§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD SWANSEA
My Lords, I must apologise in advance if I am unable to stay until the end of this debate, as I shortly have another engagement. I will try to follow the example of previous speakers who have made their speeches commendably short; I hope I shall not keep your Lordships long. I am a little surprised to see that I am the only Back-Bencher on this side of the House on the list of speakers, for I had hoped that there would have been more speakers in this debate.
I intend to deal solely with the Report of the Local Government Commission of Wales. This Commission produced their draft recommendations in May, 1961, and immediately came under very heavy fire from all quarters. Inquiries were held and the Commission retired for another period of agonising reappraisal. They came out of retreat again only last year with their final recommendations, and although this is not really the occasion for a discussion of the details of these proposals I could go on for quite a long time. At any rate, I should like to make one or two remarks about them.
164 In the draft proposals the thirteen existing counties in Wales were reduced to five enormous super-counties. In the final proposals they now envisage seven new counties; two or three of the existing counties will remain substantially unchanged and the remainder will be rehashed—I think that is the only word for it—into aggregations of counties and bits of counties. I cannot see that these proposals are any improvement on the previous ones. In fact, I could say that the last state is worse than the first.
The opposition to these proposals has been almost universal among local authorities in Wales. In fact, the clerk of one county council went so far as to describe them as "diabolical". I must refer to a speech which I made in your Lordships' House some eighteen months ago when we debated the Report on Government action in Wales. I should like to repeat briefly some of the points I made then. One was that local government, to be truly efficient, must preserve its local character, especially down at district council level. I myself have the honour to serve on a district council, and every member of that council has the most intimate knowledge not only of his own area but of the whole of the council's area, which is fairly large. That intimate local knowledge is one of the mainstays of local government at the lower levels, and it remains true at the county level, too. I feel sure that any moves aimed at increasing the size of administrative counties can be only to the detriment of efficient local government in those areas. Increased size will involve increased travelling for the members, all of whom serve of their own free will; and they are not paid, although they are, of course, entitled to claim travelling expenses. So there is a very great strain on the time and the good will of councillors if they have to spend half their time travelling, when they could be doing something very much more useful and productive.
These local authorities have a great local pride in their own areas and a great loyalty to them. The larger a local government body becomes, the more impersonal it becomes; and the greater the distance at which the government is carried out, the greater the danger of the authority's losing touch with the conditions in the outlying areas 165 and with the wishes of the inhabitants of those areas. I should like to put forward a plea, for the retention so far as possible, of the existing local government areas, in order that we can preserve truly local government in the best sense of the word. It may be thought, from the very fact that this Local Government Commission has been set up, that some local authorities are failing in their duty to the inhabitants of their areas, but I have yet to learn that that has been proved by anyone. I believe that every county council and district council in Wales can justly be proud of its record in the administration of its area. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government will be able to give some indication of when the inquiries into the Report of this Commission are to be held, because I can assure him that everybody in Wales, certainly in mid-Wales, who is concerned in local government there has plenty of ammunition and is ready and waiting, for the chance to use it.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ LORD BURDEN
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, for initiating this debate. I think it may be interesting if I recall the statement made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Kilmuir (as he then was), when Lord Chancellor, in introducing what is now the Local Government Act, 1958. I quote his words [OFFICIAL REPORT, VOI. 209, cols. 632–633]:I would also invite your Lordships' attention to the safeguards which the Bill provides to ensure that these reviews, whether by Commissions or by county councils, cannot result in hasty or arbitrary changes smuggled through without Parliamentary discussion or proper scrutiny. I have tried to epitomise this because it is a point of importance. There are, first of all, the questions of the independence and stature of the Commission, subject only to guidance as to the general considerations which the Commissioners must take into account. This guidance will be given in regulations approved by Parliament under Clause 36; secondly, their consultation with local authorities; and thirdly, the requirement to put out provisional conclusions and hear comment before making their final proposals. Then there is the further requirement that the Minister, in turn, must make the final conclusions and reports known, and must hear objections, probably by way of public inquiry. Finally, there is the Parliamentary control of any action which the Minister may take.166 I venture to suggest to your Lordships that it is against the background of that statement that we ought to consider this problem this afternoon.
