§ 2.56 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH rose to call attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London (Cmnd. 1164); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I do not propose to approach this in any Party political spirit, because it is not necessarily of a Party political character, although it has about it political aspects. This I regard as a preliminary discussion of the issues Which arise out of the Report of the Royal Commission, and it may well be that Her Majesty's Government will not at this stage feel disposed to commit themselves on the very important and vital issues raised in the Report. If that should be so, I shall understand, if only for the reason that the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government has invited local authorities in the area to submit their views to him; and naturally he will not wish to announce any firm conclusions until those observations have been received. I gather that he requires observations by the month of February. That is, I feel, a little quick, because 'the Report of the Royal Commission has not lone been received, and many of the local authorities will be in the Christmas recess for a material period. It is important that they should have adequate discussions about it, and I should have thought the Minister ought to allow a rather longer time for the local authorities to express their views.
§ This Report really arises out of the existence of what are known as "conurbations". It is not a very lovely word, but apparently it is the best that anybody has found. It means a large built-up area covering the areas of quite a number of local authorities. Greater London is one of these conurbations, but not the only one. Greater Birmingham is very much a conurbation. I remember that: when, during the war, I was Minister of Home Security I used to visit the regions, and to get to Birmingham from London by car was a slow business once one reached the built-up 1026 area surrounding the City of Birminghad; and the area of the City of Birmingham is not terribly short of the area of the Administrative County of London.
§ Much of South-East Lancashire is another conurbation. The West: Riding of Yorkshire is another; and possibly the West of Scotland is a further one. Therefore, it is desirable to take into account the fact that, if this Report of the Royal Commission is to be applied to Greater London, then logically it would also have to be applied to these conurbations that I have mentioned, which would involve the break-up or complication of local government in the cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow and so on.
§ But, my Lords, it was not our generation that created the conurbations. I am not wishing to lay political responsibility for it on any particular political Party. The fact is that these conurbations ought never to have happened. There ought to have been green belts around these cities, and this sprawl of urban development and industrial development should not have occurred. But it did occur owing to the neglect of our predecessors on earth and in government and in local government, with the result that they exist. But we did not make them.
§ I think it is a hit far-fetched to expect that the local government system must be adapted to an extension of urban territory which ought not to have occurred. It is interesting that the first British Monarch, so far as I know, who realised the dangers of this built-up sprawl was Queen Elizabeth I; and it was decreed by her that there should be no more London building outside the cities of London and Westminster; there should be green around those two cities. If I may say so, I think that her late Majesty was right. But it did not happen: people broke into the area and built, and the spread occurred. I remember that in another place when I moved the Green Belt Bill for London, I said it was a pity that it had to wait until round about the 1930s for the London County Council to make the green-belt plans; that it was a pity I did not live in the days of Queen Elizabeth I, for she and I could have clone things together—at which there was loud laughter in the Commons. And I have never been able to understand what they were laughing at, not to this day. 1027 But she was right and I think she was probably the greatest of the Absolutist Monarchs, a considerable statesman, a considerable Monarch, and she did great work. I wish to goodness her idea of the green belt around the cities of London and Westminster had happened to stop this urban sprawl!
§ Now the question is whether the existence of the conurbation of Greater London should require local government to be adapted to that conurbation, and for its structure to be related to this vast urban sprawl, or whether the existing system of local government, or something like it with possible modifications, should continue within the area. There could be improvements. If your Lordships look at the map of the administrative County of London you will see that there is a hole in the north-eastern parts of it which are occupied, in the main, by the county boroughs of East Ham and West Ham. I did think earlier as to whether we should bring East Ham and West Ham into the County of London, which would have involved them, however, in becoming metropolitan boroughs, which they would not have liked, and there would have been great trouble. Moreover, our Labour majority was big enough and I did not particularly want it to get too big, so we did not pursue the matter. But that kind of minor modification is open to fair consideration. What I do not think, my Lords, is that we can take this vast conurbation of built-up area, of urban sprawl, which ought never to have happened, and say, "Well, that having happened, it has got to be the area of the central authority for local government in Greater London".
§ It is true that there is room for argument as to the transfer of powers as between the central and local authorities, but in my experience that can take place, and there is no unwillingness to discuss that subject among the county councils and certainly not among the county districts and metropolitan boroughs. That transfer can be done by negotiation and by voluntary agreement. The London County Council a year or so ago offered to transfer back to the metropolitan boroughs the function of maternity and child welfare, which is one of the most important public health pieces of administration. They were willing to give 1028 it back. It had been given to the London County Council from the metropolitan boroughs when the State took over the hospitals, possibly (I do not know) as some compensation. But the London County Council offered it back to the metropolitan boroughs and it was the Government that held up that transfer back to the metropolitan boroughs for the reason that they were waiting for the Report of the Royal Commission.
§ My Lords, the composition of the Royal Commission was, I think, decided by the Government probably upon the basis that they would like a body that was not particularly well-informed about local government and that would therefore be impartial. It is a possible reason; it is a possible point of view. But two of the Commissioners came from provincial universities, one from Manchester and one from Leeds; there was a gentleman who came from Birmingham; and it was not a particularly London affair. The Government may say that that made them impartial but I am not at all sure what greater Birmingham or Manchester or south-east Lancashire would say if a Royal Commission functioned there and I—a Cockney citizen—were put upon the Royal Commission in order to adjudicate upon their local government. I think they would probably say, "What is this Cockney doing on the Royal Commission to tell us what we have to do with our local government?" And I should understand it and should not be offended. However, I do not want to make too much of the point, but it was not a Royal Commission particularly familiar with local government and certainly local government in Greater London.
§ The evidence given to the Royal Commission was not altogether on Party lines. Various organisations were invited to give evidence, including one dissident member of the London County Council who had no great knowledge or experience of this matter. I was not invited to give evidence and I have no grievance about that. It may have been just as well. But I think that behind this Report there is a passion for superficial tidiness which can be a characteristic of some members (not all of them) of the Higher Civil Service. In government, in administration, tidiness is not the only consideration. We ought not to be slaves 1029 of tidiness. Local government is a human institution, dealing with human things dealing with various people, all of them having ideas of their own, and I do not think we should surrender to the idea of tidiness. Though I have no objection to tidiness in principle, I do not think we should be enslaved by it.
§ The Royal Commission propose that there should be a Council for Greater London. It looks as if this is a much enlarged London County Council. That may be disputed, but I will deal in due course with the powers of the proposed Council for Greater London. However, in principle it is an enlarged London County Council—and it is to deal with a vast area. The members of this new Council, if it ever exists, will have an awful job in travelling to meetings of the Council and meetings of committees, for it covers, or is proposed to cover, the County of London, the: County of Middlesex and parts of the surrounding counties, as I shall show. There will be one member for each Parliamentary constituency; that is all. A Parliamentary constituency is a large area with a large number of electors, and surely one of the arguments about local government, one of the terms of it, is that the councillors elected in their wards and electoral divisions are in close touch with the people they represent; that they are "get-at-able", if I may use a no doubt ungrammatical expression, by the citizens and voters and electors.
§ My Lords, imagine one councillor, not for a ward, nor for an electoral division —and in the County of London there are three for each electoral division, which is the, Parliamentary constituency in London— but for each Parliamentary constituency. with an electorate of probably around 50,000 people and in some cases more! It is not the way to keep contact between the members of the Council and the ordinary people. The councillors themselves will have very great distances to travel to get to the headquarters, which will presumably be the London County Hall at Westminster Bridge.
§ By the way, that County Hall is opposite the Parliamentary institution, and I think that, in the past, some Governments have been afraid of this powerful London County Council situated opposite, almost as if they had a fear of 1030 machine guns shooting from the terrace of the County Hall. If they were afraid of the London County Council, surely a Government ought to be a bit nervous about this vastly greater area which is to be supervised by one Greater London Authority. Some of the members of the Council will have to journey to Westminster Bridge from Chingford and Hornchurch in Essex, from Barnet in Hertfordshire, from Crayford and Orpington in Kent, from Epsom and Esher in Surrey and from Uxbridge in Middlesex. It is no use comparing this area with that of an ordinary provincial administrative county, where, admittedly, the distances are great. The ordinary provincial administrative county council meets once a quarter, its committees fairly infrequently; but I assure your Lordships that this new authority, if it comes into existence, will have to meet much more often, and these journeys are going to impose a severe burden upon the members of the Council.
§ The Report involves the abolition of the London County Council, not the Corporation of the City of London. I do not want to make too much of that point, because I know that the Corporation of the City of London holds an affectionate place in your Lordships' hearts. On the contrary, this square mile in the City of London, with a resident population of about 4,900, is to have powers greater even than the powers that it has now. But the London County Council is to be abolished. Now I do not like the London County Council's being abolished. I think it is a very great authority. It has existed since the passing of the Local Government Act, 1888. It is a great authority upright, incorruptible and clean, with a high quality of administration. I know quite a number of Conservative families who have deliberately retained their residence within the administrative County of London in order that their children shall have the quality of education which the London County Council, with its higher educational institutions, can provide: and I know some other Conservative families who have declined to move out of the administrative County of London for that reason. Moreover, it holds the affection of the teaching profession, and so on.1031
§ But it is proposed that the London County Council should be abolished. So also would the Middlesex County Council, which is modelled on the lines of provincial county councils. That occupies an important urban area around the northern and western part of the County of London, and has done good work, sometimes under one Party and sometimes under another. Moreover, it involves a severe cutting of the population and the rateable value of the County of Surrey, the County of Essex and the County of Kent—an enormous loss of rateable value and a substantial loss of population. The Royal Commission is satisfied that what remains of those counties will be viable. With great respect, I do not agree. I think they would be anything but adequately viable after these cuts and severances had been made. Part of Hertfordshire goes—not very much, but part of Hertfordshire. Even Hertfordshire goes into the new area. The county boroughs of Croydon, East and West Ham are to be abolished. It is terribly difficult for local authorities to become county boroughs, as we all know. It is a very serious thing to try to abolish them. That is why I did not try to abolish East and West Ham, because I am a man of peace. But those three county boroughs are to be abolished; and a number of county districts and metropolitan boroughs are to be altered, amalgamated, merged and one thing and another.
§ I have said that there will be one councillor for each Parliamentary constituency—each Parliamentary constituency, not each electoral division. The population of this vast authority will be roughly 8,500,000. 8,500,000, my Lords! The area to be covered is nearly 850 square miles, about seven times the area of the present administrative County of London. My Lords, there is no pleasing some people. It has been argued that the London County Council covers too big an area, and that therefore it cannot be in touch with the people. Now it is argued that it is too small. As I say, there is no pleasing everybody. It is sometimes said that if you minimise the powers of local authorities you will not get councillors to serve, but it is said by some of the people who ought to serve on local 1032 authorities, "I cannot serve on that body; it has too much to do". So these arguments cancel each other out; and I would ask, is this local government—a population of 8,500,000, with one councillor for each Parliamentary constituency, and an area of about 850 square miles? With great respect, I submit that this is not local government, and it is not London government, either.
§ Before I go any further, I want to make a confession—if I do not confess it myself, somebody will drag it out, so may as well confess it. Anyway, I believe that confession is good for the soul. I gave evidence before an earlier Royal Commission, somewhere round about 1920. Then, my experience of local government was limited, but I had become Mayor of Hackney, the first local government office, having been co-opted from outside—a somewhat undemocratic procedure, but it was permitted by law. I had read about local government, and I gave evidence before that Royal Commission urging that the London County Council area should be extended to absorb the whole of the Home Counties around, including Southend, Margate, Ramsgate and Brighton. My Lords, I make this clean confession: I learned more about local government as life went on, and I came to the conclusion that this was not local government at all. It was regional Parliamentary government, and not local government.
§ This Royal Commission Report does not go as far as I went in my young and enthusiastic days (though my days are still enthusiastic), it is true, but it has gone so far that it is not local government. And it is not London government. If this is going to be done to London, then I want to know what London has done to deserve it. What has my city done to deserve this abortion? And if it is to be done to London, why should it not be done to Birmingham, Manchester, the West Riding of Yorkshire, the West of Scotland and so on? Whether your Lordships would dare to do it, or the other place, either, I do not know: but people seem to think that they can do what they like with London. I hope that that will not occur.
§ The powers of the Greater London Authority are said to be limited. The 1033 Royal Commission, in their Report, which I agree is very ably and persuasively written, make out a case for consideration. I do not say that there is no case on the other side. It is tempting to sweep over the whole of Greater London, and if Greater London becomes double the size it is now—and it will, if we are not careful—another enlarged London County Council would be needed to cover that area. There is that theoretical case. There is also the case that is made for enlarging the powers of the boroughs, with which, in principle, I have no quarrel; and, as I have said, the London County Council have shown their bona fides by the fact that they are willing to discuss this matter with them. So has Middlesex. So has Surrey. So has Kent; and so has Essex, where there is a considerable delegation of authority from County Hall.
§ But it is said: "We will give only very limited powers to the Council for Greater London". I will show your Lordships that these are hardly limited powers. Let us consider what they are. First of all, there is town and country planning: the making of the plan; the revision of the plan; and the plan will dominate the area. Although there are to be delegated functions of individual consents to what are to be called the Greater London boroughs, they will nevertheless have to comply with the plan, believe, speaking from memory, that they will have to report each of their decisions, and it is possible that they may be pulled up. But this vast power of planning will go to this vast authority, with some delegation to the boroughs, but with the duty to report to higher up on consents.
