HC Deb 19 July 1972 vol 841 cc823-61


Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I beg to move Amendment No. 432, in page 121, line 9, leave out "have power to".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment we can take the following Amendments: No. 433, in page 121, line 26, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

No. 434, in page 121, line 45, at end insert: 'and "maintenance" includes construction, improvement, repair and lighting'.

No. 435, in page 121, line 45, at end insert:

  1. (7) Without prejudice to the preceding provisions of this section the functions of the local highway authority for highways outside Greater London shall be discharged by the district councils to the extent specified in a scheme made in accordance with the following provisions of this section.
  2. (8) Subject to regulations under this section, it shall be the duty of the local highway authority in consultation with the district councils to make, and thereafter to keep under review and amend, if they think fit, a scheme (to be known as a county highways scheme) for the discharge of all or any of the functions of the local highway authority, and those functions shall be discharged in accordance with the scheme and not otherwise by the local high way authority or the district councils designated in the scheme.
  3. (9) A county highways scheme may include such incidental, consequential, transitional or supplementary provision as may appear to the local highway authority to be necessary or proper for the purposes or in consequence of the provisions of the scheme and for giving full effect thereto, and, without prejudice to the foregoing provision, shall—
    1. (a) designate those highways in respect of which a district council shall discharge the functions of the local highway authority (subject to the consent of the Secretary of State in respect of trunk roads);
    2. (b) specify the nature and extent of those functions to be discharged by a district council in respect of the highways so designated;
    3. (c) in designating highways and specifying functions under the scheme, have regard to the extent of the built-up character of the area of the district council and the capacity of a district council to discharge those functions;
    4. (d) specify procedures to secure that the discharge of functions under the scheme accords with the strategic transportation and 824 highway policies and proposals of the local highway authority.
  4. (10) The Secretary of State may direct a local highway authority after consultation with the district councils—
    1. (a) to prepare a county highways scheme before a date specified in the direction; and
    2. (b) where it appears to the Secretary of State that any such scheme should be amended, to amend to in terms so specified before a date so specified.
  5. (11) Where a district council make representations to the Secretary of State that they are dissatisfied with the proposals of the local highway authority for a county highways scheme, or a local highway authority fails to comply with a direction under subsection (10) of this section to make or amend such a scheme, the Secretary of State may himself make or, as the case may be, amend the scheme; and any scheme or amendment so made shall have effect as if made by the local highway authority.
  6. (12) The Secretary of State may make regulations—
    1. (a) providing for the content of such schemes;
    2. (b) requiring the local highway authority to take prescribed procedural steps in connection with the preparation of such schemes.
  7. (13) A local highway authority shall exercise their power of making a county highways scheme before 1st April 1974 or such earlier date as the Secretary of State may direct under subsection (10) of this section, but any scheme made before that date by virtue of this subsection shall not come into operation until that date.

No. 438, in page 282, leave out from line 8 to end of line 43.

No. 436, in page 122, line 18, leave out 'county councils' and insert 'district councils'.

No. 437, in page 122, line 19, leave out 'county council' and insert 'district council shall be the highway authority for the purposes of section 40 of the Highways Act 1959 (power of highway authorities to adopt by agreement) and'.

No. 439, in page 293, leave out from line 30 to end of line 29 on page 296.

No. 440, in page 296, leave out from line 48 to end of line 2 on page 298.

Government Amendments Nos. 704, 705, 706, 707, 709, 708.

Sir Bernard Braine

The purpose of this and the other Amendments is to secure for district councils wider powers under Clause 183 in respect of urban roads. I begin by stating my firm belief that in the allocation of functions lies the success or failure of this great reforming Measure. I am convinced that as the Bill stands it falls short of what is required if the new and enlarged district councils are to get off the ground successfully and to work effectively. Let us make no mistake about it: this is where the grass roots of democratic local government lie.

If the new districts are not given adequate functions then local government will wither because people of the right calibre will not be attracted to its service. Though it is very early in the morning, only an hour ago the chairman of one of my local authorities, an experienced councillor with many years of service, said to me "I and many like me am waiting to see what powers the district councils will have before I decide whether I shall continue in public life."

12.45 a.m.

That is bad enough, but there is worse to follow. It is wrong; it is unfair, and it is unnecessary to take away functions already enjoyed and competently carried out by many district councils. It is even more wrong, more unfair and more unnecessary, especially when the average new district council will be roughly twice the size, in population, and have twice the resources of the existing councils. The taking away of highway powers is perhaps the most striking example. I am aware that my right hon. Friend set out the Government's basic thinking on this score in the Second Reading debate, when he said that given a two-tier system of local government, those, matters which concerned a wide catchment area and the public at large would best be dealt with by the new county authorities, while functions more closely relating to local people should be exercised by the new district councils. In the first category he included not only education, social services and strategic planning, but transportation.

But in the same debate my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development said that the Bill's purpose is to give every district council the functions which give it the complete power to create and to control the character of that district…"—[Official Report, 16th November, 1971; Vol. 826, c. 346.] Few would quarrel with that, yet it is implicit in those two speeches that there is some confusion and contradiction. In planning, the division between the require- ment that strategic control should be in the hands of counties while detailed control should be in the hands of district authorities has been determined in what is a generally acceptable way. But why cannot similar arrangements be made in respect of highways?

My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones), whose wisdom and experience has illumined our discussions on the Bill, asked this very question in Committee. I shall not rehearse the arguments that he used. They impressed the Committee, but suffice it to say that they received no answer. Therefore, I ask once again: where is the sense in entrusting district councils with some responsibility for planning while withholding some responsibility for highways?

In this day and age those two sets of responsibility go together. The Buchanan Report on Traffic in Towns made very clear, nearly a decade ago, that traffic and buildings are two facets of the same problem. In essence, that report said that those who designed and allocated buildings should not take for granted that the street system will be adequate to take the additional traffic that the development will generate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South said in Committee, how is it possible to plan a town centre if, at the same time, one is not having regard to the planning of the highways; if one is not having regard to the planning of traffic management, and if one is not having regard to on and off-street paring? Clearly the same authority ought to be responsible for the related decisions which have to take place at a very early stage if that development is to be effective.

Equally, as the Buchanan Report warned, those who have responsibility for planning street systems should not have the power to ruin the established amenities of one group of people in order to permit the public at large to use their personal transport more conveniently. I tell my right hon. Friend seriously that environment is everybody's responsibility, but that a particular environment is the particular responsibility of those who live closest to it and those most likely to know most about it, namely, district councils. It is because, in my view, the Bill conspires against these principles that my hon. Friends and I put down these Amendments.

It is not too much to say that in this context the Bill diminishes local government, weakens local democracy and does not offer any compensatory advantages.

I take one example from my area. I should not mind betting that there are a score of Members who could say the same thing about the areas that they know and represent. In Essex all urban districts are the local highway authorities for the district roads within their areas. Moreover, most urban districts with populations in excess of 20,000 have "claimed" county roads and are, therefore, local highway authorities for all roads within their boundaries, except, of course, trunk roads. In Essex, 13 boroughs and urban districts exercise such "claimed" or delegated functions. They exercise complete responsibility for repair, maintenance and improvement of their roads, and, what is more, I have never heard it suggested that they do not exercise those responsibilities extremely well. They are also responsible for the provision of street lighting, on and off-street car parking, and schemes of traffic management and regulation. Most authorities manage these services through their own highways and works departments under their own engineers and surveyors and—and this is important—they provide engineering services for the whole range of local government departments.

