the way in which we deal with legislation to the proceedings on the Local Government Bill.

This debate about the potentialities of democratically-elected regional government is important. I must say clearly that from the beginning the Government's position, as stated by the Minister for Local Government and Development, is the Government intention, as was that of the previous Government, to await the full findings of the Crowther Commission. I remind the hon. Member for Widnes that it was the previous Government, when the Maud Committee recommended provincial areas, which decided not to proceed with them but to await the report of the Crowther Commission before coming to conclusions on the future of regional government. That is the position of this Government.

I took the trouble to see the late Lord Crowther, before proceeding with my White Paper and legislation, to obtain from him his view whether the ideas and concepts which I had in mind were likely to conflict with recommendations which the Commission would produce. Although obviously I cannot quote what he said in a private discussion, I can say that his view was that the lines of local government reform suggested by the Government would in no way conflict with the type of suggestions which the Commission would put forward. Alas, there has been the death of Lord Crowther since then. Now a new Chairman has been elected and the Commission hopes to complete its work by the end of the year. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to consider the full implications of the recommendations made by the Commission.

Perhaps I should take the opportunity, as this is my first speech on Report on this Bill, of giving my general thoughts as to the importance of regional policies and regional strategies and the manner in which certain difficulties arise over the type of suggestion put forward by this Clause. The very arguments used by the hon. Member for Widnes were a criticism of this type of concept. For example, he quoted as the kind of function which he had in mind for regional authorities, certain types of higher education, the police, water and airports. Any thought given to this topic would quickly bring one to the conclusion that it is at least quite probable that the ideal geographical area for the executive functioning of a police force would be nothing like the ideal area for organisation of water and sewerage. That is one of the difficulties we shall all face when we come to consider regional government.

I would defend my proposals for water which are based completely and utterly on the river systems of the country, but they certainly would not coincide with what anyone in the House would suggest for the geographical and political structure of regions. The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger), who produced a most important report on sewerage, would agree that the water cycle must be the basis of reform in terms of water and sewerage. To have geographical boundaries which cut across river systems and divided them into two or perhaps three would take away some of the basic advantages of the proposals for water.

That does not mean that one does not want to have a democratic influence on questions of water and sewerage. The need for that influence is due to the effects upon localities, and therefore, in my proposals, I want to see that the local authorities throughout the whole of the river area will have a right and a very considerable say in the organisation and policy decision-taking of these authorities. The authorities must also have the ability to recruit people of high engineering talent and skill because, as well as having great social implications, water and sewerage present major technical and scientific problems.

8.45 p.m.

The case is likewise with airports. If one had, for example, the type of provinces suggested by the Maud Report—or, even worse, if one had the size of provinces or regions suggested by Mr. Senior in his minority report—one would need joint action on a massive scale for airports. An airport situated in one region could be ideal for use by several other regions, but if one started to develop a policy where a function of each region was responsibility for airports within that region, this might well not be the right instrument when one takes into account all the problems concerned in building up modern airports. It was interesting to see, when I rejected the extra runway at Leeds, how quickly people got machinery together to look at regional alternatives, but there was, of course, a flexible organisation for using the local authorities in the area and the regional economic planning council.

Both sides of the House would agree that one wants to develop regional policies, and perhaps the most important factor is the development of regional land use strategies. The Labour Government produced an instrument of doing this by a combination of the local planning authorities, the central Government and the economic planning councils. They produced what I thought was a very good South-East land use planning strategy. That strategy will be of considerable significance and importance in future planning in the South East.

The present Government have announced their intention of creating in the lifetime of this Parliament a basic regional economic planning strategy for each of the present agreed and approved regions.

This will be done by a combination using the local planning authorities because, unless they have a firm say in a regional planning strategy, the practice of implementing that strategy becomes a nonsense. There would be nothing more dangerous in having a freely elected regional local authority, with the power to prepare a regional land use strategy, than if that authority went in complete contradiction to all the local planning authorities, with the result that local and individual planning decisions failed to agree with the strategic concepts. In the South-East plannting strategy, the agreement of the local planning authorities was obtained. The local authorities have prepared, agreed and provided their comments and have therefore made a positive contribution to the final framework of the South-East strategy.

I turn to regional policy in developing land use planning. No one is more passionately in favour of having the democratic process applied to this than I am. My position is that, although the democratic process has many disadvantages, they are nothing like the disadvantages of the non-democratic process. But that does not mean that there is not considerable advantage to the Government in having some form of machinery to bring in people of a wide range of interests to give advice on regional policies.

When we came into office the economic planning councils already existed. It would have been fairly easy for me to get rid of them straight away. They had no great popularity with the then Opposition, now the Government.

The composition of economic planning councils was such that they could provide a very useful manner of gathering together leading people from industry, commerce, the social amenities of the area, and the trade unions to give a broad view on what they considered were important factors in the future development of their regions.

The South-East Economic Planning Council played a considerable part in influencing the final result of the planning strategy for the South East. Certainly the recent announcements made by the Government on regional policy, with the various industrial and infrastructure proposals, benefited considerably from the advice and comments which came in from the economic planning councils over the last couple of years.

Since I have had responsibility for appointing people to those planning councils I have endeavoured to appoint people, as indeed did my predecessors, irrespective of their party politics, who have some positive contribution to make and who, not because of any objection to democracy but because of their activities elsewhere, will not go in for the electioneering process and commit themselves to constant committees, and so on, but are willing to do a lot of paperwork and examination of proposals to develop their regions.

From my experience over the last 20 months, I consider that we should not be frightened of putting into any future machinery some sort of advisory service on these topics appointed by Ministers, but with the advice of the T.U.C., the C.B.I., and other organisations within the regions.

I turn to some of the other problems where regional planning is needed: I have dealt with water. I think that this problem must be dealt with on a river system basis.

Regarding transportation as a whole, I think that, whatever regions are created, some of the wider transportation considerations are bound to be inter-regional, not just the transport problems within the individual regions.