I do not for one moment suggest that the procedure which the Local Government Commission for England follow is unfair in any way, or that the authorities concerned have not been given a proper chance to put forward their views and any proposals which they may have for the reorganisation of their respective areas. It is inevitable that reorganisation will produce recommendations which are positively disliked by at least some of those who are adversely affected by the loss of status or territory equally, there is bound to be disappointment among those with hopes of promotion or of enlargement of area when they are not conceded. This, however, is in the nature of things, and unless local government is to remain for ever fixed in its present structure, and imprisoned within the existing boundaries, some change must be accepted, however distasteful this may be to some.
The two Statutory Orders which your Lordships have just considered are no doubt welcomed by both Luton and Solihull. We may perhaps congratulate them on their promotion to county borough status. But it is interesting to notice that the Municipal Year Book for 1964, printed long before it was known this debate was to take place, states:On April 1, 1964, Luton is likely to become a county borough with full powers".And, so far as Solihull is concerned, the Year Book states:The Minister of Housing and Local Government has announced his intention to constitute Solihull a county borough".I hope it is not to be inferred from those statements that it is thought that Parliament is simply a rubber stamp for decisions which have been reached by Ministers. I am fully aware of the fact that your Lordships cannot amend Statutory Rules and Orders nor is it our policy to reject an Order. I would therefore suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, might have asked for something more, and I would put it that your Lordships are entitled to something more, than Parliament is getting at the present time, both in another place and 167 in your Lordships' House, in regard to these Orders.
The two Orders to which I have referred are the first which have come before your Lordships arising out of the work of the Commission. Of course, we have had legislation. We have had the iniquitous reforms of the London Government Bill, which has of course effected such a change in Greater London, and the details of which are in your Lordships' minds through the recent debates. But I understand the position to be that the Local Government Commissions have recommended—and their recommendations have been accepted by the Minister of Housing and Local Government—first, that the boroughs of Luton and Solihull be created county boroughs; and, secondly, that the county borough of Burton become a non-county borough. The Minister has also accepted proposals for the inclusion of, inter alia, certain non-county boroughs in the five reorganised county boroughs in the Black Country area of the West Midlands conurbation, but I understand the Minister is unable to proceed with any action until some legal proceedings have been concluded. The non-county boroughs concerned are Bilston, Rowley Regis, Tipton and Wednesbury, in Staffordshire, and Oldbury, in Worcestershire.
The following proposals of the Local Government Commissions have not been approved or otherwise by the Minister: that the borough of Cheltenham be created a county borough; the creation of Torbay county borough, including the non-county borough of Torquay; the creation of a Tees-side county borough of Middlesbrough and the non-county boroughs of Redcar, Stockton-on-Tees and Thornaby-on-Tees; the creation of a Tyneside continuous county, with four boroughs, in which would be included the county boroughs of Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, South Shields and Tynemouth, and the non-county boroughs of Jarrow, Wallsend and Whitley Bay; the amalgamation of the county borough of West Hartlepool and the non-county borough of Hartlepool; the county boroughs of Merthyr Tydfil and Worcester to become non-county boroughs.
But, as I have said, I understand that there are also draft proposals that the county boroughs of Barnsley, Great Yar 168 mouth and Wakefield become non-county boroughs; for the creation of a new county borough to include the county borough of Dewsbury and the non-county boroughs of Batley, Ossett and Spenborough; and for the extension of the county borough of Grimsby to include the greater part of the non-county borough of Cleethorpes. The summary which I have just ventured to give to your Lordships does not include proposed alterations in boundaries not affecting the status of other municipalities, or proposals in county reviews affecting the status of non-county boroughs.
My Lords, I understand, too, that there are proposals for administrative councils, three in number: Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely; Huntingdonshire and Peterborough—both of which proposals have been accepted by the Minister—and bringing together the parts of Kesteven and Holland in Lincolnshire, to form one county—which is a draft proposal of the Commission. I am told—and this is germane to this debate—that there is considerable dissatisfaction in the Isle of Ely at the prospect of being joined with Cambridgeshire. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has accepted the Commission's recommendation that Burton-on-Trent should become a non-county borough. Burton, I believe, is most unhappy about this. At the moment, no effective, active steps seem to have been taken to implement this decision. I am also informed (and this may interest the noble Lord, Lord Brecon) that there is considerable dissatisfaction in Wales in regard to the proposed rearrangement of the counties in Wales.
