§ 2.51 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Order be approved. This is itself a long Order—I notice that it is so long that it costs 8s. net to buy a copy from the Stationery Office. It follows on discussions, consultations and disputes which have been going on ever since 1959. I should venture a guess that every conceivable point has been raised at least once in the course of those proceedings, and if I were to start trying to raise them again we should be here until Christmas, unless your Lordships were to take some summary steps with me before then. I hope that what I am going to do will meet the convenience of the House. First of all, I am going to say briefly what the Order is about. A distinguished friend of mine was once asked to write an article for an American journal—"400 words on the future; highlights only". This is "highlights only". Having done that, I am then going to justify what I have said just now about the length and the variety of the proceedings which have preceded the Order. Then I am going to sit down and hear which of the objections raised from time to time may appeal to your Lordships, since they may be raised again, and defer any answer to them until I see which they are.
819 The Order relates to a crowded industrial area North-West of Birmingham. For convenience, I will call it the "Black Country". It is the Black Country; but so are other parts of that, I was going to say "countryside", but that district. It stretches from Birmingham, which is down in the South-West corner of the area, up to and including Wolverhampton, and, if you take a line across from the South-East to the North-East, it stretches from Stourbridge up to and beyond Walsall. It is at present the seat of a mixed system of local government, of counties, county boroughs and urban districts—nineteen authorities altogether. The Order proposes that they should be replaced by five all-purpose authorities.
In order to effect that, the Order proposes substantial increases to five existing county boroughs. Of those existing county boroughs three have populations below 100,000, and their total population at present is under half a million. The increases will bring them up to populations of between 160,000 and 250,000—a better size, I suggest, for a county borough—and a total population of nearly one million. The result on the other side of the account will be the virtual elimination of five non-county boroughs and eight urban district councils.
This slaughter of the not-so-innocent was bound to produce a considerable degree of friction. I take the history of the matter quite shortly. The Local Government Commission started its review of this area in 1959, and in carrying it out, rightly and naturally followed the directions of the Local Government Act under which it was functioning. Accordingly, it began with investigations and consultations with all the local authorities concerned. Then there appeared these draft proposals. These, again, follow the scheme of things set out in the Act; and to those draft proposals there were, as might well have been expected, numerous representations. They are not, I think, called "objections" at that stage.
They were considered at a four-day conference in Wolverhampton which I might perhaps refer to as the first Wolverhampton conference. There was another later—at which 63 local authorities and other bodies attended and expressed their views; and in May, 1961, 820 the Local Government Commission, which so far had made no communication by way of a Report to the Minister, made its Report to him, and its definite proposals. Those proposals have been printed and published. Again, as one might have expected, they, too, elicited objectors, and three Inspectors were appointed.
They held an inquiry into the objections, and I think I might just quote one short paragraph from the Report which they finally made. It is paragraph 7 at page 3, and it says:The objections have been made not only vigorously, but voluminously. The Inquiry extended over three-and-a-half months; there were fifty daily hearings; 70 witnesses were called; 73 proofs of evidence submitted; 44 maps produced; 12 Queen's Counsel, 21 Counsel, and 2 Town Clerks examined, cross-examined and re-examined witnesses, and made closing speeches. The case submitted by the Staffordshire County Council alone lasted 10 days.Nobody can say that the matter was not discussed for quite a long time, and by many people.
Then these were the objections to the proposals. Next a Report was made by the Inspectors, and this, too, was presented on March 26, 1962. The then Minister of Housing and Local Government, Sir Keith Joseph, in July, 1962, made a decision in principle. He issued what is commonly called a "decision letter", accepting the broad conclusions of the Report. It was subject to some minor points. On November 26, 1962, he dealt with those minor points.
Then, on May 24, 1963, five of the urban districts concerned issued a Writ, as of course they were entitled to do, claiming that the local inquiry was irregular and invalid. This is the one in which 12 Queen's Counsel, 21 Counsel and 2 Town Clerks examined the witnesses.