That is why a department such as my own, with responsibility for transportation, will have a leading rôle to play in looking at what is necessary in terms of a national network. When I first examined the problems of road access to the North-East, where already a great deal had been done before we came into office, and considered what was to be done during the next five or ten years to improve communications for the development areas, one factor which we found important was that because of the inadequacy of roads in other parts of the country the North-East did not have good communications with those regions. This would come under inter-regional policy, not just regional policy. In that sphere there is a great rôle for central Government to play.

Some months ago I announced an attempt to do this in my Department when I was given the unique opportunity of combining three former Government Departments each of which had regional offices. This gave us the opportunity of establishing in each of the regions a much stronger regional office, and appointing top level civil servants as the new heads of such regional offices. We were then able to look at the work which goes on at Whitehall affecting the regions and to decide how much of that could be moved out to the regions.

I believe that, in terms of the future development of regional administration, Whitehall must examine those parts of its decision taking that directly affect the regions and see how much of the work can be moved out to the regions. It may be that Crowther—I do not know; I have not seen copies or drafts of the Report—could come to the conclusion that there is need for greater delegation from the centre to the regions in some other spheres where decision-taking is done by Government Departments.

For example, all the decision taking on planning is done in my Department. I can see no reason why officials giving me advice on planning decisions for Yorkshire should not be sitting in Yorkshire, living among the people of Yorkshire and sending their advice from a desk there rather than a desk in Whitehall. If we take things such as education, looking at details of school building programmes, for instance, and other Government Departments, there must be a whole host of people in Whitehall responsible for decision-taking affecting the regions who would reach better decisions and give better advice to their Ministers if they were living in the regions.

That means that if, as regional policies evolve, it is decided to delegate to some further form of elected regional authority, with a host of bodies already organised administratively in the regions which will come under the direction of such an authority, it will be important to see that it is an authority with enough functions on a regional basis to attract people of high calibre. One of my genuine doubts about the future of setting up the type of body suggested in this Clause is that only after the detailed examination of Crowther can we see exactly what would be the nature of the work they would do. If we are not careful, in this country, which is a small geographical island, we shall have again a multitude of democratically elected bodies.

As we all know, it is quite difficult to get people of high calibre to go into local government, even with large authorities. We shall have district authorities, new county authorities and obviously the House of Commons itself, and if in future we develop elected regional bodies, that will be another group of people to be elected. Therefore, if they are to be elected to decide what are to be partly strategic matters affecting the regions or to carry out the executive functions in certain major services, we have to see that the total package is of a nature to attract high-calibre people and that they have a worthwhile job to do. That is why basically I want to gain experience in my own Department from the manner in which we are devolving to the regions when we have the detailed examination which Crowther has made.

I also want to remove any uncertainty that this Clause may produce for the existing or new local authorities. The functions which we have given to the new local authorities at district and county level are obviously functions they can carry out. I would not suggest that regional planning authorities should take away from them any of those functions. They have that set of functions which this Government certainly think they are adequately fitted to carry out. Therefore many of the new functions of any new regional organisation would be delegated very largely by the House of Commons itself. Obviously, one of the tasks of Crowther has been to examine, Department by Department and function by function, the degree to which, first, it is possible and, secondly, it would make practical sense to delegate to the regions.

In conclusion, I do not want in any way to prevent and I am in no way against the dialogue that has gone on for some years as to the future structure of regional government. I say sincerely that at this moment I am in no way certain what would be the best structure and what detailed functions it would carry out. I welcome a debate such as this because the ideas and concepts that have emerged can be taken into account when the Crowther Commission reports.

It is for this reason that I am unwilling to suggest any definite form of regional organisation at this stage in our proceedings, while certainly accepting the broad philosophy that the more local people can make and carry out their own local decisions the better. I also accept the plea as regards the burden on Whitehall and the House of Commons, which is of such considerable volume at the present time, that if in some of these spheres we could effectively delegate it must be for the benefit of the country.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. John Silkin

I had not intended to speak in this debate, but the House may consider it appropriate that I should make a short intervention. I agree with the Secretary of State's remarks about our previous debates and with what he said about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) and about one ex-Whip and one Whip. We all agree that they played a very worthy part in our debates.

In a sense today has been rather like a series of Second Reading debates, yet this is the Report stage of the Bill. The House and the country at large would do well to study the debates which took place in Committee, to which the Secretary of State made such kind references. The standard of the Committee debates and what was decided in Committee were of enormous value and of exceptional quality.

I do not regard it as a totally academic exercise that we discuss the regions tonight. The Secretary of State and I have already found our point of difference. He thinks in terms of Crowther, and Crowther virtually alone at this stage. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for that; I merely say that that is the situation. Crowther's terms of reference are to decide what can be devolved from central Government to a directly or indirectly elected regional or provincial authority, if that is a good thing to do. The Crowther Commission might decide that it is not a good thing to do, anyway.

The Secretary of State gave us some idea of the sorts of function that might be considered where they conflicted with one another, for example. He showed us that the geographical boundaries of a water authority might conflict with the functions that one would expect a regional authority otherwise to have.

I know that the Secretary of State was not making an absolute impossibility of it but was saying merely that it was a difficulty. However, I found it rather amusing, because it was quaintly touching that the right hon. Gentleman was boasting that he had amalgamated the co-terminus regional functions of his previous offices.

When I was at the Ministry of Works it struck me as very odd that our regions did not coincide exactly with those of transport and housing. I wondered how that Ministry had gone on all those years operating from totally different regions. I congratulate the Secretary of State on having squared the circle. It means this can be done efficiently at a later stage.

Subsection (7) of the new Clause says who is to do it. In this case it would be the English Commission for the boundaries and the regions that would square the circle and do what the Secretary of State has done for regional offices. So that does not lie very much between us.

I should like to see a regional authority which has those powers not only coming down from on high from central Government but also coming up from local government. The trouble with this—and here I see the right hon. Gentleman's dilemma—is that it may leave very little for some of the lower-tier authorities that he has so carefully built up. It might be that they would lose powers which would go upwards until, perhaps, we had a totally different concept of local government. I see that when we are doing one massive local government reorganisation we do not want another but that is not my dilemma.