My Lords, it seems to me that, with these changes in local government structure to which I have referred—and undoubtedly there are more to come—there ought to be something more than the submission to Parliament of a Statutory Rule and Order giving effect to what has been decided by the Minister following the work of the Commission. I would suggest for serious consideration that we ought to have a White Paper, or at least an Explanatory Memorandum, setting forth what has happened in regard to objections, and so on, in the case of each one of these Statutory Rules and Orders, in regard to the changes which have taken place. 169 If a Memorandum or White Paper can show that all parties have reached agreement, that will be all right, and your Lordships will at least have the knowledge that you are giving effect to at any rate the wishes of the representatives of the people concerned.
I am in no way challenging the good faith or work of the Local Government Commission; nor do I in any way reflect upon the good faith of the Minister. But, after all, we have been told ad nauseam that Parliament is supreme; that these Orders are of no effect until Parliament has had the opportunity of considering them and reaching a decision. Therefore, I suggest that we ought to be given more than a speech by a Minister telling us about something which we have to accept there and then. We ought to have before us the result of detailed consideration by the Local Government Commission of each one of these problems, setting forth, as I have said, the objections, why they have been overruled and so forth. Then, at least, we shall reach a decision, one way or the other, with a full knowledge of all the circumstances of the case.
My Lords, I may be out of order in saying this, but I understand that when an Order comes before Parliament it can be only approved or disapproved; it cannot be amended.
My Lords, having been brought up in local Government for many years, I suppose I have been brought up to be as suspicious of Whitehall as any of my colleagues; but I feel bound to say—and my memory goes back to 1949—that there seems to be invariably the same course of events. A Commission is set up with general approval. Its terms of reference are put before Parliament and no one objects. Nevertheless, when these Commissions make any recommendation of any substance there is nearly always violent execration of their recommendations. Perhaps, that may be inevitable—I do not know—but I feel that when these Commissions are set up, if we do not in Parliament have more regard to the terms of what these Commissions are supposed to do, I am afraid we may find that the eminent ladies and gentlemen who sit on these Commissions will not in future find it worth their while to 170 spend all the labour and time that they do. No doubt many of the recommendations they are making are of a very contentious character; but at the same time I feel that somebody ought to express some sympathy with what these Commissions try to do. If in future they are to make nothing but minor alterations, Parliament should say so at the beginning, and not after they have completed their work.
My Lords, may I ask a question? In the case of my own county there are four minor alterations to the boundaries; in each case we are to get a bit more. I should like to know whether each of these alterations will be the subject of a special Order or whether they will all be amalgamated in one Order.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I know we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, for giving us the opportunity of spending a few minutes on the work of the Local Government Commissions in England and Wales. It is, of course, rather difficult to debate the whole subject while the work is still going on, and naturally, therefore, noble Lords have tended to dwell on individual case histories which have caused some controversies. Obviously, in the nature of things I cannot be expected to answer in detail all these points which have been dealt with so fully in the procedure followed out by the Commission and all connected with it, but I think as a debate it will serve a most useful purpose if I may go back to the beginning, further back than the noble Lord, Lord Meston, in his references to the background.
The present round of local government reorganisation started with the Government White Paper on Area and Status of Local Authorities in England and Wales, published in 1956. That set out the Government's conclusions on the need for reorganisation of local government and was largely based on the agreed views of the local authority associations. Since the present system of local government was established in the late nineteenth century, there have been very far-reaching changes in the size and distribution of population, in the extent of industry, in the scope and cost of local government services, in the speed of communication 171 and in the relationship between central and local government. The present system has, in spite of this, stood up to the severest tests over many years. It responded well to the extraordinary demands of war-time conditions and has on the whole shown itself capable of adaptation to changing circumstances. Moreover, it is firmly established, and the local loyalties, to which the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, referred, and civic pride which have grown up with it are a source of strength. In the Government's view there is no case for overthrowing the existing form of local government—
§ A NOBLE LORD: Except in London.
§ LORD HASTINGS
—but modernisation is needed, and that is what the Government have embarked upon.