The Bill takes away from the new districts virtually all these functions and vests them in the counties. It leaves the districts with the mere right to elect to maintain footpaths, bridle ways, and urban roads, which are neither trunk nor classified roads, together with the power to execute urgent repairs in private streets. Moreover, unlike the existing powers, the powers proposed by the Bill extend only to maintenance and do not include even minor improvements.

I am advised—and I can go only on what I am told by experienced local government officers and by the chairmen of responsible local authorities, men and women, who have served long in local government—that these proposals in practice will give rise to so many difficulties in administration that district councils will be reluctant to exercise them.

District councils will have no other highway powers whatsoever. They have to give up street lighting, their local traffic management and regulation and provision for car parking, and even their private street works powers are to be exercised by the county authority. We get to the situation that the new, enlarged district councils envisaged by this Bill will be reduced virtually to filling in potholes and surfacing only those unclassified urban roads within their boundaries. That is the reality. Such provisions, in my view, are quite ludicrous, and I hope the Government will have swift second thoughts.

Since so much emphasis has been put in this Bill—and rightly so—on the need to make local government more efficient, I do not think it should be lost upon hon. Members that one consequence of these particular proposals will be to end the central works units available to service all the other departments of the new district councils.

If it were the case that the existing district councils had not carried out their highway functions efficiently, one might be less critical and I certainly would not be standing here making this speech at this hour of the morning. But that cannot be argued. It certainly cannot be argued in respect of my constituency. In my constituency, where an urban district is a claiming authority, I can state categorically that the standard of maintenance of county roads is markedly higher than that in adjoining areas where the county council is responsible. The standard in all urban districts is markedly higher than it is in the rural districts, and we all know the reason why. In the 20 years of my membership of this House I have witnessed the rapid improvement and development of highways in an urban district which has become a highway authority. The improvement was a result of its exercising the powers which are to be taken away from it. Equally, I have witnessed the appalling difficulties which arise in areas where agency agreements exist.

Let me quote from a letter that I received only this morning from the clerk of a rural district council in my constituency where the state of the roads still is a source of constant complaint. It says: …my experience leads me to regard agency arrangements between county and district councils as a source of hindrance and frustration in achieving the desired objective. You may remember that until three years ago the rural district council exercised private street works powers in making up unmade streets under an agency arrangement with the Essex County Council. We finally had to ask the county council to terminate the arrangement and take the work back because of the difficulties that were arising. The main points of difficulty were: (1) Much time was lost while various steps received formal approval by both authorities. (2) The rural district council was responsible for preparing schemes and supervising their execution and the county council provided the money. It was never possible to adequately integrate these two aspects because each was considered in isolation by separate groups of members. (3) Contentions arose from time to time regarding the freedom of action available to the district council and the responsibility of the county council for the district council's actions. That is the experience of a local authority, knowing its own area, not having the effective powers to provide the services which people want.

I could say a great deal more about this, but I know that a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to catch your eye. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall listen with great care to what my right hon. Friend the Minister says on the subject.

The Government will lose none of their authority if they accept these Amendments, which will do much to strengthen local government at the grass roots and to give the new district councils worthwhile powers. It will be a popular and acceptable move if my right hon. Friend finds it possible to accept the Amendments or to indicate that he will look at them and do something at a later stage. It is in that spirit that I commend my Amendment to the House.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

I welcome the slight change of heart from that which was apparent in the White Paper, because the districts are given just a little more than the very ungenerous apportionment in the White Paper. However, it does not go far enough, and the Bill still frustrates the declared policy of the Government in the White Paper and in the Second Reading debate on 16th November. 1971.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) referred to the Minister's statement on Second Reading that …the most important decisions which have emerged from all our discussions following the White Paper are those which have allotted to every district the functions which give it the complete power to create and to control the character of that district, with due regard to the general strategy of its county…We must look at the whole question of highways in this way or the traffic will snarl up, at the same time leaving the representatives of the districts to look after those roads which are, like residential roads, part of the character of those areas."—[Official Report, 16th November, 1971; Vol. 826, cc. 346–8.] Surely that must mean that the district councils should retain those highway functions of predominantly local interest. I say "retain" because at present a council with a population of 30,000 can claim the right to improve and maintain its roads, and that carries with it traffic management. But according to the Bill, this is to go by the board.

How is it possible to give a district—to quote the Minister's words— …the complete power to create and to control the character of that district unless the council of the district has responsibility for local highways, including traffic management and car parking?

Let me apply this to my own constituency. Watford, with a population of 76,000, which has hitherto exercised various functions of vital local concern such as local highways, traffic management and car parks with efficiency and expedition, will be sorely affected by the deprivation of these functons. Up to the present, Watford has been the highway authority for all district roads and, as claiming authority, for all principal roads. It has carried out its functions extremely well.

Hon. Members may not be aware of it, but a team from Leicester University's Economics Department, on behalf of the Freight Transport Association, has been carrying out a detailed analysis of all the effects of the Watford precinct traffic experiment. Its conclusion is that the Watford scheme could be applied to many other towns, that it has brought real benefit to the local community, and that these benefits are likely to be increased when the whole scheme has been completed. This scheme, which is a massive central area redevelopment going on at present at a cost of about £5 million, probably would not have been carried out if the borough council had not been given powers of traffic regulation and management.

1.0 a.m.

The very lifeblood of Watford depends on free traffic movement in the centre. It is impossible for a busy town such as Watford to grow and develop without having the regulation and management of traffic under its control.

I believe that Watford was the pioneer in the creation of pedestrian and service precincts, and it is in the forefront concerning parking arrangements, with three multi-storey car parks to its credit. It is impossible that someone in, say, the town of Hertford should make decisions on car parking or one-way streets in Watford. They are vital to the life of the town and should therefore be left to the district council.

What have the districts had left to them by this Bill? Merely the function of maintaining, not even improving, unclassified roads—not even non-strategic classified roads—in urban areas. Watford will be shorn of its present ability to exercise the powers of traffic regulation and management. It will be able only to resurface a road and to fill in potholes. What a tremendous activity for a borough with a qualified staff of engineers! Talk of square pegs in round holes!

A further point may have escaped the Minister's attention. District councils are to be responsible for the preparation of local plans and town centre development, subject always, of course, to the county strategic plan. These are highly important powers. But how can a district implement and carry out these plans effectively unless it has the requisite powers? Surely the Minister must realise that highway improvement and traffic regulation and management are integral parts of local planning and town development or redevelopment. In fact, the whole redevelopment plan will often be, as the present central area plan in Watford is, geared to highway improvement and traffic regulation: for example, parking, one-way streets, waiting, pedestrian crossings, precincts, traffic islands, traffic lights, and so on. In fact, they form the main basis of the plan for redevelopment. The relief of congestion is one of the basic reasons for the preparation of the plan.

In any urban area, therefore, replanning is dictated by traffic considerations and to bifurcate the responsibility for local plans and redevelopment, on the one hand, and traffic regulation and management, on the other, as proposed in the Bill, is completely self-defeating. One cancels out the other, and we shall get nowhere at all.

