§ Madam Speaker
Before we come to the motion on local government, I should inform the House that I have limited Back-Bench speeches during the debate to 10 minutes. Of course that does not include the two Front Benches, nor does it include the spokesman for the third party.
§ The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry)
I beg to move,That the draft Cleveland (Structural Change) Order 1994, which was laid before the House on 8th December, be approved.The Local Government Commission published its final recommendations for Cleveland on 8 November 1993 and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced his decision on 18 January 1994.
We agree with the commission that more effective and convenient local government in Cleveland will best be achieved by establishing four unitary authorities on the boundaries of the existing borough councils of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees and Langbaurgh-on-Tees—the latter to be named Redcar and Cleveland—and that that will reflect the interests and identities of local people.
It is important to emphasise what the work and recommendations of the Local Government Commission are intended to achieve—which is not to pass judgment on the merits or otherwise of individual councils. The policy guidance to the commission contains the message again and again that its job is to explore whether better structures for local government are available.
Not all hon. Gentlemen have felt themselves bound by the same constraints. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) has been fierce in his defence of Cleveland council. The hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) have been fierce in their denunciation of Cleveland council. The task of reconciling their views is not for me, but is one, I assume, for the Labour Whips, among whose number is, was or perhaps is no longer to be the hon. Member for Hartlepool—unless the Labour party has invented a new form of the Silken Whip, which strikes but does not bite. I remain to be enlightened on that particular phenomenon.
§ Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)
Can my hon. Friend clarify the position? The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) spoke out strongly in support of the order in the House on 29 June 1994 and in other places, yet we understand from his local press that he now proposes either to vote against or to abstain on the motion. How can that be?
§ Mr. Curry
My hon. Friend draws my attention to the strong representations made by the hon. Members for Hartlepool and for Middlesbrough. It is a subject that raises strong passions which I fully understand. It is for me to look at the commission's recommendations in the light of the functioning and the structures of local government. Of course, hon. Gentlemen will reconcile their views with those of their hon. Friends during the debate and the voting.
Article 3 gives effect to the Local Government Commission's main recommendations for local government structure in Cleveland and provides for 202 reorganisation on 1 April 1996. On that date, Cleveland county council will be wound up and functions and powers will be transferred to the four borough authorities.
The original intention was for reorganisation from 1 April 1995; however, the county council's judicial review application, which was turned down by the High Court in June, made it impossible to stick to that timetable without putting at risk smooth transition and proper provision of essential services.
Although there are no proceedings currently before the courts, Cleveland county council has applied for leave to appeal by means of an oral hearing before the Court of Appeal. The date of that hearing has not yet been set. Before the order was laid, we carefully considered whether that outstanding request for leave to appeal should prevent laying and debating the order, but we concluded that it should not. If Parliament approves the draft order, we shall, of course, take stock of the position on legal proceedings before the order is made.
The Local Government Commission recommended in its final report on Cleveland and Durham that, for ceremonial and related purposes, the county area of Cleveland should be divided between County Durham and Yorkshire. Although we have accepted that proposal in principle, we shall not be taking a final decision until we have reached conclusions on the future structure of local government in County Durham and North Yorkshire. The present order does not address that issue.
Having considered local views, we are providing for all-out elections to all four borough councils, including Hartlepool, which normally elects by thirds, in May 1995. The councillors elected then will have a fresh mandate from the people of Cleveland to plan for change, and then to take over responsibility for running all local authority services from the following April.
To ensure a smooth transition and to safeguard essential services, the five Cleveland authorities will be given extra duties and powers to prepare for the reorganisation. The order draws a distinction between what the successor authorities can do before and after the elections in May. They should be able to prepare for reorganisation from the time the order is made, but we strongly believe that the decisions that will determine the outlook and culture of the successor authorities, along with appointments of chief officers, should be taken after the elections in May by the councillors who are elected with the mandate for the change in functions.
There will be a duty on all five existing councils to co-operate in implementing reorganisation. The borough councils will also have access to information which they need and will be able to make the necessary preparations, including budget setting and appointing staff, in advance of the transfer and exercise of the functions which they will inherit from 1 April 1996. The new authorities will also be required to consider whether particular functions can best be carried out from voluntary joint arrangements.
The order also provides for a number of other matters on which the Local Government Commission made recommendations or which result from reorganisation. It paves the way for a combined fire authority for Cleveland, which will be created by a separate order under the Fire Services Act 1947, to be made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. It also provides for representatives of the new unitary authorities to replace the county council's nominees on the Cleveland police authority from 1 October 1995 for certain purposes so that 203 they can be involved in the decision on the 1996–97 budget and policing plans. The county council's representatives will stay on the authority for all other purposes until the county council is abolished in the following April. The order vests the county council's superannuation fund in Middlesbrough borough council, which is also designated for the purposes of certain financial regulations.
As unitary authorities, the four Cleveland boroughs will be responsible for both strategic and local land use planning for their areas. We are determined that, wherever there is reorganisation, there should be adequate arrangements for strategic planning. In the case of Cleveland, the commission proposed that the four unitary authorities should maintain separate local plans but work together on a joint structure plan; we have accepted that recommendation.
The order gives effect to the recommendation by transferring the county's strategic planning responsibilities to the four borough councils, which can then make the necessary voluntary arrangements for joint working on the structure plan. We anticipate that the authorities in Cleveland will establish satisfactory arrangements, and are much encouraged by the proposals that they have published for joint work on strategic planning for the Tees valley.
Finally, the order implements the commission's recommendation that the borough of Langbaurgh-on-Tees be renamed Redcar and Cleveland, and provides for representatives of that council to take the place of the county council on the North York Moors national park committee. The Government, and everyone concerned with local government in Cleveland, must now make the reorganisation a success.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
So far, the Minister has not mentioned those who work for the local authorities involved. Can he assure us that, following negotiations with local trade unions, not one job will be lost as a result of the reorganisation?
§ Mr. Curry
The whole purpose of electing new councils in all-out elections in May is to give those councils responsibility for negotiating the introduction of unitary councils. That will include conditions of employment. The terms and conditions that are available have been made perfectly clear. The hon. Gentleman left his intervention until a rather late stage, but I should have felt bereft had he not made it.
§ Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)
Those of us with an interest in the creation of unitary authorities in other parts of the country are listening carefully to my hon. Friend's remarks about arrangements for Cleveland, which may well represent a pilot scheme. Is he satisfied that the period of 12 months allowed for a shadow authority to operate is long enough, given the new ground that is being broken? Previously, we were bringing authorities together to form larger authorities; we are now splitting them into smaller ones. A learning curve must be negotiated.
§ Mr. Curry
Without anticipating the outcome of deliberations about Hereford and Worcester, I can say that I consider that period sufficient. I have undertaken that, wherever possible, we will elect shadow authorities that will be responsible for preparing the new ground, and will 204 have a full year in which to do so. The process must be completed as quickly as can sensibly be arranged. I doubt that many people would welcome its protraction, given the obvious uncertainties: people want to know where they stand on such matters as employment, and I believe that the time scale is about right for the delivery of the responsibilities involved.
§ Mr. Skinner
What guarantees will the Government give that not a single worker currently employed in the area will lose his job as a result of the reorganisation on which the Government are insisting?
§ Mr. Curry
I always find the hon. Gentleman's interventions intriguing. We are discussing the reorganisation of a council that happens to be under Labour control, which will devolve to four unitary authorities whose districts are also under Labour control. If the Labour party cannot sort out its policies without running scared in front of the unions whose heavy hand appears to be on the process, it should not assume that responsibility. I wish to give the Labour councils that responsibility, however, because it is their job: that is why we are giving them a period of "shadow working".
§ Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)
Will my hon. Friend ignore the frantic efforts of Opposition Members with vested interests in keeping the Cleveland gravy train on the rails? Is he aware that millions of people in Yorkshire have been living for the day that heralded the abolition of a mythical county—and that of Humberside—so that Yorkshire can stretch from the Humber to the Tees as it did for a thousand years? Will he also consider my proposal to restore the Yorkshire ridings, which were a traditional and honourable feature of our county for a thousand years?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. This is a short debate, and interventions should be brief and to the point. Hon. Members should not make speeches.
§ Mr. Curry
My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) was undoubtedly referring to my remarks about the possible ceremonial functions to be bestowed on the unitary authorities. Some, of course, used to belong to the historical Yorkshire, just as some belonged to the historical Durham. We shall have to consult when the time comes to decide which is the best designation.
§ Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), the Minister mentioned local authorities' freedom to determine the operation of service conditions and staff structures. To do that, they will need powers. What powers will they have in the event of detriment, when employees suffer a loss of service conditions, and what will happen when direct service organisations are transferred? I do not think that the Minister has granted any such powers yet or has announced his intentions.
§ Mr. Curry
I am delighted that the Trappist silence that overwhelmed Labour Members at the beginning of the debate appears to have been succeeded by more active participation.
205 We are currently consulting on a scheme to deal with detriment, and the outcome will depend on the result of that consultation. As for the hon. Gentleman's other question, he will know that when a DSO is transferred, its current responsibility will devolve to the new authorities. We expect successor authorities either to maintain or to review existing arrangements as the law prescribes.
§ Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)
The Minister said that it would be up to the Labour party to sort out the employment issues, but surely he has considerable control over the position. As matters stand, he is responsible for determining budgets both for the current Cleveland authority in its final year and for the districts. Will those budgets permit the authorities to make the decisions that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) wants to be made?
I should like to ask another question—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have already pointed out that this is a short debate, and that interventions should be brief and to the point. Let me add that long interventions from hon. Members who have not put their names down to make speeches will deprive others—probably including Cleveland Members—of the opportunity to speak.
§ Mr. Curry:
I have been hovering on the brink of my final sentence for about eight interventions. The answer to the intervention of the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) is as follows: the successor authorities will receive credit approvals and repayments will be deferred for four years to enable them to make the financial arrangements that are necessary for them to move from the present structure to the new one.
§ Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
The Minister has yet to mention the customers—the "consumers" of council services. There are bound to be transitional difficulties. Is he confident that the long-term gains will outweigh the short-term costs? If so, how can he be so confident?
§ Mr. Curry
Yes, I am confident. We required the commission to present its estimate of the costs; it estimates the transitional costs to be between £13 million and £18 million, and the annual savings to be between £6 million and £11 million. The savings will clearly recur year on year.
Over the past year, there has been considerable uncertainty for all concerned in local government, but I have no doubt that the local authorities in Cleveland have the ability to make a success of the new local government structure. I therefore commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
This draft order from the current Tory Government proposes abolishing the Cleveland county council which was set up by a previous Tory Government. I should like to make it clear that we will oppose the order. It is a product of the local government review, a review conceived in malice towards a limited number of Labour county councils. Since its conception, it has been conducted in confusion and litigation.
The outcome of the review, in so far as we can see it, does not resemble what the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said when he introduced it: 206We know that most local authorities want unitary status and we believe that such status will provide a better structure for the future in most areas."—[Official Report, 20 January 1992; Vol. 232, c. 37.]The commission has not recommended unitary status for most areas. Indeed, a rough count suggests that, of the 296 shire county districts at the start of the process, 230 or more will survive as shire county districts—80 per cent.—and will not be changed or become unitary authorities.
Things have not turned out as the right hon. Member for Henley predicted. The review has turned out exactly as the Labour party predicted, however. One of my predecessors pointed out in the debate that it looked as though the commission would roam around the countryside guided by the whim of the Secretary of State, that the recommendations would be subject to the whim of the Secretary of State and that they would leave local government in chaos—and so it has turned out. After two years of wrangling, vast expense and court cases, we do not have a sensible set of propositions from the review. After two years of councillors and officials quite understandably either promoting change or defending the status quo, we do not have a sensible set of measures. Throughout the whole period, those councillors, including Tory councillors, have been distracted from their real tasks of trying to provide decent services for local people.
It would be impossible for any Minister to convince anyone with a grain of sense that the proposals reflect rhyme or reason. The process should have been clear, consistent and straightforward. In other words, rather like those of the Boundary Commission, technically at least the proceedings of the review should have been beyond reproach, but they have not been. They are a shambles. The Government have said that they refuse to await all the recommendations for all the counties before they start pushing through individual orders such as this one, which is the second such order. That is because they want to hide away the inconsistency of the propositions—
§ Mr. Curry
I seek clarification. I know that the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said that he wanted no orders to be placed before Parliament until all the orders could be placed before it. Now the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) appears to be agreeing with him. Is that Labour party policy?
§ Mr. Dobson
We have always made it clear that we believe that all the recommendations should be revealed to the House before it starts considering individual recommendations. The Government are proceeding with individual recommendations before everything is known because they want to distract attention from the contradictions in the propositions. For instance, Rutland, with a population of 33,000, is to become a fully independent unitary authority, while Norwich, Ipswich and Exeter, ancient cities which used to be county boroughs, and with populations of more than 100,000, are not to have unitary status. Blackburn, with 139,000 people, will not get it; nor will Warrington and Northampton, with populations of more than 180,000. We 207 regard the whole outcome as a shambles, which is why we think that the House should be able to see all the proposals before we proceed to vote through any of them.
The Secretary of State will not even guarantee that he will put all the final recommendations of the review commission to the House. In refusing to do so, he is breaking the undertaking given by the right hon. Member for Henley, who said that they would be put before the House. In the absence of the Secretary of State, will the Minister guarantee that the Government will put to the House all the commission's final recommendations?
§ Mr. Curry
The hon. Gentleman clearly does not understand the process. He has just given us a great spiel about how Exeter, Norwich, Ipswich, and so on, will not have this status, but the Government have not yet reached conclusions on the commission's recommendations for their status. The commission has the responsibility to make recommendations; the Government have the responsibility to consult on them and then to put their recommendations before the House. I certainly give no guarantee that the recommendations, in the form in which they emerge from the commission, will necessarily be put before the House. The legislation does not provide for that and the Government would be running away from their responsibilities if they gave such an undertaking.
§ Mr. Dobson
That is confirmation, then, that these matters will be decided at the whim of the Secretary of State. God knows, I do not like anybody's whims, but the whims of the present Secretary of State are mindless.
§ Mr. Dobson
The Minister seems to be deaf as well as stupid. He failed to notice that I referred to the "final" recommendations of the commission. If the Secretary of State refers a case back to the commission and the commission comes back with truly final recommendations, will the Minister put them before the House? That is what I am asking him, and he is refusing to reply, because he wants to leave it to the whim of the Secretary of State. He has now confirmed that it will be left to the whim of the Secretary of State.
Next, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said, we are concerned that there should be proper protection for the staff who are affected by these changes, both those who are transferred and those who, if they are not transferred, should get compensation. They do not ask for anything enormous or unusual. All they want are the terms and conditions that applied to staff when the metropolitan counties were abolished in 1986. The Secretary of State will not even concede those terms. Presumably, he wants the epitaph on his tombstone to read, "Even meaner than Thatcher".
The compensation order which we are to debate later does not provide for the 84 weeks' compensation that applied in 1986; it provides for only 66 weeks. Nor does it provide for mandatory compensation for staff over 50 years of age—the very people who would really appreciate a guarantee of mandatory compensation.