The main problems to be considered are the future organisation of the conurbations. This really is perhaps the most important task of all. But there are also the questions of county borough status and area, an examination of county areas, and a review of the county districts. As the House will know, the Local Government Act, 1958, established two Local Government Commissions, one for England and one for Wales, to review most of these local government problems. Greater London, has, of course, been the subject of separate consideration and legislation. On the other hand, the review of county district government has, for the most part, been left to the county councils.
In the general review areas and in Wales—that is, for all areas outside the conurbations—the Commissions are empowered to propose changes in the areas of counties and county boroughs, to propose the creation of new county boroughs and the conversion of existing county boroughs to be non-county boroughs, if necessary. As regards the review of county districts, the county councils must begin their task as soon as the pattern of county and county borough government has been settled as a result of the Commission's work. In the conurbations, which are termed special review areas, the Local Government Commission for England is required to carry out a comprehensive review of local government, examining not only counties and county boroughs, 172 but also county districts. Where the Commission conclude that the right course is to propose the creation of a continuous urban county in these areas they may go on to recommend what the distribution of functions should be between the county and the second-tier authorities.
An example of a special review area is Tyneside, mentioned by Lord Meston and the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. Here the Commission have proposed the establishment of a Tyneside county council with four boroughs, and they have recommended a distribution of functions which would give the county council the necessary powers where the integration of services is necessary or where planning and organisation on a large scale are of special importance. The borough councils would provide all purely local services, including education, health and welfare services. They would share responsibility with the county council for town and country planning, sewerage, highways, housing and civil defence. The county council would be solely responsible, however, for traffic management, police, fire, ambulances and airports.
As the Commission see it, Tyneside is an integrated area with a high degree of urban unity which requires, for some purposes at least, a unity of local government. They recognise the wider community of the North-East, but think that Tyneside is a clearly distinguishable part. In their view, its internal links are stronger and more significant than those which link the areas on either bank of the river with their county hinterland.
Durham County Council believe this to be a mistaken view and emphasise the dividing character of the River Tyne. They think that the right solution would be for the proposed boroughs North and South of the Tyne to be in Durham and Northumberland respectively. Gateshead—and South Shields and Tyne-mouth too—think that a Tyneside county council is unnecessary and that the area could well be administered by four county boroughs. Newcastle are seeking a single county borough for the whole of Tyneside. I think the noble Lord, Lord Meston, made reference in his speech to Kenton Bankfoot, which is situated in Castle Ward rural district just outside the present Newcastle 173 boundary. As the noble Lord gave me notice of this point I have made a note of it. The Commission, in their draft proposals, recommended that it should be included in the proposed borough of Newcastle. There was a good deal of opposition, on the grounds that the community was a rural community, with an independent life of its own. The Commission subsequently changed their view about Kenton Bankfoot and thought the development here would remain isolated from Newcastle and should be left in Northumberland. No one has objected to this final recommendation. That clearly demonstrates the value of the procedure: first, the draft proposal; then representations, and a final proposal, followed by the public inquiry. The Tyneside proposals are now before the Minister and he is arranging a local inquiry into objections to start towards the end of March. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the issues more than I have done already. The inquiry, of course, will offer full scope for considering not only objections to the proposed organisation of Tyneside, but also objections about detailed matters.
This seems to me an appropriate moment to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Lawson (whom it is always a pleasure to hear), said about the importance of information being available and of making sure that the public know what is going on. I entirely agree with that; but, of course, these reports are published and are available to the public. I am not suggesting that many people are likely to buy them, but they are available, and naturally all the people who are actively interested in these proposals do acquire them. The whole procedure I have outlined ensures that there is plenty of opportunity for the public to be informed of what is going on.
As for Jarrow, there should be no doubt as to what is proposed. It is proposed that Jarrow should be joined with South Shields, on the one side, and Hebburn, on the other, as one of the four new boroughs. It would be one of the two on the South side of the Tyne, the other being Gateshead with Felling.
§ LORD LAWSON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is quite 174 sure that the full explanation is given in such a way that it reaches the public through the newspapers?
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, when the final proposals are reached, Press notices are issued. Of course, the reports themselves are available to the Press, and I assume that they would get hold of them quickly and summarise their contents. I cannot believe that this is not done. We issue Press notices for the use of the Press, broadcasting and television, so that there is no excuse why the public should not be informed generally, and, in particular, why the local interests on the spot should not be informed. As I say, in the case of Jarrow there should be no doubt at all about what are the final proposals. I think that it should also be known that Jarrow itself does not object to the final proposals.