This claim was heard by a Judge in the first instance, and the judgment was given on May 31 dismissing their claim. Nothing daunted, they proceeded to the Court of Appeal, which gave judgment on July 29, 1965. That did not frighten them. They then tried to appeal to your Lordships in your judicial capacity. They could not get leave to do that, and they were similarly unfortunate on a Petition to the Special Orders Committee of this House. The operative decision letter was made on June 30, 1965, on substantially 821 the same terms as the one which Sir Keith Joseph had made three years earlier, in 1962. It was made, of course, by my right honourable friend the present Minister. The decision letter is the first step, and the subsequent Order—eight shillings' worth—took some preparation afterwards, and it appeared on November 3, 1965. The last stage after all these vicissitudes is that the Order was approved in another place quite recently, on the 2nd and 3rd of this month—quite literally on those dates because the discussion began before midnight and ended afterwards. That is what has happened.
I hope that I am taking a course convenient to your Lordships; I will sit down in a moment and wait to hear what your Lordships have to say. Before I do so, I would remind the House of the Paper about the areas and status of local authorities in England and Wales, which was presented by the then Minister of Housing in July, 1956, and which dealt in general terms with the operations which were intended to be carried out in the conurbations—and the West Midlands is a conurbation area. In effect, it preceded the 1958 Act under which all this has happened. There is a short passage from paragraphs 40 and 41 which I want to quote:There are various possible methods of improving the pattern of the local government within the conurbations. One is to acquiesce in the continued existence of a patchwork of local authorities of different types and with different powers but to endeavour to reduce their number.Then it says how that could be done. It continues in paragraph 41:A second method is to reorganise the area on a uniform basis. The county borough is the normal form of government for a big town, and county boroughs do in fact form the core of most of the conurbations. In the large conurbations the creation of a single all-embracing county borough would not be practicable, but it might be possible to form a group of county boroughs which, between them, would cover the whole area.Then there are some other comments, and the summing up is at the top of page 10, in paragraph 43:It is thus clear that there is no simple or wholly unobjectionable solution to the problem of local government organisation in the conurbations. Moreover, conditions in the different areas are not identical; and the same treatment may not necessarily be appropriate for all. It may therefore he right that provi- 822 sion should be made for alternative solutions "—it was made, of course, in the Act which followed—and that the Commissions should be asked to recommend the one which seems most appropriate in each case.In fact, in this particular case it was really a group of county boroughs which, between them, would cover the whole area.
I fully recognise—as did the Minister who was responsible for this Report before the Act, as did the Local Government Commission in making its Report, and as did the inspectors in considering the objections—that in a case of this kind there is a very great deal to be said on all sides. I suggest that the Act indicates that the Local Government Commission should take these matters carefully into account and look at them in detail, as it did in this case; that there should be room for objection, as there was here; that there should be careful consideration of these objections, as there was here: and that the last word, subject to Parliamentary approval, should rest with the Minister who has the collective responsibility for this whole area. Therefore, my Lords, I commend the Order to your Lordships, and suggest that if we try to argue it all over again we should take a very long time about it and should be doing something which had been done by others more than once already. I beg to move.
Moved, That the West Midlands Order 1965 be approved.—(Lord Mitchison.)
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, I must declare an interest in this matter inasmuch as I have the honour to be a President of the Urban District Councils' Association. In the speech to which we have just listened I could not help feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, was rather making fun of all the objections, when he mentioned the number of counsel employed, and so on, on this Order—I am glad to see that he shakes his head. But I must remind your Lordships—and it is indeed my excuse to some extent for addressing you on this subject—of the Report of your Lordships' own Special Orders Committee, a Report issued the other day on the Petition which was sought by certain local authorities, and to which the noble Lord has referred. I 823 will read the relevant parts of it. The Committee say this:They are of opinion that there ought not to be a further inquiry by a Select Committee.That was what was asked for. Perhaps I might remind your Lordships that in our debate on this matter on July 15 that right was specifically preserved by this House, despite a recommendation to the contrary. The Committee go on:The Committee are also of opinion that the Order raises an important question of policy and principle, namely the method of reorganising local government in the West Midlands Special Review Area.Your Lordships' Committee go on to say:In the opinion of the Committee, the Order cannot be passed by the House without special attention.Therefore, I hope that the House will forgive me if I ask that special attention should be given to this Order this afternoon.