208 What has changed since 1986? For one thing, it is harder to get a job now than it was then. There has also been a change to do with compensation, however. Since 1986, the Government have introduced ministerial severance pay, providing Ministers with compensation when they return to the Back Benches. Although they will still have their Members' pay and can get jobs in the City, the Government provide them with compensation as well. That is entirely typical of this Government: harsh treatment of people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and generous treatment for themselves when they lose their jobs by virtue of incompetence, venality or adultery.
The Government should reconsider and, at the very least, come up with conditions for the staff that are as good as the ones they were prepared to concede in 1986. This matter will be dealt with at greater length when we come to the compensation order.
The process of the review should have been beyond reproach. It should have been dealt with in a quasi-judicial way. Cleveland was not dealt with like that; it has been more like a kangaroo court. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State himself have all denounced Cleveland in immoderate terms, at Tory party conferences, in the House and all over the place.
Even more important, when we talk about proper standards of conduct in public life, I think that all hon. Members would agree that the chairman of the Local Government Commission should behave in a quasi-judicial manner. We cannot expect the Secretary of State to do so. Pseudo-pontifically, he is about as near as he can get to it. Unfortunately, the chairman of the commission was not so acting when, on 19 October 1993, he wrote to the Secretary of State as follows:It will also be important that the Commission and the Government jointly have some early wins in the difficult initial stages of the review. There is likely to be general acceptance of our recommendations for Avon, Cleveland and Humberside. It would be good to have these accepted while you sort out those areas in which, so far, support for unitary structures is limited and there is substantial opposition to the change.Public servants who are supposed to carry out their duties in a quasi-judicial manner should not be talking about "early wins" in relation to councils.
The consultation process in Cleveland has been inferior to and different from the process that has been followed in other counties and was criticised by the High Court. Estimates of costs produced by the commission have been at variance with estimates produced elsewhere. Estimates of costs were revised during the consultation procedures, but no one went back to consult the people who had already been consulted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) was promised that representations received would be made available. Until he pressed for that, nothing was done. He was eventually supplied with a summary. The Government suddenly changed their tune and announced that they would not make documents available. They said that if someone had made representations, he or she might want them regarded as confidential. As I understand it, nearly all the representations made have been suppressed and are not available.
The principle should be reversed. Unless a member of the public says, "I wish my representations to be 209 confidential," we might assume that in a public matter of this sort they should be made available to the public. People expect them to be made public.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Several individuals who made representations to the Secretary of State have written to me to complain. They have told me that they have written to the Secretary of State asking him to release their letters. As yet, none has been forthcoming.
§ Mr. Dobson
What my hon. Friend says does not surprise me in the least. There is another example. Hon. Members will remember that the Secretary of State spent about £250,000 to produce a publicity leaflet on London shortly before the London elections. That was supposed to be a consultation exercise. When requests were made for the basic, raw data so that independents could scrutinise the responses, we were told that the forms were completed in confidence and, therefore, could not be released. That is typical.
The draft order is unacceptable to us because the procedures involved have been unfair, unreasonable and chaotic. We believe that the propositions before us are inconsistent with other recommendations. We should not proceed with the orders referred to in the Order Paper until we have guarantees that all the associated orders will be seen by the House and put to the House. We shall not support the order until the Government produce decent guarantees for the staff involved, at least on the lines of those that were agreed in 1986. That is why we shall vote against the draft order.
§ 7.4 pm
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said about taking comfort from what the High Court judgment had to say about the way in which the consultation process had been carried out. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a speech by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). He said:It must have been very cold comfort indeed, since on all the counts put forward by Cleveland county council, it lost. The council said that the decision of the Local Government Commission and the Government was unreasonable. It lost. It said that the commission had misconstrued the policy guidance on policy arrangements. It lost. It said that there had been a lack of proper consultation. It lost. It said that the Secretary of State should have referred back Cleveland, as he referred Durham back. It lost. It said that it was unfair for Durham to benefit from the 1993 guidance, but not Cleveland. It lost on that, too. The court rightly pointed out that the four-district option was supported by the majority of the local Members of Parliament. It was also supported by an opinion poll and by direct responses.The hon. Member for Middlesbrough quoted directly from the learned judge, who said:'If this amounts to a submission that democracy is not a panacea for all ills, it sounds odd coming from a county council.'"—[Official Report, 7 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 556–57.]There seem to be discrepancies in what some Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen are saying.
The order was tabled to provide local services in a cost-effective way, with local accountability of identifiable representatives, while drawing on traditional loyalties. The reason for Cleveland being first through the mill of the House is that there is no natural local affinity for the county, which was drawn up in 1974. It was constituted for administrative convenience and not to command local loyalty.
210 Indeed, not even Cleveland county council supported the retention of the council. It supported a Teesside authority and was backed by 12.5 per cent. of the population who were consulted in a local poll. The House should know that 75 per cent. of those consulted in a MORI poll agreed with the principle of a single-tier authority. Nearly half those who agreed with that principle—48 per cent.—supported the four unitary authorities of Stockton, Middlesbrough, Langbaurgh and Hartlepool.
Hartlepool county council felt so strongly about the matter that about 90 per cent. of residents nominated the borough as the place in which they felt at home and which they would prefer to see delivering their local services. That strength of feeling has come through in every poll and in the many submissions to the Local Government Commission.
Cleveland county council recognised the strength of that feeling in its submission. It called for Hartlepool, the smallest of the four boroughs, to be carved out as a separate unit from its proposed Teesside authority.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) has not missed an opportunity to press for the proposals set out in the local government review to be implemented. In June last year, he asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether he acceptedthat there will be great disappointment among my constituents that the order implementing the Government's proposals for the reorganisation of local government in Cleveland does not feature in next week's business?"—[Official Report, 16 June 1994; Vol. 244, c. 759.]Later in June, he was pressing my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibilities for these matters, saying:Will the Minister reaffirm the Government's strong determination to create four unitary district-based councils in the present county of Cleveland? In addition to the Local Government Commission, the overwhelming majority of the public, most local Members of Parliament, the Government themselves and now the High Court, too, support his opinion. Only the House of Commons has so far not been asked to express a view".—[Official Report, 29 June 1994; Vol. 245, c. 794.]It is strange indeed, as the editorial in last night's edition of The Mail of Hartlepool remarked—the hon. Member for Hartlepool is an Opposition Whip and is drumming up support among his colleagues to defeat the motion—And if Labour with the help of Tory rebels succeeds in blocking the change … will the town ever forgive him?The editor put it so well, and the answer is, probably not. That is why I am given to understand that the hon. Gentleman may resign his post to stay true to his constituents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates) and I will tell him, all great political careers involve at least one resignation.
Why is Labour opposing the order? As we see from early-day motion 347, it is, or was, in line with official Labour policy. The motion was tabled by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) and signed by the hon. Members for Middlesbrough and for Hartlepool, among others. It sees unitary tier local governmentas a building block towards elective regional government.Why is Labour opposed to the measure? Perhaps it is for the reason that I read in an article in today's edition of The Northern Echo, under the headline:Unions' plea to Blair to save County".211 It reads:The request comes from Britain's three biggest unions … Unison … GMB and the Transport and General Workers' Union.They have written to Mr. Blair calling on him to make sure there is maximum opposition from Labour MPs to the order to wind up Cleveland—by imposing a three line whip.We do not know whether Labour Members are on a three-line Whip or a two-line Whip—or possibly a four-line Whip—but I look forward to seeing two Labour Members stepping across the Floor later this evening.
Let me remind the House that the hon. Members for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) and for Middlesbrough are sponsored by the GMB. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam)—I cannot see her at the moment—is sponsored by Unison. Perhaps that explains why she has taken the view she has.