How would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, like to be a passenger in a motor car with the accelerator under the control of one man and the steering wheel under the control of another?

Turning to council housing schemes, the same difficulty is at once apparent. As housing authority the district will have to deal with housing improvement areas. Are we to leave, for example, access to garages to the county? All this will come to nought if the Bill goes through and the district cannot deal with highways.

Highway powers affect the local environment. This is an area in which the county council has no experience. It follows that if the important matter of traffic management and regulation is left to the county council, the interests of the public will suffer. The local council is much more attuned to the ear of the public in Watford than is the county council.

The Minister made one concession for which we are grateful. He promised to table an Amendment to give the district power to provide off-street parking. That was on 29th February, 1972, col. 2125. Standing Committee D.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is giving what I hope is a wrong impression of reading his speech.

Mr. Tuck

I am speaking from full notes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Why limit it in this way? Why not on-street parking, too? The position will be most unsatisfactory if the district has no control over this matter.

I know that I shall have thrown at me Clause 101 and the promise of the Secretary of State last Monday to bring in a new Clause in another place. The precise terms of the new Clause are not known, but its effect must be strictly limited. In particular, there is a limited period during which the right of appeal to the Secretary of State will operate, after which presumably the county council can play havoc with the district council. The district councils and county councils will continually be at each other's throat. The proposed delegation is no substitute for direct conferment of functions on district councils, where these functions are essential. However, if the districts are to have local responsibility for the environment, which the Government have insisted they are entitled to have, the Government must realise that responsibility for local implementation is inseparable from the general control over local environment, which the Government have said they wish to place in the hands of the district councils.

I again remind the Secretary of State of the words of the White Paper: Decisions should be taken and seen to be taken as locally as possible. Therefore, I urge the Government to extend Clause183 so as to give district councils responsibility for all works connected with public highways of the kind covered by the Clause, and so as to require county councils to prepare county highway schemes. They need not prepare county highway schemes in every case. Amendment No. 435 states that the county shall …in designating highways and specifying functions under the scheme, have regard to the extent of the built-up character of the area of the district council and the capacity of a district council to discharge those functions". and specify procedures to secure that the discharge of functions under the scheme accords with the strategic transportation and highway policies and proposals of the local highway authority. In other words, the whole thing will be subject to the strategic overall county plan. The Minister need not fear that it will not be. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to accept these Amendments so as to honour the Government's original declared intention.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

My observations will be shorter than those of the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck), though perhaps delivered with a shade less than the rapid and enviable volubility with which the hon. Gentleman addressed the House. At any rate, those hon. Members who do not have my good fortune in knowing Watford will know much more about it now.

The contrast in the Clause is clear and significant. The first subsection is categoric and sweeping, giving the function of highway authority to the county councils. The rest of the provisions of the Clause, conferring powers on the district, are pale by comparison and restricted in effect. They confer power rather than an express duty or express entitlement. The power is restricted to maintenance and to work done only as a paid agent of the highway authority. That being so, I can well understand the feelings of those who will comprise the new districts, including the urban districts and rural districts of my constituency, that this is insufficient, and that design and construction, in particular, and appropriate responsibility for traffic and car parking, should be added to their functions.

The basic defect of the Clause appears to be that it applies a unitary concept of highways and transportation in a Bill which has non-unitary overall effect and depends on a reasonable balance of the two-tier system. The salient factor is the planning pattern. If the pattern is right, then the highway pattern should reflect it and bear an appropriate relationship to it.

It is of course arguable—and is argued by some—that there could and should have been a more unitary approach to the planning functions. But that is not what the Bill has done. It has given the pattern in Clause 178, with the task of preparing the local plans given to the district councils. Therefore, we have to take that as it is, and with that planning pattern the highway pattern is manifestly inconsistent.

I do not think that this inconsistency can wholly be explained by the suggestion that highways and planning are generic-ally different in their substance. In fact, the design and positioning of roads are a central feature of and are essentially within the framework of general planning, a truth which has been learned the hard way over the last two or three decades by the practitioners in town planning and has been formulated on the high authority of Sir Colin Buchanan. It is difficult to see how the local planning functions in the Bill can be fully meaningful without responsibility in this regard.

Without responsibility for the design and construction, for example, of estate roads in new development, and particularly in council estates, where the district council is not only the planning authority but the housing authority as well, it is difficult to see how the expected development and urban renewal can be done without these functions being entrusted to the district councils as well. These things lie at the heart of local urban planning, and whatever might be the logic of the matter if highways could be taken in isolation, in conjunction with planning there should be a presumption that higher responsibilities are given so as to follow the overall planning.

Further, if the highway function is left on the present pattern, the districts can scarcely hope to be able to recruit the necessary qualified engineering staff for their purpose. They will be in the difficulty that the Bill gives them sufficient functions to require technical staff but functions of an insufficiently professional interest to attract staff of the right calibre. In these difficult circumstances—difficult because there may be some conflict of interest here between executive aspects of highways and town planning functions—I find the county highway scheme proposed in Amendment No. 435 attractive. It is something which can perhaps be commended to my right hon. Friend as a way of meeting this dilemma because subsection 9(c) and 9(d) draws a fair balance and safeguards the county council's strategic interests.

I hope, therefore, that, if my right hon. Friend is impressed with the wish of hon. Members to give a greater function to the districts in this context, he will think that this is a method whereby it can be done without prejudice or undue erosion of the proper functions of the county councils. At any rate, it is something to which he might give consideration in the context of these matters in the hope of achieving some amelioration of the highways position of the districts, some expansion of their responsibilities, as being perhaps the best way of improving the status, increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the attractiveness of these new districts and thereby assisting the operation of the two-tier system which the Bill presents.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. Wallace

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) on his forceful and direct speech. I have a feeling that the back-benchers are beginning to assert themselves, and both Front Benches had better take note because these issues are vitally important. Although we get whispered instructions that we might go home, and not wield the parish pump, these discussions are about the lifeblood of democracy in local authority areas. Whips on both sides might think in terms of back-bench benefit night.

To reduce major local authorities with a fine record of administration to the level of workman for the county council is ridiculous and out of keeping with local authority reform, particularly as they will be subject to the added insult of inspection and control by the new county council authorities.

City and borough authorities with deep knowledge of traffic control and highway management will be faced with losing powers completely and will be controlled by authorities which have no clue on these vital town problems. Traffic management in towns is so linked with road improvement, town centre development and residential area improvement that the district authority is bound to be more knowledgeable on local needs than the county authority.

I am not ashamed to say that Norwich has a fine record in this respect. I would draw the Minister's attention to one traffic problem and an ideal development. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck), in his excellently read speech, referred to Watford's record in increasing development, but Norwich's record is greater still in the development of foot streets. London Street has been lauded by Ministers of this and previous Governments. We have had many representatives of foreign Governments visiting the city to see what has been done.

Responsibility for urban roads should be extended to include responsibility for full services for lighting, improvements and control of traffic and parking.

I say to the Minister and his assistants that we have had a hint in this debate. The Government are continually referring to the Amendment in principle which they will move in another place to Clause 101. I have a suspicion that the Government are using this as an excuse to dodge accepting Amendments here.