One of the main objections is that, although objections have been heard at many inquiries, as the noble Lord has said, alternative suggestions, which are believed to be as good as, if not better than, the one in the Order, have never been properly considered throughout all these processes, as I shall show later. This is a quite considerable Order when one considers the number of authorities and people involved. The noble Lord has given the number of authorities of different types which are involved, and I will not repeat them, but there are also about a million people concerned in this matter. Those for whom I speak believe that there is a credible alternative to this proposal which has never been properly gone into under the present procedures.
One of the objections is that the present procedures under the 1958 Act do not give sufficient opportunities for alternative proposals to be considered. Broadly speaking, the alternative which those for whom I speak believe to be the right one is that, instead of a number of adjacent one-tier systems trying to agree among themselves on problems which affect the whole area, there should be a continuous county with a two-tier system. This possibility has never been seriously examined by the Commission or the Ministry before they made the present Order. The Order which is before the House provides for a separate main drain- 824 age authority. The Home Office are insisting on a single police force for the Black Country. The Minister said in the House of Commons that he would prefer a single fire brigade, but under the existing law cannot compel it. Under a new type of continuous county authority, such as is suggested, all such things could be done. These things cannot be done except by other methods if we have these five boroughs trying to agree among themselves.
The new type of continuous county could much more effectively deal with major planning matters, major road matters, etc. than five county boroughs trying to agree among themselves.
What we say is, why not consider a plan which would give an authority over the whole area power to perform those services which are best planned and administered over the area as a whole, leaving to the lower-tier authorities those services which are better administered at local level? This is, indeed, what the Commission have themselves proposed for Tyneside, which is a similar area to the Black Country. So why they propose one method for one area, and another method for another, it is very difficult to understand, particularly when there has been no proper inquiry into a similar proposal in this area, as, in fact, the Commission have proposed for Tyneside. I shall conic to that matter, again a little later.
Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to some remarks by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, which were made, I think, at the conference of the Association of Municipal Corporations. He was referring to the necessity for an analysis of the two main problems which arise over local government reorganisation. He put the problems in this way—and I should like to quote exactly what he said:They seem to me to be, first of all, the relation of size and function in local government under modern conditions, where many services are regional in character; and, secondly, and equally important, the way to resolve the conflict between local democracy, which is inherently small, and efficiency, which is sometimes large.He then went on to say:… that analysis will have to culminate in the enunciation of principles of action.At present, there are no principles of action for what is to be done in these various reorganisation schemes, and there 825 seems to be complete confusion. To illustrate this, I want to compare what is happening in the case of Tyneside with the Order in the West Midlands which we are discussing.
In the case of Tyneside, which is a similar area, the Commission recommend the very thing for which we are asking for the Black Country—namely, a continuous county with second-tier authorities. The Minister has turned down that recommendation for Tyneside, but he has also turned down for Tyneside what he is imposing on the Black Country by this Order—namely, a suggestion there for four county boroughs. It seems extraordinary. Here are two areas which are more or less the same, yet the Minister is recommending different things for them; and the Local Government Commission have actually recommended for Tyneside what we are asking for in the Black Country.
I suggest that, in the absence of the analysis to which the Minister referred in his speech, nobody knows the right answer, and that the Black Country proposals should be put off for a further look at what is the right answer. It may be argued that after all this time the area will stagnate, but in the past (I have figures to prove this, although I shall not trouble your Lordships with them at the moment) the performance of the county districts in housing, slum clearance and the provision of various amenities, has been superior, and in some cases markedly superior, to that of the county boroughs. There is no reason why that should not go on.