In regard to Durham County Council, my noble friend behind me has pointed out that it is impossible to produce reports which will not be contentious, and the noble Lord, Lord Burden, said the same thing. But the procedure is designed to give the maximum scope for threshing the whole matter out over a long period, as, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Burden, said; and he quoted what my noble and learned friend Lord Kilmuir said when these Commissions were set up. The safeguards are very extensive and the opportunities for discussion and debate, for objection and inquiry, are long-drawn out and thorough indeed.
Naturally, some local authorities are still going to be disappointed. In the case of Durham, population and rateable value might be lost. But we must compare the final results with the existing and the proposed conditions for other counties and then it will be seen that Durham would not come off so badly as might be supposed. But really the time to discuss this in greater detail is when an Order, which would be based on the Commission's final proposals and the results of the public inquiry, comes before your Lordships' House.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I put this point to the noble Lord? I have no quarrel with what he is saying, but he has referred to the fact that the inquiries will be long-drawn-out and 175 thorough. I would draw his attention to the fact that this is a very expensive matter for the local authorities concerned. It may well be that Jarrow has not objected simply because it is not in a position to incur the considerable expense involved. I understand that this inquiry may well last four or five weeks, and maybe longer, and the noble Lord has enough experience to know that this imposes a heavy burden. I wonder whether the Minister really appreciates this, and whether something could be done, by way of assistance to local authorities or otherwise, to reduce the expense to the local authorities concerned, so that this does not act as a deterrent to their putting forward their point of view.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, the noble Lord has put forward an interesting point. Actually, when I said "long-drawn-out", I did not mean to refer to the inquiries, but to the whole procedure over two or three years.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I should like to go into this and see what the conditions are and what, if anything, could be done about it. I appreciate the point that the noble Lord has made.
I was dealing with the special review areas and gave the example of Tyneside, because it was mentioned in several speeches. But when dealing with this question of conurbations, we have to bear in mind that local conditions are far from identical, and it is not surprising, therefore, if different solutions are found to be appropriate for different areas. The Local Government Commission have recognised this. For instance, in the West Midlands they have made proposals for a pattern of five county boroughs in the Black Country in place of the existing nineteen authorities—counties, county boroughs and county districts—at present responsible for its administration. That is a different solution from the overall county proposed for Tyneside. In the particular economic, social and geographical circumstances of the Black Country, the Commission thought that this solution had practical advantages and their proposals were accepted by my right 176 honourable friend, after a full inquiry into the objections.
I think that is really the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who spoke about Luton and asked whether the Government had any particular preference for one or another approach. The answer is, No. The Commission come to their own conclusions, put forward their proposals and the Minister decides accordingly.
Turning now to the general review areas, the broad objective here remains the same as in the conurbations: to make local government more effective and more convenient; to improve and modernise it, so that it is better fitted to serve local communities and the country as a whole in the next few decades. Again, there is no uniform solution. Different parts of the country have different requirements. In areas such as Luton and Solihull, we believe that the single-tier, all-purpose authority provides the best means of blending effectiveness with convenience. It is a matter of judgment which system is most suited to the needs of particular areas.
I should now like to say something about the progress made by the Commissions. The Local Government Commission for England have now presented reports to the Minister for six review areas, and the report on the West Yorkshire Special Review Area should be published next month. This represents rather more than half their task, and with the publication of a further two reports—for York and the North Midlands, and for Lincolnshire and East Anglia—the Commission will be on the last lap by the beginning of 1965. They will be left with the examination of local government in the North-West and the South-East. The problems of local government in the North-West are complicated, involving, as they do, the two special review areas of Merseyside and South-East Lancashire in addition to the North-Western General Review Area, covering Cumberland and Westmorland and the remainder of Lancashire and Cheshire. The Commission have been engaged in studying these areas for some while now, but they still have a good deal of work ahead.
Finally, there is the South-East of England, an area which covers twelve counties stretching from Dorset to Essex. 177 This area has been left to the last so that the Commission may investigate the Home Counties after the reorganisation of local government in Greater London has taken place. Bearing in mind the complex problems of the North-West and the South-East, it is quite likely that the Commission's last report will not be ready for another two or three years.