What of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough? Not only has he chaired the co-ordinating group to establish unitary district councils; he initiated an Adjournment debate, in July last year, in which he excoriated the county council's handling of local government reorganisation. He pointed out, quite rightly, that Bryan Gould, the previous Member for Dagenham, had said thatthere would be a positive response to the Government's proposals on structure, provided, of course, that the process of consultation was seen to be independent. In the case of the abolition of Cleveland county council, not only has the consultation been independent; it has also been upheld by the law of the land."—[Official Report, 7 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 556.]The hon. Member for Hartlepool, who was present at that debate, fully supported him.
So there we have it. Two members of Labour's Front-Bench scheme [HON. MEMBERS: "Scheme?"]—I mean team, but perhaps it is a scheme—apparently take the view that the order is marvellous and should be approved post haste. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman tonight suddenly seems to be backtracking on what the former Member for Dagenham had to say not so long ago.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Surely no assurance was given to the unions that Labour would save the county of Hartlepool. None was given to the county of Cleveland, and none to the people of Hartlepool or Stockton, that they would get local government power into their own hands and their own authorities.
§ Mr. Devlin
The fact is that a disgraceful amount of local taxpayers' money in my constituency has been wasted on the campaign against the abolition of Cleveland county council. My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh and I have stood up on many occasions, in the House and elsewhere, to protest about the serious waste of public money that has gone on. It has been squandered. I personally have not seen anything like it since the abolition of the Greater London council.
We have seen press releases, press conferences at every turn, judicial reviews, which have been unceremoniously thrown out of the High Court, the packing of public meetings throughout Cleveland, letter-writing campaigns, which have gone on relentlessly, the employment of public affairs consultants on huge salaries, employing various people to hold lunches around the place, and niggling at every possible opportunity. I understand that those people have stopped at nothing. Last week, Tory 212 rebels were being contacted in a final attempt to block the move. Every possible stone that could be turned in the campaign has been turned.
But I have to say that, while turmoil and shenanigans have reigned in the Labour party on the issue—it is unable to say whether it is for or against the retention of Cleveland county council—my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh and I have been at one. Our local parties agree with us substantially. On cost, accountability and local identity, the proposals of the local government review meet the needs of local people, and they deserve the support of the House tonight.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I should point out for the benefit of the House that the person who contacted the Tory dissidents to test their views on the issue was in fact County Councillor Hazel Pearson, leader of the Conservative group on Cleveland county council. So let us set the record straight. Furthermore, I am rather pleased that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) is quite unable to distort any of my comments on the issue.
My old adversary, Richard Holt, would have revelled in tonight's joust. He started the campaign to crucify Cleveland years ago, and Tory Ministers have continued the vendetta ever since. It is an indication of the Government's obsession with carrying out their vendetta that they are prepared to put the matter before Parliament while it still remains subject to decision in the courts, despite statements from the Minister, including the Leader of the House, that it would be improper to do so.
The Local Government Commission clearly knew the answer that it had to produce for Cleveland before it had even begun its work. Why else did Sir John Banham write to the Secretary of State about its joint interest in achieving an early win in Cleveland, Avon and Humberside? Why else accuse Cleveland county council of producing fairyland figures when it warned of the inevitable cost implications of speeding up such a massive range of services? Now, of course, we know that those warnings were entirely justified.
Sir John Banham now admits that he knows ofnot one single solitary shred of evidenceto suggest that unitary authorities of the kind that he proposes to impose on the people of Teesside would be able to provide better services. Indeed, he goes further and concedes that the entire exercise is "a gamble". Why, then, did he and his commission colleagues not say that to the people of Teesside before producing the paltry 40,000 leaflets that were meant to measure the views of more than half a million people? His efforts in Cleveland would have been inadequate even for tiny Rutland.
Why did the commission and the Government refuse the people of Teesside the balanced and accurate information about the options, both for the change and for retention of the present system? Why were the people not told, for example, that the commission's proposal is the most expensive option for change, with the highest level of transitional cost? Why were they not told that the alternative proposal of an authority for Teesside, with a second for Hartlepool, would have been far more cost-effective, in terms of both on-going savings and one-off transitional costs?
213 Indeed, the Audit Commission, when asked to comment, said in its report:Having regard to the costs of readjusting operational services and the way in which the Teesside conurbation functions as a single urban entity, there are features of the two authority option which appear attractive. The structure among all those proposed which best fits community realities and likely to perform best in terms of the three Es.That paragraph was removed from the Audit Commission's report by the Local Government Commission.
Why did the commission originally estimate the additional cost of its options at around £2 million a year, yet subsequently revise that estimate to £10 million a year, and eventually to £18 million a year, after the end of its discredited and shambolic consultation process? It is little wonder that, when the High Court judges to whom the hon. Member for Stockton, South referred examined the so-called "consultation" process in Cleveland, they concluded that, if a second-hand car salesman had acted with the same attitude to the truth, he would have ended up in the Old Bailey.
Why did the commission, in its report on Cleveland to the Secretary of State, fail to reflect the overwhelming strength of feeling against its proposals, expressed by so very many national and local organisations?
In reports for other areas, all such respondents are listed, with a summary of each individual organisation's views. No such information was provided in the Cleveland report. Why the secrecy? Why has the Secretary of State sought to hide from hon. Members similar information about representations that he has received? On several occasions, Ministers have assured the House that such information would be made available for inspection. In reality, Ministers have done everything possible to deny access to that information. Those representations remain hidden today.
The Secretary of State has reluctantly conceded that the majority of those representations are opposed to the proposals. Of the submissions that he has been prepared to release, there is not one independent voice in favour of the proposals. If such representations exist, why is he keeping them secret? Let us be honest: if they existed at all, he would be parading them proudly in Parliament square, with an escort of the Household Cavalry.
The strength of opposition and alarm over what is proposed cannot be overstated. It covers every service and every sector. Every key representative body from the area's business community—not just the trade unions, but the CBI, the chamber of commerce, the small business club—all regard the idea of fragmenting the Teesside conurbation as economic lunacy—[Interruption.]— despite the laughter of the hon. Member for Stockton, South.
Only in Teesside is such a fragmentation of a major industrial community proposed—nowhere else in the country. Why in Cleveland? Health authorities in the area are horrified by the implications for the splitting of social services, and for such key initiatives as care in the community and the Children Act 1989. What nonsense that, at a time when various health authorities are being brought together under a single body, it is proposed that key partners in social services should be broken up.
The health authorities' fears are echoed by health professionals, including the area's general practitioners and the Government's own chief inspector of social 214 services. Service users and service providers are equally horrified, with opposition being expressed by bodies such as the Association of Directors of Social Services, the British Association of Social Workers, the Cleveland Disability Forum, the Spastics Society, Age Concern, the National Deaf Children's Society, the Association of Speech Impaired, the National League of the Blind and Disabled, the North Tees community health council and the Carers National Association.
People in education are similarly opposed, with 42 out of 44 secondary head teachers in the area opposing the proposals, and the same view being expressed by every major teaching association. The Government's own Office of Standards in Education attacked the commission's report for failing to give proper attention to educational provision.
The list is almost endless: the Council for National Parks, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, English Heritage, the Institution of Highways and Transportation, the Library Association, the National Council of Archives, the regional tourist board, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Youth Hostel Association. It is hard to imagine a wider, stronger or more unanimous expression of opposition.
Every future key economic decision affecting Teesside will now be subject to a quango culture. The proposed Tees Valley development company, comprising 10 business men, 10 councillors and one independent chairman, will be the final piece in the jigsaw of quango government in Cleveland.
I warn those who support the order tonight that they will have to answer to the Cleveland electorate in the future. The scene is set for squabbling between quangos, with the people of Teesside standing by helplessly watching their economic future decline. The only justification that any commission or Minister might have for disregarding such overwhelming evidence would be an equally strong expression of public opinion in favour of the proposals. Yet what is the truth in Cleveland?