To sum up, there is a credible alternative for the Black Country which has never been properly examined under the present procedures. Such an alternative has, in fact, been proposed for another similar area. The Minister himself has spoken of the need for further inquiry into the problems of the reorganisation of local government; and this point, as I said, was referred to yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. The Special Orders Committee say in their Report that this Order "raises important questions of policy and principle", and enjoin special attention by your Lordships' House to this matter. Although the Special Orders Committee have, in their wisdom, turned down the request for 826 further inquiry by the process of Select Committee, I earnestly suggest to your Lordships that, for all the reasons I have endeavoured to deploy, further inquiry of some sort is necessary if we are to get the right answer for the Black Country out of all this confusion. In the meantime, I suggest that the execution of this Order should be stayed.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I think I shall probably have your Lordships with me when I suggest that, whatever solution had been first proposed for the Black Country by the Local Government Commission and then accepted by the Minister, there would have been very powerful objection. I always find these questions of the various alternative means of reorganising local government anywhere extremely difficult. I have found them difficult not only in your Lordships' House, but also when I was in another place—unless, of course, one has one's own particular local loyalty, and very often one has.
My noble friend Lord Grimston of Westbury has this afternoon argued very powerfully that what he called a credible alternative would have been to provide for the Black Country the same sort of organisation which I gather is now recommended for Tyneside. I find it very difficult to make up my mind on the merit of this proposal. I certainly accept what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said, that one should always realise that different solutions may be equally appropriate in different parts of the country. It certainly would help me, and it might help others of your Lordships, if the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, could say something on the question raised by my noble friend. Could the noble Lord say whether or not what he called the system of a continuous county, with two tiers in it, was considered definitely at one time or other during this very long period of—shall I call it?—litigation, either by the Local Government Commission, or by the Department or the Minister, or both? That might be of some help to my noble friend as well as, certainly, to me.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I wonder whether I can help the House and the noble Lord, Lord Newton. The system was considered in the first place by the Local Government Commission, in the second place by the inspectors who were hearing 827 the objections, and in the third place by the Minister in making his decision. It appears in all three documents.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, is it not true to say that what were being considered at the public inquiries were the objections to the scheme proposed by the Commission? The suggestion which I have adumbrated, which was suggested for Tyneside by the Local Government Commission, was never discussed at a public inquiry in the same way as the objections. That is the point.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, may I reply to that very shortly? The objections fell into two main categories, based on the arguments that, first, the two-tier system of local government is better than the one-tier system in the area now being considered. That is exactly what the noble Lord was urging. Secondly, the Commission were guilty of fallacies or mistakes in arriving at their conclusions. That is what they went to law about, unsuccessfully.
§ LORD NEWTON
I am much obliged to the noble Lord. Really, my Lords, I have not very much more to say, but I do find it very difficult. I do not feel absolutely satisfied from what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has just said: that in fact active consideration was given to this alternative system of reorganisation—that is to say, the continuous county—as opposed to consideration of objections to the proposal of the Local Government Commission, although they may have been based on the idea that the other method of organisation would be better. Can the noble Lord tell us rather more categorically, rather more clearly, whether the Boundary Commission did of their own volition consider organisation on the continuous county basis and then turn it down in favour of their own proposal?
§ LORD MITCHISON
I thought so, from the passage I have just read. Perhaps I had better not involve myself in any 828 more detail now. They were dealing with the main grounds of objection. That was one—the first one.
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, I was not quite sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Newton, was in the middle of a series of questions or whether he was making a speech, so I apologise for the fact that I interrupted during that series. I was about to say that earlier this week, while on a visit to the North, I noticed that a similar system is now to be adopted (or has at all events been suggested) for South-East Lancashire; and so far as I could gather from my reading it would appear that the suggestions now being offered for South-East Lancashire are much more in line with the Tyneside idea than they are with those for the Black Country. I must confess that I am somewhat moved by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, that there is some room for uniformity here. It seems to me that if we proceed along the lines of having our great conurbations completely different in their set-up, we might be heading for a great deal of trouble.