We see this as the right way to assert ourselves on an issue of vital importance to our people.

Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich, South)

I should like to echo what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) and others, including the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Wallace). The hon. Member left out one important point. We have up and down the country several historic cities to which we have paid lip service and which we, as a Government, have said that we intend to preserve.

We are taking away the right of these cities to preserve their own historic backgrounds. We cannot divorce the saving and the planning of these cities if we take away the right to control the roads which run through them.

I support the Amendment wholeheartedly, as do many of my hon. Friends because they feel that we cannot just talk about conservation and preservation, and that means that we must put the conservation of our historic cities where it has always been, with the city councillors who have done it over the past decade or so, not with the county councillors with no experience of city conservation whatever.

Mr. David Stoddart

I support the Amendment and those hon. Members who have spoken so ably to it, particularly the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine), because he hit the nail on the head when he made two points. First, he said that local government and the district councils must have something to do, and, secondly, that the roads in an area are best looked after by the people who know the area. Let us make no mistake that we shall have difficulty in finding people of the right calibre to serve on the district authorities unless there is something significant for them to do.

I have had a certain amount of experience in local government. I served for 18 years on the county borough council of Reading. The Ministry of Transport wished to put in a traffic manage- ment scheme which was agreed to by the council; but it was a scheme which turned the town upside down. It made two-way roads one-way roads. It routed buses against the flow of one-way traffic. It put bollards where bollards had not been before. There were traffic lights all over the place. People's environment was affected. The town was turned upside down with the acceptance of the people in the town because they knew their local representatives, and the local representatives were able to keep in touch with them and convince them that this was the right thing to do in the long term if Reading's traffic problems were to be sorted out; and anybody who wanted to get to South Wales before the M4 was constructed knows how difficult those traffic problems were.

It was necessary for local representatives—not colonels in the shires, but people who knew the town and the people in it—to convince the townsfolk that this needed to be done. That is why the hon. Member for Essex, South-East was so right when he said that we need local representation and local responsibility for roads within our districts.

The Minister, when he was talking about conservation areas, mentioned that districts should have complete power to create and control the character of their districts. How will they have that power if they cannot control the roads? The character of their districts will depend on many things. There will be a close inter-relationship between highways and housing, between highways and redevelopment, between highways and slum clearance and between highways and other local services. It is impossible to think about environmental improvement unless the authority controls highways in its district. It is absurd to talk of the theoretical advantage of having highways and transportation and traffic management under one head when so many disadvantages will flow from that decision.

The Minister is completely wrong in his approach to this problem. I hope that he will note all that has been said in the debate and will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

I want to highlight the dilemma facing a town like Blackpool when it goes into a county district. Between the county and the district of Blackpool there is a complete difference of approach to traffic problems. Under the Bill it will be the county officers who will decide the pattern and form of the traffic in our town. Their approach will be dominated, over the whole county, by a desire to make sure that traffic is kept to the minimum, that parking is provided away from the town centre, and that as far as possible cars are prevented from coming into the centre of the town.

The approach of a seaside resort is dramatically different, at any rate throughout the summer season when it has to earn its money. It wants cars to come into the centre. It wants parking restrictions to be the minimum. It wants, if possible, to avoid having meters so that people can park in the streets, get out of their cars and spend their money on the amusements provided by the town. The town depends upon that, and its approach to traffic problems is different from that of the county.

There will be a conflict of interest and of approach between the county and the district. I have said that meters will be no answer, but the planners who will decide whether we are to have meters will also decide what parking restrictions should be imposed. The whole parking situation will be dealt with in a different way from that which we would deal with it.

Blackpool has a special problem with the lights which are an enormous attraction for a short period at the end of the season. The provision of lights over the whole eight miles of the promenade is intimately connected with the highway authority whose employees help to make sure that the lights are provided by putting them up. It is not possible to run the kind of lighting display that we provide unless the highway authority is largely controlled by the local authority, and I fear that if this authority goes to the country we may find that it is not possible to provide the kind of display that we have provided in the past.

For those reasons I ask my right hon. Friend to give every consideration to the Amendment.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I rise to support the Amendment because, like most hon. Members on both sides of the House who have spoken, I cannot see how some of the district councils will manage, particularly with regard to redevelopment.

The new county of Warwickshire looks something like a leaking, floppy pair of water wings. That is roughly the shape it takes, because the city of Coventry interposes itself between the north and south of the county. In other words, there is only a slender link down one side of Coventry between my constituency—which, if the Boundary Commission has its way with its draft recommendation will be one county district—and the other county districts south of Coventry. How on earth a county which is almost completely separated from the north of its area by Coventry is supposed to be able to exercise the detailed functions which it will have to exercise under the Bill I just do not know.

The thing that worries me is that both the towns in my constituency, which will become a district council, Nuneaton and Bedworth, have complex development plans. There is the Broad Street redevelopment proposal in Nuneaton, and the Park Street redevelopment proposal inBedworth. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House realise that where there is a complex road redevelopment scheme all kinds of housing, traffic and social problems result from the uprooting of families who have lived in the area for many years, and perhaps even for generations. How can those repercussions be dealt with by a county authority which does not have detailed local knowledge?

1.30 a.m.

When talking particularly about redevelopment, I should have thought that the Government would at least have recognised that we must have in charge of all aspects of redevelopment a district council that knows the detailed wishes of the local inhabitants. That will not be so under these proposals. I repeat what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said tonight. I cannot see how a town is supposed to plan its environment for the future, or its future at all, without having control over car parking and traffic management in particular.

The Government have made one or two concessions on car parking, and I am pleased about that. But surely we have now come to realise that an essential ingredient in traffic planning and traffic movement is not just the roads or car space we have but how we make use of them. The trouble is that though the district councils may be able to mend a few potholes, or at least go looking for the potholes—I am not sure to what extent they will be able to mend them properly—they will not have control over how the road space is to be utilised fully.

Apart from that, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House have now a fair amount of experience of all kinds of traffic management devices, such as bus-only lanes. I cannot see how a county authority is supposed to know about the detailed effects of bus-only lanes on shoppers, traders, access points and pedestrians. If we are to obtain the optimum use and optimum allocation patterns by the use of traffic management, we must have more and more detailed knowledge. I cannot see how a county authority, even using the district authority as an agency, will manage this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) made a very important point about the experiments in distribution and loading which have been made under the auspices of the Freight Transport Association. That has been a very valuable experiment in that it has proved that shops can be accessed and serviced by lorries without interfering too much with pedestrian access. But that plan has been suffering a certain amount of dislocation because people have been parking cars in the wrong places and one or two access points have been fouled up. Like my hon. Friend, I hope that the Watford plan will be followed by other towns, because it is an ideal solution to many distribution problems. But even the Watford plan proves to many of us who have taken cognisance of what is happening there that more and more the district council must be the council which has increasing powers to control completely the setting up of one of these distribution centres, and access to it and use of it.