§ As I said, the making and the revision of the Greater London Plan will be a function for the Greater London Authority. But presumably they will be subject to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who can modify, reject or alter town planning schemes which are put to him. Indeed, one of the arguments of the Royal Commission, both in respect of the Minister of Housing and Local Government and in respect of the Minister of Transport, is that the Ministers are interfering and deciding upon administrative policies in London more than is desirable in the interests of a healthy local government. 1034 There is something in that view, but I do not see any stopping the present Minister of Transport—not that I wish to stress the Minister of Transport, because I have made my comments about him last week and before that. But I do not think it will be possible to stop him from interfering with the local authorities in London, whoever 'they are.
§ Nor, my Lords, do I see how the Minister of Housing and Local Government can stop interfering with these planning schemes. It would not shock me if the Minister of Housing and Local Government, as the supreme planning authority, when planning schemes were submitted to him from the various local authorities in the Greater London area, the counties and the county boroughs were to say: "This does not comply with the Ministry's conception of the planning development of Greater London, and I must ask you to modify it in this, that or the other respect." That must, I think, be possible. The local authorities must have the right to argue their case, but I accept the view that, in the end, the Minister, as the co-ordinating authority, has that right to co-ordinate and to impose his will upon them. The same would apply to the Minister of Transport with regard to highway powers. Indeed, this happens not only in London, but all over the country—although London, probably, has a little more interference than the others because Ministers get a "kick" out of interfering with London. They are human, and I have to be tolerant about it—and there it is.
§ Traffic control and management, and town and country planning, are to go to the. Greater London Authority. Traffic control and management is to go to the Greater London Authority subject, in some respects, which will be of principle, to the Minister. Main roads which in the county of London are under the metropolitan boroughs, and lighting which is under them, will be transferred to, the Greater London Authority, though outside the county of London, I think, the main roads are to be the county councils' function.
§ Housing outside the Greater London area—and, indeed, some of it inside.—is to be the function of the Greater London Authority. Therefore, we get 1035 something like concurrent powers between the Greater London Authority and the boroughs which now obtain in the administrative County of London, though county councils outside have not housing powers. But the boroughs will have to report to the Greater London Authority on lettings in order that that Authority may keep statistics.
§ Then we come to education—and this really is a very serious proposal. It is proposed that the Greater London Authority should control the standards of education: the general planning of the educational scheme and policy is to be centralised in the Greater London Authority. The Authority will control entry to selective and special schools and colleges. It will control the appointment of teachers to the Greater London service—so that they can be moved about, which, in principle is right—and the training of teachers for the Greater London service. But local appointments to particular schools will be under the boroughs—52 of them—and dismissals will also be under the boroughs. That will not be very comforting to the teaching profession, although there is an appeal to the Greater London Authority.
§ The 11-plus and other examinations are to be under the Greater London Authority. So is the scheme for the youth employment service, although the local administration of the scheme will be with the boroughs. Colleges of advanced technology and regional colleges will be under the Greater London Authority. All educational costs will have to be met by the Greater London Council, and they will control the budgets of the boroughs —which, believe me, will leave the boroughs mighty little free initiative in education. That is inevitable: the Greater London Council will do the paying, so they will call the tune. The Greater London Council will also be able to give directions to the boroughs in the discharge of their educational functions. All other educational functions, which appear to be the day-to-day management of the schools and, I think, school feeding, and medical inspection and treatment, will go to the boroughs.
§ This will mean 53 chief officers of education in Greater London. In the County of London, instead of one, as there is now, there will be 18 chief education officers. And it is going to 1036 break up education and administration. Moreover, what is going to happen about the non-provided schools? This is not an easy business, this question of financial grants-in-aid by the educational authorities to 'the denominations of the non-provided schools. I do not wonder that some of my Catholic friends in London are very worried. They get on well with the London County Council. They do not look forward to having to negotiate separate agreements with 18 boroughs, apart from those outside, and I must say that I do not blame them. I think they are getting on pretty well with the various county and county borough education authorities, and I believe that great difficulties may arise on this point.
§ In addition to all these services, the ambulance service will be under the Greater London Authority. So will the fire-fighting service, and also the refuse disposal service, which is now a function of the metropolitan boroughs and the county districts. So also will main drainage and the control of sewage disposal. Parks and open spaces go to the boroughs; but a big one, like the Crystal Palace, and possibly some others, will go to the Greater London Council. The Greater London Council will have some land drainage powers. Other powers will go to the boroughs, including, I think, public control and the licensing of cinemas, so that there can be appeals to each of these 52 boroughs-18 in London—on film censorship, and so on. Here I declare an interest as President of the British Board of Film Censors— that that point is very important. It could create a chaotic situation if we had various consents and non-consents cast over 18 bodies in the County of London, and 52 over the whole of Greater London. I submit, my Lords, that these are not limited powers but very great and considerable powers. The virtue that is claimed for the Report is that it recommends that the powers of the Central Authority should be severely limited, and that the most important powers should go to the boroughs. That claim is not altogether true, because this is a considerable list of powers. This will be an enlarged London County Council.
§ But it does not stop there. The history of the London County Council, especially when there was a Conservative majority and under Conservative Governments, is 1037 that its powers have increased, but there has not been a notable increase in the powers of the metropolitan boroughs. The same thing will happen with the Greater London Authority. As time goes on, it will be found that it is more convenient that power should be centralised under the Greater London Authority. As the years go on, its powers will increase. The boroughs are under an illusion if they think that they are going to rule the roost to the extent that some of them very naturally would like.
§ I come to finance. It is admitted that, in the counties which are to undergo a surgical operation, such as Surrey, Essex and Kent, rates will go up. Indeed, it is proposed that the local authorities at present within those counties should make a substantial contribution to the surviving pants of the counties for a number of years in order to help them out. It is admitted that some metropolitan boroughs will suffer an increase in rates; it may be that richer areas, such as the City of London, the City of Westminster, the Royal Borough of Kensington and the Borough of St. Marylebone, may experience a reduction in their expenditure.
§ It has to be appreciated that county councils, not only in London but outside, automatically provide by their services an equalisation of rates. Their expenditure is an equal charge over the various non-county boroughs and county districts. That is an automatic equalisation. To the expensive London County Council services, including education, which is very expensive, all local authorities, including the City of Westminster, the Borough of Kensington and the Borough of St. Marylebone, make substantial contributions. It is important that they should continue to do so. I hope that those boroughs will not take a selfish point of view and say, "Here is a chance to get away without making a contribution to these important services in the poorer areas of London".
§ There is to be a special levy of the authorities in the cut-off parts of those surrounding counties. The Royal Commission talks about equalisation but does not produce a scheme. There is nothing concrete about it. There is a limit to what I might call artificial equalisation of rates—to which I do not object in principle—because if the local burden be- 1038 comes too heavy and the degree of equalisation becomes too heavy the local authority may find that much of its finance is coming from outside sources, who will want to control the large sums of money that 'they are putting into the local authority.
§ Moreover, if the equalisation is to meet the problem which is created by the Report of the Royal Commission, my Lords of the Treasury had better think about it, because they will have to pay more to effect this equalisation. The boroughs will have an instinct of wanting to get all the power they can—at least some of them—arid it is not unnatural; but they had better think what it will cost them. It means that in so far as services are diverted from the centrally and automatically equalised rate, the boroughs will be landed into terribly high expenditure. Consequently the boroughs will be wise to consider that point—not that I want to dogmatise —as to the relative powers between the boroughs and the proposed Greater London Authority.
§ The proposal speaks of amalgamations —one amalgamation, for example, of Holborn, Finsbury and Shoreditch. I do not know how Holborn will like that marriage or how the others will like it, either. I do not think it is particularly natural. Another most extraordinary amalgamation is between the respectable Conservative borough of Hampstead, represented in another place by the present Minister of Housing and Local Government, and the former red-flag borough of St. Pancras. It is an extraordinary marriage. If it does not lead to a divorce I shall be very surprised. This is where the Royal Commission is inhuman. It goes for tidiness on the map but it does not realise that certain people will not make a "do" of it when they get married. That is one of the things that have to be taken into account.
§ It is proposed that Deptford be merged with the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. There is no political trouble about it they are both of the same colour, but the leaders of both councils do not want it. Greenwich has a nice naval tradition going back to Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. It does not want to take on Deptford. Deptford does not want to take on Greenwich. Your Lordships may say 1039 that this is unreasonable and is parish-pump prejudice. I know Deptford inside out and I am very fond of it, although I have never lived there. It has a civic consciousness of its own, above that of many other metropolitan boroughs. It likes itself and its people like to be Deptford people. It is a small borough; I think its population is nearly 70,000. The people are conscious of themselves. In local government, the great thing that we are seeking is local authorities with a civic consciousness in the council and in the people of the borough. I do not see why we should force Deptford into a marriage that it does not want. The same thing is true of some others. Some are not to be interfered with, like Woolwich, where I live, and Lewisham, which I formerly represented in another place.
§ Some of those amalgamations are unnatural and we have to be careful about abolishing boroughs with a civic consciousness and tradition. I have a lot of sympathy with the smallest county in England, Rutland, and so have some noble Lords on Government Benches. I ask them to have sympathy also with some of the county districts and metropolitan boroughs. On paper, I agree that on the argument of theoretical tidiness Rutland has not much of a case; hut Rutland has been proud for centuries of being the smallest county in England.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I am not disposed to dispute that. Rutland is conscious of itself and "gets a kick" out of being the smallest county in England. Another Commission comes along and says, "Away with it. You are untidy. You do not appeal to our tidy, Civil Service minds." I have a lot of sympathy with Rutland. I ask your Lordships to have sympathy with these people in London as well.
The Metropolitan Water Board was excluded from consideration, under the terms of reference, but if ever there was a case for anything to go to the Greater London Authority, there is one for the Metropolitan Water Board. It does good work. I was on the Board for three years, just long enough to learn about it, then I got off. I think that to try to 1040 make politics out of water is one of the hardest things of life. It is not really possible—though I had a good try. The Board is an indirectly elected body and, as functions go, it would easily go into Greater London; but the Commission was not in favour of the Water Board being brought in. Why, I do not know.
I have referred to the possible application of this Report to the provinces. The Labour local authorities are not alone in objecting to the Report of the Royal Commission. There are also objections from Conservative local authorities. The Surrey County Council has already issued an able report. I do not agree with all of it, but it is an exceedingly able report, which is worth your Lordships' while to read. It is very critical in opposing the Commission's Report. I think that Kent and Essex will also be against the proposals, as will a number of other Conservative local authorities. It is important that the Government should keep this in mind and not think that this is a one-sided Party political battle. It is a battle in which men and women of good will, who love local government and believe in it, are going to take part as critics.
I hope that the Government will not rush to conclusions about this Report and its proposals. Any Government will have trouble because of the great difficulties that arise. I would put it to Her Majesty's Government: is it worth while walking into this highly contentious and difficult proposition and establishing a principle that is not local government any more? Is it worth all the Parliamentary fighting, and fighting with local authorities, embittering their relations with Whitehall? Quite apart from Party politics (and I think your Lordships will agree that I have not delivered a Party political speech; and there are plenty of Conservatives who share my view about this), I hope that Her Majesty's Government, who have plenty of other things to do, will not feel that they are called upon to float what would be a vastly complicated and politically controversial Bill. While there may be room for adaptations, modifications and improvements in existing local government in Greater London, it is a fact that, as a whole, the system works, and works well and competently in the public interest.
1041 Therefore, I urge Her Majesty's Ministers to be cautious about this matter. It would not he the first Report of a Royal Commission that was forgotten, and it will not be the last; and if Her Majesty's Government somehow, by their undoubted capacity for this sort of thing, side-step it, and do not pursue it, they will not drift into a state of bitter political debate and into the enormous labour of producing a Bill. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not feel that they are obligated to adopt and approve the Report of this Royal Commission. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.44 p.m.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, I think we must all be extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, for having given your Lordships' House the opportunity of first discussing this very important subject, for it is the first time that this matter has been discussed in Parliament. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail through his wide-ranging speech, partly because my noble and learned friend who sits upon the Woolsack, who will be winding up the debate, will no doubt wish to reply to many of the detailed points raised. But I think it may be convenient if a Government intervention is made at this juncture in the debate. I shall briefly touch on the general background of this complex problem, which really constitutes the origin of this Report. It is much too complicated a subject for me to attempt to summarise it in the short time available, but I hope that I may be able to convince your Lordships that one should not attempt at this stage to try to take up positions too hastily.
I confess that I am a little sorry that the noble Lord has felt it right to stand so squarely on the position which he took up in the public Press soon after the Report was published. The Report was published in October and his article appeared in the first days of November. I read his article with the greatest care —he repeated some of it in his speech this afternoon. The noble Lord may be right. It may be right, by and large, that local government in London should 1042 be left alone and that there is no case for drastic reorganisation, but I feel that this problem is so big that the Report itself deserves careful study by all concerned before we come to a conclusion. That certainly is the Government's view.
The whole conception of local government has developed and changed enormously, even since the end of the last century, when it was set on a modern footing. There have been big changes since then, and the scope of local government activity has increased greatly. Perhaps the most significant theme of the age in which we live is the pace, the acceleration of development, in all spheres of life. The wind of change sometimes seems to reach gale force. Local government is certainly not a subject which has not been affected by this phenomenon.
The White Paper (Command 9831) published in 1956 shows how well aware the Government were of this. Your Lordships will know that the proposals in that White Paper were implemented in the Local Government Act, 1958, for the country outside London, and it is under this Act that the Local Government Commissions are reviewing the areas and status of local authorities in England and Wales. The Commissions' attention was particularly drawn to the problems of what are called the conurbations. But London, as the Report says in paragraph 10, isa living organism which has earned a better title than the cold, ugly, and, in this instance, misleading term 'conurbation'.So it was that the Royal Commission was set up to study the special problems of Greater London.