I have always believed in local democracy, not local government alone. When there are local government elections and the percentage of the electorate voting is 19 per cent., 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. we can never be proud of our system of local government. One of the great things about the idea of regional government is the challenge it gives to people to feel that they are deeply involved in something of vital importance to them, which brings the hope that a much greater percentage of the electorate would play their part and above all vote at elections. Sooner or later we have to meet this.

Mr. Peter Walker

The right hon. Gentleman will agree that, if anything, the polling in the larger areas, the counties, is normally lower than in the boroughs.

Mr. Silkin

Yes, but that may be due to the remoteness, not necessarily geographical, people feel or felt towards their counties and it may be a criticism of the powers or functions those counties have. If, for example, we were to give regions the power of running hospitals and of doing the planning in the area there would be a much more immediate involvement of the people, who would be willing to make their voices heard much more than now. What we are trying to achieve—it may be an impossible task for our generation—is the perfect system of local government. Let us at least have a try.

Mr. Terry Davis

When I listened to the Secretary of State at first I began to feel that the only difference between us was that on this side we want to move a little more rapidly than the Government. The right hon. Gentleman says he accepts that there is a case for regional government. He says that he has no wish to end the dialogue which has been taking place over the last few years. My feeling is that it is high time for the dialogue to come to an end without waiting for the Crowther Commission.

As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's other arguments I began to find more differences between us. I found his arguments about the calibre of candidates being a difficulty in future as a result of the multitude of councils rather difficult to follow in the light of this Bill. He was right to say that we shall have the House of Commons, then a regional council—if the Clause is accepted—then the county council, district council and, in the countryside, the parish council, too. That will make five tiers of local government. If that is a problem, surely the answer would have been to accept the proposition put forward in Committee by my hon. Friends for a unitary system of local government. That would have solved that problem even if it would have created others. We should then have had only four tiers of local government.

Another argument concerned the difficulty of determining the area for a regional council. It was a little unfair of the right hon. Gentleman to contrast the area for water resources and sewage with the area which would be suitable for a police authority on the regional basis. I am sure he would agree that at first sight the most suitable area for a regional police authority would probably be the same area as would be suitable for planning transport, for example. There is a close link between transport patterns and crime patterns. This is an example of a possible function of regional government, and I wish to elaborate on it because it is relevant to the Bill.

One of the things to which I object is the Bill's effect on planning transport. I expressed this concern in Committee, and I repeat it now because I was not satisfied with what the Ministers said in Committee. The Bill will restrict the area for planning passenger transport in the metropolitan areas. It will transfer the powers of the existing passenger transport authorities to the new councils representing the metropolitan counties. In the West Midlands it will mean a serious reduction in the area which will be concerned in planning passenger transport.

My constituency in North Worcestershire is part of the West Midlands passenger transport area. Under the Bill it will not be part of the area involved in the planning of the West Midlands metropolitan county. I do not wish my area to join the West Midlands metropolitan area, but I recognise, as my constituents recognise, that we are involved in the transport problems of the conurbation. Many of my constituents commute to the conurbation to work. We are affected by transport planning in the region.

The present area of the passenger transport authority is too restricted. A strong case can be made for extending instead of restricting the area, as the Government propose. The Secretary of State is right in saying that there is an inter-regional transport problem as well as a transport problem within the region. That is true throughout the country. But one can put that argument forward when talking about the economy, because we have a national economy but we also have regional economic considerations, and both sides of the House have accepted that in first the establishment and then the continuation of the economic planning councils.

The Secretary of State referred to the regional land use strategy in the South-East. We have recently had a West Midlands regional study. Proposals have been put forward by a group of planning authorities in the West Midlands for planning the physical area of the West Midlands. It suggested the growth points for future new towns. It is an extremely important study, but it is only advisory. It is desirable not that the organisation which made that study should be disbanded but that there should be a continuing organisation with responsibility for implementing the eventual agreement.

There is a case for greater regional consideration of facilities for recreation and leisure. This is a slightly different case. I do not suggest that there should be a transfer of power from the other tiers of local government to regional councils. There is a strong case for concurrent powers. An example about which I feel strongly is libraries. One of the mistakes in the Bill is that library powers are to be transferred to the county councils; there is no possibility of the district councils retaining them. But some libraries should properly be a regional responsibility. There is a case for concurrent powers for library and other recreational functions and for regional councils to carry them out.

One of the greatest differences between myself and the Secretary of State on this issue—and here I think I speak for many of my hon. Friends—is that it is good that there should be consultation by the Government with the people in the regions, but it is not good enough. There is a need in the regions for power to take decisions. The Secretary of State referred to the officials who advise him on planning appeals. He said that he could not see at first sight why they should not sit in, for example, Yorkshire or the West Midlands to consider the planning appeal and then advise him. I go much further. I see no reason why the decision should not be taken in Yorkshire, the West Midlands or wherever it is. There is a case for the devolution of decision-making and not merely the giving of advice.

9.15 p.m.

I hope we shall not have as regional government a branch office concept with a head office in London and branch offices in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle so that the powers of decision-making are closely restricted and curtailed.

Mr. Peter Walker

The hon. Gentleman should think carefully before he pursues the line that the ultimate place for planning appeals should be a regional economic council. If, for example, in Yorkshire the final appeal was to a Yorkshire regional organisation there would be a far lower quality of ultimate planning than there has been in the past.

Mr. Davis

A great deal would depend on the sort of cases and appeals on which a decision was to be taken regionally. There are some planning problems which should rightly be determined at district level, some which should be determined at county level and some which should be determined by the Secretary of State. I am not thinking of decisions about where a third or fourth airport should be sited. I am thinking of an inspector being sent from London to hear a case in a constituency and then reporting to the Secretary of State, who gives a decision. Many such planning appeals could be decided without the Secretary of State being troubled. I am putting this forward not as a hard and fast proposal but as something which should be on the table. I am trying to illustrate my criticism of the branch office idea of delegating to the regions only the preparation and consideration of the facts, and advice being given to the Secretary of State for him to make the decision. I hope that as regional government develops, as I am sure it will, there will be a devolution of decison-making and not merely of consultation.