The Local Government Commission for Wales have concluded their investigations and presented their final report. Their proposals, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Swansea, envisage a reduction in the number of counties from 13 to 7, the conversion of a county borough to be a non-county borough and extensions in varying degree to Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. There has been a considerable volume of objection to these proposals, and I am sure the House will not expect me to comment on these proposals, which are now officially before the Minister. I understand, however, that a local inquiry into objections to the extension of Cardiff is to begin at the end of this month. Beyond that I cannot give my noble friend any detailed information.
The noble Lord, Lord Meston, referred to the composition of the Commission and seemed to think that it is formed entirely or largely of civil servants. The Local Government Commission for England have only one former civil servant—the chairman. The full-time deputy chairman was formerly a practising barrister. The other two full-time members are former local authority chief officers. The remaining members are part-time: one is an economist, a professor; and the other a lady and former chairman of a county council. It will be seen that the Commissioners are eminent and distinguished men and women who, between them, have a wide experience of administration and local government.
While it is true that the Commission may begin one of their reviews with no particular local knowledge, they rapidly steep themselves in local facts and history during the course of their investigations. Local authorities and other public bodies are asked for representations. The Commission send out questionnaires, as well. They interview local authorities. These interviews take place in London, in the first place, and then they visit the 178 areas of the authorities to see for themselves at first hand. Local authorities are encouraged to speak freely, and if the Commission are left in ignorance on some matter, it is not for want of asking. Later, of course, the Commission publish draft proposals and meet local authorities and other public bodies at conferences acid at a local centre. That is the second stage. Quite apart from the local authorities, however, the Commission also get a great deal of information and suggestions from other organisations. One has only to look, for instance, at the relevant appendices in the Tyneside report to see what a large number of bodies made suggestions or put forward representations: for example, the Gateshead Local Medical Committee, the Newcastle-on-Tyne Women Civics Committee, the Northern Architectural Association, the Whitley Bay and District Hotel and Boarding House Association.
The great strength of the Commission is their detachment and impartiality. They endeavour—and pretty successfully—to steer clear of local conflicts and pressures. The idea of co-opting local representatives for the study of each area, which was put forward by the noble Lord who moved the Motion, is. I think, open to a number of objections. Either the representatives would be members of local councils, and then there would be charges, or, at least suspicions, of bias, local loyalties and so on; or else they would not be connected with local government, in which case it would be said that they knew nothing of its problems. There would also be the difficulty that the two representatives added temporarily to the Commission would be handicapped by their lack of previous experience of the Commission's work. With great respect to the noble Lord's sincerity, I do not think he has made out a case for changing or adding to the composition of the Commission. Indeed, his complaint was more in the form of a generalisation, and was not, I think, supported by any actual evidence.
I have said something about the progress the Commissions have made. Now I should like to mention the result of the Government's consideration of the Commission's reports. I have already referred briefly to Wales. As regards England, the Minister of Housing and Local Government has announced decisions on nearly all proposals contained 179 in the first three reports of the Commission on the East and West Midlands. This afternoon, we have been considering the promotion of Luton and Solihull. In addition, Orders for the amalgamation of the counties of Huntingdonshire and the Soke of Peterborough, and of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, will shortly be laid before this House. These Orders will be subject to Affirmative Resolutions, and I think it would be better that I should discuss them then, rather than attempt to reply to one or two points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, to-day.
Orders will also be laid this year for the conversion of Burton-upon-Trent to be a non-county borough, and for the extension of the county boroughs of Coventry, Northampton and Stoke-on-Trent, and for certain minor changes in the boundaries of a number of Midlands counties. The Minister's decisions on all these proposals have been announced. I also mentioned earlier that the Commission's proposals for a pattern of five county boroughs for the Black Country had been accepted; but any Order must await the outcome of the action brought in the High Court against the Ministry by five West Midlands district councils on procedural grounds. As for the remaining three reports already published, local inquiries are now being held, or will shortly be held, into objections to the Commission's proposals for the South-West and for Tyneside. Those for the rest of the North-East will come along a little later. The Minister hopes to settle one way or the other the future of local government in these areas in the next twelve months or so.
