HC Deb 15 April 1980 vol 982 cc1026-32 3.59 pm
Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Local Government Act 1972 so as to transfer the former county borough of Southport from the metropolitan district of Sefton in Merseyside to the county of Lancashire and to re-name the remainder of the metropolitan district 'Bootle'. I give notice that the renaming of the metropolitan district "Bootle" might be open to amendment in Committee. One does not wish to argue about names. The present metropolitan district of Sefton compromises the former authorities of Bootle, Litherland, Formby, Crosby and Southport. By proposing to take Southport out of that metropolitan district, a metropolitan district with an electorate of 216,500 would remain. It would be bigger than that of Knowsley and St. Helens in Merseyside. It would be bigger than the metropolitan district of Bury in Greater Manchester. It would therefore be a viable unit and would be large enough to run services.

The non-metropolitan district of Southport, in the county of Lancashire, that I seek to create would have a population of 84,574. That is a greater population than is found in many of the present districts within the county of Lancashire. It would also be viable. There is no question of seeking to create non-viable local government units.

One of the reasons why I have sought to change the local government boundaries is that I wish to put right a mistake that was made in the Local Government Act 1972. Many of those living in the Sefton area believe that a mistake was made. Some may even suspect that some gerrymandering took place. At the last minute Southport was pushed into the metropolitan district of Sefton. When the councils of Bootle, Litherland, Crosby and Formby voted to join the metropolitan district of Sefton, and when Bootle council—which had a Labour majority—voted to go not into Liverpool but into Sefton, it did so thinking that Southport would not be included.

At that time the proposals were such that Southport would have been in Lancashire. It was only as a result of last-minute efforts by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page) that Southport was pushed into Sefton, thus creating the present situation. Bootle had a proud tradition of independence and a strong community spirit before local government reorganisation. It feels that it has been robbed of its ability to run and control its affairs because of the way in which the boundaries were drawn for the metropolitan district of Sefton. Since local government reorganisation, it has lost its hospital, fire station and police services to the county. It seems that decisions that affect the people of that area are taken by people in Southport and by councillors who have no idea of the problems or interests of Bootle.

There is also a conflict among Crosby, Formby and Southport. This is not just a parochial issue. It is just one example of how the Local Government Act tried to create local authority areas in which town and country were interdependent. The Maud Commission recommended local authority areas in which town and country would be interdependent. That idea has been proved wrong. Throughout the British Isles a conflict has been created between rural areas and seaside resorts, such as Southport, and areas such as Bootle areas with inner city problems and with communities whose aspirations and problems are completely different.

In addition, in 1972, prior to local government reorganisation, an argument was put forward to the effect that size is important in achieving efficient local government. That has also been proved wrong. Hon. Members from all parties have said time and again that large units of local government have become remote from those whom they seek to represent. Far from being efficient, large local government units have become inefficient. because of remoteness. We should therefore create local authority units that have a community of interest. When looking at local government boundaries, that community interest—not just the size of a local authority—should be uppermost in our minds. There is no community of interest among Southport, Litherland and Bootle.

There is no community of interest among Southport, Crosby and Formby. The people of Southport think that their rates are being spent to subsidise the solution of problems in areas such as Bootle. The people of Bootle are well aware that rate poundage is being kept down and that money is being spent on frivolous things such as statues of Red Rum, fairy lights and bandstands in Southport. They are well aware that the inner city problems of areas such as Bootle are not being met because of the conflicts. The councillors of Southport control the Sefton local authority. They spend money on non-essential items in Southport. They are reluctant to increase rate poundage to deal with the real problems of bad housing and high levels of unemployment.

If one considers two simple sets of statistics, one can see the great differences that exist among the communities of Bootle, Litherland and Southport. The population of Bootle is about 74,000 and that of Southport about 84,000. There is a difference in the respective populations of only 10,000 people. However the number of persons per hectare in Bootle is 54.71. The number of persons per hectare in Southport is 21.65. Southport is a rural area and seaside resort. It is a Victorian town that has no inner city problems and no problems of bad housing. It does not have the serious unemployment that exists in Bootle, where over 12 per cent. of active males are unemployed. In Southport only 5 per cent. are unemployed. The problems of Bootle that do not exist in Southport are clearly illustrated in those statistics.

The whole authority is penalised by its very nature. When the Government calculate the rate support grant settlement and decide on such things as needs element and resources element, our rate support grant is reduced because Southport has not the acute problems of the other areas and its needs are not as great as those in the rest of the Sefton area. The need for the local authority to raise a greater rate poundage is therefore even stronger.

The anger caused by the conflict between Southport and Bootle has dramatically increased in recent times as a result of decisions of Sefton council in the past few months. It has cut services, amalgamated schools, increased school meal charges, got rid of school milk, and closed down swimming pools in the Bootle and Litherland areas that had been built by local effort. Parent-teacher associations had raised the money for those pools. The conflict between Southport and Bootle has become much greater. Vicious cuts have been introduced by a council and they have been aimed at areas such as Bootle and Litherland.