I also declare an interest in so far as I am a Vice-President of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and therefore probably my views would differ to some extent from the views expressed by the President of the Urban District Councils Association. Therefore, I may perhaps be thinking much more in terms of larger authorities than he is himself. But, for all that, I do feel that there is a great deal to be said for the proposition that, whatever scheme is adopted, there should be some uniformity so far as the various parts of the country are concerned. I am a wee bit concerned, having seen the South-East Lancashire proposals, to find that they are entirely different from the proposals put before us for the Black Country. I am wondering whether my noble friend can give an assurance that the Ministry are certainly taking this question of uniformity into consideration.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, perhaps I might follow the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Royle. In his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, used the expression, "the broad conclusion of the report". I do not want to ask him to 829 make another speech, but I wonder whether he could summarise that in about one sentence. This is, of course, a rather complex Order for us to study. For example, we are told thatNothing in the order shall affect … the Wild Birds (Bullfinches) Order 1955".I imagine that that is not one of the main principles of the Order. But there are differences between the treatments of Tyneside, Tees-side, the Black Country and South-East Lancashire, and it would appear that there are differences between the mind of the Minister on these matters and the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, at any rate in some parts of the country. I wonder whether we could be informed if there is any consistent general principle in dealing with this kind of problem in different parts of the country. It is very important at the present moment.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, I should like to associate myself most wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Newton, in all they have said in regard to this problem. I speak—and I should declare an interest—as a Midlander; a West Midlander who lives in. knows and much loves this area of approximately 180 square miles within the Birmingham area. I feel that in his remarks the Minister set aside and dealt somewhat humorously with a very slow and very earnest survey, a very expensive undertaking which took place over a period of four years. If I may say so, this survey shows the extent to which local loyalties thrive in our part of the world.
We feel most earnestly about our county boundaries and our local authority boundaries, and they are held with great pride, indeed the civic pride which exists in the West Midlands. We feel as an ethnic group in the West Midlands that this matter is being dealt with somewhat lightly. If I may speak personally here as one who attended the Droitwich Inquiry and was refused leave to speak by the inspector, those who visit us from Whitehall are not always welcome for the reason that they do not always listen to what the local objectors have to say. We feel that this is a serious matter; we feel that it deserves your Lordships' most earnest consideration; and for these reasons I would seek that we should 830 negative this Motion which is before us.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, this is a very minor point, and nothing at all to do with the main argument, but I wonder whether the noble Lord when he replies could just tell me if he knows why it is that, under paragraph 32, a certain slaughterhouse at present in the urban district of Darlaston should have been exempted from all the usual regulations applying to slaughterhouses.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I think I did in fact make it quite clear that, in the 1956 White Paper, part of which I read out, great emphasis was placed, not on the need for uniformity but on the opposite: that, in different conditions and in different parts of the country, there must be different solutions. I quite agree that this is not the same type of Order as has been made in other parts of the country; but I also say that the local patriotism to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, so properly referred may be prevalent there as well as here. It is possible that they prefer that kind of local government there, whereas the kind of local government I am talking about now is preferred here.
At the risk of being tedious to the House, I will again read out the same passage. Of course, the Act which followed this expressly intended (and I think that by its terms it made it perfectly clear) that the Local Government Commission should in the first place have the widest power to report, not merely on the type of local authority but also on questions of powers. Your Lordships will no doubt remember that a previous attempt to reorganise local government had broken down because it was considered that the Local Government Commission or its equivalent in those days lacked any ability to interfere with powers; and it was to meet that sort of difficulty that they were given much more extensive terms of reference, including a scrutiny of powers.
I must say that I am a little surprised at people who think there ought to be the same pattern everywhere. I have never heard this proposal put forward except by one side of what I will call the two-tier county borough controversy arguing against the other. They always 831 say in those cases that the particular system which they favour ought to prevail everywhere; and therefore there ought to be uniformity. But I did not understand your Lordships to say that. I was not quite clear. I should have thought that it was unlikely, on the face of it, and certainly quite inconsistent with the intentions expressed by a Conservative Government before the 1958 Act and carried out in the 1958 Act, that you ought to have the same arrangements in every part of the country.