Perhaps I may now turn for a moment, in conclusion, to a few of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, who I think largely expressed satisfaction in his speech that the safeguards mentioned by my noble and learned friend Lord Kilmuir had worked out pretty well. He acknowledged the difficulty of producing reports which are agreeable to all the authorities concerned. At the same time, he expressed some criticism and concern, on the ground that Parliament was perhaps not being consulted sufficiently. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, said, that this sort of Order is not amenable to amendment; but it is subject 180 to approval, and if it is not approved—and of course Parliament has the authority not to approve it—then the Government have to take it back and try to get some other form of solution. But, as my noble friend Lord Gage has said, that would be a discouragement, at least, to the prolonged and thorough work of the Local Government Commission. I do not say that for this reason Parliament should never take that step if it were thought to be necessary. But in view of the tremendous procedure which has been gone through over a period of two or three years, the many opportunities given to the public and everybody interested, including, naturally, Members of Parliament, during the period to know what is going on, and to find out and study these matters, and, as a result, to make representations to the Commission or at the inquiries, and, of course, direct to my right honourable friend in correspondence, I feel that Parliament is not being treated at all cavalierly in this respect.
Of course, I will put forward to my right honourable friend the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Burden, that, even so, there might be room for some intermediate procedure, such as publishing a summary of proposals in the form of a memorandum or White Paper, which might make it easier for noble Lords and honourable Members in another place to study these matters. I will put that suggestion forward and see what happens, but I do not think there is excuse for saying that Parliament is not being treated with respect in this matter.
I should like to join in the tributes paid by the noble Lord who moved this Motion to the members of the Commission. They have done, and are doing, remarkable work. It is a prodigious labour, and anybody who reads the reports must find them quite fascinating. If one starts on one's own area (I think that is the best idea), one immediately becomes interested; and I must say that, having read one report, I felt a compelling desire to read the others. I think the work the Commissions perform is quite magnificent, and of the greatest value. I hope that noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and those who have kindly listened to 181 it, will feel that it has been worth while, and that they have received a reasonable, reasoned and comprehensive reply from the Government at this midway stage of the reorganisation of local government throughout the country.
My Lords, I did ask the noble Lord a question as to whether every change would be made separately, or whether the whole lot would be put through together. In my own county there will be four alterations in the boundary, affecting two other counties besides mine. Will they form one Order or four Orders?
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I am sorry that I inadvertently overlooked the question. However, I did say that, speaking of Wales, I could not give my noble friend any more detailed information about inquiries at all. The only one which is being brought is the one in respect of the extension of Cardiff. My right honourable friend is still considering the whole matter of the report and the form in which inquiries should take place. I am afraid that I cannot give an answer to-day.
My Lords, I am not concerned with inquiries—I am concerned with the form of the Orders. That is what I asked the noble Lord.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I am afraid we cannot anticipate Orders until the inquiries have taken place. That is the point.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, I speak now by courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, to whom I, with, I am sure, the whole House, am obliged for having initiated this debate this afternoon, which has turned out to be one of some importance. We are also grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the comprehensive reply which he has been good enough to give. I do not wish to say very much. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the Minister does not confer with the Commission and does not influence their report at all. Of course, I do not wish to contradict him if he says that, but I am not quite sure. I should be surprised if there were not contact at some point between the Minister or his officers 182 and the Commission. I am rather confirmed in that view by my belief that there is a philosophy on general local government outlook behind these reports.
If we take Tyneside, as I said before, this proposal for a continuous county and the demotion of the county boroughs from county boroughs to most purpose authorities, and the absorption of some others in the larger county boroughs, bears a remarkable similarity to the Greater London idea in principle. Of course, the Greater London idea in principle was anticipated by the London Municipal Society some time ago, for political reasons, and the composition of the Greater London Commission was calculated to produce the result that the London Municipal Society wanted, and therefore the result that the Ministry wanted, especially in the days of Mr. Henry Brooke, who had sworn that he would kill the London County Council before he was done.
I say the Tees-side proposal is similar to the Greater London Scheme in principle. That is not to say it is wrong, but it bears a remarkable resemblance. And, by the way, for the information of noble Lords who may not know it, these reports of the Commission are obtainable in the Printed Paper Office. I have had them, and I have read them, and I agree with the Minister that they make interesting and informative reading, whether you agree with them or not. The views of the local authorities, whether for or against, are summarised in those reports.