Greater London presents special problems not encountered elsewhere. Quite apart from its huge population, the area has operating within it no fewer than six county councils and three county boroughs, with other aspirants for county borough status knocking on the door. It contains several systems of local government, with a very distinct difference between the County of London and the rest of Greater London. We have not yet received the full reports of the other Commissions, but the Royal Commission for Greater London presented its Report in October of this year. The Commission did not start with preconceived notions. Their terms of reference 1043 were very wide, and I think they ought to be quoted. What the Commissioners had to do was to consider "whether any, and if so what, changes" were needed in local government in Greater London. In fact, the Royal Commission record, in paragraphs 285 to 288, that they began their examination with the premise that a well-tried and working system ought not to be changed unless facts drove them to a contrary conclusion. I think it is significant, therefore, that the Royal Commission felt that they must recommend such drastic changes, and that they were unanimous—for there is no Minority Report.
They constantly refer to this theme. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, felt, and frequently mentioned in his speech that the Commissioners must have a passion for tidiness, I think I should quote to your Lordships extracts from the Report on the status quo, which you will find in paragraphs 285, 286, 287 and 288. They say, in paragraph 285:Our terms of reference enjoin us to consider whether any, and if so what, changes' are needed in the machinery of local government in the Review Area. This question, so stated, has underlain the whole of our procedure and it seems appropriate to indicate at this stage our general attitude to it.They then go on to say, in paragraph 288:We have only made recommendations for change where we have felt driven to do so in order to provide the machinery necessary, in our judgment, for the solution of London's problems as they are today and as far as we can foresee them in the future.Earlier they said. in the same paragraph:We have, therefore, not approached our task in any spirit of tidy-mindedness. Where a system is working or being made to work our predilection has been in favour of leaving it alone.So much for that: they were well aware that they might be criticised for a predilection for tidy-mindedness.
I feel that it is fitting, on the first time that this Report comes to be considered in Parliament, that I should pay a tribute to its quality. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, paid rather a grudging tribute, I felt, to the great individual qualities of the members of the Royal Commission, though he was generous enough to say that the Report was well written. Sir Edwin Herbert and his colleagues could well have been 1044 forgiven if they had produced a document so complicated and difficult for the subject is so complicated and difficult—that it would have been well-nigh unreadable. But although the members of this Royal Commission were faced with so daunting a subject, there is no question that they have produced a most exceptional Report. It is so vividly written that I humbly suggest that anyone accustomed to reading serious literature will find no difficulty, but, on the contrary, real pleasure, in reading the Report.
The Commissioners have approached their task with enthusiasm, humanity and humour. May I quote an example of that? When they found themselves faced with the sort of problem which inevitably arouses strong prejudices, passions and preconceived notions, they did not burke it. Let us consider what they said about the City of London. They said in paragraph 935 of the Report:If we were to be strictly logical we should recommend the amalgamation of the City and Westminster. But logic has its limits and the position of the City lies outside them.
This is not a "ducking out from under" a thorny problem by a facetious phrase. This is a carefully considered opinion and recommendation and all the more valuable, in my opinion, for being stated in such a way and not in a mass of verbiage which anybody can translate into whatever he wishes.
I now turn for a moment to the Report's conclusions, and I must do so in the briefest possible way, because the noble Lord has already gone into a number of points in considerable detail. In drawing attention to these conclusions, which the Royal Commission found themselves forced to recommend, I think it will be obvious why the Government cannot at this juncture answer with a simple "Yes" or "No". This Report was published only two months ago, and this is the first occasion, as I have said, that Parliament has had a chance of discussing it. In that connection, it is clear that the procedure for examining these conclusions must allow an opportunity for all those affected to express 1045 their views. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, stated that he thought the local authorities were being asked to express their views too hurriedly. But I would remind the noble Lord of the terms of the letter which my right honourable friend sent to the local authorities. He saidAt this stage it is clearly necessary to concentrate on the main issues raised by the report and to examine the broad pattern which emerges from the Commission's recommendationsHe also said that there would be a mass of detail to be discussed and considered later, but he has asked the local authorities to consider in three months the broad pattern. I do not think that that can be considered to be a hurried procedure.
The general considerations and conclusions are set out in extenso in Chapter XIII of the Report and are summarised at the end of that chapter. I suggest that this chanter deserves particularly careful study, because in the earlier paragraphs it groups under six main heads considerations which, in the opinion of the Commissioners, the evidence they heard establishes as facts. It is in the light of these considerations that the conclusions are reached. The recommendations, as noble Lords will know, are set out in Chapter XX. They are condensed into a page and a half, but there is hardly a sentence in that page and a half that will not make someone either raise his eyebrows or cry "Hear, hear!". This is masterly condensation.
Broadly, your Lordships will note, the recommendations are that the functions of local government should remain intact, but that the structure should be wholly different, both from the present system in Greater London and the present system in the rest of the country. If I may quote a famous Lord Chancellor of fiction, we should "work on a new and original plan". Incidentally, the Commission reject any idea that the solution could be a capitulation to central government. They state in paragraph 724:Local government means local self-government…a surrender to central government would be the death knell of local government in the Review Area.Their solution is, then—and I emphasise that it is their solution—that the Greater London Area should be roughly limited by the Green Belt, and within this 1046 area the existing borough and district councils should be regrouped to form some 50 Greater London boroughs. These boroughs would be the main units of local government, exercising all functions except those which can be more effectively administered over the wider area of Greater London; and for that wider area of Greater London a directly elected Greater London Council should be set up. That is their solution.
The distribution of functions between the Greater London Council and the boroughs would make the boroughs the primary units of local government, because they are truly local. The Council for Greater London should, inter alia, be the overall authority for education, main roads, traffic and planning in so far as these great services cannot be purely local. If this structure is to go right out to the Green Belt then, of course, large areas, large populations and large resources must be taken away from existing county councils, Surrey, Kent and Essex. But the Commissioners believe— and we make no judgment about this yet—that what would be left to those councils would be viable; and the Commissioners took detailed evidence on these points.
These are all matters of great interest and concern to us all, and will not further delay the discussion of them by your Lordships' House. In considering a problem of this magnitude, the wisdom and advice of your Lordships will be of the utmost value, and Her Majesty's Government will study with the greatest care everything that is said in this debate.
§ 4.2 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to commence the few words I want to say on -this Report by congratulating Sir Edwin Herbert and the other members of the Commission for having produced what I can only describe as a fascinating document and one which, I venture to say, your Lordships might well find more interesting to read in parts than the book which we discussed in this House last week.
The first point I think we should notice about the Royal Commission's Report is that it is unanimous—and that is no small achievement when one considers the complexity of the problem. As the noble Earl who has just spoken emphasised, the key to the whole -of the Royal 1047 Commission's Report is that the primary unit of London government should be the borough. I was rather interested to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who knows, surely, as much as anybody in this House about the London County Council, concentrated a great deal of his speech on the functions of what is described in the Report as the Greater London Council. He himself must be aware—and I am sure he is and that he would not wish to mislead your Lordships on this point—that if this Report is adopted the Greater London Council will be left only with what I would describe as the central functions of government and that the real power will be transferred to the boroughs. I see that the noble Lord nods his head. The real power will be transferred to the boroughs, who have been pressing the central Government for many years for this opportunity.
I should like to make a few observations about one or two other matters which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, raised. He raised, of course quite rightly, the question which affects us all about rates. I would submit that nobody could possibly say at this stage what effect the adoption of this Report could have on rates, in view of the fact that there is to be a revaluation of the whole rate structure in 1963. I think it is most unlikely that the Greater London Council and the new functions will come into force before that. Although it is not allowed for in the Report, I think myself that some form of rating equalisation scheme would have to be adopted. What I think I can be absolutely definite in saying is this: if the present London County Council remains to function in its present form—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, says, it does work—it is a very extravagant authority. It might be news to some of your Lordships that it employs at present 65,000 people to administer the present administrative County of London. The population which it is administering is falling; nevertheless, year after year the number of administrative staff rises and I can see no end to it I would say, therefore, that if we can be certain about anything, it is that the rates of London will rise if the present County Council continues to function in the present way.
1048 The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, referred to education, and I must say that I agree with a great deal of what he said. My own view about the proposals with regard to education is that it is the weakest part of the Report. It is a difficult problem, and I find it hard to understand how voluntary, part-time councillors could possibly adequately control education for a population of some 9 million people. I will not say the only solution, but the only suggestion that I can make which might be worth looking at is that some form of regional educational authorities should be set up—something like we have at present, where the educational functions of the London County Council are divided into nine areas. There might be some way of working it like that; but what is proposed in this Report as regards education seems to me to be, if not unworkable, likely to lead to considerable administrative difficulties and friction between the Greater London Council and the boroughs who would be asked to administer the education of hundreds of thousands of children in London. No doubt that is a matter which is in the minds of the Government, and will be considered.
Finally, I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount who is to reply to the debate two questions the answers to which I think, if he could help the House, would be most interesting. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, I thought made a very interesting reference to the different conurbations in the rest of the country and in Scotland, and these great industrial masses, towns in the West Midlands, Clydeside, and so forth. In view of the Report which is now before us, I wonder whether Her Majesty's Government are considering setting up further Commissions to see if anything might be done to help those huge urban areas in regard to such things as traffic control and all the main services which are summarised in this Report. I feel it might be very much to their advantage.
The other question I would ask is this. It seems to me that the essence of this Report is that if anything is to be done about it there should be a certain amount of speed. It is very difficult, and it has been for some time, to recruit the right sort of people for local government. Take 1049 the London County Council: if the feeling is, "Well, we do not know; this authority may be coming to an end", if the matter is left like that, where are you going to get recruits from? Therefore, if anything is to be done I should have thought it was the duty of the Government to try to press on with the implementation of the recommendations of this Report.
The Minister has asked for replies by the end of February. The question I want to ask is this: what is going to happen then, when he has received those replies and assimilated them—and there are 52 to come and they will all make their own particular points? Is he then going to Produce a White Paper, a further document, or is he going to bring in a Bill, either in this House or in another place, or is he going, as the noble Lord who opened the debate suggested —I hope not—to pigeon-hole the Report, as has happened to many other Reports? I cannot believe that the present Minister and Her Majesty's Government who have asked for the Report and received such a very able document will do that. But I wonder whether we could be told what the Government have in mind, 'they have already had several months to consider the matter. With that, I merely say how very much I welcome and support the document which is before us to-day.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat 'down, I understand that this is his maiden speech, and we shall hope for many more contributions to our debates.
When one reads this Report one cannot help being struck by the great care with which the Commissioners have gone into this very complicated problem, and, as the noble Earl opposite rightly said, there is a considerable degree of the human touch. The trouble is that in all local government questions one always finds great difficulty from people who have known one system and worked one system, and who think anything which changes it is perfectly dreadful—and indeed, I think that is quite a good point, because people should have local patriotism. I am not prepared myself to take a too sweeping and final view of this Report. I am a Londoner, 1050 and I have seen quite a lot of Greater London. I was born in the County of Surrey, but before I was five years old the County of Surrey became part of the County of London. I have lived in a Western borough and in an East London Borough, in central London and in Middlesex; and I have now escaped to Buckinghamshire. So I have a somewhat broad view of this problem.
I have been concerned to a much lesser degree than my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in London government, and London government has always been extremely difficult because of the immense size of London, its spread, and its inheritance from the past. One is always faced in these days with the difficulty of trying to preserve historic boundaries, or boundaries that have become historic in the course of a few years, and the exigencies of dealing with large-scale administration. In late years, I am afraid, I myself have done something against local government, in the interests of better and effective distribution of electricity. We took electricity away from the smaller councils altogether; and that was a great grief to me, because when I was a member of a local government authority the electricity committee was my pet department. That decision, however, was forced upon us by technical considerations. One finds the same thing with transport, with health, and many other matters.
The difficulty is to try to reconcile the needs of large-scale administration with the preservation of local patriotism. Undoubtedly here in this Report is an attempt to do that, and one aspect that I welcome is the proposed increase in the powers of borough councils. That is probably pure prejudice, because I have never been a county councillor but I have been a borough councillor. It is important that authorities should be given worthwhile work, instead of having councils reduced to talking only about local drainage or refuse collection, and so on. I therefore welcome the accretion of powers to the borough councils.
There is a danger, of course, that the powers will be taken from the county council. Personally, I think that with a very large authority the less its functions have to do with the detailed life of the 1051 citizen, the better. Its functions should be, on the whole, matters that are of a technical importance and not of special local interest. Here in London there has always been that difficulty, because the London County Council was built up only in 1888, in the horse-drawn age. Getting to meetings of local councils, and their administration, depends enormously on transport. Much of our local government was built up on the horse; now it has to be built up on the motor. I was not sure whether my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth was quite correct when he said that it would be so much more difficult to get from the boundaries of this proposed London County than from the boundaries of the present County Council. I rather doubt it. I think one could probably get as easily from Hornchurch to-day as you could from the boundary of the old London County Council served by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway in 1888. But these things are constantly changing.
I should like to raise this question. We are trying to put all the urban parts around London into one authority. We are going to cut parts of Kent, Surrey, Middlesex, Essex and Hertfordshire off from the county. I wonder whether it is right to try to detach our towns altogether. I thought it was a mistake when county boroughs were created. It is one thing to take away from the county council a town which has nothing to do with the county, but I have always thought it a mistake to take the capital city of the county away from the county government. I think that if a county is to be alive it must consist of town and county. Therefore, I am a little doubtful on that side.
As my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth has pointed out, there is the great difficulty of the changing of boundaries. Nothing raises so much ill-feeling as the changing of boundaries. My brother had the task in trying to bring about the amalgamation of parishes in Cornwall. He wrote to me saying, "Some people say that religion is dead in this country. Try and unite two parishes, and you will find that the desert will blossom, not with the rose but with thorns." I notice that, par- 1052 ticularly in inner London, this nice joining up of geographical, contiguous areas is not welcomed by the people. People do not like their neighbours, particularly in local areas.