I refer again to what was said with specific reference to conurbations. Your Lordships will excuse me if I read it again, but I cannot help thinking that some noble Lords who spoke may not quite have picked it up. They said this in paragraph 40:There are various possible methods of improving the pattern of local government within the conurbations …and then they set them out. One method they described as acquiescing inthe continued existence of a patchwork of local authorities of different types and with different powers ",but endeavouring to reduce their number. That possibility was put forward. I would suggest, with respect, that it is untrue to say that the question of a two-tier system was not considered. It was the main point all through.
Further on they say:A second method is to reorganise the area on a uniform basis."—I am cutting a few words, but not the sense. They continue:In the large conurbations, the creation of a single all-embracing county borough would not be practicable, but it might be possible to form a group of county boroughs which, between them, would cover the whole area.That was the recommendation in this case. Either approach would still leave questions of co-ordination of local authority services to be dealt with; as they would have to be, whatever the solution. Paragraph 43 contains the passage I rely on:It is thus clear that there is no simple or wholly unobjectionable solution to the problem of local government organisation in the conurbations. Moreover, conditions in the different areas are not identical and the same treatment may not necessarily be appropriate for all. It might, therefore, be right that provision should be made for alternative solutions, and that the Commis- 832 sions should be asked to recommend the one which seems most appropriate in each case.This was two years before the Act appeared; and, of course, when the Bill appeared in draft that provision was made and was discussed at considerable length, both here, no doubt, and certainly in another place. It made that provision.
In the West Midlands there were two alternative solutions. One of them was the two-tier solution which the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, and others favour to-day and which, of course, is always going to find some supporters everywhere. I have never known any question of this sort on which everybody was agreed. The other alternative was the one that was finally adopted. When I say "two solutions", I hope I shall not be picked up on this point, but the matter was a little complicated, in the sense that the advocates of the two-tier solution shifted their ground repeatedly, and in the result some of the urban districts wanted one thing at one time and one thing at another. I am not sure that that ought to be held against them. Their view for the whole time was that they wanted a two-tier solution with a continuous county covering the whole area and a series of district councils as a second tier.
Sure enough, when you come to the Reports, you find it quite clearly. In the original Report, Chapter 8 sets out the basis of the Commission's final proposals. Then, in paragraph 131, the question of one-tier and two-tier local government is considered; and the Report continues for two long paragraphs about that. There is not the least doubt that the Commission considered it. They could not have made their Report otherwise; because, after all, one of their statutory duties was to consult with all the local authorities concerned. Is any noble Lord here to-day going to tell me that these district councils at any time wanted a solution which would result in the extinction of some of them and the substitution of larger county boroughs? That is the solution that has finally been adopted, and I would repeat that this question of principle was, in fact, considered by the Local Government Commission, having been—
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, it was never inquired into in the same way as were their proposals. 833 That is the point. It was never inquired into in the same way that they discussed it in the paragraph.
§ LORD MITCHISON
With great respect, my Lords, I must rely on the Reports and on what the Commission say was the foundation of their decision. This was it. One-tier or two-tier local government was the main point through the whole of these proceedings. What is true is this. You may, for instance, have last-minute shifts of position by one particular district council, which may make the form of a view of two-tier local government slightly different from one time to another. That is not really the point which is being urged to-day and not the point at this stage which matters. What really matters is whether we are going to have one-tier government, as recommended by the Local Government Commission. With great respect, Parliament sets up a Commission by this Act, a long, carefully considered Act, to do certain things. This was undoubtedly one of the things it could do. And it did it rightly; and when you come to look at the legal proceedings you see that the numerous objections—and these, too, were argued at great length—to the conduct of the inquiry in relation to the objections were misconceived. The objections were turned down, first by one court and then by a second. I know that those concerned in a local authority when it is going to disappear become a little desperate; and I do not hold it against them as I entirely agree with what was said just now about local patriotism.