Only 2 per cent. of Cleveland's residents have been given an opportunity to have their say on proposals which will affect their lives for years to come, and less than 1 per cent. expressed support for the commission's proposals. It has been alleged that Cleveland county council should go because it is unpopular. In truth, there is no evidence that it is unpopular with the people who should really matter—those it serves.
The Local Government Commission showed that, in just 25 years, Cleveland has achieved an identity level among local people higher than many of the so-called traditional counties which have existed for centuries and which Banham and company now intend to leave untouched.
I have a lot more to say, but I realise that I am close to my time. The truth is that, before the introduction of the two-tier system and the creation of Cleveland, the majority of the area was governed by two county boroughs called Teesside and Hartlepool. In reality, putting right the mistakes of 1974—if mistakes they were—should mean a return to Teesside and Hartlepool. That is what the county council suggested and argued for. But Ministers are so blinkered in their views that they simply cannot bring themselves to agree with anything that the county suggests.
215 The problem seems to be that our system pays lip service to democracy and accountability in the Chamber and on public platforms, then slaughters those two characteristics privately in the abattoirs of the Division Lobbies.
§ Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)
First, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Association of District Councils. I welcome the order and the four new authorities to the elite club of unitary authorities.
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) mentioned that illustrious character whom some of us were so privileged to know, Richard Holt, and I am delighted to see his successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), here tonight nodding vigorously in agreement with the Minister. He is a man who has made much progress in the House, not only having established a unitary authority tonight for his local authority, but having joined that illustrious band in the Whips Office.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister for not having given him notice of what I am about to say, but perhaps I might do so now for any future orders for unitary authorities. They tend to divide themselves into two parts—those that hive up the functions of local government and those that hive them down. The previous order for the Isle of Wight was a hiving-up order and this one is a hiving down into four unitary authorities.
I do not object to the order, but I shall continue to make my point concerning the position of parish and town councils under the reorganisation of local government whenever such orders come before the House.
This is like "Brideshead Revisited" for me because I chaired the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill. I remember that at the last minute Cleveland county council suddenly decided that it would object to the Bill and it sent along a rather extraordinary county councillor who professed to be a sudden convert to the ornithology of the salt marshes around Tees and Hartlepool, most of which had suffered over the years from the industrial output of the ICI fertiliser plant. It would be difficult to believe that there was so much as a stuffed bird there, let alone a winged one.
During that county councillor's cross-examination it became clear that all that he knew about birds was the frozen poultry counter in his local supermarket. One rather gathers, even from the lower echelons of the Isle of Wight, that Cleveland county council is a professional objector without an objective standpoint.
The House of Commons Library tells me that there are 30 parish councils and two town councils in the local government reorganisation. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the point that I wish to raise, but I want to keep emphasising it. It may seem a small administrative point, but if the parish and town councils do not have some legislative mechanism in the reorganisation of local government into unitary authorities, their election cycle will be out of kilter with the local government cycle and their election expenses will, in some cases, come to more than the precept that they raise.
216 That is a matter of finance and straightforward administration, but worse than that is that politically, if the elections are not aligned, candidates who are not elected for the unitary authorities will subsequently stand for election to the parish and town councils. The system that the mechanism that we are debating is trying to abolish will effectively be duplicated. The citizens who are affected by the orders will never be able to understand why they pay all their rates to the local district or borough council yet the county council spends it all—pretty profligately, as it happens, in most cases. People do not understand that level of accountability.
The merit in the order is that in future rates will be paid to the local authority that spends them, but two separate election dates, one for the local parish and town councils and one for the unitary council, will effectively reduplicate the very system that we are abolishing.
I hope that before long my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us from the Dispatch Box when he intends to bring forward legislation to allow that situation to be amended in future by Order in Council so that wherever we are in the rolling programme of unitary authorities we can adjust the timetable of parish and town council elections to bring them into line, as we did under the previous local government reorganisation.
Mr. David Bendel (Newbury)
The creation of Cleveland was always one of the least popular aspects of local government reform in 1974, so perhaps it is no great surprise that the Conservative Government wish to abolish it now. However, it would have been hard to conceive of a more ham-fisted, slapdash and incompetent procedure for doing so. In Cleveland the Government had a wonderful opportunity to introduce a local government reform that could have had the support of the vast majority of the local people and widespread support throughout the Cleveland area.
In the event the Government's lack of consultation, their failure to resolve the issue of what should happen to strategic services, their imposition of the costs of reform on local residents, their inadequate attempts to calm the fears of staff, especially those working for the county council, their attempts to rush through an order while the possibility of a judicial review is still present and their basic failure—condemned by Sir John Banham himself—to consider the fundamental role and purpose of local councils, have all led to a general lack of enthusiasm among the residents of Cleveland.
The Government have wasted a large part of the good will that they earned when they first proposed a local government reform in Cleveland. In particular, they have much work to do in reassuring officers facing redundancy as a result of the reforms that they will be treated no more harshly than others who have previously found themselves in a similar position. The Liberal Democrats will seize every opportunity to press the Government hard on that issue.
Compensation must take account of the fact that the four unitary authorities will be continuing authorities. As I and others said when we debated the Isle of Wight order some months ago, continuing authorities, which will occur in relatively few cases, present especially intransigent problems for staff made redundant, and we should all urge the Government to arrange for compensation levels to take that into account.
217 My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have had to consider one further critical point. Local government reform is always disruptive, and no country can afford to reform its local government structure too frequently. There is therefore a grave danger that reform now may in practice preclude a more popular and effective reform in the next Parliament.
Unfortunately, none of the severe defects in the procedure that I have highlighted can be remedied by our vote. The Government have bungled, but the questions facing Members of Parliament now is whether we should still support reform of local government in Cleveland, and whether there is still a majority in favour of that among local residents despite the bungling.
The Government have failed to arrange the sort of full survey of local opinion that the commission has organised in other areas. Instead we are left to rely on a MORI poll with a significant margin of error, carried out among only 1,200 residents. That poll also contains so many different options to choose from that the preference between the status quo and the proposal before us is not clear in the case of residents who chose entirely other options.
At our conference in Cardiff last year we Liberal Democrats made it clear that the Government should find means of consulting local people which enabled them to express a clear preference for one proposal or another. Instead the Government have had to rely on a single muddled opinion poll from which it is difficult to discover what local people really want. That has left it open to the borough councils and the county council to conduct their own opinion polls, and it comes as no surprise to find that those appear to reach different conclusions, which in turn are often interpreted as supporting the various preferences of the different councils. Such surveys do nothing much except muddy the waters even further.
I have therefore done some further analysis of the commission's MORI opinion poll figures with a view to finding out whether the people whose first preference was for one, two or three unitary councils would rather the House passed the order or not. The evidence is partial, but there is some in the second preferences given by poll respondents. If those are added to the initial first preference figures, it is clear that local people favour the unitary option over the status quo; the ratio is about three to two. That clear majority must lead us to consider seriously what other evidence or arguments there are in favour of the order.
§ Mr. Rendel
If the hon. Gentleman waits a moment he may hear something about that, too.
The commission's poll also provided some evidence of local residents' feelings about the principle of unitary authorities in general. Perhaps it is not surprising that in an area such as Cleveland, where the original reforms were not popular, there is considerable support for that principle. Indeed, it is interesting to note that even at county level there is considerable support for a unitary solution, although that support tended to be for unitary authorities in Hartlepool and Teesside rather than for breaking up Teesside into three further unitary authorities, as is now suggested.
My party has supported the general principle all along, where it can be shown that that option is welcomed by local residents rather than being imposed by central 218 Government. Unitary authorities based on areas smaller than the present county councils will tend to bring democracy and decision making down closer to the local people, who will have more control over their own lives.