I am asking not only for greater speed in the creation of regional councils but also that regional councils should have real responsibility. I accept that there is strength in the Government's argument that we should await the report of the Crowther Commission, but the Clause only makes possible the creation of regional councils. It is similar to new Clause 8, which concerned new towns, in the sense that it makes it possible for something to happen. It does not mean that the Secretary of State must make it happen. I strongly support the Clause.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)

In my time I have been an ardent advocate of a type of regional authority because I have felt that there were certain powers and functions which it would be useful to have based on a number of regions for England and perhaps one for Wales and one for Scotland. What the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis) says has a degree of logic. What we are looking for is a district council, a county council and a regional council or authority, with the subsequent responsibility lying on this House.

But we must have regard to the point made by the Secretary of State that geographically we are a small country in which minimum standards are sought for the country as a whole. We are not dealing with different climatic conditions or places that are remote in terms of transport. We are lucky in the United Kingdom to have such a compact administrative organisation with such high minimum standards. In that context it is difficult to see any great scope for regional differences.

Here I begin to question the necessity for a regional administration. It is in some ways attractive that there should be one regional authority for the Eastern Counties, one for the East Midlands, one for the North East, and one for the North West, but I hesitate to see any logic in it or any administrative advantage in terms of the short distances and the high minimum standards which successive Governments happily have built up.

We are in some difficulty when we turn to the concept of the type of elected representative who would serve on a regional authority. We face the question whether the representatives should be directly elected. The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) was in difficulty in suggesting that there would be an adequate motivation of interest on a regional basis to ensure a good turnout at election time. This is not borne out in regard to county councils and I thought the right hon. Gentleman was a little thin in his reply on that point. The powers and duties of county councils closely affect the people who reside in the counties, and I have in mind education as an outstanding service in that respect. The difficulty of varying catchment areas is a factor in all administrative services, as was highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in terms of water resources.

The right hon. Member for Deptford said that hospitals would be an adequate motivation at election time. Are we to see regional areas drawn on the basis of the regional hospital service? I am not qualified to judge whether that would be adequate or right in one area or another, but I am doubtful. The regional economic planning councils serve a useful function in an advisory capacity but are powerless in executive terms. I am suspicious that they duplicate much of the work done by central Government Departments and by local authorities. This is borne out by the fact that they are staffed by departmental civil servants and much of the information upon which they rely for their advice to central Government is drawn from local government sources.

I am disappointed that the regional economic planning councils have not been given some powers and a more effective rôle. Many of us had high hopes for those councils but those hopes have not been realised. When I meet the chairmen and members of those councils I am left with a feeling of lack of purpose and authority, and indeed a lack of executive power, and this is something which the members of the councils very much regret. We face a situation in which we need to bring our judgment to bear on whether there can be a proper place for regional economic planning councils. If that cannot be justified, it must put in doubt the question of regional administration.

As for town and country planning, we have not had any great assistance from the regional economic planning councils. The county councils are the planning authorities. In their own right, they can accept or reject any advice or observations given by the regional authorities. In today's circumstances, I think that it is pertinent to know the extent to which the Minister may find it useful to use the regional councils for the problems that he faces in requiring the release of land for residential development. I have not heard it advocated from any source that we have a regional concept of town and country planning in the regional authorities and councils and that it is to them that the plea should be made for the release of land. Here again is a demonstration of their powerlessness in bringing any effective contribution to this problem.

Although it has formed no part of these debates, we should be concerned with the financial basis of the regional authorities. Will it be on the simple precept of the rating authority? In other words, shall we find the regional authorities precepting upon the district councils? That seems to be a rather far-fetched arrangement. Where are we to look for resources for the regional authorities? There is great difficulty in suggesting alternative sources for local authority revenues. It will be equally if not more difficult to find a sound basis for regional taxation.

If there are to be substantial expenditure and budgetary matters involved in regional government, they will demand directly elected councils and will be likely to rule out the indirect election proposals which form the basis of most informed opinion in this respect.

I take as pertinent the point made by my right hon. Friend about the inescapably conflicting interests of the varying levels of decision-taking and administrative organisation. We all know the problems at present with the two-tier system of administration in local government. The Government are seeking ways and means of avoiding that in their reorganisation by giving definitive powers to the two levels of local government. But if we are to put in a third level, there will be an increasing area of potential disagreement, competition and lack of co-ordinated effort. I know that the Government take refuge in Clause 101, the agency Clause. I believe that they will have substantially added difficulties in making regional administrative arrangements. I believe that it is wise to await the Report of the Crowther Commission.

9.30 p.m.

I have been substantially committed to the concept of regional government, but I am less sure about it than I was. Local government reorganisation has added further doubts in my mind, particularly when I see the problems that there are in other countries in which there is a further stage of responsibility between local and central government. These are, in the main, countries of large geographical extent with State governments and they seem to have added problems of federal administration in dealing with the state and local government.

Some of the advocacy we hear is based on overseas experience, but it makes the objective of regional government much less attractive for us for some of the reasons I have mentioned. I am bound, therefore, at this stage to resist the new Clause, though I have an open mind on the subject. I shall be able to reach a conclusion only when I see what the Crowther Commission has to recommend.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

The compliments which the Secretary of State paid to the Committee seemed indirectly to be compliments to local government, for it was because the Committee realised the importance of local government that it examined the Bill with such care and attention.

We felt that it was essential to provide local government with the structure and tools to enable it to carry out what we consider to be this important task in the community. The Clause is an attempt to improve that machinery.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

Is it not extraordinary that in Committee hon. Gentlemen opposite argued strongly for unitary, one-tier, authorities, while now they are arguing for three-tier ones?

Mr. Lamond

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity of making that point when he makes his own speech.

When trying to rebut the arguments adduced in favour of a regional authority, the Secretary of State put forward one argument which carried force and which has been accepted by some of my hon. Friends as being somewhat valid. His argument was that he was awaiting the Crowther Report. However, the Clause does not require a regional authority to be set up immediately. It simply provides the structure for establishing it.

I remind the House that we have been pulling local government to pieces in England and Wales not just while the Committee has been discussing the Bill. We have been making things more difficult for people interested in local government for some years, and if we are to embark after the Crowther Report on a further reorganisation of local government we shall set it back still further. We should, therefore, make provision at this stage for regional government.