My Lords, I am turning from that to the question of the objections. It was the district councils who sought to make a distinction that I am bound to say I have never clearly appreciated (and I do not think the courts upheld it) between the hearing of objections by the inspectors and the other form of proceedings, the administrative arrangements under which the Local Government Commission had previously acted. We first of all read in the Inspectors' Report an Introduction and then we come to the objections generally, and then to the objections based on the argument that a two-tier system is best for this particular part of the Black Country. Next we come to the objections based on the argument that the 834 Commission were guilty of fallacies and mistakes in arriving at their conclusions.
How can it be said, if that is what the inspectors were considering, that they never thought about the question, never considered the objection, or never considered representations about the objections founded on the choice between two-tier and one-tier government? I repeat this from paragraph 12:The objections fall into two main categories based on the arguments that (a) the two-tier system of local government is better than the one-tier system in the area now being considered;".There is no getting round that. That is what the objections were founded on—unless one is going to say these very eminent gentlemen were entirely wrong and the whole thing is a fabric of misunderstandings. Short of that, it is clear. The second point is the question of whether the Commission had proceeded logically and rightly. That has really been settled by the court proceedings. But this was the whole main point. So far from its not being mentioned, it was what this was all about.
They go on in detail. I have already recited the length of time taken and not by way of gibing at it. I am not gibing at it in the least. I am simply saying that this is a very complicated question and, with very great respect, your Lordships would have to think very carefully before differing from conclusions on the very point on which this Report was founded.
If we look again we see that Chapter 2 refers to alternative proposals. They considered those. Chapter 3 relates to objections to particular proposals of the Commission and that goes on to the end of a 70-page Report. My Lords, you cannot say that the matter has not been fully considered. You cannot say that full consideration omitted the main question, whether it should be a two-tier or one-tier system of Government. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said on local patriotism, and in paragraph 11 of the Report there is a passage, just before the passage I have been reading, which says:Perhaps the deepest impression left on our minds by these proceedings is the ardour and reality of local patriotism. The Black Country said the Commission—'is an area where feelings, whether of pride in a craft or loyalty to a place, are intensely local.' It is these feelings 835 which led the district councils, supported by their inhabitants, to defend their existence and their reputations so vehemently. They believe that this sense of 'place' and community' is a factor of great value in local government which will he lost if communities for local government purposes are merged into larger units.Then there is this significant sentence:We think this must be said before we proceed to the more formal presentation of the objections.What that comes to is this. These inspectors were fully seized of the feelings of local patriotism and its importance, but they came to the conclusion that in the best interests of local government, and of those concerned as (how may I put it?) local government's inhabitants in the area, the alternative that they finally suggested was the better one. There is no greater local patriotism in an area because it is small or large. The inhabitants of Birmingham or some other large town can be just as patriotic as the inhabitants of a small urban district. What we are concerned with here is the efficiency of local government, and that was what these people were considering.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, there is a basic principle at stake here. It is the question of the effectiveness of local government, and I think it has been brought out in the Report that there is no question that the existing local authorities are inefficient or not carrying out their functions correctly to the great benefit of the people in the area concerned. The feeling locally is that local government should stern from the local authorities for which there is no substitute; and I think, further, that it is felt that the first duty of government is to govern. If their functions are being carried out, it is held that any rapid move to alter or merge the system into a different form—call it a two-tier system, or anything you like—would not be a benefit to those interested.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, a great deal of what has been said applies just as much to a county borough as to a county or an urban district. It is perfectly true that local authorities should be left to carry on their job, subject to the kind of supervision that any Government has always exercised on broad questions of policy or on decisions which might fall on the Minister of the day. Here we have had two Ministers, one supported 836 politically by noble Lords opposite and the other by noble Lords on this side of the House, who both came to exactly the same conclusion, and it is too much to say that they did so without any regard to local feeling or anything of that sort.