The only way to work one of these schemes successfully is to have in charge of it a district council which knows exactly the feelings of local inhabitants. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford and most of us who have in our constituencies attempts at pedestrian pre- cincts know how sharp are the feelings of local pedestrians and traders. Nowadays it is impossible to divorce traffic management from access. The Reading scheme with all the bollards, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) was speaking, and with bus-only lanes, throws into sharp relief some of the access patterns and problems caused by traffic management these days. I cannot see how we shall have a county authority responsible for traffic management which causes these access problems when it will be only the district council which hears of these problems in sharp relief, particularly from pedestrians.

For all those reasons, and because I represent two towns which both have complex redevelopment plans and I believe that only a district council can be fully in touch with the reactions of local inhabitants and can oversee all these plans, I support the Amendment.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

I support the powerful plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine). The White Paper says in paragraph 5: The Government are equally determined to return power to those people who should exercise decisions locally. Yet in the Clause my right hon. Friend is deliberately stripping these people of power which they have exercised in most cases very effectively.

Brighton, with its long and proud record in local government, is being stripped of its major powers and is being reduced greatly in its effectiveness and influence upon local problems. Many seaside towns such as Brighton have special traffic problems. Brighton has millions of visitors each year. If the function of traffic management and control is to be removed from those with local experience and knowledge, this will operate greatly to the detriment of the people of Brighton and to the effectiveness of the town as a whole.

Brighton lives largely by its ability to attract visitors. If Brighton fails to do this, if it scares them away, it will become nothing short of a depressed area. Traffic problems, parking problems, and ancillary matters would be some of the things that would make people decide not to take their holiday in Brighton or even to visit there.

Detailed local knowledge is necessary in dealing with traffic problems. With the best will in the world, the county authority will not have local knowledge. In too many cases the county authority will not care about the problems of towns like Brighton. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to consider the Amendments carefully and to think again about the operation of the Clause and its effect on seaside towns and elsewhere. The Clause as it stands is an administrative nonsense which will lead to chaos in some areas if effective powers with regard to traffic management and control are not in the hands of district councils such as Brighton.

Mr. Leadbitter

The House in this debate is crystallising its concern about a major matter affecting local government. Our remarks are focussed on Clause 183, but the fact that so many hon. Members on both sides are present at this hour should convince the Government that we are concerned about how best to allocate functions in local government.

We have listened to some excellent speeches by hon. Members opposite, beginning with that by the hon. Member for Essex. South-East (Sir Bernard Braine). Why were not those hon. Members so concerned on Second Reading? That is the stage at which the Government should have been warned and when the Department might have given the matter some consideration.

Sir Bernard Braine

I hope the hon. Member will be fair to me. I can fight only one battle at a time. I was concerned at that stage to preserve the ancient and historic county of Essex, and just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had the wisdom, the magnanimity and the good sense to do the right thing there, I am hoping that tonight he will do the right thing on the matter now before us which concerns so many hon. Members.

Mr. Leadbitter

The hon. Member knows full well that I named him as one who made an excellent contribution. But if hon. Members failed to do the correct thing on Second Reading, they should remember that there is a Third Reading. It has already been observed today in the discussion on local authority functions that the House voted against the Government on the disposal of services.

When the result of the Division was announced my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) asked what the Government intended to do about the matter when the Bill went to the House of Lords. The Secretary of State was so concerned at the result of the Division that he has spent a longer period here with us than at any other stage in the Bill. He did not answer my right hon. Friend but said that both sides would have to think further on the matter. If the vote on this Amendment goes against the Government, will the Secretary of State think more carefully about a similar request from my right hon. Friend, and undertake not to seek to alter the Bill in the House of Lords?

I now come to the Clause. [Interruption.] If hon. Members have come here tonight to express their concern about local government functions they should be prepared to listen for as long as the argument has to be forced upon the Government. Or is their concern synthetic? If their concern is synthetic—[Hon. Members: "Get on with it."] If hon. Members wish to delay me by shouting, I have plenty of time in which to make my speech. It seems odd that the Secretary of State will not listen to what has already been said about local pride. I have served in local government for 14 years. I know that Conservative, Labour and Independent councillors have been able to take pride in their work because they had something to do and they were able to see the fruits of their work. There was a close affiliation between local government as the administrative body and the people. If the functions of local authorities are taken away as the Government intend, there is no point in talking, as the Government talk, about encouraging them to take an interest in what is happening. The right kind of men and women will not be produced to represent districts on their councils if they have nothing but the dustbin functions.

1.45 a.m.

Here we take away the highway authority functions that the councils already have. We are saying in the Bill that the districts will be able to look after the footpaths, the bridleways, and the roads in the urban areas which are not trunk roads or classified roads, and that they will beable to mend them at the public expense. That is all they have to do. We are losing the opportunity of giving to the new districts which have the population, the capacity and the rateable value to provide the services required to meet the needs of the people they know best. Therefore, the opportunity to integrate planning, transport services, car parking facilities, and highways is being lost, to the detriment of local Government.

The Government should listen with care to the contributions from both sides of the House and think again how best to give the local authorities what they have been able to do for many years. The case has been made out. The Clause has been described as an administrative nonsense by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden). The Bill itself is an administrative nonsense. It is a hotch-potch. It has been turned inside out, with little bits of additional responsibility given to the local authorities and some given away. There is no cohesion, no harmonisation of the services of local government as we understand it. The Bill is the result of a lack of consultation with the people who know about local government.

Mr. Peter Maker (Blackpool, South)

The contribution that we have just heard, from the hon. Member for The Hartlepools(Mr. Leadbitter), did not rise to the level of what had been until he intervened a serious and high-level debate.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine), who made an admirable contribution, that the Bill as it stands causes difficulties in any area, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) has pointed out, for a town like Blackpool the difficulties are even greater. A town with 8 million visitors a year must have entirely different policies on traffic management, yellow line regulations, pedestrian crossings, traffic signs and so on from those of other areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East referred to the key rôle that the highways department of a local authority so often plays in the whole complex of the organisation of the local authority. That is even more important in a town like Blackpool, where it is intimately connected with many of the municipal enterprises, not least the illuminations.

We had an assurance when we were debating the White Paper that the town would be able to retain control of its illuminations. If the changes recommended in these Amendments were made it would be easier for the Government to ensure that the promise is honoured. It is clear that in a town like Blackpool, as in other seaside towns, there must be a policy for all the things we have been talking about which is different from the policy which will be right for the rest of the county. The sensible course would be to accept these Amendments, or something on these lines.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

I hope that the House will reject these Amendments. All my experience in local government tells me it would be absolutely fatal if the highway function was divided along the lines indicated. Obviously, we all judge this from our own experience in local government or in our constituencies. Certainly the combination of boroughs and urban district councils in my part of the world would result in a scattered control which would produce a complete nonsense of highway planning. A more uneconomic and inefficient arrangement would be difficult to imagine. The Marshall Committee on highway maintenance made the point that it needs a population of roughly 200,000 to get improvements in efficiency carried out to the best possible degree.

There is also the problem of the different districts. To give an example from my constituency, where the road runs from the north to the south of the county, through the county town of Aylesbury, the A413 will go through no fewer than three different districts. The problems involved here are obvious. Secondly, if the maintenance function is bad, then the division of the contruction function will be even worse. When we need teams of highly qualified experts in bridge designing, soil survey and so on it is impossible to do this efficiently if it is divided between the districts.