Part of the scheme for the constitution of Greater London electricity, with which I had some connection, was that people had to join together to select their representatives. One would have thought that these boroughs were almost exactly the same. Wisely, I made the provision that where they did not agree the executive should appoint. None of them did agree, because everyone thought his neighbour rather inferior to himself. I never thought that there was a vast amount of social difference between Islington and St. Pancras, or between Hammersmith and Fulham. But I found that I was quite wrong. Hammersmith thought itself vastly superior to Fulham; and Fulham reciprocated. Therefore, I am a little doubtful, as was my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, whether these marriages of convenience will really come off. My old borough of Stepney, which is going to be joined up with Bethnal Green, and also Poplar, has its own tradition. We are more homogeneous. I do not think this joining up will be liked at all.
As my noble friend said, there is a great danger of our destroying civic consciousness. Owing to the way in which the City of London neglected to take over the adjoining areas of London they have always been most civic conscious. I cannot think of anything more likely to promote civic consciousness than the old vestries. It was only in 1899 that we built up the metropolitan borough councils. Since that time they have built up all sorts of civic bodies—old vestries, boards of works and everything. I have seen the growth in 50 years of a civic consciousness in that borough. If you destroy that you have got to build it up all over again. Often outside London, too, there are some fine places with civic consciousness. The Borough of Walthamstow, which I represented, has quite the best civic centre anywhere around London. But these things take time; and if they are destroyed they take a lot of building up again. My noble friend's fears about the London County Council are exactly the same.
1053 Therefore, my Lords, I approach this matter with a great deal of caution. Quite irrespective of any political troubles, any Government will have trouble with local patriotism and local differences. On the other hand, reading this Report I am bound to say that there are extremely cogent reasons for having some services taken over by a larger authority. I do not think that a local authority can really be so called when it administers as many as 8 million people. On the other hand, there is a set-off. It seems to me that the giving of real powers to the boroughs will make a difference because, broadly speaking, the metropolitan boroughs have never had sufficient powers; they have been entirely cut off from such vital matters as education, and so on. For all these reasons, I am not prepared to make a final judgment at present, because I have not had sufficient time to consider the Report. And I hope that the Government will go carefully before they destroy what exists, and works well, for something which is still extremely difficult to appreciate in its entirety.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, it is a most alarming thing to make a maiden speech in this House; the institution is so old, the individual so new. The only comfort is that your Lordships all know this: you have an made maiden speeches, either here or in another place, and when you took the plunge you did not die of fright. You survived; you lived to make another speech. Probably—and here lies the greatest comfort of all—you lived to make a better speech. I would ask you now to remember the terrors of that first occasion and to bear with my insufficiency.
It seems to me that in many respects this is a good Report. London is an enormous city. If it is possible better to co-ordinate its administration by enlarging the Council, that will be a good thing. If the enlargement of the overall County Council demands the enlargement of the boroughs and the devolution of further functions to them, that, too, seems to be a reasonable reform to propose. But there is one field in which I hope the Government will not do what the Royal Commission recommend, and that is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, touched on in 1054 introducing the debate—namely, education. It seems to me that when it comes to speak of education the Report is rather rash. The Commission is full of praise for the London County Council educational service. It recommends that the new enlarged Council, the Greater London Council, should continue to be the education authority for the enlarged county, and should keep most of its present functions. This is good. But it proposes that certain functions should be passed downwards to the boroughs. It proposes not only the power of transfer of teachers within one borough Which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, referred to, but also that the borough councils should manage and maintain the schools themselves; that they should appoint managers and governors and that they should prepare plans for new schools if the Greater London Council agree.
It seems to me that within the framework of the overall responsibility for education of the Greater London Council, if it is set up, these partial measures of devolution would be bound to give rise to some confusion. Take the building of a new school. The Greater London Council would have to decide, in the first place, whether the designs were to be prepared by its own staff or by that of the borough council concerned. It would be an invitation for all sorts of pressures and lobbyings to be brought to bear. If the Greater London Council insists on keeping the design in its own hands the borough council may feel aggrieved. If the Greater London Council allows the borough council to prepare the plans at the lower level, the chances are that the school may not be as well planned as it might have been. There is a very great fund of skill and knowledge in the present London County Council administration of education; there is not such a fund outside it. Either this fund of knowledge will be broken up and dispersed if the present qualified staff goes to work for the borough councils, or else the schools may not be as good as they might be if kept under the umbrella of the new Greater London Council.
When we turn to the reasons that the Royal Commission give for proposing this erosion of the County Council's functions in regard to education, I think 1055 we can see that they are to some extent looking at the wrong end of the problem. They say that the case for a two-tier system in the administration of education rests—and I quote:partly upon its effect on the work in the schools, and partly upon its effect upon the health of local government,But, in practice, they seem to be thinking mostly of the health of local government. They say that they want:to provide an outlet for local interest",and that:a large number of local councillors would like to serve on education committees.They say that what they propose would make a borough council:a healthier and more lively body.They speak again oflively health in the boroughs of Greater London",and of the need to:arrest the withering process in London local government.What have they to say about the effect on schools of the proposed devolution of powers to borough councils? They say:The Administrative systemof the L.C.C., which might be altered to the Greater London Council—is huge and monolithic, and in spite of every human effort that can be made to prevent its being mechanical and soulless, day-to-day administration must suffer from a certain rigidity and apparent inhumanity. This fault—and it is a fault in a personal service like education—has been amply brought out in our evidence.They say it has been amply brought out in the evidence, but they do not give, in their Report, any of this evidence to the public. Elsewhere they praise the relationship between L.C.C. officials and inspectors on the one hand and teachers on the other, and they make the point that the larger the education authority's area is, the more freely can children and adolescents have access to the school which is most suitable to them and the less difficulty there will be about "crossing the frontier" into a neighbouring local authority to find the right school or college.
On several occasions they compare the L.C.C. and the Middlesex County Council on the score of administrative smooth- 1056 ness, and they always imply that the L.C.C., which has a one-tier system, runs better than the Middlesex County Council, which has a rather muddled two-tier system, with "excepted districts" interposed between the county education authority and the schools themselves. I do not understand why the Royal Commission seemed to recommend that the Greater London Council, even when set up, should adopt not the L.C.C. one-tier system, which they think works well, but something like the Middlesex County Council two-tier system which they say works rather badly by comparison.
We are speaking about the most local, the smallest and most intimate unit of government in our capital city—the borough council. It is very good that these small local units should be vigorous and should have power, and that any man living in any street should feel he can easily stand for his local council and, if elected, can go along and put wrong things right and make right things righter. We should want to increase local dynamism and the sense of local responsibility, but not at all costs and not simply for the sake of doing so. If borough councillors and those who wish to be borough councillors are itching to have more say, let them be given more say, but in matters where it is almost certain they will be able to improve things. There are many such matters. But I do not think those councillors are likely to be able to improve the L.C.C. education service.
I speak about this with some feeling since I have at present three children at school on the L.C.C. system, and shall soon have two more. I expect that some of your Lordships also have made use of this quite remarkable service. But to those noble Lords who have not I would say this: I would appeal to the Government on grounds of purist conservatism: do not touch a good thing when it is running well. The L.C.C., in common with half a dozen other education authorities in English counties and cities, have the admiration and respect of educationists not only in this country but over a large part of the world for what they are doing and have done. They employ some of the finest architects in this country—and the same cannot, I am afraid. be said of many London 1057 boroughs. Those who are accustomed to keep an eye open for architecture find their hopes rise when they hear the words "L.C.C. building", and their hearts sink when they hear the words "municipal building". There is throughout the L.C.C. education service, its back-room planners, its inspectors and, above all, its teachers, a wholly admirable sense of patient devotion, of single-minded and single-hearted care for the true aim of the whole vast system: the children themselves. It did not grow up in a day.
Many people, perhaps most people and certainly most of your Lordships in this House, are worried about the way people in this age care too much for financial reward, for status and all that is summed up in the phrase "being one up", having a carpet, two telephones and a secretary to oneself. Of all the institutions which make up our society, the education authorities and the teachers, and foremost among them the L.C.C., are immune from these values. They are the repositories of very much that is best in our society. It may be that if the borough councils had an increased say in matters these good things would not be lost and dispersed; but it may be, that new causes of friction and partiality would arise. I hope the Government will not risk it when it comes to consider this Report.
I want to close with one more quotation from the Report, because I can bring personal experience to it:It seems to us that in regard to the daily administration of the conduct of the schools, parents and other people like to be able to go to the town hall or to approach their local councillors.No, surely they like to be able to go to the school itself; and at present they are freely encouraged to do so by the teachers and the education authorities. When I have wanted to talk about the child itself I have always gone to the school, and have found this entirely satisfactory. When have wanted to consider which school the child should go to, I have gone to the area office of the L.C.C. education authority, and have found that equally satisfactory. Both teachers and administrators always have time for the parent. Perhaps the town hall would too. But why complicate the issue? The 1058 thing works, in most respects amazingly well considering the shortage of teachers and the financial stringency. Let us count our blessings and leave it alone.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ LORD CORNWALLIS
My Lords, my first and very delightful duty is to congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat down on that extraordinarily thoughtful maiden speech. He evidently is a master of one subject—that is, education. When he first rose to address your Lordships he said that he did so with trepidation. I cannot believe that the son of a father who had such a terrific record for bravery could ever do anything with very much trepidation. May I say how delighted I am to have this opportunity of congratulating him, the son of one who for many years we regarded with sincere affection as one of our Parliamentary representatives for the County of Kent, I hope that we may hear much more from the noble Lord.
To-day we seem to have very much concentrated on the London County Council, though all of us who read this drastic Report Will realise that other counties are involved. I should like to speak of one of those counties only—Kent—because I feel that quite enough has been said about the London County Council. I want to say, first of all, that I am not speaking on behalf of the county council. When I asked them for same notes, or for something that I could have in my hands at the time of this debate, they wrote to me saying:We rather want to look at the whole affair as thoughtfully as we can before arriving at anything which can be said to be the official view of the county council.I believe that the noble Lord in charge of this debate will be delighted to hear that sentence. But we do begin to wonder; the sprawling development of that great octopus, the Landon County Council—or should I say the Corporation of London, and the hole of London Town itself—is beginning to worry some of its neighbours. We do not quite know where it is going to end.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, will take me up on this point, but the proper geographical boundary of Kent, after all, includes Woolwich. Greenwich, Catford, Blackheath, and I do not know what other boroughs; and in many respects it 1059 is true that those places belong to the county. I always used rather to twit the Master Gunner who was at that time Lord Lieutenant of the County of London by saying to him, when I went to the Woolwich mess, would he now receive his Lord Lieutenant? I was within perfect right in doing so. So your Lordships will realise that those used to be our boundaries. The next thing that happens is that an enormous rush out of London takes place; people want homes. Here I feel the position very personally, because for well over 40 years in the local government and public life of that county I have watched this growth and this development.
I had the honour to act on behalf of His late Majesty and give Bexley the Charter for their incorporation. Bexley used to be a village of 1,600 people: it now has well over 100.000. I had the honour to be in charge of its education at the time when all the schools and everything else had to be built. I would just say something against the suggestion of remoteness that has been mentioned in the Report. None of those places has been remote from the government of Kent at any time whatsoever. In fact, it may interest your Lordships to know that I can get to Dartford, Crayford, Erith and places like that from places like Maidstone in about a quarter of the time it takes to get from any of those places to the centre of London. Therefore, there is no question of remoteness of the government of any kind whatsoever. There has never been any question of remoteness as regards the services. I can remember when the chairman of the education committee of that area burst into my room over one teacher, and he had no hesitation in telling me, "There was a 'ell of 'ubbub about this 'ere Miss 'ooker". They were in on every single detail, and always have been.
Our view in Kent is this. We quite realise the great difficulties of planning, of traffic and of all that type of thing; we thoroughly realise that. But surely there must be some way, when this Report is thoroughly thought out, of dealing with the problem without this ruthless disruption of old loyalities, county boundaries and other things that are suggested in the Report. I do not know 1060 whether anybody realises that in Kent alone we shall lose not only one-third of our population but at least a third of our rateable value. I am quite convinced that if that one-third of rateable value had not been at the disposal of the authorities in Kent at certain times, half the works in that county would not have been done. And I am perfectly certain of one thing: that the floods that we have had this year would have been fifty times worse unless that rateable value had been there.
May I agree with (I believe) the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who said that he thought there were very considerable doubts about the wisdom of divorcing some of the urban areas from the rural areas? What is needed is a mixed population. We have been prepared to take some of the overspill from London into Edenbridge and to consider suggestions regarding other places. I hope that people will realise—that the Government will realise—that if the whole of our urban population is to be divorced from us it is going to be a very serious matter for the county services. Another point I cannot quite see concerns those parts of the county that are to go into the Greater London boroughs or the Greater London County. I cannot quite see what benefit they will get that they cannot get now under their own county council. There does not seem to be very much difference.