It is worth pointing out in passing that the principle of subsidiarity, which the Government are so keen to promote at European level, and now at county council level, too, should also be introduced at national level in the same way, by creating regional governments in England and separate governments for Scotland and Wales. It is absurd for the Prime Minister to say that he supports subsidiarity in an area as large as Europe, and in an area as small as a county, but that he regards the same principle as dangerous and totally unacceptable over an area of intermediate size, such as the United Kingdom.
Finally, in seeking the right answer for Cleveland, which represents one of the most controversial of all the reform proposals, I have taken the trouble to visit the area to discuss the issues with the representatives of the people.[Interruption.] No doubt other hon. Members yet to speak in the debate have done the same.
It became clear to me during my visit that there was an overwhelming weight of opinion in favour of a unitary authority in Hartlepool. Opinion on the right solution for the rest of Cleveland appeared more divided, but on balance seemed more or less in line with the MORI opinion poll that I have already described. I therefore believe that if the Labour party votes against the wishes of the people of Hartlepool, Langbaurgh, Middlesbrough and Stockton, those people will not lightly forgive it.
In summary, the message from the people of Cleveland is that the Government have bungled local government reform in a big way. About the only thing that they have got right is the decision to treat each area on its merits and not to insist on one solution for all parts of the country. We, too, will make our decisions on whatever orders come before the House without regard to any decisions that we have taken previously or may wish to take in the future. We shall be concerned only to do whatever we believe to be best for the area under consideration.
Meanwhile the Government have wasted not only vast sums but their opportunity to introduce what could have been, if they had handled it right, a really popular reform with a huge groundswell of good will behind it. They have alienated many who would have been their supporters and who would have supported the reforms, and they have left unanswered many questions that will need to be answered when the proposals are to be implemented. Nevertheless, there is still a clear majority of people in Cleveland who would like the reforms to go through, and it is on that basis that I shall vote for the order and advise my colleagues to do likewise.
§ Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool)
Under our procedures in the House it is not possible to vote against part of an order, or against some aspects of it. We must vote against the whole order or not vote against it at all.
At the outset it is important to emphasise again something stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I agreed with some of what my hon. Friend said but not with all of it. As he pointed out, this evening's vote will not be a vote by the Opposition against the principle of creating four 219 unitary authorities in Cleveland. As a constituency Member, it is my duty to take a broad view and to represent faithfully what I believe are the true opinions and interests of my constituents. That is what I intend to do tonight.
Nobody can deny that for the past 20 years we have lived very uncomfortably with the concept of a Cleveland-wide authority. It is too large for the delivery of personal services yet too small to take a regional strategic view, and it creates confusion for the public and unnecessary duplication among staff. The case for change is now too strong to ignore. The transfer to unitary authorities based on the districts is long overdue.
For the reasons that I shall describe, I believe that the proposals of the Local Government Commission are sensible and that the decision of the Government to adopt them is correct. I support change, first, because it is what the majority—I believe the vast majority—of local people want. The four-district proposal has been shown in three successive independent surveys to be the most popular choice. The thorough consultation process that the Local Government Commission undertook, of which I had extensive personal knowledge, confirmed what the independent surveys of opinion found. In contrast, support for the Teesside-Hartlepool option favoured by the county council, has consistently hovered between only 5 and 8 per cent., despite the vigorous campaign for it. That is completely understandable.
What people in Cleveland want from local government before anything else, as people do everywhere else in the country, is well-managed, accessible and cost-effective local services which meet local needs and are in the hands of local councillors whom they can get hold of and make accountable for their actions. Unitary authorities in Cleveland would provide precisely that.
At present in Cleveland some services such as housing, leisure and waste collection are in local district hands. Other services such as education and social services are in remote county hands. Roads, the environment and other services are in everyone's hands and, in some cases, it appears, in no one's hands at all. If there was some sensible rationale for this division and confusion, it might be worth maintaining, but the original justification that certain responsibilities could not be left with some authorities because they were too small or lacked competence has not been borne out by experience in Cleveland.
All the district councils have managed the services which were left with them in a thoroughly competent and effective way. Everyone from the Audit Commission down recognises and acknowledges that. That leads me to my next point. There is a need to create local councils which reflect both the identities and interests of the local communities that they serve and to ensure that those councils have the capacity to deliver the services for which they are responsible. If we had the first without the second, we would be in trouble. However, in the case of Hartlepool, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Langbaurgh councils, both conditions are amply satisfied. That strongly supports the changes which are being proposed in the order.
However, obviously we need to ask whether carrying out the changes is worth the candle. Is it all too much bother and expense to undertake the reorganisation? My 220 answer is that if it is worth having local government, we might as well get it right and achieve the best possible arrangements so long as we do not incur long-term costs in the process. We would achieve that by accepting the order tonight.
I have a great deal of faith in the proven track record of the district councils to make the transition smooth. I believe that the county council will also do so once it decides to co-operate, probably with a great deal less tension than exists between the districts and the county council at present. I am also satisfied that the council tax payer will be better off financially as a result of the new arrangements.
The most expensive option is to retain the existing two-tier arrangements. Both the four-district change and the Teesside-Hartlepool alternative advanced by the county council would cost less. The argument has been about which change would produce more savings. It boils down to a pretty marginal difference indeed. The propagandists have had a field day on the subject. They have taken the worst extremes of ranges of figures to suit their particular case. I should say only that, with total expenditure in the review area in excess of £800 million, the difference between the options is only about 0.5 per cent.
It is clear that savings would arise from all the options. In the case of the four districts, as the Minister has already said, the savings will be between £6 million and £11 million. That will recur year on year. The transitional costs will be recovered within three years.
I mentioned propaganda. I do not wish to dwell too long on the ingeniously inventive and expensively propagated red herrings of the county council. In other circumstances, media manipulators and spin doctors everywhere, not to mention manufacturers of fax machines, would be proud of the county council's efforts. One of its arguments needs to be refuted tonight. It has been alleged that new unitary councils would be accompanied by a plethora of joint boards, quangos and the like. That is absolutely wrong. There is no substance to the claim whatever.
Aside from such shared arrangements as archives, superannuation and archaeology, there would be joint authorities, which I stress would consist of elected members, only for police and fire. Who on earth could argue with that? The boroughs would assume joint responsibility for structure planning for the whole area. That leads to the last and important point about the economy and the employment prospects of the area. Some individuals in the business community have argued that the area needs a mega-authority called Teesside to take a strategic view of the area and to draw in investment.
I desperately want to see investment and employment created throughout the area. That is the best way to tackle the poverty and deprivation which scars so many of our neighbourhoods, but the best way of achieving that is by allowing local councils with detailed local knowledge and application to work hand in hand with more powerful regional organisations and in partnership with the private sector throughout our region. The recent experience of the Samsung Electronics investment and the leading role that the Northern Development Company played, guiding the local councils, demonstrates that.
In conclusion, the model that we need to look at is a combination of genuinely local services provided by accountable district councils and regional engines of 221 economic and industrial growth in the public sector, working in partnership with business to obtain the best results for the local population. That is an agenda to await a different Government, but the creation of the unitary authorities by passing the order is an essential foundation. I believe that it should commend itself to the House.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
As Charlie Chaplin said, enthusiasm is the thing.
I am always grateful to be mentioned in dispatches by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin). He quoted extensively from my speech of 7 July. I should like to quote what he did not. I said:We are anxious about jobs, not redundancies. There is no doubt, however, that concern has been expressed about the current redundancy package envisaged. It is essential for there to be a fair and mandatory system of compensation. This is essential to complete the local government review successfully in Cleveland and, indeed, elsewhere."—[Official Report, 7 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 558.]So we have placed on record our concern about jobs and redundancy packages. There will be another debate and another vote on that issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who is still in the Chamber, made a fine speech that came from the heart as well as from the facts. I am told that the best speeches come from the heart.