The inspectors who were appointed had plenty of opportunity to see the people concerned. They had the very long inquiries for the purpose, and they were very sensitive to these feelings. But they reported that they had come to the conclusion that the right answer was the county borough solution. What I am saying, with respect, is that we have not—I hope that we shall not have to do so—sat here for 63 days to listen to witnesses, and on a question of this sort it is very doubtful whether we ought to interfere with a matter which has been subjected to such skilled and continuous inquiry, and which has led to ministerial conclusions which have not differed whatever the politics of the Minister concerned. I think it raises a very strong presumption that that is the right conclusion in that area.
The noble Lord said one thing with which I must disagree. He objected to a sudden change. There has not been much that was sudden about this. It began in 1959 and we are now in 1965. I am not blaming anybody, because people are entitled to do these things, but how much of the ratepayers' money has been spent on all this argument is anybody's guess. I repeat, people are entitled to do this. If there is too much opportunity for inquiry and consultation, objections and so on, given in the Act of Parliament, it is the fault of Parliament, and the Act should have been made a better one in that respect. But nobody can look at what happened in this case and say that there was any sudden changeover. It is the very opposite. There have been inquiries for so long that my information about local feeling is that people are rather fed-up. I do not know if it is put in those words, but it is what I should feel had I been living in the area and connected with local government there and had had these changes hanging over my head in one form or another.
The noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, also wants change. Practically no one seems to want to leave things as they were. It is the form of the change which was the subject of argument. Reference was made (I think that I 837 should refer to this) to what my right honourable friend said in a speech to the A.M.C. He took the instance of this Order. He spoke at some length about it. He felt that if an Act gave these opportunities for objection and for what really amounted to obstruction—I do not say "obstruction" in any offensive sense—one should look rather carefully at it. With the background of this Order, he was considering whether there ought not to be some even more general change in the local government structure over the country.
All I need say about it is that this was his idea, and he is Minister of Housing and Local Government. It is a very good thing to have a Minister of Housing and Local Government who has ideas about housing and local government. This was one of them. He made perfectly clear that he would not regard the prospect of any further change as a reason for not making this one, although this state of affairs has been going on for so long and the period of suspense—I trust your Lordships will not omit consideration of that—has been so long. He came down emphatically, before the Association on the occasion mentioned, and in another place during the discussion on this Order, in favour of getting this Order approved now, and not postponing things until some wider rearrangement of local government could be considered and brought into effect.
If there is any question of a wider reorganisation of local government, I think that your Lordships, including the noble Lord who is President of the Urban District Councils Association, would object strongly if full consultations were not held with the local authorities beforehand. That takes time. They have to consider the matter in relation to their members, and so on. There are of course other bodies also concerned, and I assure your Lordships that the mere consideration would be bound to take time. If any more is to he done, clearly there is a very troublesome piece of legislation ahead for somebody. I should think it quite wrong to defer the approval of this Order because of the possibility of something else. If we go on doing that, we are going to get stuck permanently. It reminds me of the man whose motor car was out of order, who was thinking of getting a new one, but he could not have a new 838 one for a number of years because the money was not available and he had to repair the old one. We can do without a motor car, but we cannot do without effective local government, and we cannot get effective local government if the question of reorganisation is kept hanging over the heads of the officials all the time. The same thing was said with regard to the two-tier question.
We have the very weighty authority both of St. Paul and of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, for saying that we must not differ from the Commons except when there is a trumpet call. I have listened to what has been said with great attention, and all I would say is that here we have not one trumpet call, but a bewildering variety of discordant trumpets, and I do not think we had better move on that particular call. I feel that in a case of this kind, which has been given full consideration and has been passed without a Division in another place, we ought to think twice before putting things back to square minus-1, or whatever the present confusion represents. There is a muddle in the Black Country and this Order represents the way out of it—I think, the best way out of it. But if your Lordships turn down the Order to-day, you will be doing nothing for the urban districts or counties except to continue one particular calamitous piece of confusion and thereby cause a lot of discomfort and annoyance to the very considerable population in that area.