May I say just one word about the finance of the matter? I know that we cannot possibly deal with details yet: that the whole matter will have to be thoroughly looked into. But at present I would say that the financial details are pure guesswork. For instance, I cannot possibly accept, as the Report seems to say, that as the result of these changes Bromley, for instance, will be receiving a saving of 3s. 11d. in the rates. I can hear the Bromley citizens saying, "What a hope!" Then we go on to grants and matters of that kind. How are they to be apportioned out with all these changes? Then there are these unfortunate people who are to be removed from their present adherence. So far as I can gather, in Kent they will have to contribute an 8d. rate for years. Do your Lordships think this is really going to be of any great benefit to them? But, even much worse, I am told that the 1061 other boroughs—that is, those in London —may find themselves with rate increases of the order of, say, 6s. 6d. to 9s. I do not think they are going to be very pleased if they see some of the Kent boroughs coming down by, say, 2s. 6d. to 4s. 4d. if they are experiencing a rise of nearly 9s. On top of that, what have we coming to us now? The new valuation. Has anybody thought how that is going to complicate these deliberations?
May I again stress that we are worried not only about the steady incursion into the Home Counties, but also about the steady decrease, the taking away, of pieces of our property, as well as of our authority and our finances? May I say also that there are some of us who are worried about what may happen if this goes on, because we have already seen some of the best agricultural land in the world taken for other purposes when it never ought to be taken at all for those purposes.
So now, what do we come to? We come to the three 'things the Report says that it had to deal with: planning, traffic and the social services. The Royal Commission talk about creating a planning body and all kinds of things. Is there really any justification for that? Many of these issues with which they will have to deal will not be local issues when it conies to planning. If they are not national issues, they will certainly be regional issues. You certainly cannot plan roads or anything of that kind that is going to deal with traffic unless you are dealing with, perhaps, the whole of the South-Eastern area from the Wash to Southampton, or something of that sort. Therefore, it seems to me that the county council in that area can still be the consultative planning authority. I cannot see that any further benefit can come from the vast planning authority that is to be created.
There is one other matter. Representation has already been 'mentioned. I have not asked about it officially in any shape or form (and, of course, we cannot at this stage consider the impact of what is going to happen), but I have not yet met anyone in any of the areas that are supposed to go into Greater London who wants the change; and I have been into practically all those constituencies. They at present have 23 representatives on their county council out of 80 elected 1062 members, and they have some aldermen as well. What are they going to get? Six out of 100 when they come into this new arrangement. I do not call that very adequate representation.
So, my Lords, I hope that it may be realised that this change affects not only that particular area in which eight Kent boroughs are being turned into three Greater London ones, but an area (and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who said it) seven times as great as the area that is being dealt with in Kent. It means that it is no good someone coming along and saying that this new planning authority is going to do this, that and the other, without knowing local circumstances. Again, it was said that it is the Ministry of Transport who, in the end, have to take the final steps in any planning of roads, and the Ministry of Housing who have to take the final steps if there is to be a new town or a new shopping centre, and I am perfectly certain that they will—just as the Ministry of Transport came through my works and drew the first line of a new road through my research laboratory and the second line over the top of my reservoir. I am certain that that will happen again, so may I beg the Government, before they embark on anything of this nature, to consider carefully whether these changes are well worth while?
There is one last point I want to stress. Speed has been mentioned, and proper consideration has been mentioned. I would beg everyone to realise that services must be continued, and there are a great many people employed by the county councils affected who very much want to know what their circumstances are going to be. I therefore hope that, if any action is going to be taken on anything, there will not be any long delay over it. Because these people cannot live in a state of animated suspension for ever and ever. So, my Lords, may I say that we in Kent are not trying to destroy this Report or to do anything else like that. We want to give it every possible consideration. But at the present moment we cannot see that those inhabitants for whom we are responsible are going to get anything out of it.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to 1063 me to associate myself with the observations that have been made about the distinguished maiden speeches we have heard this afternoon from the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, and from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. Since I have had the honour to be a Member of this House, I must confess that one argument in favour of a hereditary Chamber has much impressed itself upon me, though I had not thought of it before. A nominated House of any kind would almost inevitably consist of elderly ladies and gentlemen like myself; but one of the great attractions of a hereditary Chamber is that in the course (sometimes the sorrowful course) of nature, it does bring to your Lordships' House the contribution of some younger Members; and those reflections have been enormously strengthened by listening to the maiden speeches that 'we have been privileged to hear to-day.
Perhaps I might also add that during the Summer Recess I had occasion to take a short sea voyage. The sea was occasionally rough; but, by some extraordinary stroke of good fortune, before I embarked a friend pressed into my hand a small book in a paper-back by a certain Mr. Wayland Young. Mr. Wayland Young is now with us as Lord Kennet; and such was the absorbing interest of this book that I can testify here that the roughness of the sea passed me completely by and left me in a state of quite unexpected calm. I am, indeed, more than once already in his debt.
I should also like to associate myself with the observations made by the noble Earl opposite as to the style in which this Report is written. It is most refreshing and most distinguished, and this is the more remarkable inasmuch as it deals with what is, after all, a question of machinery—the machinery of government; and to write in a stimulating style about machinery is, indeed, a rare gift. Rare it is to be able to evoke the interest of others than professional engineers. What the Report proposes is obviously, from what has been said this afternoon, major surgery—I think one might really call it heroic surgery—and when major surgery is proposed it is usual to ask that certain conditions should be fulfilled. The first is that the patient should be, 1064 or should be likely to become, very sick; the second is that the prospects for the operation should be good; and the third is that no milder alternative is likely to succeed. I think the question that we have to put to ourselves is whether those conditions are in this instance fulfilled.
Is the patient very sick? Before we can answer that question we have to decide who the patient is, and as one reads the Report of the Commission one hesitates as to in which of three categories the patient may be: it may be the councillors, it may be the public or it may be the abstract conception of local government. I do not think we need worry very much about the councillors. They can take care of themselves; and, in the evidence which they gave to the Commission, it was made quite clear that they were very well aware of their own interests. Perhaps one might express a passing regret that so few of these councillors were apparently able to take a detached view of any change that might act adversely to their own interests. This, alone, hardly commends the existing system of local government.
It may be that the patient is the public. Now on a superficial view it is difficult to believe that the public are very sick. If the public were deeply discontented with the existing structure of local government, one would expect them to express this in the obvious way that is open to them, and that is by voting one political Party out and another political Party in. Yet in London the public have shown a most remarkable consistency in the way in which they have returned the same political Party to the government of London: and, if Middlesex has perhaps been a little more fickle, Surrey, after all, too, has shown great consistency and loyalty, though in an opposite direction to London. So far as the voting returns are concerned, there is little evidence of a deep discontent with the workings of local government as they now are.
But perhaps the ballot box is not an adequate channel of opinion. The Royal Commission themselves say that the important thing is how the services impinge on the lives of those for whose benefit they are provided, and on this they had much evidence from a great multiplicity of specialised associations—citizens' associations and associations 1065 representing particular interests and particular groups in the community. But their Report is extraordinarily free from any instances of glaring anomalies, of hardship to members of the public, or of public discontent. Cases such as those of which we have heard in other parts of the country, where a child's chance of higher education may be greatly prejudiced by his having been born on the wrong side of a county boundary, do not figure in the pages of this Report. Almost no single case is quoted of an actual hardship or grievance affecting a member of the public.
Nevertheless, I think we must admit that in a few instances, in three instances particularly, the Report does make an overwhelming case for some enlargement of the scope, if not of local government, of some authoritative power. The first of those is planning. After all, that was conceded as far back as 1944 with the Ministry's recognition of the Abercrombie Plan, a Plan which is now, by lapse of time, out of date in many respects. Some of the forecasts on which it was based have not been fulfilled, and that was inevitable. If we do not have planning, all that we shall get in the Greater London region will be a centrifugal expansion of slums. That we have bad in days gone by within the boundaries of the county of London itself, and that, I think, we should all deeply deplore over the wider area of the Greater London region.
The second case is that of housing. I 'think the Commission established beyond dispute that no London borough can now contain its own population—not with the standards of density which alone are to-day acceptable. But the picture of every London borough trying to export its surplus population to every other London borough is, indeed, disastrous, and the London County Council is now in little better a position. Obviously, so far as housing is concerned, we must look over a much wider area, and many of the population of the metropolitan boroughs do not wish to be housed within their own borough boundaries. Marty of them are anxious to take part in the centrifugal motion which has created the unity, if there is a unity, of the Greater London region.
The third case is that of traffic. I do not propose to enlarge upon the enor- 1066 mous subject of the chaos of traffic. It is, of course, a multi-headed hydra: it involves not only the building and construction of roads, not only the control of mobile, or perhaps I should say "theoretically mobile", vehicles; it involves also such details as the lighting of the highways, and in. all of these, and other cognate matters, the absence of common standards throughout the London region is all too conspicuous. Those of your Lordships who have had occasion to drive through south-west London must often have been struck, as you passed over Stamford Bridge, by the suddenness with which you emerged from the darkness of Conservative Chelsea into the brilliant lighting of the Labour-controlled borough of Fulham; and these contrasts are repeated throughout the region. In these spheres, and Possibly in one or two ethers, I think there can be no dispute but that some wider kind of control is necessary.
The Royal Commission has not stopped there. In other respects, far from taking a broader view, it has tried to narrow the scope of certain services, and here I should like to mention two in particular. The first of the services is concerned with children. The children's services are now the responsibility of the county and county borough authorities. Children get into trouble all over the place, not only in the borough in which they live; and if at present they get into trouble, they are dealt with in the court which is appropriate to the place where the trouble occurred. This means that occasionally children wander from as far off as the counties of Essex and Middlesex, and on those occasions we have representatives from those counties coming into the London courts. But these are exceptional occasions.
If, on the other hand, every metropolitan borough is to have its own children's committee and children's officer, we shall have to deal, as our children step from Fulham to Chelsea or to Battersea—and Battersea has special attractions—with a whole army of different children's officers. Again, your Lordships will learn from the Report that the London County Council run no fewer than 13 different types of institution for children. There are to be 52 metropolitan boroughs. Fifty-two 1067 times 13 is a very sizeable sum. Has every one of the 52 metropolitan boroughs to duplicate this provision of 13 types of institution? Surely not. But the only alternative is a most elaborate structure of negotiation, by which the children who live in one borough will be accommodated in institutions provided by others.
Much has been said this afternoon on the subject of education, and here, I think, I can only endorse what has been so admirably put by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. The Royal Commission went out of their way to criticise the two-tier system of education and to emphasise that education must be viewed as a single process, from the primary stage to its final completion. You cannot divide it, as the Act of 1944 tried in some respects to divide it, horizontally between the primary and secondary stage. In the two-tier division which the Commission proposed, the number of questions which will have to be settled by agreement seems to be inconceivably large. All the matters concerning the deployment of the teaching force, the terms and conditions of employment of teachers, matters of discipline, matters concerning special forms of education, special schools (of which, again, there are a great multiplicity of types), ancillary services, such as those of librarians and laboratory technicians—all of these are matters on which there will have to be discussions and agreement reached between 52 metropolitan boroughs and one Greater London Council. I really think, when one visualises this, that the children will be very lucky if they find any schools to go to at all.
Then, again in education, there are problems about the transfer of pupils between the primary and the secondary stage. As education is at present organised in the Lond on area, each metropolitan borough is more or less self-sufficient, I think, in primary education, for the very good reason that children should have primary schools near at hand. But the distribution of secondary and higher educational systems is much more uneven, and I think it must be true that as many as one-half or three-quarters of our children attend a grammar school which is outside the borough 1068 in which they live. Under the proposed arrangement, this will mean that they get their primary education under one authority and will have to go to another authority for the secondary stage of that same education. Again, one sees the possibilities arising of the problems which the Commission so eloquently said had been rampant in the County of Middlesex.
It is hard to understand why the Royal Commission were so anxious to split up the educational system of London and the adjoining counties, why they used the adjectives "monolithic" and "rigid", and why they accused the L.C.C. of apparent "inhumanity". They gave no instance of those deplorable qualities. One is tempted to suppose that the key to the Commission's proposals is to be found in the phrases which occur repeatedly throughout the Report about the "good health" or the "bad health", not of the councillors or of the public, but of local government. Local government, the Commission said, was part of the conception of representative government, or of democracy as an abstract idea. They stated that a large number of councillors would like to be represented on education committees and that it was bad for the health of local government that the smaller local authorities should be precluded from taking part in education.
Surely the purpose of education is to educate children. The Commission do not say that education is to be broken up for 'the sake of the children or for the sake of the teachers; they say that education should be broken up for the sake of local government. It is easy to sentimentalise about local government, but, like many other things in the world to-day, local government is not quite what it used to be. I wonder whether the Commission sufficiently appreciated the profundity of the change which has affected the present state of local government. The smaller percentage of people taking part in local elections is not merely an expression of democratic apathy but is also an expression of the greater mobility and different range of interests of the modern community.
This applies particularly in the managerial and professional classes who, in their day, have contributed very much to local government. The owner of a grocery store in a town expects to stay 1069 there and to build up his business for the best part of his working life. The manager of a branch of a multiple store, which has largely taken the place of the local grocer, expects to stay there a few years, until he is promoted to be the manager of a larger store, perhaps in another city. These people, like many other professional people, find their outlet for public service through their interest in professional or business life, on the national scale, and sometimes on the international scale, rather than in their immediate locality.
It is very difficult to see how there can be a sense of community in the Greater London region. All that we have in common, those of us who live on or beyond the fringe of the region, is the fact that we have gone there by a centrifugal flight from the centre of the great city itself. We are common refugees from urban overcrowding; and that is, at the moment, all that Chigwell shares with Weybridge. There still is something real in being an inhabitant of one of the metropolitan boroughs. It means something, as Lord Morrison of Lambeth said, to be a citizen of Woolwich or Lewisham. It means the more because these boroughs are often still served by a local Press which reports what the council is doing. It still means something to be a Londoner—although here one can say that the London County Council, in a sense, begins to be remote from the people of London. It publishes no equivalent of Hansard, and its debates are seldom reported in any Press which is widely read. Nevertheless, London is a city of which its citizens are still proud to be members.