I appeal to the House to allow this Bill to be introduced, not just for the benefit of Bootle. The Southport Visitor of 25 March states: The debate on The Emancipation of Bootle Bill"— my nickname for the Bill— in the Commons on April 15 should be interesting. Or it could be disappointing. Mr. Allan Roberts, Labour M.P. for Bootle, who is introducing the Bill, wants to 'kick Southport out of Sefton'….It will be interesting to see to what extent public opinion in Southport is represented in the debate. The majority opinion here seems to say that Southport WANTS to be kicked out of Sefton. Will the Commons be told that three public opinion polls among Southport electors between 1971 and 1976 all showed that more than 90 per cent. voted for a future for Southport in Lancashire instead? I have had many letters from people in Southport. I shall quote from one that comes from a Mrs. Fairhurst of Wennington Road, Southport. She wrote a long letter in support of my proposals. She concludes: Better that Bootle and Southport part as friends than remain together as enemies.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Sir. G. Page) wishes to oppose the motion.

4.9 pm

Sir Graham Page (Crosby)

The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) seeks the leave of the House to introduce a Bill to carve up the Merseyside metropolitan borough of Sefton. The borough was formed from three boroughs, an urban district and a few neighbouring parishes, which provide a uniquely complementary variety of activities and population—docks, old-established and modern, modern buildings, Government and private offices, factories large and workshops small, famous schools both of Elizabethan foundations, sports and culture in abundance, beautiful rural areas, attractive shopping areas and a whole compass of residences.

Sefton has managed its affairs with approximately the same number of employees as its previous constituent authorities, and has kept its rates below the rate of inflation since it was formed. The hon. Gentleman wants to break up this district merely because the local Labour Party is so much part of the Left that it is unable to get sufficient votes in this moderate and sensible community. I ask the House to deny the hon. Gentleman this gerrymandering.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nominations of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 102.

Division No. 253] AYES [4.11 pm
Adams, Allen Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Allaun, Frank Davies, Ifor (Gower) Freud, Clement
Alton, David Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) George, Bruce
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Deakins, Eric Golding, John
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Graham, Ted
Beith, A. J. Dewar, Donald Grant, George (Morpeth)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Dixon, Donald Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Bidwell, Sydney Dormand, Jack Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Douglas-Mann, Bruce Hardy, Peter
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Duffy, A. E. P. Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) Eastham, Ken Heffer, Eric S.
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Home Robertson, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Homewood, William
Carter-Jones, Lewis Ennals, Rt Hon David Hooley, Frank
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Howells, Geraint
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Evans, John (Newton) Huckfield, Les
Cohen, Stanley Field, Frank Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Fitt, Gerard Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Cook, Robin F. Flannery, Martin Janner, Hon Greville
Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Foot, Rt Hon Michael Johnson, James (Hull West)
Crowther, J. S. Foster, Derek Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Cryer, Bob Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Kerr, Russell Morton, George Silverman, Julius
Kilfedder, James A. Newens, Stanley Soley, Clive
Lamborn, Harry Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Spearing, Nigel
Lamond, James O'Neill, Martin Spriggs, Leslie
Leighton, Ronald Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Steel, Rt Hon David
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Palmer, Arthur Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Litherland, Robert Parker, John Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Pendry, Tom Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Lyon, Alexander (York) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Tilley, John
McDonald, Or Oonagh Race, Reg Tinn, James
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
McKelvey, William Richardson, Jo White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Whitehead, Phillip
Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wigley, Dafydd
Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Robertson, George Winnick, David
Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn) Rooker, J. W. Woodall, Alec
Maxton, John Roper, John Woolmer, Kenneth
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Mikardo, Ian Rowlands, Ted TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L) Mr. John Sever and
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Mr. Jack Straw.
Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)
Adley, Robert Grist, Ian Neubert, Michael
Alexander, Richard Grylls, Michael Normanton, Tom
Aspinwall, Jack Gummer, John Selwyn Onslow, Cranley
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Hawkins, Paul Page, John (Harrow, West)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Heddle, John Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Banks, Robert Holland, Philip (Carlton) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Hordern, Peter Proctor, K. Harvey
Bell, Sir Ronald Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Bevan, David Gilroy Hunt, David (Wirral) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Biggs-Davison, John Jessel, Toby Shelton, William (Streatham)
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Kershaw, Anthony Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br-hills)
Bowden, Andrew Kitson, Sir Timothy Shersby, Michael
Bradford, Rev R. Knight, Mrs Jill Silvester, Fred
Browne, John (Winchester) Lang, Ian Skeet, T. H. H.
Buck, Antony Lawrence, Ivan Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Budgen, Nick Lee, John Speller Tony
Burden, F. A. Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Stainton, Keith
Cadbury, Jocelyn Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo) Stanbrook, Ivor
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) McCrindle, Robert Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) McCusker, H. Stokes, John
Cockeram, Eric McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Temple-Morris, Peter
Costain, A. P. McQuarrie, Albert Thompson, Donald
Crouch, David Mates, Michael Thorne, Nell (Ilford South)
Emery, Peter Mawby, Ray Townend, John (Bridlington)
Fell, Anthony Mawhinney, Dr Brian Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Meyer, Sir Anthony Trippier, David
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mills, Iain (Meriden) Waldegrave, Hon William
Fookes, Miss Janet Mills, Peter (West Devon) Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Moate, Roger Ward, John
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Molyneaux, James Whitney, Raymond
Garel-Jones, Tristan Montgomery, Fergus
Gow, Ian Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gower, Sir Raymond Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Mr. Malcolm Thornton and
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Needham, Richard Mr. Tony Marlow.
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Allan Roberts, Mr. Eric S. Heffer, Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk, Robert Parry, Mr. Jack Straw, Mr. James A. Dunn, Mr. Frank Field and Mr. Ernie Ross.

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