As to the combination of the structure plan and the local plan, the local plan will be decided district by district, whereas the implementation of the highways pattern must be done across the board in the first tier, with overall control there. I hope for these reasons that the House will reject the Amendments.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelly)

I support what has been said about these Amendments. The points have been well made that the weakness in the Clause is the attempt to isolate or separate traffic and highway functions from other functions which, quite properly, are vested in the district councils. There is in particular the weakness whereby town planning is separated from highway management. The establishment of general development areas is separated from highway management. These things should be integrated in the district authority.

There is a further point which certainly has affected my constituency, and possibly others, and that is in relation to industrial development. In my constituency the borough of Llanelli is a highway authority and the rural district council of Llanelli is not. The highway authority for that is Carmarthen. Sometime ago the borough thought it had acquired a tenant for a factory in the borough. The access to the factory was mainly in the area of the rural district council. It was thought that the access road to the factory should be made up to make the factory more attractive to the prospective tenant. This involved the borough in negotiations with the county authorities, but Carmarthen is reluctant to make up these roads for many reasons. So there was prolonged negotiation between the borough and the county on this matter, with the result that the tenant was kept waiting and the whole object of letting the factory was in abeyance for a considerable time.

So, again, the development of industrial estates would be facilitated if the districts were given these powers of traffic management, so that they did not have to go back all the time to the county authority and have this duplication of negotiations which causes delays when speed is sometimes of the essence.

I should have thought that this Clause does not contribute to the efficiency of local government; indeed, it creates inefficiency. Further, it does not contribute to the democratisation of local government—if that is the right way to express it—because wherever possible these powers should be concentrated in the smaller body, which is more closely associated with the people. In the case of something as vital as traffic and highway management, the body nearer to the community should be the body that is given the greater powers. For that reason I support the Amendment.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I should have thought that on principle my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) was right. The principle is one of dual authority, the idea being that the main strategy should lie with the premier power, and the carrying out of certain functions by agency or other means should devolve on the district council.

Earlier this week my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton), after lengthy debate on the matter and with the assistance of the Minister obtained an undertaking under Clause 101 that we should have the opportunity to devolve, by agency arrangements, various powers which would provide certain functions for the district councils.

As I understand it there would be abundant opportunity under Amendment No. 435 for a highway scheme such as is envisaged in the Amendments to be carried into effect with the consent of the Minister under these provisions. It seems to me that the district council would be able to solicit the attention of the county in order to carry out a highways scheme which could be prepared in order to designate those highways within a district council and to say that those functions should go to the local highway authority, the local district authority, in terms of their nature and extent, and should specify the procedures for the discharge of those functions. I should have thought that the Secretary of State would and could—if he wished—under the appeal provisions that he will lay, make whatever regulations he thought fit to provide for the content of such schemes.

This is a new point. I do not apologise for raising it now. If I could be persuaded by the Minister that the purpose of his acceding to the wishes of the House earlier, in Clause 101, was to enable him to be able to provide, in respect of certain areas of the country where there are large district councils, that they would be able to have effective traffic management schemes, it would go a long way towards satisfying me on this Amendment. I do not wish to argue further what has been admirably debated already because it is self-evident that an area like Thanet, which, incidentally, has a population of 125,000, which rises to 300,000 in the summer, has always had not merely to consider the question of illumination and off-street parking but, of course, has had to provide appropriate parking for conferences, both small and large, and many other matters of that kind, and it is not going to pass over to the county traffic management and matters of that nature.

2.0 a.m.

However, if we are amply covered by the assurance the Minister has already given, and we can negotiate with the county over all of these matters, that will go some way to help us. We certainly do not want to interfere with the overall strategy or planning of the highways throughout the county of Kent. That is not what this Amendment seeks to do, as I understand it, in any sense at all. It merely wishes for some control over local design and construction, believing that the whole general field of what is commonly called traffic management ought to be retained in certain areas, particularly if those areas have expertise and experience. Finally, on the point of staff, we shall have to continue to maintain the type of skilled staff which is necessary for those functions which belong properly to coastal towns.

Thus, whether we do it, if I may say, by the rather more brutal method of voting the Government down, or whether we can be effectively met by the attractive way in which Minister dealt with Clause 101, I shall be glad to hear.

Mr. Charles Morrison

I have no doubt that in the interests of efficiency, economy and service to the public it would have been much better to have stuck to the original proposal in the White Paper, to the effect that highways, traffic and transport should be the sole responsibility of the county councils. On the other hand, I quite appreciate that many boroughs expressed reservations about that proposal, and, in consequence, my right hon. Friend thought it right to make certain amendments prior to the publication of the Bill, and, indeed, further Amendments since then. With the situation he now proposes I am prepared to go along.

I think I detect in the minds of those who have been supporting this Amendment certain fears in relation to county control in the future. It seems to me that they are forgetting two things. First, they are forgetting that all the old boroughs will have their representatives on the new counties. Take, for example, Blackpool. Blackpool will be in the county of Lancashire, accompanied by Burnley and Preston, and it seems to me, therefore, that the voice of the urban areas will be very well heard from the representatives of those areas.

Mr. Blaker

I am sorry if I failed to make my point. My whole point was that the needs of Blackpool are entirely different from those of Burnley or Preston.

Mr. Morrison

I have no doubt that the representatives of Blackpool will be able to make their voice heard very well.

In addition, there is a second point, which is that there will still be in existence the expertise of the officers who have been until now, and who will in future be, particularly concerned with the problems which may be specific to Blackpool, or specific to Burnley, or specific to any other area.

So I really do not understand the fears and worries which are being expressed by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. I have no doubt that the Clause as drafted, with my right hon. Friend's Amendment, will cope with the situation perfectly adequately.

Mr. Peter Walker

I want first to make one or two points which affect the Government's attitude to these Amendments.

I took no part in the Committee stage. However, I pay tribute to the constructive approach which the Opposition adopted in Committee and to the reception which they accorded to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development. I think that we can claim that throughout the Bill we have endeavoured to listen to the constructive suggestions and Amendments which have been put forward and that we have improved the Bill substantially as a result. I make no apology for that. There is no question of Government weakness in doing it in the case of a major reform cutting across party principles. It was a completely correct approach.

At the beginning of the Bill, having consulted local authorities throughout the country, this Government decided to have a two-tier system of local government. In coming to that decision we considered carefully the principles upon which we should pursue it. Listening to the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) and hearing the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) saying how desperate it was for Watford to have such powers, I was prompted to remind them that under the Redcliffe-Maud proposals and those of the previous Government both Hartlepools and Watford would have had the powers of parish councils—

Mr. Leadbitter

I agree with the Secretary of State, because I disagreed with those proposals.

Mr. Walker

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was very wise to do so. I appreciate his support for the much better system that we have produced.

As regards the two-tier system, I outlined the principle that we intended to endeavour to put at district level all those functions which could reasonably be maintained at district level and that we should put at county level only those functions which were better operated and organised over a larger area. It was our conclusion that there was a range of functions—education, social services, strategic planning, and transportation in all its forms—where there was a considerable advantage in their being organised over a wider area.

This debate has been of a high standard, and many understandable arguments have been advanced. But I must remind the House that the district councils have had tremendous problems. Many have coped with them perfectly well. However, taking transportation as an example, the problems of the past are nothing compared with those which are about to affect the country. A dramatic change is about to take place.