It was unfair of the Secretary of State to suggest that because of certain functions which local government might carry out—for example, water, police and hospitals—it would be impossible to draw regional boundaries. How anyone charged with the task of trying to draw county council or metropolitan area boundaries could be daunted by the task of drawing regional boundaries I do not know because nothing could have been more difficult than the task already tackled in the Bill. It would be quite easy to draw regional boundaries.

Some hon. Members opposite have suggested that this country is too small to warrant the recognition of regional areas. But we already recognise regional areas. We all discuss the unemployment in the regions we represent. In my case, for example, the North-West Region is a quite clearly defined region. Although the climatic and geographic differences throughout the country are not very great compared with other much larger countries, there are still very great economic differences between the regions. No one can say that the problems of the North-West Region, for example, are exactly the same as those of South-East England or the Scottish Region—in the absence of hon. Members for Scottish constituencies I venture to call it a region. For example, it is interesting that planning appeals for the Scottish Region are dealt with by the Secretary of State for Scotland. It seems possible that decisions can be arrived at regionally without causing any undue harm to the system.

The Secretary of State was scraping the bottom of the barrel in finding an excuse to rebut the arguments for regional government when he said that there would be difficulty in getting candidates to stand for election and that election might not be the best method because he has had very valuable service from businessmen and trade unionists—he mentioned two—who have given advice but have not got the time to stand for election. I would be the last to deny that very valuable service has been rendered by such people, but I refuse to recognise that the method of appointment to boards is better than democratic election. I have the uneasy feeling that many such people who consider that they do not have the time to stand for election are simply not inclined to subject themselves to the examination of the electors or are not prepared to explain to them the reasons for decisions they have arrived at. I should not like to use the rather unfortunate phrase used during the debate about aldermen and the necessity of having a reminder by the electorate now and again of their duties. But it is a good thing to have at the back of one's mind the fact that one is elected to a position and that one can be removed from it if what one does is not to the satisfaction of those whom one is trying to serve.

I wonder whether in the Bill as it stands we have not restricted the numbers of people who could present themselves for election, because many thousands of people are prevented from standing for the local council by the fact of being employed by local authorities, for example, or by some body indirectly paid for by a local authority. We attempted to do something about that in Committee, but unavailingly. However, it does not help the search for suitable good candidates.

The suggestion that the electorate might not be interested in electing people to regional councils because of the remoteness from their place of residence or employment does not seem to be a good argument. In an intervention during my right hon. Friend's speech, the Secretary of State said that he thought that remoteness was the reason why local councils, for instance, do not get very large percentage turnouts on election day. But are not we herein Parliament more remote geographically from our electors than any other elected body? In spite of that, the number voting at a General Election is the highest percentage of any election in the country; certainly higher than that for local authorities.

Mr. Michael Fidler (Bury and Radcliffe)

Perhaps the hon. Member would remember what electors vote for in parliamentary elections. Their enthusiasm in the parliamentary contest lies in the power which resides in Parliament to which the person for whom they are voting may be elected. This compares to the powers held in the remote regional organisation which the hon. Member is now canvassing.

Mr. Lamond

The hon. Member has made the very point I was about to raise. I believe that low polls stem not from remoteness but from the belief of the electors that the people they are voting for do not have much power. It is important therefore in a regional council to ensure that the people who are to serve on that council have real power.

Mr. Arthur Jones

If the hon. Member wishes to give regional government greater powers, from whom are the powers to be taken?

Mr. Lamond

I think the Secretary of State made the point in his speech that he would expect regional councils to derive some of their functions from this House, and I believe they could derive some from the lower tier elected councils. I would look forward to having some of our powers taken from us so that the business of the House might be less congested and there might be greater opportunity for a more thorough discussion on some of the matters we have to decide. It is my theory that there are too many Members of Parliament; everyone agrees with me, I think, until the time comes to decide which seats should disappear, when support for me disappears also.

There is room for improvement, and I believe the regional councils will come. Many regional bodies have grown of their own accord, without much Government assistance or encouragement, like the North-West Industrial Development Association in the Manchester area. This is because the people know there is a need for this sort of development and they have set up the bodies for themselves. We should recognise that fact by accepting new Clause 10.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on not jumping the gun on the Crowther Report on the regions. Far from wanting, for example, libraries to go to the regions, albeit with concurrent powers of the counties as suggested tentatively by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis), I am anxious to see libraries left with the districts.

Mr. Terry Davis

I said specifically that I had a great deal of sympathy with libraries being held by district councils. I said there was a strong case for some libraries—by which I mean central reference libraries—being run at regional level.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I feel very strongly that libraries are intensely local in many of their functions, and I am most anxious that the Secretary of State should reconsider this particular matter. Still less do I want to see regional police forces. We have already had a series of amalgamations and mergers of police forces from 1966 onwards, and they have just settled down and gelled very nicely. It would be a great error to upset them.

With respect to other possibly more famous forces, the Lancashire force has demonstrated very clearly, not only to this country but to the whole world over the last few months, that it has a quite exceptionally high degree of skill and determination in apprehending criminals outside its county boundaries. My right hon. Friend said that the area required for water authorities was not necessarily the same as that for the police. I submit very strongly that the county boundaries are not ideal for police functions, and I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider this matter very carefully.

9.45 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I have listened with great interest to what has been said by hon. Members on both sides. I am reserving judgment, because I am intensely interested in regional development, but I want to be sure that what is done is the most satisfactory way of coping with the problems. Therefore, I am in no position tonight to say what my final decision will be. I have great confidence in my Government and I think that they could make the regional councils work if they wanted to do so.

Quite a lot has been said about the economic development councils. We have an excellent Chairman of our Northern Regional Economic Planning Council, Dr. Reid. I have heard him on several occasions make very good suggestions. He is full of ideas which sound brilliant to me, as a novice. As always when I hear anything which I think is to the advantage of the region, I have taken a great deal of trouble to go to my various Secretaries of State and ask what will be done about Dr. Reid's proposals. Part of the problem is the fragmentation of regional matters between one Department and another.