A point has been put to me by my noble friend Lord Silkin that it may be useful if, before we get to this stage of approving or disapproving of a ministerial Order, we have a preliminary debate on the report before the Minister has made up his mind—in other words, to discuss this in general. It might or might not influence the Minister's mind. I can see an objection to that, not so much in this House, but on the part of the Leader of another place, because it will mean that he is in trouble about his Parliamentary timetable if he has two debates instead of one. But, still, it is a suggestion which is worth thinking about, because at this point we have the Order and all the House can do is to say, "Yes" or "No". And it is all the House of Commons can do. There is 183 no possibility of amendment. I must admit that on the Greater London Bill we had a chance of moving Amendments, and we took advantage of it. These poor souls have no chance of that kind. It is a sheer Parliamentary, "Yes" or "No", and nothing else.
I have dealt with Tees-side, and now we come to the Midlands, where the proposals of the Commission are different, but still anti-county. They are anti-county on Tees-side, and anti-Durham. My noble friend does not like the way they are carving up Durham and making it bleed right the way across. Neither does the noble Lord, Lord Meston; and I can understand it. Northumberland is to lose a chunk, as, indeed, in the Greater London Bill, London and Middlesex are abolished and the counties surrounding it are cut up. So there is an anti-county bias running through the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. When one gets to the Midlands it manifests itself again. I am not asking everybody to agree with me about this, because there is more than one view about counties and county boroughs. I only say that where there is a bias it should be exposed, and I think it is here. Now coming to the Midlands, again the bias is for the creation of county boroughs. Logically, in the Midlands the report should have gone on the Tees-side model—
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I am obliged. It should have gone on a continuous county with some most purpose boroughs within it, but not in the Midlands. I think the Ministry and the Commission thought they had better think twice about having a fight on hand with the great City of Birmingham. It is easy to have a fight with Newcastle-upon-Tyne—it is not easy, but easier than with Birmingham. I would prophesy that when they come to South-East Lancashire, which has one of the greatest of our conurbation problems, they will have to think carefully about what they will do about Manchester and the surrounding area, or Liverpool. If ever a place liked a fight, even if there was nothing much to fight about, it is the city of Liverpool. They love it just as the Scots love an argument for the sake of it—and, bless their hearts! let them get on with it. There will be 184 a tussle there, and it will be interesting to see how the mind of the Ministry turns out about it. These are important things. It is true that the local authorities have opportunities for putting their point of view, and it is right that that should be so. On the other hand, I must say—it may be it cannot be helped, and I have some sympathy with them—that by the time the Parliamentary decision has been taken there is no point in moving Amendments. There is room for speeches, but the Whips will be on, and the thing will go through. So the local authorities are at considerable disadvantage.
My Lords, I think this has been a useful and interesting debate, which I was not sure it was going to be when the Motion was put down, but I think we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, and to the Minister for his observations. I will now retire and make way for the noble Lord, Lord Meston, to withdraw the Motion.
§ 5.1 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, for his very careful and comprehensive reply to my Motion, and I should also like to thank all the other noble Lords who have spoken on this subject. I think myself that the question of the amalgamation and alteration of local government areas is one of great importance. It means, in effect, that sometimes an area is largely expanded in size, whereas another area is virtually obliterated so far as its old identity is concerned. I hope that in every case local feeling, that is to say, local patriotism, will be properly regarded so long as it does not militate against efficiency.
On the question of Parliamentary control, I feel myself that we all sometimes talk about Parliamentary control with our tongue in our cheeks. It is a most wonderful and beautiful democratic statement, but how it works in practice is open to legitimate criticism. As noble Lords know, an Order of this description, and indeed most Orders, can be either approved or disapproved; they cannot be amended. In practice, when it comes to a vote, people do not vote against an Order merely because they think it should be amended in a few minor, or even major, details. They 185 either refrain from voting or vote in favour of the Order. This happens in the case of all Statutory Instruments and Regulations that come before Parliament, and I think the time will soon come when some half-way point between approval and disapproval will have to be thought out. But, as Kipling used to say, that is another question. In the meantime, I wish to thank the noble Lord very much indeed for his most courteous and helpful reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.