We are reforming local government for perhaps decades to come. Therefore we are putting into operation a system which will cope with the problems of the coming decades. Few councils have fully estimated the basic effect of increasing the number of cars on our roads from the present 12 million to the estimated 22 million by the end of this decade. When one begins to project those problems, one recognises the need for dealing with transportation problems over a much wider area, and by that I mean not just highway problems but transportation problems in their totality.

A district does not generate the majority of the transport which goes in the district. Districts vary, of course. My hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) have projected massive inflows of traffic into their popular seaside resorts. But those inflows do not just have to be coped within Blackpool and Brighton. They create enormous problems on routes leading to those resorts. A similar situation arises when motorways are opened. Suddenly whole areas are affected on their secondary roads by the impact of a motorway access to a district. Therefore, there is a fast changing position. The volume of traffic will be of such immense size and magnitude that new and gigantic problems will face those who have to deal with transportation questions.

I suggest it is important that our major cities should take part in a system of local government where they have an influence not only over transport decisions within their own districts, but, for the first time, upon the authorities in the surrounding areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) takes a tremendous part in serving the best interests of that city, but for Norwich to have a greater influence—

Mr. Wallace

And the other Member.

Mr. Walker

Yes, both hon. Members. Under these proposals, for the first time elected representatives in Norwich will have a say and an influence over a much wider area.

I should point out the damage that the Amendments would do to the metropolitan areas. The Amendments provide for the districts within metropolitan areas—our major conurbations—to have the possibility of these separate powers. I think that anyone looking at the transportation problems of the major metropolitan areas would realise the many dangers and tremendous waste of resources which would be involved. I am genuinely concerned about the whole position of resources in terms of skilled manpower, which is limited.

Several times in the debate Professor Colin Buchanan has been quoted. I have not consulted him on this Clause, but from what I have heard Professor Buchanan say on transportation problems I doubt very much whether he would be in favour of these powers lying with districts. I have now asked him to head the new faculty to train the transport planners of the future. I assure the House that, looking at the problem from my Department's point of view, one thing we lack in this country is a high number of qualified, trained staff to meet the total transport problems with which we are faced. To try to fragment those skills over 300 districts would be a considerable mistake.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) understandably produced the argument about the proximity of planning powers to these powers. I recognise the association. The development plans will be prepared by the counties, but I should point out that there is one major difference. Whereas in planning one is primarily talking about the physical planning of a diversity of resources, many of which are not public expenditure, in terms of transportation and highway policies one is talking about massive decision-taking over public expenditure.

One reason why I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends not to press the Amendment is that developments are likely to take place in Government thinking on this topic. Certainly I have come to the conclusion that one of the mistakes of the past system, as operated by all Governments, has been that we have provided from central Government a diversity of grants for transport in all its forms—certain percentage grants for certain categories of roads, different percentage grants for other categories of roads, bus grants, subsidies for uneconomic railway lines, and such matters—and sometimes these fixed grants have created a position where local authorities have often give the wrong priorities in their transport investment to enjoy a higher level of grant which is available for a particular type of transport facility.

2.15 a.m.

It is for that reason that my Department is moving to the concept of negotiating a new block grant system whereby we shall have a look at the total transportation problems of an area and examine the priorities. Perhaps there would be much more provided for public railway and bus transport in certain localities, or much more provided for ring roads or urban roads in other localities. It is only when we start to look at the total problem over a wider area than districts that we can bring in a system of Government financing that will in any way meet the enormous challenge that will face this country in transportation problems.

Therefore, I urge the House to realise that whilst these problems have been coped with in the past, some districts coping better than others, the problem now facing us transcends anything which we have previously contemplated.

There are one or two basic objections which I must put before the House regarding the Amendments. I do not criticise the general requirement and feeling of my hon. Friends in endeavouring to seek more activity by districts which they feel have been more active and successful in the past. However, I ask them to realise the type of work and the waste of limited resources involved in developing the type of highway schemes which they are suggesting, and the months of haggling that would be likely to take place between every district council and the county council in preparing the scheme. The haggling would not be a once-for-all operation, because, as the Amendments are worded, these schemes could be constantly revised. They would have to be revised as new problems and new road systems were required and emerged. A great deal of skilled manpower, which is very limited, would be taken up in discussing the schemes. It is fairly likely that there would be many disagreements.

It is suggested that these disagreements should be referred to the Secretary of State. Of course, what is meant in practice is that they would be referred to a large number of officials in my Department. Those officials would have to go and examine the work of the district as opposed to the county upon particular aspects, and arbitrate between them. If the arbitration went in favour of the district, that would be resented by the county, and vice versa. That would be a continuing factor of dispute.

I am perfectly prepared to utilise—and I want the counties to do so—the expertise in this work where it exists in the districts. Clause 101 makes that provision. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) asked me whether the new Clause which we will endeavour to introduce in another place will cover that aspect, and, of course, it will. It will mean that during the period 1973 to April, 1974, if there is a dispute in a district with an expertise in part of the highway function which it feels would be of benefit to the county, it can on an agency basis put forward the possibility of such utilisation. The advantage of using that provision is that all disputes end in April, 1974. I am anxious to see that when we have completed local government reform and the authorities come in on 1st April, 1974, they will do so with clear-cut separate functions, and that thereafter we do not continue with the haggling and disputes which have taken place between counties and districts in the past and have done so much harm to local government.

I assure my hon. Friends that, in carrying out the provisions of Clause 101 and the new Clause, it is the intention of my Department to issue a circular giving advice as to how the agency system should be operated. In the preparation of that circular—we will discuss this with the local authority associations—I am quite certain, for example, as far as the specific and perhaps unique problems of the seaside towns are concerned, that within the discussions with the local authority associations, any agency arrangements which can be operated by the seaside towns could come within the provisions of such a circular on the operation of Clause 101.

But the basic concept of being able to negotiate with one authority covering a wide area, an authority that can assemble the skills required in traffic engineering, in highway construction, in the overall application of public transport and in the relationship of the roads system with public transport, while it may not have been needed in the period between the last local government reform and today, is bound to be needed in the decades which lie ahead.

Mr. Blenkinsop

We have had a fascinating debate and a fascinating reply from the Secretary of State. He is right to call attention to the wider issues. It is wrong to get ourselves immersed in the narrow, parochial issues, but what is the logic of what he has said? It is that the whole basis of the Bill is mistaken, which is what many of us have always said. The only answer is the regional approach, and the longer we have debated the Bill the more that fact has been borne in upon people. The examination of the broader issues to which he rightly called attention needs the regional approach.

The right hon. Gentleman himself regretted the haggling that would take place between county and district if the Amendments were made. But if his argument were true it would apply equally to the development plan schemes which he has agreed to be necessary to get joint agreement between county and district upon the particular form of a development plan for a certain area. One can quote case after case. It is inherent in the two-tier solution that there will be argument, and the passing of the Bill will not end argument. That is part of our anxiety.

Far from the Bill providing a really constructive and long-term solution to many major problems of local government, it falls far short of doing so. It merely retains the argument which will go on between the two tiers almost inevitably. Sooner or later, we shall be forced to reach out to the wider solution which is the only way in which we can deal with the problems of the future to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention. The Amendments are an attempt to make the best of a bad job, to bring as much harmony and rational thinking as possible into a difficult situation. Where the choice had been made of the two-tier system, this is the conflict we are inevitably facing.