It is not yet possible to see what means will be found of infusing a meaning into Greater London which will make sense to the ordinary citizen in the Greater London region. Unless there is some such meaning, which either grows or is artificially created, the Greater London Council will be just as rigid, monolithic and remote as any existing bureaucratic authority or council. I hope that, if we are to have a Greater London Council, every attention will be given to the problem of how there can be created some kind of real citizenship which will be a living, vital thing throughout the region which that council will serve.
§ 5.13 p.m.
My Lords, I do not profess to know much about the local government of London. I am proposing to deal more with the point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cornwallis. I must express my amazement at the speech made by Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and largely at that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, in that it would appear that there was no problem at all to be solved. In fact, except for the short reference by the noble Lady to one or two boroughs, it is amazing that the Royal Commission was ever set up at all.
The rest of the debate has been critical of what the Commission reported. That criticism may or may not be justified, but it seems to me surprising. I intended to deal with what I thought was a problem, but it has not been mentioned so far, except by the noble Baroness from a particular point of view. I am concerned with the increase of employment in, and the increasing employment out of, the central areas of London, and the centrifugal effect on the population who work in those offices and factories. The position is fairly set out in paragraph 332 of the Commission's Report, from which I should like to quote one or two sentences. The Report says:The number of jobs available is increasing at a more rapid rate than the number of jobs available in the country as a whole. The centrifugal movement of population from the centre continues but decentralisation of employment has not kept pace with it. Employment is expanding more rapidly than population…As a consequence of the foregoing factors traffic congestion on the roads, railways and Tubes is worse than ever, and the problem of the cost, fatigue and time consumption of the journey to and from work is worse than it has ever been.In spite of the development that has taken place, the number of jobs is going up while the population seems to be getting dispersed in ever-widening concentric rings to the Green Belt. What is happening now is that counties outside London are establishing their own Green Belts, and are pushing development still further away from the centre. Recently we had a circular from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government asking us to review our development plans and provide more building land, where this 1071 could be done without detriment to good town planning principles. I do not find it at all easy to interpret this circular when read in conjunction with this Report. The Report seems to condemn this never-ending concentration of buildings, particularly office buildings; and several Ministers in turn have also condemned it. Yet it seems to be going on as merrily as ever. The other day, I heard that it is proposed to establish a 15-storey office building in St. James's Street. I do not know whether this is true, or any of the detail, but if it is true, it is typical of the tendency to which I am referring.
Is it the duty of the counties on the perimeter of London to continue to supply dormitory space for the workers in these offices? And is this process to continue indefinitely? If it is our duty to provide such dormitory space, then are we going to consider the question of communication? We have already trains packed like sardine tins at peak hours with commuters going to and from London. Are we to disregard this situation and trust that in the years to come British Railways will have improved their services?
One would like to think that, somewhere, somebody is pondering over these problems; but I cannot think that anyone is considering the problems of the planning of Greater London as a whole. If anything happens to go wrong, the normal reaction of the citizen is to blame the Government. The Government have to shoulder all the responsibility. But I cannot really think that the Minister, with all his duty to decide appeals, can act as a sort of planning authority for Greater London. I feel that those who criticise this part of the Report ought to suggest a good workable alternative. I do not think that the planning of Greater London is the duty of the Government. There may be something that they could do in regard to the even larger question of these great movements of population, which cause so many planning problems, including the price of building land and the strain on capital resources.
Speaking only last year, Mr. James, the senior planning research officer of the Ministry, calculated that between 1951 and 1958, 700,000 people had migrated to the South East of England from other 1072 parts of the country, of whom 40,000 had come to settle down in the Greater London Area. I would ask if the Government cannot consider: his further, because they shave been very active in one direction—namely, in the control of industry. They have done a great deal to send industry to areas where there is risk of unemployment, but the control of offices, which employ far more people per acre than any industry, seems to be a purely local matter. I wonder if this is altogether a good thing.
My Lords, this is an enormously complex Report, and its recommendations raise such large issues that one feels that there is a great danger of nothing being done at all. This question of the continued expansion of London is a matter which deserves careful consideration by some body which is capable of considering all these matters—industry, employment and communications. I hope that, even if this Report is not accepted, something will come out of it, because I feel that matters will become more serious if left unattended.
§ 5.25 pm.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, this is a very difficult subject and the Report of the Royal Commission is bound to arouse a great deal of opposition. There are thousands of objections to it, in the shape of thousands of members of local authorities who will dislike intensely the alteration of the present system. With all respect to them, they have all a vested interest in local government. They do not want something to happen which is going to diminish the amount of power they exercise or to diminish the number of seats which are available an local authorities. Undoubtedly, the apposition will be very strong and very vocal. On the other hand, do not let us forget that there is a problem, and that the Royal Commission would never have been appointed if there was not a problem.
So far this afternoon nobody has said a word about the County of Middlesex, which has now become, in its growth outward from central London, a complete anomaly in local government structure. That has been recognised for quite a long time, because an embargo has been placed upon what normally would have happened in any other county, the transfer to county borough status of 1073 a number of local authorities which haveprima faciequalified, because it was recognised that Middlesex was part of an urban area which was no longer suited to the kind of structure suitable for counties which have a rural as well as an urban character.
Some reference has been made to-day to so-called conurbations, but there is a distinction between London and other conurbations. For the most part, the others have grown up by the expansion of towns to such an extent that they have touched each other and the rural districts in between have disappeared, and they do not necessarily have any focus or any centre of character. But undoubtedly, for the most part, London has grown outward from the centre, and all these districts which have come under consideration by the Royal Cornmission—or almost all of them—are vitally connected with the central area of London, which provides employment for a considerable number of their residents Therefore, this great area has a unity which cannot be ignored.
I admit, of course, that to have a local government area of any kind covering some 800 square miles and with a population of 8 million is carrying the conception of local government to a point which has never before been reached in this country and has only been approached, I think, in the United States, in the case of Greater New York. But the problem is there. A system of local government must he devised for it, unless, of course, everybody is absolutely confident that the present system is perfect or, at any rate, so extremely good that it will be quite superfluous to interfere with it. I cannot believe that that is entirely true. It is a serious proposition, I agree, to interfere with a structure which has grown up in this way. The present structure has evoked a great many loyalties and created a great many interests—I do not say this in a disparaging way; it is the interest of people in the jobs they have been doing and the kind of organisation they have been engaged upon, and that is absolutely understandable—but, on the other hand, it has it has not encouraged people to look at this problem as a whole.
My noble friend Baroness Wootton of Abinger said a few minutes ago that the public are not complaining. In a sense, I think that is true, because the general 1074 public, although they may know they are suffering a number of discomforts arising out of the existing state of affairs, do not fully understand the reasons or where or why they should complain. But do not let us assume that they are entirely happy about this. You have some millions of people travelling from the periphery of London to the centre of London every day to be employed, who are exchanging jogs with one another in overcrowded tube trains and buses, spending a large amount of time travelling to and fro, and a great deal of money on it, also, which might be spent more advantageously in other ways to their physical and moral advantage. Do not let us despise the fact that there is a problem, even if it be true that the general public are not complaining, or, if they do, possibly complain in the wrong quarters.
This is quite a serious problem. It is a tragedy that employment has been allowed to grow in Central London in the way that it has grown. In that respect, the Abercrombie Plan was entirely defective, because although it proposed steps for controlling employment in factories in London, and proposed that that kind of employment should be diminished in order to avoid these long journeys to work and all the discomfort and expense involved in them, it forgot entirely that office accommodation provides an enormous amount of employment, and, indeed, per square foot of space employed for that purpose, provides far more employment than any factory occupation does. So the number of people who are commuting from Central London to the outer areas is increasing steadily, and all the problems arising out of that are increasing, too.
I therefore agree with the Royal Commission in the view that there ought to be some authority that is charged with the duty of considering the planning and the traffic arrangements of this region as a whole, instead of its being done piecemeal. I know it can be said that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has certain town planning powers; but it is quite impossible, under the structure of the planning Acts as they exist at the present moment, that the Minister of Housing and Local Government should take the plans and re-plan them completely in order that it shall be a homogeneous plan for the 1075 whole of this area. It cannot be done by taking the plans made by individual authorities and recasting them like that. It has to be treated as a unity from the beginning stages, and if it is not so treated it will never become properly articulated.
On that ground there is a strong case for some body to deal with this problem as a whole; and if it is not dealt with by some kind of a local authority, the inevitable result is that it will be taken away from local authority control completely and will be handed over to one or more Government Departments. That, indeed, is what is happening at the present moment with regard to traffic and transport in London. Same kind of unit (I forget the name of it) is being set up in order to consider London's traffic problems over this area. It will then he found that powers will have to be given to a Minister to deal with it, if he has not them already, and some of the local authorities will find they are going to suffer an erosion of their powers. Therefore, I respectfully suggest to them that they must take some notice of this problem.
There are other matters to which the Royal Commission have drawn attention. The sewage and refuse disposal of this great area are, for mechanical and other reasons, subjects which ought to be dealt with by one single authority. They have outgrown the scope and the powers of the individual authorities in the region.
When we come to education, I agree that it is a very different matter. I would not say that the present arrangements for education within this region are not open to criticism. There has been a suggestion that they are perfect, and that, anyhow, it would be a great mistake if one stage of education was in the hands of one authority and another stage of education was in the hands of another authority. But, having been brought up in a country where it was a common thing for that to be so, and where the results, by and large, have not been entirely unsatisfactory, I would not accept that. On the other hand, I do not understand the proposals which the Royal Commission have made for the distribution of all functions relating to education within this great area, and without more explanation, at any rate, 1076 I am not convinced that they would work satisfactorily. It may be that they could, but I am not certain about it, and I think that part of the Report requires most careful and serious consideration.
But with regard to those other large fields of activity, I feel that there has to be some body which is going to look at them as a whole and deal with them and plan them as a whole; and if it is not done by a body of local government status, then it is going to be taken out of local government activity altogether, sooner or later, and handed over to some Government Department to deal with; and I am not entirely satisfied that that would be the best and most happy solution.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords. before making my brief contribution to this debate, I should like to apologise to your Lordships, and particularly to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, because, owing to a prior business engagement, I may not be able to be in my place for many moments after I have spoken. I ask for the indulgence of your Lordships' House on that point.
My only reason for speaking in this debate at all is that I live in an area of Surrey which is very much affected by the recommendations of the Royal Commission and where, I think, there is a certain amount of concern. Ashtead is not at present affected, but Epsom and Ewell are; and a great deal of the territory between the two areas is encroached upon to a considerable extent by these recommendations. It would be improper for me to make any general observations at present, but there is a good deal of concern in that area. I propose to confine my remarks to Surrey because I live there, and I know the county fairly well.
One of the anomalies of this Report is that Surrey has had a great many Londoners sent there from the London County Council, and they have been sent to areas which are not covered by the recommendations of the Commission. I refer particularly to Merstham, which comes under Reigate, which is outside the area. Geographically, it would probably be impracticable to include Reigate, but it seems that some of the 1077 geographical implications of the Commission are a little odd. I can understand perhaps Croydon, and even Banstead, but I am a little intrigued to know how Epsom, which is still a relatively rural area, has been encased, so to speak, in these proposals. I should be the last person to attack the London County Council. They deserve a good deal of credit, particularly on the amenity side, with their concerts and the upkeep of the parks. But I am bound to agree with noble Lords who have said that the London County Council is growing very large. There is no doubt whatever that the population of Greater London is tending to decrease. After all, one of the ideas of setting up the new towns was to take in much of the overspill of Greater London. I refer to Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage, which are not among the areas included in the proposals of this Commission.
Something has been said of commuters. My Lords, I am one of them every day, and while we have these proposals to set up this Greater London Council, we find that more and more firms are being encouraged to set up outside London, in areas such as Kingswood. I, for one, would commend these proposals, but there will be a great housing problem in this area, and it will be of some importance to those who have to sort out that problem.
With regard to education, the proposals are rather confusing. The boroughs are to have responsibility for certain aspects, and the Greater London Council responsibility for others. I have noticed from the recommendations that the boroughs would still retain the power to appoint the governors of schools. I should like to know to what extent they will be tied and committed by the Greater London Authority, because this seems to me rather important. Many of these governors have long traditions with the schools concerned—I refer, of course, to the old schools, of which there are quite a number in my area, as I am sure there are in other areas. There is another point which seems to me to call for some consideration. As I understand it, the county town of Surrey, which is Kingston-upon-Thames, would come within the jurisdiction of the Greater London Authority. Are we to assume that possibly another county town will have to be set up for Surrey proper— 1078 Guildford, perhaps—or will Kingston-upon-Thames remain the county town? I quite appreciate that a direct question like that cannot be answered at this stage, when the proposals have not yet been debated. But it seems to me a point worthy of consideration.
I join with those noble Lords who have paid tribute to this Report. It is immensely readable and it has been made into a White Paper in a relatively short time. I should like to pay tribute to those responsible for the maps, which are extremely clear and helpful. So often the maps issued with these Reports are extremely difficult to follow. I feel that, whatever criticisms one might reserve regarding the Report of Sir Edwin Herbert and his colleagues, one feels a great debt of gratitude to them.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I am sure that everybody who has listened to this debate 'will first of all wish to thank my noble friend Lord, Morrison of Lambeth for having initiated a discussion on what we all regard as a most important subject, the administration of the people of London, in whatever form we regard London. This Report of the Royal Commission is one of the most important documents that has been presented to us about London government for a great many years. I should like to pay my tribute to the work of the Royal Commission, who have spent three years preparing the Report and have produced a remarkably interesting, stimulating and well-written document.