For example, Dr. Reid had a talk with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Naturally, he is not at liberty to say what has happened as a result. But I have not heard, either, and unless I know the facts I find it very difficult to make up my mind as to what is right and what is wrong with regard to regional councils. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, whom I naturally wish to support, would say a little more to inform me and my colleagues on both sides, I should feel better, but I do not know what happened.

I went to see my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Employment after I had heard some very good suggestions from Dr. Reid. My right hon. Friend could not have been more helpful. He gave me a great deal of time, and I was delighted with what he said. But he rightly said that many of the points made by Dr. Reid affected a variety of Departments and that all he could do was to put the various proposals, concerning training of apprentices and all sorts of matters which are important in the regions, to each Department concerned. He did that. I have not heard a word since from any of the Departments concerned about whether they will accept or reject the proposals.

If the Secretary of State is to turn down this new Clause, I want to know how we are to get the situation fixed so that one does not have to go from one Department to another to find what has happened. All Governments are far too slow. With the best will in the world, I rather suspect that sometimes very good proposals go to the bottom of the Cabinet's agenda, if they ever get there, or to the bottom of the agenda put before a Secretary of State. I have an open mind on this question. I am delighted to accept what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says, but I want to have more facts when as a Member of Parliament I have to make up my mind as to what is best for the region and the part of the country which I try very hard to serve.

I have struggled with the question of the police force for a very long time. At last I have managed to get an appointment with the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whom I am to meet on Monday. I have a very shrewd suspicion that he does not understand the problem and that I shall not be able to change his mind. There has been one reorganisation and another has been suggested. I am always grateful for the opportunity to line up everything when I make a proposition. Now I shall say what I have lined up against the Secretary of State for the Home Department. This does not make the slightest difference to him, except that he will be terribly nice and will be delighted to see me.

The Chief Constable of the County of Northumberland says that the proposals put forward by the Secretary of State are not practicable. I should prefer to take the opinion of an operating chief constable than that of a Secretary of State who may have had a lot of advice from people from whom I should not like to accept advice. The Minister for Local Government and Development told me that he could not care less about the arrangements for the police on the question of boundaries. I decided to get in touch with a very distinguished Lord Lieutenant in the County of Northumberland and I asked him whether he would do something about the police force. He very kindly put his ideas to the police committee for the county. That committee does not agree with the Home Secretary. It says that unless it can shift the view of the Home Secretary little can be done. The committee thinks that he has got himself so embedded that it will not be able to shift his view. The Police Federation has a view which should be accepted because that is the operating point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who used to be a Minister in the Home Office, has heard the case put for Lancashire and my region. He said that he would not express a view, but he told the Police Federation that if ever it wanted another deputation to go to the Secretary of State he would be delighted to accompany it. I gather that my right hon. Friend is on the side of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) and myself.

I get fed up with Ministers. One puts up masses of information and they are so nice in refusing that one feels one is being an absolute brute. When I see my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on Monday, I shall ask him what his qualifications are—he is very good as Home Secretary, although I do not always agree with him—to go against all these opinions of experienced people.

I want to say something which will please some hon. Members opposite but infuriate others. I am a very good digger and I find that when the Police Federation saw the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins)—who was deputy Leader of the Opposition but has now resigned—when he was Home Secretary, he promised that he would not make any alterations in the police boundaries until we had the Local Government Bill. As all politicians are a bit uncertain of what they do, whatever they say in the House of Commons or in the country, the right hon. Gentleman did not take any notice of what he had told the Police Federation. He immediately made an alteration, had a new reorganisation, and now we are landed with a reorganisation which the police were told they would never have to face until the Local Government Bill.

I do not quite know what I am going to do. If I do not get sense out of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary I shall, I suppose, have to have a demonstration here, perhaps with the police force. I shall just see what I am going to do. But this kind of thing makes me wonder whether, if we had strong regional councils, we would not be able to knock a little more sense into Ministers. I am sorry to put it so strongly but it is no good being namby-pamby in politics. I believe in being outspoken.

It is terribly important when discussing regional councils to know whether backbenchers are to be informed enough so that they can use whatever brains God has given them, because one cannot make decisions unless one knows all the facts. I always try to know my facts. I would not take a decision from anyone unless I thought I knew the facts. One never knows as a backbencher whether one has all the facts.

I have said enough. I am longing to support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but then he is only one Secretary of State. There is a whole row of them, and I just do not know how I shall make up my mind on what is the right line for me to take. I hope that I shall know after I have seen my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on Monday. It depends on him. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment had better use his charm on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary because then I might much more readily accept the excellent analysis he gave of the problems of the regions.

Mr. Blenkinsop

From what the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has said, I understand that there is one area in this Bill on which there is fairly general disagreement. It may have been better had the hon. Member heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) when he moved the new Clause.

This has been a debate in rather low key. While we welcome the intervention of the Secretary of State, the House would be mistaken if it thought that this was in any way an unimportant issue. I am convinced that regional organisation will be—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.


That the Local Government Bill may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Rossi.]

Question again proposed, That the Clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The issue of regionalism and what kind of authority may be needed at regional level is of supreme importance. It became clear as we proceeded in Committee that, although at the start many Members were uncertain about what rôle there was for the regions, hardly any major issues raised by the Bill could be settled other than at regional or, indeed, national level. We were continually saying, "Here is another example of the need for structure at regional level." We are raising this issue again on Report to try to secure from the Government a clearer definition of their intentions and to make clear that we believed that there was an essential rôle at regional level.

It is a tragedy that we have all the problems of this major reconstruction of local government to relatively little purpose. Many of the problems which the Bill sets out to solve will still be there when it is passed, and the new machinery will go no real way to meet those needs. That is why we are putting forward proposals for some regional setting.

I direct the attention of the House to new Clause 3 which is being discussed with new Clause 10. That allows for a much quieter, slower approach to the problem and takes in many of the points to which reference has been made. It merely gives power to the Commission to consider the establishment of regions in specific areas without requiring, as it is required under new Clause 10, that they be established throughout the whole country.