§ Mr. Bell
I said facts, not fax. We shall come to the faxes later.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North made a speech which came from the heart and which was memorable. He mentioned the Tees Valley development company. I assure him that the company will be a genuine partnership between the public and the private sector. There will be a strong political input and influence and no one is more concerned than we are in Cleveland about the growth of quangos. I can assure my hon. Friend that a new quango will not be created through the Tees Valley development company.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) mentioned Samsung and I must put on record—as I did from the Front Bench the day after the event—the fact that we recognise the role played by Cleveland county council in that development. We obliged the Government to recognise that and they did so today from the Dispatch Box. We all recognise that very important fact.
§ Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)
Will my hon. Friend extend the same compliments to some other employees in Cleveland county who worked so hard on education and social services and who have, to some extent, been abused in this debate?
§ Mr. Bell
I am grateful that I allowed my hon. Friend to intervene. She anticipates the next part of my speech. We should give credit not only to Cleveland county council and its leader but to local councillors, those on the executive side and the people in the fire, education and social services, who have done an excellent job, which is recognised all round.
222 In my front room, a painting of Crauford's Light Brigade hangs on the wall, in which the 95th, 43rd and 52nd Rifles face about once more to hold back the enemy. It depicts soldiers standing in the snow, preparing a rearguard action. Their job was to hold back the enemy during the retreat from Spain of Sir John Moore's army after the battle of Corunna, where Sir John was killed.
No one can deny that the rearguard action fought by Cleveland county council was of heroic proportions. It fought, not in the snows of Cleveland, but in the press, on the radio and through the fax machine. If any of us ever gets our hands on the inventor of that machine, we will strangle him and we will say not, "Remember the Alamo," but, "Remember Cleveland county council." We hope that the days when we came to our offices to find five to 10 pages on the fax machine are over.
Cleveland fought the battle not only through the fax machine but through the courts. The hon. Member for Stockton, South referred to that fact. Under adverse conditions, its delaying tactics were brilliant, but just as in the rearguard actions of old the last soldier falls, doomed, its action falls doomed tonight. Its rearguard action is over. The snows of yesteryear do not concern us. I hope that the battle is over.
Those who are anxious to know how some Labour Members will vote would probably like to be reminded of Aneurin Bevan's famous comment that he who fights and runs away lives to run away another day and he who speaks but does not vote lives to vote another day. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said that a compensation order would be introduced to deal with employment conditions in the Cleveland area, and our votes will surely be behind our Front Bench on that occasion.
More than two Labour Members of Parliament will not vote on this issue. Others have strongly supported the concept of the single-tier authority and have supported the district authority. For the past 20 years, the Labour party has been committed to moving towards single-tier authorities in many of our major cities and I am satisfied that tonight many of the Members who fought so long will take note of the vote and the long struggle.
It is just after the Christmas holidays and good will prevails. To Paul Hartford, leader of the council, I would say, "You ran a strong campaign." I surmise that no one in the House or in the country has been unaware of it. It was strong and he deserves credit for running it in the interests of what he believed to be right.
We are in a poetic frame of mind and a man's grasp must exceed his reachOr what's a heaven for?
§ Mr. Bell
We offer a new beginning for the people of Cleveland and it is power to the people. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North gave us a litany of the organisations in Cleveland that supported Cleveland county council. The only category that he left out was the people. He did not take them into account. The people of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Langbaurgh and Stockton have shown in opinion polls, consultations and proceedings of every kind that one could wish for, that they want a single tier—the four-district option. That part of history cannot be rewritten. We are offering the people of Cleveland a new beginning—local democracy closer to the people, accountability to the people and a duty to serve, rather than to rule.
We do not want to confuse this great occasion by mentioning Abraham Lincoln—I may be corrected again by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North—but he believed in government of the people, for the people and by the people. Let the decision of the House tonight be that the people of Cleveland should be the winners and not the bureaucrats, the elected councillors acting in caucus or single-issue pressure groups. Let us remember that we are here to serve, rather than to rule. That will be the concept for authorities in the future. This will be the new beginning and that is what I accept and will fully support tonight—[HON. MEMBERS: "Will you vote for it, then?"]—after the vote is called.
§ Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)
My reason for taking a few minutes during this debate is that I spent a short time as a member of the Local Government Commission. I thank the Minister for giving me the opportunity to do So.
I share the view of many hon. Members—the principle of unitary authorities is one that I support and that is why I accepted that position. People are best served through unitary government, with one authority responsible for all personal services.
Frankly, however, this exercise in local authority reorganisation has been a disaster for a number of reasons. The legislation was poorly drafted. It did not enable the Local Government Commission or the House to consider organic change, either by giving some authorities, especially the large cities, the opportunity to become unitary authorities, or by allowing some personal services to be devolved to the districts, with strategic planning kept at the county level. There was no provision for a regional tier of government, which is essential if we want to retain a whole range of strategic issues under democratic control.
The Lancashire county council judgment, which resulted from the poorly phrased legislation, was a disaster. Inevitably, it led to most of the main players in the debate moving towards the status quo. Those who sought change were unable to achieve a consensus. The process was not a happy one.
Local government has been poorly served by the chairman of the Local Government Commission. He showed no consistency of approach, was too often influenced by personal preferences and personal 224 experiences, rather than objective assessment, and operated somewhat undemocratically and autocratically. We should have dispensed with his services.
Members of the commission—I include myself—were an ad hoc group of people who had little in common and were not well served by officers who were hastily brought together without ensuring that they had the proper competencies.
The results for Cleveland are quite sensible, but Cleveland is the exception, not the rule. The overall results for local government are a disaster. If we start approving in an ad hoc way reorganisation for one or two parts of the country, we shall end up with an administrative and a structural mess, with no coherence, consistency or common sense. We shall have to return to the issue when Labour takes office rather than get on with developing the services that local communities require.
The Government should and could have taken another view. The legislation is wrong, the process has been bungled and the outcome is a mess. This review has been a failure and it is a disaster for local government. Parliament has got local government into a mess and it will be up to a future Labour Government to clear it up.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Curry
With the leave of the House, I wish to make a few rapid comments in reply. I understand why Opposition Front-Bench Members did not wish to reply in the light of the remarks of Labour Members tonight.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Mr. Dobson) made an important statement. He said that no recommendation should be placed before the House until the process had been completed. I hope that he knows the implications of his statement in terms of uncertainty for all those who work in local government. I hope that he has discussed the matter with some of the Labour leaders of local authorities such as Hull, which is about as rock solid a Labour authority as it is possible to get. The implication of what he said perpetuates uncertainty and discontent throughout local government. It is just as well that people realise that it will mean a period of protracted uncertainty. It is hypocritical to pretend that one is concerned about people's employment prospects if the process is to be kept hanging over them until it is finished and the recommendations are bunched up and brought before the House.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman anticipated the review and talked about the areas that should get unitary status. With the aid of clairvoyance, he mentioned Ipswich, Norwich and Exeter. He certainly does not understand the past; perhaps he is better on the future. Is that Labour policy? If so, perhaps he forgets that the old county boroughs would become unitary, that Hartlepool and Middlesbrough are old county boroughs and that Stockton was close to an old county borough because it had special powers over education and other areas. So the hon. Gentleman has contradicted himself. That simply does not work—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKERput the Question, pursuant to Order [16 December].
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. Devlin (seated and covered)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could keep the Doors to the Lobby open for a little longer as the hon.
225 Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) seemed to lose their way into the Aye Lobby.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That was not a point of order and the hon Gentleman knows it It was an abuse of the House.