We do not normally, as I have often said, pay sufficient tribute to those who voluntarily give of their time and labours in work of this kind, and I am sure that everyone, whatever his views may be, would wish to pay full tribute to the work put yin by this Commission. They have heard an enormous amount of evidence, both oral and written, although I am very sorry that my noble friend did not give evidence—nor did I, for that matter; I am quite sure they would have been much wealthier if they had heard the evidence of both of us, and of many others who might have been able to add to their education. The Report is in three volumes; the narrative contains over 1,000 paragraphs, and nobody will suggest that the members of the Commission have not applied themselves very 1079 seriously to the problems which are contained in their terms of reference.
I am sure the Government will welcome this discussion, which has ranged pretty wide and in which people of varied experience have taken part. We have had speeches from people who have been engaged in local government over a very long period. We have had people who have been concerned with social welfare in its widest sense and who have given great thought to this question. I should like to make it clear that most of us, at any rate, are dealing with this subject in a preliminary way. We are giving the Government the benefit of our first thoughts on this matter. Certainly I am doing so. I also want to make it clear that in whatever I may say I am speaking entirely for myself and for nobody else. I have not discussed with anybody the contents of what I am going to say, and I reserve the right—as I hope will everyone who has taken part in this discussion, or will take part in any future discussion—to think and think, and think again, about what my ultimate views may be. I hope that they will read and read this Report again many times, because I believe that it is almost impossible, however well written it may be, to absorb it in one reading.
I would therefore appeal to the Government not to be in too great a hurry (and here I agree with my noble friend, Lord Morrison of Lambeth) in coming to a decision on the contents of this Report. On the other hand, I feel that there is a good deal in what the noble Lord, Lord Cornwallis, said: that with the possibility of drastic changes hanging over the heads of local authorities it would be desirable to come to some decision as soon as the Government can make up their minds on this Report. However, I do not expect the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to give us this evening the Government's views on this Report.
Reading the Report, one thing struck me particularly: that it is not like any other Report I have read, in that in every other Report of a Royal Commission or a Commission the conclusions have been based upon the evidence presented to it. In this case the Commission have felt themselves obliged completely to disregard the evidence they 1080 have had. There may have been good reasons, but they have taken the view —they have devoted a whole chapter to this—that the evidence they have had has been entirely subjective, animated by motives of self-interest and a desire to leave things as they are. For this reason they regard the evidence as something of which they cannot take note, and they have had to do original thinking about the matter and to consider the problems abinitio without the guidance they might normally have had from the evidence presented to them. In fact, the only objective evidence they pay tribute to is that of the London School of Economics, and the London School of Economics is itself divided in many respects, because they have presented two schemes, Scheme A and Scheme B. The Royal Commission does not accept wholly either of those schemes, and in the end they have recommended an amalgam of the two.
The Royal Commission have approached this question by reference to the defects in the existing organization of London government. To use the words of the noble Baroness, they have considered whether the patient is sick, and they have made up their minds that in a number of respects the patient is sick. They have particularly adopted the criterion of considering the planning of the area, housing, traffic, education and various forms of health, environmental and personal. In the absence of satisfactory evidence upon which they could rely, I have no quarrel with their approach to the question. Indeed it was the only possible approach, because, accepting the view that local government should not be interfered with unless it is absolutely essential, all they could do was to see whether it was essential that these drastic changes should be made. And I think they have made a case.
I do not propose to go through the evidence, but reading the Report I think that most people who look at the matter objectively will agree that all is not well with London government—and I mean London in the widest sense—and that, for many of the reasons which they themselves put forward, some change is required. I would not myself agree, however, that any change is better than none: the cure may be worse than the disease. It is therefore not sufficient to say that a change is necessary, that the 1081 present system is not working satisfactorily and that therefore this Report must be accepted. We have first to examine whether the remedies proposed do, in fact, meet the case, and whether they are not themselves likely to create as great evils and as great difficulties as they seek to put right. It is from that point of view that I have myself tried to look at the Report; and I hope the Government will do the same.
I want at this stage to pay tribute to my noble friend who opened this debate on the fact that he did not make this a political issue. I have tried to read the Report from the point of view of what may be the political effects, but I should not like to be dogmatic as to what they might be. It would depend very much upon the period when elections were held. I can well imagine that at certain times in our political history the new set-up might result in great advantage to my Party. On the other hand, it might equally at other times result in advantage for the Party opposite. But I hope that none of us will look at this from the point of view of how it is going to affect us politically. That would be entirely wrong. We have to look at the patient.
My noble friend, Lady Wootton of Abinger, suggested that perhaps the criterion as to whether something should be done might be as to whether the patient was complaining. On the whole, she felt that the patients (that is, the voters) were not complaining they were remarkably consistent in one direction or another according to the area that we consider. But I have often felt that there was something wrong with local government when a council is elected with, as I have seen, 18 per cent. of the electorate voting, In some constituencies at the London County Council elections 20 per cent, go to the poll; and if there is anything over 30 per cent. of the electorate voting at an election it is regarded as a good poll. I cannot think that that is right. 'When one talks about loyalties and the devotion of the public to their particular locality, one must admit that if you cannot get more enthusiasm worked up in an election than an average of, say, 30 per cent. voting at the election, this local patriotism cannot go very deep. Nor do I think that all the fuss that is likely to be aroused by 1082 joining up one area with another is not, to a large extent, 'manufactured by the people who have given devoted service to that area and 'who feel this local patriotism.
Since I have read this Report I have asked a number of my staff in which borough they live. Most of them do not know. They all live in London, but they do not know in which borough. I asked one of my junior partners, and he thought it was either Camberwell or Lambeth, but he was not quite sure which it was. I must say for him that he has only recently married; he has gone into a house and has not yet had a rate bill. No doubt when he gets his rate bill he will know in which 'borough he lives. If that is typical at all—I have tried to ascertain to what extent it is typical —I must say that I am not greatly impressed 'by the argument of local patriotism or the difficulty of amalgamating the borough of Stepney with the borough of Poplar. A great many people would not know the difference. In both cases the rates are very high. That is the only thing that is likely to influence them.
I understand the feelings of local councillors in the matter. When one meets a man like my noble friend who has devoted more than half his life to local government, or the noble Lord, Lord Cornwallis—people who have spent the greater part of the period since the London County Council or the Kent County Council was erected as servants of the public and have given devoted service, seeing something really remarkable go up—it is not surprising that they look on what, to a large extent, may be their creation, the modern London County Council or the modern Kent County Council, as a mother would regard her child. Of course, most devoted mothers think that their children are perfect except when they are a little disobedient; but they would not hear of any punishment. Indeed, we know from the care committees that exist in most areas of the country that a great part of their work consists of persuading parents that their child is sick and needs to go into hospital, or needs an operation of some kind, and often the parents are convinced that there is nothing wrong with their child. That, quite understandably, is the attitude of those who have devoted a large part of their lives 1083 to the service of a particular local authority. But I think the Report leaves no doubt at all that there is something wrong. I do not want to develop that argument because it is so well set out in the various chapters under ate headings of housing, town planning, and so on, and there is nothing that I could add to it.
Now I want to come to the question whether the suggested remedy is the remedy, agreeing that there are these evils. As I have said, that is what I hope the Government will consider most carefully. The obvious question one asks oneself is: is the new area so large as to be workable as a local authority? It certainly does not seem to me to comply with what we have always understood as local government. The test of local government is that the local councillors should not only know their own constituencies—that is going to be difficult enough—but should know their own area. I was a member of the London County Council for 21 years. I cannot pretend that I knew every bit of London as I ought to have done—in fact, as chairman of the housing committee or of the town planning committee I ought to have known my area. But I defy anybody who has lived in London all his life, as I have done, to know the administrative County of London sufficiently well to be able to administer it satisfactorily. To administer what will be the Greater London area, the Metropolitan Police district, is going to be virtually impossible.
I should like to know how the Commission answer that difficulty. This Council is going to be responsible for the welfare of, at the moment, 8½ people. If the trend in the next 50 years is anything like what it has been in the past, these 8½million will be—well, I will not say doubled, but at any rate increased to 10 or 12 million. You will get a population as big as a great many European States, and—I am not sure whether I am right in saying this—certainly as big as a large number of the countries that are at present members of the United Nations Organisation. I do not know whether the new administrative Council will wish to apply for membership of the United Nations, but certainly it would qualify on the ground of population.
1084 My noble friend drew attention to the size of County Hall which faces us. I believe I am right in saying that at the present moment the County Hall occupies an area virtually as big as the Houses of Parliament. Even so, to-day it is not really adequate for its purpose. If you are going to incorporate a much larger population over a much wider area, and to have a body which is going to be responsible in many respects for the administration of 52 local authorities, I shudder to think what will be needed in regard to the size of the organisation. Certainly, the South Bank will not be big enough, and will have to be extended in all directions.
That is on the pure mechanics of the thing, but I should like to consider what sort of a local councillor we are going to have. I remember that in the peaceful days when I was a member I gave something like four days a week to the work of the London County Council. I am sure that under the new régime it would be a much bigger job, and then one would have to leave a great deal to the officers who know the area, because they are regionalised and each is a specialist in a particular area. So there would be very grave danger of building up a vast bureaucracy. A great deal would have to be left to the judgment of the officers, and the representatives would not be in a position to challenge their judgment.
Then where do we find the right kind of councillor to take on a job of that kind? After all, there is no great glamour about being a member of a larger county council. As has been said, there is noHansardand no publicity for speeches. When I asked people, having previously inquired about the boroughs in which they live, who was their councillor, I found that they had no idea who represented them. Possibly the people I spoke to were among the odd 70 to 80 per cent. who did not vote; but at any rate they bad no idea who was their representative. Members are mainly actuated by a desire to render service and the feeling that they are able to render service. I wonder whether members of this larger body will feel they really are able to render a service, other than merely to accept the dictum of those who advise them.
Then, is it democratic? Can we call it democracy? Certainly, from what I 1085 have said, and if I am anything near right, it is not democracy. It may be that we are facing a unique situation and that we need a unique solution to it. I am not sure whether the Royal Commission have the solution but I do feel that there is an identity of interest among the people living in this great conurbation. They have common problems. The traffic problem is a common one. The town planning problem—if only they can be made to appreciate how it affects them personally—is a common problem. So are the housing and the other major service problems that are referred to in the Report. But what is the solution for this common problem which to-day affects 81 million people? Is this the solution? It is there that I have my doubts. As I have said, I do not wish to deliver a final view of the matter, but I believe that it is open to doubt whether this is the answer.
Then again, obviously the Commission felt 'that they had to introduce at any rate an element of local government in this matter, and so they have these borough councils, 52 of them, working with the greater administrative Council. I shudder to think of the relationship between these 52 authorities who will all have relationships with the larger Authority in one form or another—in planning for instance. I do not know whether every decision of a borough council will have to be approved by the major Authority. I do not think that will be so, but any important deviation or variation from the plan which the major Authority prepare will have to be submitted to that authority from these 52 different councils. What is an important deviation, and what is a minor one?—because the Report proposes that it should be left to the judgment of the borough councils as to what is a major deviation (which they have to report) and what is a minor deviation. I can imagine endless argument on the question of what are major and minor deviations and in the process the poor public will suffer, because it will mean even more delay in getting a decision than there is at the present time: and even now it takes from six to nine months to get a decision out of the County Council on an important planning matter. I believe that this will be even worse.
1086 The education proposals have been strongly criticised. I do not think the proposals as they stand in the Report have a single friend, but I believe that there is a lot to be said for having one education authority responsible for a wide range of services, and I should have thought the sensible thing would be to give the whole of the educational functions to the larger Authority. I cannot help feeling that the delegation of duties was largely influenced by a desire on the part of the Royal Commission to make the borough councils more important and to give them more important functions to carry out. That may be a perfectly proper desire, but we must not subordinate our service to the needs of giving borough councils enough work to do. That must not be the dominating factor.
But if we are going to give them these functions they are then going to be quite important bodies, and they will need 52 important heads of department for each of the services which will be delegated to them. I wonder whether this large accretion of high grade (and they have to be high grade) local authority officials exists in this country at all. Suddenly, virtually to create 52 county boroughs or bodies of county borough status is going to be a most difficult thing to do, and I wonder whether in fact it will be possible. My own view would be to have fewer authorities than the 52. I would make them even larger and give them, in many cases, complete power—in fact, give them the powers of county boroughs. But again I can see many objections even to that course, and I should not like it to be regarded as my final view.
I can only repeat that this is a matter to which one has to give a great deal of thought and on which there must be many discussions. I hope that this debate will not be the last that we shall have on this subject, and that even if Her Majesty's Government produce a White Paper at some time they will not feel themselves wedded in the future to that White Paper but Twill be ready to listen to representations from Members of this House and another place, and that eventually we may thresh out something that will create possibly an entirely new form of local government, just as the 1087 Act creating county councils was something new in the history of our country. I hope, too, that we may be able to create something new but something which will not, from the very outset, arouse the hostility of every single person who is engaged in local government —because in my view it would be fatal to start off anything new on the basis of the hostility of all those on whom we are to depend for the success of such an undertaking. Once more I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth for having introduced this matter in such a charming and interesting way, and I hope that good will come out of this discussion.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I, too, should like to begin by saying how indebted the House is to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, for initiating this most interesting and instructive debate. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in saying that we are also grateful for the manner in which he did it. It is a manner with which his old and friendly opponents are very familiar. At one moment when he mentioned the Green Belt he recalled to me what is probably the most famous story about the noble Lord among the many that are in circulation. It was at an enthusiastic Labour Party meeting and there was a great shout in the hall, "Who won London for Labour?", and the cry was "Morrison!" Then there was another shout. "Who got homes for the people of London?", and there was a cry of, "Morrison!" Then there was a third shout, "Who gave the people of London the trees and the flowers and the grass and the Green Belt?" And a small, still voice from half way down the hall said, "God Almighty!" There was an immediate shout of, "Tory! Throw him out!" I hope the noble Lord will agree that that is almost the most famous of the stories that have gathered around his name. But I emphasise that we are grateful not only for the debate but for the manner in which he initiated it.