We believe on this side—and indeed in this House, because only one speech took a different view—that the Amendments offer not a solution but at least an improvement on the Minister's suggestions.

We understand that in this whole issue there cannot be any bouquets for Ministers. This has been evident from the beginning and we have had passionate pleas from hon. Members with detailed information derived from the problems of their own areas. All have been seeking to reconcile the need for strategy to be the responsibility of a wider authority with the practical working out of detailed schemes in their own area to be the responsibility of their own local, or more local, area, remembering that the district council is considerably larger than the district councils we have been used to in the past.

This has been the argument. It has not been suggested that broad strategy should be the responsibility of the district, but rather that it should be the responsibility—we cannot escape it—of the county. Rather, we wish that broad responsibility should be at a regional rather than a county level. We have explained this ad nauseam.

Let us take the choice open to us. Nothing proposed in this set of Amendments—nor did the Secretary of State suggest it—destroys the concept of broad strategic functions being in the hands of the county.

The Secretary of State suggested that there might be fragmenting of skills. I do not see that that needs to be so at all. If there were an attempt to work out a transport scheme on the same lines as the Government are agreed to on the need for a development plan scheme, these problems would be solved. A reservoir of detailed specialist skills in broad strategic planning and transport and so on could be called upon. There is no

reason why not. So that that is not a valid argument.

If the Government proposals stand up, the districts are not going to be able to use economically and logically the staffs they have, with experience and knowledge of local problems.

I would have thought that in an unsatisfactory general picture, which I make no bones about, the Amendments proposed offered the best possible solution. The view of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who spoke from both sides so strongly and effectively should be accepted.

The Secretary of State said—and it is true—that the Government have paid attention to many matters raised in debate on the Bill. The Bill, as drafted, was different in some respects from the White Paper. The Bill, in Committee became somewhat different from what it was on Second Reading, and on Report there is a mass of new material which shifts the balance.

We do not necessarily object, but it shows the difficulty the Government are finding in trying to establish some kind of balance while insisting on maintaining the crucial defect of the two-tier system. This is bringing in its train many of the problems which they are facing in respect of not only the Amendments under discussion but a large number of other Amendments which are bound to have consequences in another place and outside when the Bill has been passed.

I make this appeal in all sincerity. We know that these measures are bound to be divisive within our own ranks. We are obliged to do our best to express the views of those with experience in these matters and to arrive at as satisfactory a solution as possible. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will reflect in the Division Lobby the views which they have clearly expressed.

Question put, That the Amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 78, Noes 129.

Division No. 304.] AYES [2.31 a.m.
Abse, Leo Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Buchan, Norman Cohen, Stanley
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Cant, R. B. Concannon, J. D.
Blenkinsop, Arthur Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Crawshaw, Richard
Bowden, Andrew Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Clark, David (Colne Valley) Dalyell, Tam
Davidson, Arthur Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Prescott, John
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Judd, Frank Roper, John
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Kaufman, Gerald Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Kinnock, Neil Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Deakins, Eric Lamborn, Harry Silverman, Julius
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Lamond, James Simeons, Charles
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Leadbitter, Ted Skinner, Dennis
Dunnett, Jack Maclennan, Robert Spearing, Nigel
English, Michael Marquand, David Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Forrester, John Marsden, F. Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Hannan, William (G'gow,Maryhill) Marshall, Dr. Edmund Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Hardy, Peter Mendelson, John Taverne, Dick
Harper, Joseph Miller, Dr. M. S. Tuck, Raphael
Hattersley, Roy Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Urwin, T. W.
Horam, John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Wallace, George
Huckfield, Leslie Oakes, Gordon Whitehead, Phillip
Janner, Greville O'Halloran, Michael Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Paget, R. T. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
John, Brynmor Palmer, Arthur Mr Ernest Armstrong and
Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Pavitt, Laurie Mr. John Golding
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Hall, John (Wycombe) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Awdry, Daniel Hannam, John (Exeter) Quennell. Miss J. M.
Balniel, Lord Hastings, Stephen Raison, Timothy
Benyon, W. Hawkins, Paul Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hiley, Joseph Redmond, Robert
Biggs-Davison, John Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Body, Richard Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Rees, Peter (Dover)
Boscawen, Robert Hornby, Richard Rees-Davies, W. R.
Bossom, Sir Clive Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Bray, Ronald Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hunt, John Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Carlisle, Mark Jessel, Toby Rost, Peter
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Chapman, Sydney Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Sharples, Sir Richard
Cormack, Patrick Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Shelton, William (Clapham)
Dixon, Piers King, Tom (Bridgwater) Skeet, T. H. H.
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Knox, David Soref, Harold
Drayson, G. B. Lane, David Speed, Keith
Eden, Sir John Langford-Holt, Sir John Spence, John
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Le Marchant, Spencer Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Luce, R. N. Tebbit, Norman
Emery, Peter MacArthur, Ian Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Eyre, Reginald Maddan, Martin Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Farr, John Madel, David Trew, Peter
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Mather, Carol Tugendhat, Christopher
Fidler, Michael Maude, Angus Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Meyer, Sir Anthony van Straubenzee, W. R.
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Waddington, David
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Miscampbell, Norman Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fowler, Norman Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Fox, Marcus Moate, Roger Ward, Dame Irene
Fry, Peter Montgomery, Fergus Weatherill, Bernard
Gibson-Watt, David Morrison, Charles Winterton, Nicholas
Goodhew, Victor Mudd, David Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Normanton, Tom Worsley, Marcus
Green, Alan Onslow, Cranley Younger, Hn. George
Grieve, Percy Osborn, John
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gummer, Selwyn J. Page, Graham (Crosby) Mr. Michael Jopling and
Gurden, Harold Parkinson, Cecil Mr. Kenneth Clarke.
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Percival, Ian

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 704, in page 121, line 36, at beginning insert—

  1. (6) Where any functions have been delegated by the Secretary of State to a county council under subsection (1) of section 10 of the Highways Act 1959 (maintenance and improvement of trunk roads, etc.) or the Secretary of State has entered into an agreement with a county council under subsection (4) of that section 860 (construction of trunk roads, etc.) the county council may, with the consent of the Secretary of State, enter into arrangements with the council of a district for the carrying out by the district council, in accordance with the arrangements, of such of the delegated functions or, as the case may be, of the functions to which the agreement relates as may be specified in the arrangements; but no such arrangements shall provide for a district council to carry out any functions with respect to a trunk road or other land outside their 861 district except with the consent of the council of the district in which the road or other land is situated.
  2. (7) In this section and in Schedule 20 to this Act, and in any other enactment referring to the powers of district councils under subsection (2) above, the expressions 'maintenance' and 'maintain', where used with respect to the powers of district councils under that subsection in relation to highways maintainable at the public expense, shall be construed not in accordance with section 295 of the Highways Act 1959but as referring to the carrying out of such operations as may be specified for the purposes of subsection (2) above by regulations made by the Secretary of State; and a statutory instrument containing regulations under this subsection shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
  3. (8) Subject to subsection (7) above.—[Mr. Speed.]

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