§ The House having divided: Ayes 310, Noes 223.228
|Division No. 35]||[8.02 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan||Cormack Sir Patrick|
|Alexander, Richard||Couchman, James|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Cran, James|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Critchley, Julian|
|Amess, David||Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)|
|Ancram, Michael||Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Day, Stephen|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Ashby, David||Devlin, Tim|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Dicks, Terry|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Atkins, Robert||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Dover, Den|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Duncan, Alan|
|Baldry, Tony||Duncan Smith, Iain|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Dunn, Bob|
|Batiste, Spencer||Durant, Sir Anthony|
|Beggs, Roy||Dykes, Hugh|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Eggar, Tim|
|Bellingham, Henry||Elletson, Harold|
|Bendall, Vivian||Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Booth, Hartley||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Boswell, Tim||Evennett, David|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Fabricant, Michael|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Bowden, Sir Andrew||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Bowis, John||Fishburn, Dudley|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Forman, Nigel|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Brazier, Julian||Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)|
|Bright, Sir Graham||Forth, Eric|
|Brooke, Fit Hon Peter||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset)||Freeman, Rt Hon Roger|
|Burns, Simon||French, Douglas|
|Burt, Alistair||Fry, Sir Peter|
|Butcher, John||Gallie, Phil|
|Butler, Peter||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Butterfill, John||Garnier, Edward|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Gillan, Cheryl|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair|
|Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Carrington, Matthew||Gorst, Sir John|
|Cash, William||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Chidgey, David||Grylls, Sir Michael|
|Churchill, Mr||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Clappison, James||Hague, William|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Coe, Sebastian||Hannam, Sir John|
|Colvin, Michael||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Congdon, David||Harris, David|
|Conway, Derek||Harvey, Nick|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hawkins, Nick|
|Hawksley, Warren||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Hayes, Jerry||Molyneaux, Ftt Hon James|
|Heald, Oliver||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Hendry, Charles||Moss, Malcolm|
|Hicks, Robert||Needham, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Horam, John||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)||Norris, Steve|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Page, Richard|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Paice, James|
|Hunter, Andrew||Patrick, Sir Irvine|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Jack, Michael||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Pawsey, James|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Pickles, Eric|
|Jesse!, Toby||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Rathhbone, Tim|
|Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Rendel, David|
|Key, Robert||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Richards, Rod|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Riddick, Graham|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Robathan, Andrew|
|Knapman, Roger||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)||Ross, William (E Londonderry)|
|Knox, Sir David||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Sackville, Tom|
|Lament, Rt Hon Norman||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Tim|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Legg, Barry||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Leigh, Edward||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Shersby, Michael|
|Lidington, David||Sims, Roger|
|Lightbown, David||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lilley, Ftt Hon Peter||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lord, Michael||Soames, Nicholas|
|Luff, Peter||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Lynne, Ms Liz||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|MacKay, Andrew||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Maclean, David||Spink, Dr Robert|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Spring, Richard|
|Maddock, Diana||Sproat, Iain|
|Madel, Sir David||Squire, Robin (Homchurch)|
|Maginnis, Ken||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Steen, Anthony|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Stephen, Michael|
|Malone, Gerald||Stern, Michael|
|Mans, Keith||Stewart, Allan|
|Mariand, Paul||Streeter, Gary|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Sumberg, David|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Sweeney, Walter|
|Mates, Michael||Sykes, John|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Mellor, Rt Hon David||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Merchant, Piers||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Mills, Iain||Thomason, Roy|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)||Thomton, Sir Malcolm|
|Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Tracey, Richard||Whitney, Ray|
|Tredinnick, David||Whittingdale, John|
|Trend, Michael||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Trimble, David||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Wilkinson, John|
|Tyler, Paul||Willetts, David|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Wilshire, David|
|Viggers, Peter||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Waldegrave, Rt Hon William||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield|
|Walden, George||Wolfson, Mark|
|Walker, A Cecil (Belfast N)||Wood, Timothy|
|Walker, Bill (N Tayside)||Yeo, Tim|
|Waller, Gary||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Waterson, Nigel||Mr. Michael Bates and Mr. Bowen Wells.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Davidson, Ian|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Davies, Bryan (Oldham c'tral)|
|Ainger, Nick||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)|
|Allen, Graham||Dewar, Donald|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Dixon, Don|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Dobson, Frank|
|Ashton, Joe||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Austin-Walker, John||Dowd, Jim|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Barnes, Harry||Eagle, Ms Angela|
|Barron, Kevin||Eastham, Ken|
|Battle, John||Enright, Derek|
|Bayley, Hugh||Etherington, Bill|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Fatchett, Derek|
|Benton, Joe||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Flynn, Paul|
|Berry, Roger||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Betts, Clive||Foulkes, George|
|Blair, Rt Hon Tony||Fraser, John|
|Blunkett, David||Fyfe, Maria|
|Boateng, Paul||Galbraith, Sam|
|Boyes, Roland||Galloway, George|
|Bradley, Keith||Gapes, Mike|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||George, Bruce|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Gerrard, Neil|
|Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Godman, Dr Norman A|
|Burden, Richard||Godsrff, Roger|
|Caborn, Richard||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Callaghan, Jim||Gordon, Mildred|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Graham, Thomas|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)|
|Campbell-Savours, D N||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Cann, Jamie||Gunnell, John|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Hain, Peter|
|Church, Judith||Hanson, David|
|Clapham, Michael||Hardy, Peter|
|Clark, Dr David (Soulh Shields)||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Henderson, Doug|
|Clelland, David||Heppell, John|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Hill, Keith (Streatham)|
|Connarty, Michael||Hinchliffe, David|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Hodge, Margaret|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Hoey, Kate|
|Corbett, Robin||Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)|
|Corston, Jean||Home Robertson, John|
|Cousins, Jim||Hoon, Geoffrey|
|Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Darling, Alistair||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Hutton, John||Pendry, Tom|
|lllsley, Eric||Rckthall, Colin|
|Ingram, Adam||pike, Peter L|
|Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)||Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)|
|Janner, Greville||Prentice, Gordon (Pendte)|
|Jones, Barry (Aryn and D'side)||Prescott Rt Hon John|
|Jones, Lynne (B'ham S o)||Prrmarolo, Dawn|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)||Purchase, Ken|
|Jowell, Tessa||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Keen, Alan||Radice, Giles|
|Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)||Randal, Stuart|
|Khabra, piara S||Raynsford, Nick|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Redmond, Martin|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Reid, DrJohn|
|Lewis, Terry||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Liddell, Mrs Helen||Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)|
|Litherland, Robert||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Livingstone, Ken||Rooker, Jeff|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Rooney, Terry|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Loyden, Eddie||Ruddock, Joan|
|McAllion, John||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Sheerman, Barry|
|McCartney, Ian||Skinner, Dennis|
|Macdonald, Calum||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|McFall, John||Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|McKelvey, William||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Snape, Peter|
|McLeish, Henry||Soley, Clive|
|McMaster, Gordon||Spearing, Nigel|
|MacShane, Denis||Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)|
|McWilliam, John||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Madden, Max||Stott Roger|
|Marek, Dr John||Strang Dr. Gavin|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Martlew, Eric||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Maxton, John||Timms, Stephen|
|Meale, Alan||Tipping, Paddy|
|Michael, Alun||Turner, Dennis|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Vaz, Keith|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Walley, Joan|
|Morley, Elliot||Warded, Gareth (Gower)|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Watson, Mike|
|Mudie, George||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Mullin, Chris||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Wilson, Brian|
|O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)||Winnick, David|
|O'Hara, Edward||Worthington, Tony|
|Olner, Bill||Wray, Jimmy|
|O'Neill, Martin||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Paisley, The Reverend Ian|
|Parry, Robert||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Patehett Terry||Ms Estelle Morris and Mr. Stephen Byers.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ That the draft Cleveland (structural Change) Order 1994, Which was laid before this House in 8th December, be approved.