I should also like to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for his approach to this subject, because no one can pretend that we have exhausted the subject, although a wide variety of matters has been broached in the debate. 1088 Indeed, the size and importance of the subject of local government in London is a clear indication of that fact. But the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said at the beginning and at the end of his speech that he reserved the right to think again. He advanced views and important suggestions, but he said that he was not finally making up his mind. That is the attitude of mind which, as my noble friend Lord Waldegrave said in his speech, the Government are anxious should be widely held at this stage of the proceedings.
I should like to pay a second tribute, which again is only reinforcing what has been said, to the members of the Royal Commission for this Report. I think one could again put it in a sentence: that their labours were heavy but the Report is neither heavy nor laboured. I should like, if your Lordships will allow a personal indulgence, to say what pleasure it has given to me to see Sir Edwin Herbert Chairman of a Commission which has produced so distinguished a document. He is a very distinguished member of my own profession. But as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, knows—because I remember in the past asking him a question about a quite different line of country; he appointed a Committee of Inquiry and Sir Edwin took the Chair for him—he is a man who has never faltered, when there has been the call of public duty, to do any task, however difficult and however inconvenient it might be for him. And when we add to that the powers of thought, examination and expression that are seen in this Report, I am honoured to be able to give my personal tribute to one who I am happy to say is an old friend.
Your Lordships will not, I am sure, feel that I am trespassing when I make a third tribute, and that to the two maiden speeches we have had during this debate. My noble friend Lord Mersey bears a name in which I have a particular interest, because his grandfather, apart from the many other distinctions in his career, was one of the founders of the local Bar in Liverpool which has meant so much to me in my life. His father was known to us all, and therefore he started with these advantages. But he did not need them, because the whole House enjoyed his objective speech, made with a full knowledge of the subject, he obviously having read the Report 1089 carefully and thought over it carefully at the same time. We are grateful for what he said and I shall see that attention is paid to it, and we hope that he will address us often again.
With regard to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, again he came with all the advantages that so many of us here, Who knew his father in one House, if not in the two Houses, of Parliament, would expect. Of course, his speaking in, this debate had a particular filial piety, because his father, as many of us will remember, was Minister of Health—and then the Minister of Health was in charge of local government matters—at the time of the Local Government Act, 1933, which if it did not deal with the actual London County Council earlier, dealt with the other areas which are involved to-day. Again, we were very fortunate in his maiden speech and, if I may pick out a part of it which struck me, it was what he said, and how he said it, with regard to education, about which he obviously felt so deeply. Again I shall see that attention is paid to that subject. He underlined what had been said by many speakers and was summed up by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I hope that noble Lords who have paid attention to that subject will accept my assurance that it will be dealt with.
I think it is worth going back for a moment to fundamentals and recalling that local government is being reviewed not only in the Greater London area but also in the rest of England and Wales, and why the Royal Commission and the Local Government Commissions for England and Wales were appointed. I hope that no one will get the wrong idea, because in my view it is not because local authorities have failed to carry out the tasks entrusted to them. It would be generally true to say that councils, large and small, tackle an enormous burden of work with remarkable success. This is due to the devotion and dedication of both members and officers of local authorities; and the high standard of local government services throughout the country indicates the basic soundness of the structure of local government.
Undoubtedly local government works; but is that enough? A number of questions have to be asked from time to time. Are conditions such that local councils 1090 can operate as effectively as possible? Is the pattern of local authorities suitable for the administration of services which people nowadays have the right to expect? That is how I put it in answer to the development of thought of the noble Lady, Baroness Wootton of Abinger. I think it is the combination which I intended to put in my rhetorical question: is the pattern of local authorities suitable for the administration of services which people nowadays have the right to expect? Then: are men of integrity and ability attracted to membership of their local authorities? Are the special skills of officials being put to the best use? These questions, and others, I submit, need to be put afresh every generation, in order to see that local government adapts itself to the new problems.
Therefore, I do not want the appointment of the Royal Commission to be taken as an implied criticism of the way in which the authorities have carried out their tasks in the circumstances, the very difficult circumstances, which have confronted them, but it is an acknowledgment of the great material and social changes which have taken place since the main features of the present structure of local government were established towards the end of the last century. It has led to an examination of the problems which those changes had created for a very large number of London authorities, to see whether the present organisation of local government in the Greater London area permitted the skill, energy and devotion of members and officers to achieve the maximum advantage to the community.
Now, as my noble friend Lord Walde-grave pointed out, the Committee approached this matter with a prejudice—I suppose people would say it was the characteristically British distrust of change for change's sake. Indeed, these are almost the very words which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, used in finishing the speech which we were all delighted to hear. They said that if an institution worked satisfactorily, their bias was in favour of leaving it alone; but they went on to say that their examination of the whole system of local government in London forced them to recommend the very important changes which the House has been discussing. Now as the House knows, and as my noble friend has said, 1091 the Government are studying the broad designs of the Commission's proposals. We have said, and everyone in this debate has agreed that we were right in saying, that ewe shall not come to conclusions until we have had an opportunity to examine the views for which we have asked the local authorities, and which we hope to get in the three months' period, as to the general pattern, as my noble friend Lord Waldegrave said. But until that time the Government have been greatly assisted by this debate. It has been very helpful, and they will give the most careful attention to the views expressed.
May I just pick up some of the points? My noble friend Lord Mersey asked me two questions. The first was: are the Government going to set up Commissions to consider the other great conurbations? My Lords, these are being reviewed by the Local Government Commission for England, which was set up under the Local Government Act, 1958. And I draw my noble friend's attention to this point: that that Commission had especially wide powers to make recommendations both as regards boundaries and as regards functions (I think this is the point which was important to his mind) in their reviews of five named special review areas—the conurbations in Birmingham and the Black Countryside, Tyneside, the West Riding, South Lancashire and Merseyside. I have stated the English ones because there are no special review areas in Wales. It is important that, in regard to the conurbations, they can report both as to functions as well as to boundaries, and we hope to get the same sort of information in this part of their Report.
The second question was: what is the next step? Well, I think he will agree that I cannot answer this question until the Government have made their decision or decisions on the Report generally. But I should like to say this: that if they accept the Report it will require legislation, and, of course, the modern practice as to legislation is that you make consultations and get views before the Bill takes its final shape. So that would be the next step. I think it will be clear from what I say in a moment that undue delay in coming to a decision would be a serious matter. I should like to develop that point. I think 1092 these were the two matters which my noble friend wanted answered, and I am glad to have dealt with them.
My noble friends Lord Cornwallis on behalf of Kent, and Lord Auckland, on behalf of Surrey, really developed the case for these counties, which would, under the scheme, lose parts of their areas to the Greater Authority. I should like to assure them that everything they have said will, of course, be given attention, and the points that they had in mind both as to the administration and as to the financial consequences will also be studied. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, took up a point on which, indeed, my noble friend Lord Waldegrave had touched—and it is one which affects the general result of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. One argument which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, used was to say, "Well, if you do this for London you are committed on all the other conurbations"— those which I have just mentioned in answer to my noble friend Lord Mersey. But Lord Douglas of Barloch pointed out, and the Commissioners pointed out, that the problems are not the same. It is worth reading just two or three lines of paragraph 10, where they say:The problems we have to consider are the problems of vigorous growth, the growth of a living organism which has earned a better title than the cold, ugly, and, in this instance misleading, term 'conurbation'.It is misleading, they say, because the growth of London is organic to that extent; and the others, of course, come from many different roots. I think that is an important point, and it leads directly to the consideration of the point which was worrying the noble Viscount, Lord Gage—namely, that when you endeavour to export populations into new towns, overspill areas, and the like, and then London fills up again, what are you going to do?
My Lords, that is rather more a problem of, first, economic development and, secondly, planning for the population, than of the actual machinery of local government. It is a problem which is admitted by everyone I have known who has been in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, in whatever form it has existed during my political lifetime, to be a very difficult one. But at the moment, I feel it is a problem to be 1093 approached in that national way rather than a problem which can be solved by a different form of government. However, may I assure the noble Viscount that I will especially speak to Mr. Brooke about it and ask him to see whether, in his view, the two matters are really interconnected. I doubt it; but I shall be pleased to do that.
I should like to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. Although, like everyone else, I regret that he did not give evidence before the Roy al Commission, I have had the advantage of reading the evidence, and I have in front of me the evidence bearing his signature. It is the evidence of the London Labour Party which he signed as treasurer, and therefore I am sure he took a principal part in preparing it. I should like to tell him that I have read that evidence with the greatest of care. I have read the Minutes of Evidence given by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, Mr. Gibson and Mr. Robshaw, on behalf of the London Labour Party.
I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, is not here, because I should have liked to tell him personally that I have probably cross-examined a greater variety of notables in the course of Amy life than any other living person, and I think I should find the noble Lord, Lord Latham, as hard as any of them. But that only goes to show how well grounded was the evidence which he gave. As I say, I have read all that evidence. I have also read what I might call almost a great document of State—the article which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, contributed to theEvening News; so I think he will agree that I have done my homework.
With all that in front of them, the Commission make these points—and this is the aspect which the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, developed. There are really seven points, but I ant going to read only three or four lines of each. I do so because I think it would be quite wrong for this debate to go without these inclusions being placed on the Record and into people's minds. The first appears at the foot of page 175, paragraph 675, which is as follows:The first and perhaps the most outstanding fact is the bad effect which a long period of 1094 uncertainty has had on the morale of local government. The policy of successive Governments both as to local government in the country at large and as to local government in Greater London has undergone successive changes of direction and emphasis over many years.Then the Report goes on to discuss county boroughs. As a subsidiary to that (this is not one of the points, but it must be stated), in paragraph 679, on page 177 of the Report, they say:It is no accident that we find ourselves forced in effect to arrange the counties so far as the relationships between their county and county district councils are concerned in the following order: Surrey—good; Kent—medium; Essex—indifferent; Middlesex—bad.I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, will understand, but I do not think that is inconsistent with what I have said: it is saying, in effect, that with the present set-up there is no real opportunity for giving the best form of government to the people.
The second point appears in paragraph 682 and is as follows:The second fact to which we refer is that the various transfers of powers which took place as a result of post-war legislation have had a had effect upon the health of local government.The third point is paragraph 687, on the next page:Another consequence of the fact that the various transfers we have referred to were carried outseriatimwithout regard to their total effect upon local government has been to require joint or co-operative action in a variety of forms between authorities at different levels of activity, and this is our third point. This is the origin of the system of delegation in town and country planning and in education and of the system of joint appointments by county and county district council in the personal health services. We have referred to these devices as papering over the cracks 'and we believe that to be an apt term. Apart from the administrative inconveniences of these devices they have had Kid effects upon the morale of local government.Then point number 4, paragraph 688:The fourth fact to which we refer is that the erosion of powers and the irritations arising out of the practice of delegation have seriously lowered the status of the boroughs and other county districts in the eyes of potential councillors of ability and ambition.The fifth point (I do not know whether the noble Baroness had this in mind; she may well have had) appears in the next paragraph, paragraph 689: 1095The fifth fact to which we refer is that the extraordinary complication of local government in Greater London is confusing to the electors and seems to induce in their minds a sort of fatalism, unless they can be whipped up by one or other of the political parties to vote on a national or quasi-national issue.The sixth point is paragraph 690:The sixth fact to which we refer is that county councils on the one hand, and county district councils on the other, are manned to a large extent by councillors drawn from different strata of the community…That is not social strata: it is the division between those who are doing an external job and those who, either by retirement or other conditions, are not.
My Lords, those are the bases of the conclusions to which the Royal Commission come. I am not saying whether these are right or not, but I am saying that no Government which claims to be worthy of the name of Government could have a Report putting these serious matters before them, which I have read out in the last few minutes, and not give them grave and serious consideration. Therefore, as I say, it is impossible to indicate what the reactions will be to the recommendations, and I cannot comment further on these points. Where any noble Lord, as he is perfectly entitled to do, has taken an attitude on some of these points, we shall bear in mind, among all other considerations, the fact that the points are supported by the noble Lord.
My Lords, I should like to conclude with a quotation from the noble Lord's own book, How London is Governed.One chapter reviews recent changes in local government functions and discusses the administrative advantages and disadvantages of larger units as against smaller units. That chapter concludes: 1096Let the argument proceed. It is well that it should. And may the right solution ultimately emerge.I venture to re-echo those sentiments, in this context. Discussion and argument can only help towards the right solution. Alternative proposals may well be put forward; it is right that all the possible choices should be considered. But it is to be emphasised, as the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, and I have tried to point out, that the problems discovered and set out by the Royal Commission will not fade away simply by being left alone. Indeed, prolonged uncertainty would itself be harmful to local government. The Government's consideration of these matters must take some time, and must be full, careful and cautious. Equally, there must not be unnecessary delay in coming to our conclusions.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, it is quite clear that if and when the Government embody the Royal Commission's Report in legislation the Bill will 'have a long and troublesome passage. I will not enter into further debate at this late hour, as your Lordships sometimes say, because we have to depart hence, especially as the other place has already departed. We have beaten them this time. would thank the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor for the courtesy of his reply, which does not surprise me, because the Lord Chancellor has always been very courteous. I would thank all noble Lords who have been present at the debate and those who have taken part. We can all agree that it has been a useful debate; and what is, above all, clear is that it has not been on strictly Party lines on either side. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.