There are areas of the country where the needs for regional structure are more urgent than in others. I completely accept that the broad concept of a regional structure is required throughout the country. Nevertheless, it is possible to consider an approach in stages, looking at the needs of certain areas in advance of others. That is what is suggested in this very modest proposal in new Clause 3.

I understand that for technical reasons it may not be possible to express our views by voting on new Clause 3. It may be that we shall have to take our decision whether we wish to vote on new Clause 10. However, I hope that the Minister will give some attention to the approach which we are also suggesting in new Clause 3.

It is interesting that in Committee hon. Members began to recognise the need for some kind of regional structure. The Minister made it quite clear that they recognise that certain matters ought to be looked at on a regional basis and are waiting to see the best way to deal with this. It is all very well to wait, but I believe that we should begin to take some action or at least suggest the ways in which this whole subject might be dealt with. Our anxiety is not merely that we are not setting up immediately a full structure at regional level but that the whole setting of this Bill may preclude the development of a regional structure even at a later date. This, I think, is the anxiety we all feel, and it is shared to a large extent by those who are to have the responsibility of putting the Bill into operation once it has been passed by this House.

Whatever attitudes may be taken here, there is no question at all that very many of those who are professionally involved in this whole area, and particularly in planning, are requiring more and more solutions at the regional level. Therefore we want some clear assurance from the Minister when he replies. If he is not prepared to accept the Amendments as they stand, he can at least make clear the way in which the form of regional approach can be established. If these Amendments are rejected, I fear very much indeed that it may not be practicable.

May I take one or two of the points that have been raised and deal with them very shortly? It has been suggested by some hon. Members that what we are proposing here is a three-tier structure. This is not so. Hon. Members may take different views about this, but what we are suggesting very modestly is that the councils should be absorbed, amalgamated, to form new regions. It is clear from both the Amendments that are put down here that this is the concept that is suggested. There may be objections to this approach but no one can say that this is a three-tier structure. It means, in fact, a more effective two-tier structure, in our view. What we envisage is both that there should be powers in the hands of that new regional body that stem from local government and that they should take over powers that are exercised today by very many ad hoc statutory bodies that have been established over the years, and particularly since the war. All Governments have shared in doing this, of course.

We certainly believe that the area of health planning ought to come within the scope of these new regional bodies. That is one very important example. We are very unhappy about the way in which new ad hoc machinery is proposed in health matters. We do not know the details of this yet and it seems illogical that we are passing this Measure with regard to local government without having that information. It is a very unsatisfactory position. But they would absorb that kind of function at that kind of level.

I noticed that the Secretary of State, in his intervention, again repeated that he regarded it as almost self-evident that water authorities could not be established for areas that we might choose for other regional government purposes. I doubt whether that is true, although he repeats it on every occasion. There have been many examples of how closely the structure suggested for the new regional authorities links with the areas we might very well wish to choose for our regional authorities for other purposes. Articles have appeared in the national Press and in some professional journals showing how close the link is. Therefore, without further evidence, we cannot accept the Secretary of State's statement about that.

It has also been said that it might be necessary to have some nominated element. The Secretary of State referred to the value of some of those serving in an advisory capacity on regional economic advisory councils. As the regional bodies that we foresee would have real powers, unlike the advisory councils, we think that they must be largely, if not wholly, elected bodies. I do not rule out the possibility of a small nominated element. I accept that there are valuable sources of advice which we might not be able to utilise simply by direct election. However, without question the body which we foresee must be either fully elected or have a clearly elected majority.

In many areas under the structure proposed by the Bill, even if it is amended, there will be authorities which will not be able to carry out the functions expected of them. We are told that there will be joint bodies of some sort or another. The White Paper said that it was the Government's intention to combine rural areas and urban areas. In many areas we are persisting in establishing purely urban authorities. Elsewhere we are persisting in establishing purely rural authorities. The conflict will continue, to no one's satisfaction. The attempt is being made to work out a structure to make work what is unworkable. In all cases a regional solution is needed.

For these reasons, I deeply regret that we have had no clear undertaking that this proposition will be accepted. Instead, it is clear that the Government intend to go much further with elaborating their governmental and departmental regional machinery. That is their answer to our demand for an effective, democratic, elected body at regional level.

If the Bill goes through unamended, over the next few years more and more nominated bodies will be established in almost every area. We believe that the process has already gone too far and that some areas should be clawed back into democratically elected control. This is why we regard this issue as one of such great importance. We believe that as time passes this will come to be increasingly recognised in the country at large. It is why, unless we get a more satisfactory answer than we have received so far, we intend to divide the House on the Clause.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I do not propose to give any such undertaking as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) has asked for. I will give the undertaking that when we receive Crowther we will consider it and then take steps to provide proper arrangements for regional Government. We have a regional organisation, with many Government officers carrying on their work in the regions. We fully accept the need for regional organisations of various kinds and the regional treatment of issues, to which the hon. Gentleman seemed to object. The Secretary of State has already defined some of those areas, such as water, transport, planning and so on. We shall continue to treat these matters regionally and await the Crowther Report. It would be foolish not to do so.

We fully accept the need for regional organisations of various kinds and, when we have the Crowther Report, will decide what form they will take. They certainly will not take the form of new Clause 10—a very vague statement. I presume that the House will be asked to divide on the proposition that this Clause should be included in the Bill.

We are also discussing new Clause 3, which the hon. Member said was terrifyingly modest. It takes away all the counties' powers and is a complete attack on local government. It says: A region established under section 49 of this Act shall have all the powers of the counties from which it was amalgamated and such powers as the Secretary of State may by order determine subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. This is not the sort of regional government which we or Crowther have in mind. This is taking local government functions away and vesting them in some top-tier body, above other levels of local government, with the regions at the top, then the counties, districts and, I suppose, the parishes at the bottom. Take for example, subsection (1) of the Clause. How many regions are we to have? Redcliffe-Maud has suggested eight regions; Derek Senior suggested 35. At the moment we have eight regions, and in those regions we have the regional economic planning councils and the regional standing conferences of the local authorities, both of which have sponsored regional strategies. Economic planning councils are extremely useful by way of advice to Government, and we are extremely grateful for the assistance they give. To some extent they have an executive power with the standing conferences of local planning authorities in sponsoring regional strategies. Their great benefit to the Government is through the advice that they give.

Subsection (2) of new Clause 10 talks of an amalgamation of counties. We understand what is behind that only when we look at new Clause 3, an official Opposition Clause, and see that what is meant by the amalgamation of the counties is the amalgamation of the county councils and all the powers of the local authorities at that level. This Clause is a complete phantasy.

Thank Heaven we are not also discussing the Liberal Amendment grouped with this. We have sat here from the early part of the afternoon until now and have had the benefit of the attendance of but one Liberal Member for exactly three minutes. We have been discussing a Liberal Amendment for the last two hours. It is rather extraordinary.

I turn to subsection (3) which says: For every region there shall be a council consisting of a chairman and councillors and the council shall have all the functions as shall be vested in them by this Act or otherwise.

Plainly the Opposition intend that those functions should be the functions we have given in the Bill to the counties. The functions are to be vested in this regional body.

It has been asked from where the revenue would come. Is the region to precept on the counties and then the counties to precept on the districts and to collect the money from extra rates? The Clause leaves this question unanswered. We do not know the intention behind it. What are the terms of reference of this regional body? What are to be the electoral divisions? How many members are to be on the regional body? This is all very well for an ordinary debate on having regional authority, but to ask the House to embody this sort of proposal—

Mr. John Silkin

When the Minister reads the whole Clause he will see from the last subsection that the matter would be decided between now and 1977—a long enough period even for the present Government, and the Labour Government which will take over, to make up their minds.

Mr. Page

Do the Opposition seriously put the Clause before the House and ask it to divide on it if it is not to know what the Clause will contain until 1977? The proposed council would be a big brother for our proposed counties and districts. It is a threat to the local government reorganisation which we have embodied in the Bill, and I hope that if it is asked to divide on it, the House will reject it.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time: —

The House divided: Ayes 110, Noes 138.

Division No. 123.] AYES [10.20 p.m.
Albu, Austen Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)
Allen, Scholefield Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Dalyell, Tam
Atkinson, Norman Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Davidson, Arthur
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Clark, David (Colne Valley) Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey
Blenkinsop, Arthur Cohen, Stanley Dormand, J. D.
Booth, Albert Concannon, J. D. Driberg, Tom
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Conlan, Bernard Dunnett, Jack
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Cronin, John Edelman, Maurice
Faulds, Andrew Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham,Ladywood) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Roper, John
Foley, Maurice McCann, John Rose, Paul B.
Forrester, John McCartney, Hugh Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Garrett, W. E. Mackenzie, Gregor Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Gilbert, Dr. John Mackie, John Sillars, James
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Maclennan, Robert Skinner, Dennis
Grant, George (Morpeth) Marks, Kenneth Small, William
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Marquand, David Spriggs, Leslie
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Marshall, Dr. Edmund Stallard, A. W.
Hamling, William Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Harper, Joseph Mendelson, John Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Harrison, Walter (Wakefileld) Millan, Bruce Strang, Gavin
Horam, John Milne, Edward Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Huckfield, Leslie Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Hunter, Adam Molloy, William Tinn, James
Irvine,Rt.Hn.SirArthur(Edge Hill) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Torney, Dr. Anthony
Janner, Greville Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Wainwright, Edwin
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Oakes, Gordon Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Judd, Frank Oswald, Thomas Wallace, George
Kaufman, Gerald Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton) Watkins, David
Lamond, James Paget, R. T. Weitzman, David
Lawson, George Palmer, Arthur Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Lestor, Miss Joan Pendry, Tom
Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lipton, Marcus Price, William (Rugby) Mr. Ernest Armstrong and Mr. John Golding.
Lomas, Kenneth Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Adley, Robert Hannam, John (Exeter) Onslow, Cranley
Atkins, Humphrey Havers, Michael Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Hawkins, Paul Page, Graham (Crosby)
Benyon, W. Hayhoe, Barney Pink, R. Bonner
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hicks, Robert Proudfoot, Wilfred
Biffen, John Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Biggs-Davison, John Holland, Philip Redmond, Robert
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Holt, Miss Mary Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Boscawen, Robert Hornby, Richard Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Bowden, Andrew Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bray, Ronald Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hunt, John Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bryan, Paul Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Rost, Peter
Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N&M) James, David Russell, Sir Ronald
Carlisle, Mark Jessel, Toby Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Chapman, Sydney Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Sinclair, Sir George
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Skeet, T. H. H.
Clegg, Walter Kershaw, Anthony Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Cooke, Robert King, Tom (Bridgwater) Soref, Harold
Coombs, Derek Kinsey, J. R. Speed, Keith
Cormack, Patrick Knight, Mrs. Jill Spence, John
Costain, A. P. Knox, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Critchley, Julian Lane, David Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Crouch, David Langford-Holt, Sir John Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid,Maj.-Gen. James Le Merchant, Spencer Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Dean, Paul Longden, Sir Gilbert Tebbit, Norman
Digby, Simon Wingfield Luce, R. N. Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Dixon, Piers McCrindle, R. A. Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward McLaren, Martin Tilney, John
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest) Trew, Peter
Emery, Peter Maddan, Martin Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Eyre, Reginald Mather, Carol van Straubenzee, W. R.
Farr, John Maude, Angus Waddington, David
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Meyer, Sir Anthony Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fidler, Michael Mills, Peter (Torrington) Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Ward, Dame Irene
Fookes, Miss Janet Moate, Roger Warren, Kenneth
Fortescue, Tim Money, Ernle Weatherill, Bernard
Foster, Sir John Monks, Mrs. Connie White, Roger (Gravesend)
Fowler, Norman Montgomery, Fergus Wiggin, Jerry
Fox, Marcus More, Jasper Winterton, Nicholas
Goodhew, Victor Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Woodnutt, Mark
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Green, Alan Murton, Oscar TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grylls, Michael Neave, Airey Mr. Michael Joplin and Mr. Hamish Gray.
Gummer, Selwyn Normanton, Tom
Gurden, Harold

Question accordingly negatived.

Further consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—(Mr. Graham Page.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow.