HL Deb 12 December 1966 vol 278 cc1443-66

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, this Order results from proposals made by the Local Government Commission in their Report on the South Western General Review Area. Its purpose is to set up a new pattern of local government, as recommended by the Commission, for the three towns around Torbay. It creates a new county borough for the area by amalgamating almost the whole of the Borough of Torquay and the Urban District of Paignton, together with the built-up part of Brixham Urban District, and some small adjoining areas in the Rural Districts of Newton Abbot and Totnes. By this means, the present arrangements under which the area is administered by several authorities will be replaced by a single administration, and local government for Torbay will thereby be strengthened and simplified. The Order is the culmination of a long process of review by the Local Government Commission, which is an independent body set up under the Local Government Act 1958, and of further inquiry by the Minister under the provisions of the 1958 Act.

The Local Government Commission began their review of the South-West in the autumn of 1959 they consulted and held discussions with the local authorities they published their draft proposals for the South-West in July, 1961, and held statutory conferences with the authorities in November, 1961. Their final report and proposals were published in February, 1963. A public inquiry into objections to the Torbay proposal was held at Torquay by an inspector appointed by the Minister in October, 1963. After he had considered the arguments for and against the Commission's proposal, the Minister decided to accept it—subject to some relatively small boundary modifications—and issued a decision letter in June, 1965. It is thus seven years since this lengthy process began and it will be another eighteen months before the new county borough would be in full operation.

The Local Government Commission were impressed by the initiative of the local authorities of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, who were ready to combine and form a single county borough. Although it is true that the Commission were not at first convinced of the case for a new county borough, they came to the conclusion, after discussions with the authorities locally, and taking into account the increase in population revealed by the 1961 Census, that this change, which was desired by so many local organisations, could have beneficial effects on local government services and on the future prosperity of Torbay as a whole. Torbay is a growing urban area unified by the bay itself and by the attraction of the whole neighbourhood as a residential and tourist centre of national and even international importance. The population of the area which will make up the new county borough has increased by almost 12 per cent. in the last six years or so. By 1968, the population will be about 102,000, and there is no reason to believe that it will stop there. Visitors increase the population by about 60 per cent. each summer.

The growth of population, and the special requirements and potentialities of the area, called in question the present administrative structure of local government. Administration is at present divided among several authorities, and there is every reason to think that there will be a real gain tothe community by introducing a structure appropriate to the growing unity of Torbay so as to encourage the future planning and development of the area as a single centre. In fact, the creation of a single county borough, under which the administrative, social, environmental and commercial services of the existing authorities can be brought together under the control of one council, is, I believe a condition of the full development of this area. It would be something of a setback locally if this Order did not go through. The Order recognises the local initiative for the idea of a unified Torbay it creates the conditions in which the three towns can work together and devote the whole of their resources to the greater benefit not only of those who live in the area but also of the many thousands who visit it each year.

The House will note that the Order does not put into the new county borough all the fringe areas proposed by the Corn-mission. The residents of Marldon and Kingskerswell, on the outskirts, expressed a strong desire to remain as part of the county. Both areas have links with Torbay, but there were no factors which made it necessary to consider going against their wishes. After consultation with the authorities locally, including the County Council, the boundary has therefore been drawn so as to exclude Kingskerswell and the village of Marldon from the new county borough. The boundary line does not entirely meet all local preferences—that would have been impossible, as it always is in these cases—but it reflects local wishes as far as it reasonably can. Some of the residents of Galmpton and Churston Ferrers would also have preferred to remain out of the county borough. But Galmpton and Churston Ferrers are in a rather different situation from the other two places. This part of the parish lies between Paignton and Brixharn, and recent development has been rapid. It has become continuous with Paignton, and because of its location it ought to become part of the county borough. The parish council of Churston Ferrers, I may say, were in favour of inclusion in the new county borough.

I come to the essence of what I think will be our discussion this afternoon. Devon County Council have argued strongly against the proposal because it reduces the county. This is understandable: the county will lose its largest urban area. We must also remember that Exeter County Borough was extended in April, 1966, and that Plymouth County Borough will, if the present intention is fulfilled, be extended in April of next year. So we must consider these objections here rather fully, just as they have been considered on so many earlier occasions.

What will be the effects of all this on the county? In terms of population Devon will be about the middle of the table of English counties, and in rate-able resources it will not compare unfavourably with other counties of a similar character. It will have a population of 419,000. It is true that its rate-able value per head will drop from about £35 to £31, but this reduction will in no way prevent it from continuing its present effective administration, or making such adjustments in its services as will be called for by the change in its boundaries.

The House will be aware that the County Council petitioned against this Order on two main grounds—first, that its effects on the county might be substantially altered by the introduction of the new system of grants to local authorities proposed by the Local Government Bill; and, secondly, that a final decision should be deferred until after the Royal Commission for Local Government had reported. The House will also be aware that after hearing the Petitioners our Special Orders Committee decided that their case was not such as to call for an inquiry by a Select Committee.

What are the county's fears about changes in the grant system, and are they such that this House ought to throw out the Order? The County Council say that they had assumed all the way through that they would suffer no financial loss because of the Torbay proposals. At the public local inquiry their witnesses agreed that under the present grant system the reorganisation at Torbay would cause no increase in the county precept. But because the precise effects of the changes in grants under the Local Government Bill cannot yet be ascertained, they are no longer confident that this will be so, and this is their case. The Council principally fear, first, a reduction, caused by the change of system, in the amount of the supplementary payment for low density, which is at present part of the general grant and will become part of the needs element of the rate support grant; and, secondly, they fear a reduction in the cash value of the weighting given in the calculation of the present rate-deficiency grant for sparsity of population, when that weighting passes to the new resources element.

As to the first, with the concurrence of the associations of local authorities, my right honourable friend the Minister proposes to prescribe a weighting which will give the new county the same percentage low-density payment under the needs element as it would have had under the present general grant. And this is not all: the percentage will be applied to a higher basic grant than it would have been under the general grant. As to the second, the Local Government Bill now in its final staves increases the weighting for sparsity. Moreover, there is another change taking place at the same time: current road mileages and populations will be used for these purposes, instead of those of 1958. This will partly offset the new county's gains from these changes. But the use of 1958 figures was always recognised as a temporary expedient and, although the 1968–69 population and road mileage figures are obviously not yet ascertainable, it seems reasonably clear that the county in its new form will on balance gain in these respects as a result of the changes.

It will be seen from what I have said that there is nothing in the changes in grant system which would justify postponing approval of this Order. And beyond this, we ought to remember that finance is not the only consideration which should govern our thoughts. Article 7 of the Local Government Commission Regulations 1958, which sets out these matters, refers to "Financial resources in relation to financial need" as only one of nine factors which ought to determine decisions on boundary changes. Among the other eight are physical features, community of interest, economic and industrial characteristics, and size and shape of areas of local government. It is rarely that any one of these can be decisive by itself; all must be weighed, one with another, and I am sure this House will be doing precisely that this afternoon.

Another objection which has been advanced against the Order is that it creates a new and not very large county borough at a time when the Royal Commission are carrying out a much more comprehensive review of the whole structure of local government, and that it would be better to await the findings of the Royal Commission. But when the decision to set up the Royal Commission was announced on February 10 this year the then Minister, Mr. Crossman, said about the old Local Government Commission, whose recommendation we are considering today: Most of the work it has completed will be carried through. Where decisions have already been announced on proposals by the Commission, the necessary orders will be brought before Parliament as soon as possible…". This is precisely what is happening here. The decision to accept the Local Government Commission's proposals for Torbay was one of those that had been announced several months earlier; in fact, it was announced in June last year.

As to the size of the new county borough, there is no doubt as to its financial viability, and Section 34 of the Local Government Act 1958 states that if the constitution of a new county borough is affected by considerations of population, the Local Government Commission and the Minister shall presume that 100,000 is sufficient to discharge the functions of a county borough. Torbay will have a population of around 102,000 when it is set up, and there is every reason to believe, as I have said, that it will grow rapidly.

Nobody knows what the new Royal Commission will recommend. If it be the case that they come out in favour of far-reaching changes in the structure of local government, it is as likely to affect county council government as it is county borough government. Thus there is no reason for concluding that the setting up of a new county borough at Torbay will cause difficulties for the Royal Commission any more than leaving things as they are. And even after the Royal Commission have reported, it is bound to be some years before their recommendations could be considered, before legislation can be enacted and before consequent changes in local government structure can come into effect. Meanwhile, it seems to the Government that there is no reason for not going ahead with those proposals of the Local Government Commission which will strengthen and simplify local government over the next few years, as we are confident this proposal will.

The House might find it convenient at this point to have an outline of the main points of the Order. The new county borough will come into full operation on the day appointed by the Order—April 1, 1968. There has been a postponement from 1967 at the request of the local authorities who are to constitute the new county borough, in order to give them more time to make their own arrangements. Article 5 makes the changes in local authority areas. In addition to specifying the areas which will make up the county borough, it provides for the transfer of areas which are consequential and incidental to the main purpose of the Order. For example, the rural part of Brixham Urban District is transferred to Totnes Rural District. Articles 6, 8 and 9 make the electoral arrangements. The new wards described in the borough's charter in Schedule 2 reflect the Home Secretary's acceptance of proposals by the existing authorities for twelve wards, and a council of 36 councillors and 12 aldermen. Elections for the new county borough council are to be held on the basis of those wards in May, 1967. The new council will have almost a full year in which to complete their final arrangements for the assumption of full responsibility on April 1, 1968, when the Councils of Torquay, Brixham and Paignton and the Parish Council of Churston Ferrers will be dissolved.

Article 9 cancels the elections that would otherwise have been held in May, 1967, for one-third of the Torquay Borough Council and the Councils of Brixham and Paignton. The 1967 election of county councillors for the county electoral divisions which will be abolished in 1968 are also cancelled. These arrangements have been agreed with the local authorities. Articles 11 to 14 make the consequential changes in the administration of justice to bring the arrangements into line with the revised local government areas. Other parts of the Order facilitate the transfer of functions—for example, education, health and welfare, planning and housing—and make provision for the transfer of property, assets and liabilities. Staff affected by this reorganisation are given protection by Article 66 which follows well-precedented provisions. Superannuation rights are safeguarded in the normal way.

The House will appreciate that this is not a case where smaller authorities are being swallowed against their will. It is, in effect, a voluntary amalgamation under which the local authorities in the Torbay area are prepared to sink their separate identities in a desire to re-shape local government to fit the new needs of the area. The new authority will be a viable county borough, and Devon County will not be seriously weakened. The Torbay authorities have already done a considerable amount of work in preparation for the creation of the new county borough, and we ought now to bring the long period of uncertainty to an end. I commend the Order to the House so that the long expressed desire of the Torbay authorities to amalgamate in a single county borough can at last be satisfied.

I know that certain noble Lords will have present in their minds the objections by Devon County Council, which suffered a reduction in population owing to this Order, but I would reaffirm to them the considerations which have already been taken into account in so many different forums before this Order came to us and which lead the Government to conclude, without any doubt, that this change will, on balance, be a change which is advantageous to the people of that part of the country. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Torbay Order 1966 be approved.—(Lord Kennet.)

3.10 p.m.

LORD AMULREE rose to move, as an Amendment, to leave out all the words after "That," and insert "This House declines to approve an Order by which a major change will be made in the structure of local government in the Torbay area, having regard to the probability that the change will take effect only a short time before the Local Government Commission may be expected to make its report." The noble Lord said: My Lords, as your Lordships know, the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, was to have moved the Amendment whose terms appear on the Order Paper. Unfortunately, he is at present confined to his bed with a bad cold. He telephoned me this morning to ask whether it would be possible for me to move the Amendment in his place. This is what I propose to do. But I should like to say how extremely sorry I am that the noble Earl cannot be here himself to move the Amendment, because he knows this part of the world extremely well whereas my knowledge of it is nowhere near so profound as his.

I should like to make one or two comments about why I think the Order is rather mistimed. The first point, to which the noble Lord has already referred, is that the Order making a new County Borough of Torbay is due to come into force in the spring of 1968, which is about the time when the Royal Commission on Local Government are expected to make their report. The second point, which again has been mentioned by the noble Lord, and which I think has some validity, is that so far as one can tell, the Boundary Commission were rather doubtful at first whether the Torbay area was big enough to be a county borough. It was only when they made their final Report that the Commission decided that the population which would be there in 1968—namely, 102,000—was big enough to justify the creation of this new county borough. That seems to be running it a trifle fine, because although 100,000 was taken as the minimum size for a new county borough, I think a great many people who have seen the way in which county boroughs of that size work vis-à-vis the counties which they were part of before, feel that that figure is on the small side.

We do not know at all what figure, if any, the Royal Commission are going to suggest, but it seems to me that it would have been more sensible and preferable to wait until we see their report, because I do not think—and I believe one is justified in saying this—that the dismemberment of big local government structures is very satisfactory, although, as I say, I do not want to prejudice at all what the Royal Commission may be going to report. The noble Lord has already referred to the money and the population which are going to be taken from the County of Devon. Therefore, I do not want to go into this point at great length again. But I think the figures he quoted are sufficiently serious to make one wonder whether to remove these parts from the county council is the right course.

There is another point which I should like to mention, and that is that the new county borough is going to be a very difficult and peculiar shape. It is going to be a built-up area going all around Torbay. At present, I gather that the County Council is hoping to keep the urban districts of Paignton and Brixham separate by keeping a band of undeveloped land between them. I should have thought it was not a bad thing to prevent a piece of coastline like that around Torbay from becoming—which it is very inclined to do if it is under one great authority one great built-up area. That is something which we have been trying to stop in various parts of the world. It seems to be one of the problems which arise, and I feel that the Order ought to be postponed.

There are just one or two points which I should like to make about the effects of the Order. It says that the county council is going to retain operative control of the ambulance service, and yet the new county borough is going to retain the administrative control. I am not really sure whether that would work very well for the benefit of the patients who want to use the ambulance service. Perhaps the noble Lord, when he replies, could explain this point a little further. Then I think there may be difficulty from the education point of view because, although the new county borough is going to be of the minimum size accepted for a county borough—namely, 100,000 people—a very large proportion of the population are elderly people who have gone there to retire, because it has a nice, pleasant climate to which to retire when one grows old. So I think one can assume—and I believe I have seen it said—that the number of young children who will come into the county borough will not be as big as if there were 100,000 people of a more typical cross-section of the population.

The scheme has one or two good ideas, and one would be very sorry if they were to be dropped because the Order did not pass. If your Lordships will forgive me, I should just like to mention two of them. One is that the health department and the social service department will be joined into one functioning department. That will take shape in the new county borough if it comes along, and it seems to me a very good thing. For a long time, so far as I can, I have encouraged people to combine these two services. The second good point is that the social workers in the new county borough are to be grouped together in one department, which is to include a representative of the housing department.

These factors seem to me to make the proposed new county borough full of bright and excellent ideas, as indeed it is, but one wonders whether these developments could not have been put into force in that part of the world without the need of making this big change in the local government structure. When the Royal Commission were first appointed, I think it was said that there were certain cases where the Boundary Commission might have had difficulty in reaching a decision, or that possibly there might have been conflicts among some members of the Commission. It seems as if that might have been the case in this part of the world, as the members did not agree on their first report but only on their final report. If that is so, I feel that it might be advisable to await the Report of the Royal Commission. Torbay might very well be one of those difficult cases. I beg to move the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh.

Amendment moved—

Leave out all words after ("That,") and insert—

("This House declines to approve an Order by which a major change will be made in the structure of local government in the Torbay area, having regard to the probability that the change will take effect only a short time before the Local Government Commission may be expected to make its report.").—(Lord Amulree.)

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I support strongly the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has proposed, and in doing so I should like to join your Lordships in expressing our regret at the absence through ill-health of my friend and neighbour, Lord Iddesleigh, who was to propose the Amendment. I have an interest to declare, because in past days, when my faculties were rather more alert than they are at present, I was a member of the Devon County Council, while I have the honour now to be President of the County Councils Association. Having declared that interest, I do not want to offer an apology for taking part in this debate, because I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is right that anyone who has the welfare of local government at heart should express an opinion on a matter like this. I know that other noble Lords who have had wide experience of local government will be taking part in this debate, and I am glad to see that among them will be the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, who has had a long and distinguished association with a county council.

The first thing I want to say is that this Order represents a major change, and the Special Orders Committee presided over by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, have said: That in their opinion the provisions of the Order raise important questions of policy and principle. It is clearly a major change in local government in that part of the country, because if effect is given to this Order the administrative county of Devon will lose one-fifth of its population and a quarter of its rate able value. What is more, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned, this is not the only loss the administrative county will suffer. It recently suffered a loss of about 10,000 to Exeter; and if an Order to be laid later, I think, takes effect, it will lose something like 35,000 to the City of Plymouth.

I want to put before your Lordships this afternoon two main reasons why this Amendment should be supported and why the decision involved in this Order should be postponed. The first, and I think the one of dominating importance, is that it seems to me that it must be wrong, in a matter which involves a principle, to reach a decision that will take effect probably only a few months before the Royal Commission are expected to report. We do not, of course, know what will be in the Royal Commission's Report, but it is widely expected that, inter alia, they will recommend larger administrative units. Therefore, this change is quite likely at least to be out of line with their recommendations, and might well be directly contrary to them. That is the primary objection that I see to passing this Order now.

The second reason is that the wisdom of this decision seem to me to be at least dubious: indeed, I would go so far as to say that, on balance, it is a mistake. Let me say here, however, that as an old county council man I may be biased. But I do claim that at any rate it is at least dubious. So far as I know, it has never been claimed that this change will result in better services to the area concerned. There has been no complaint, I understand, of the services already provided to these local authorities by the county council. Devon, as the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has already said, is a large and sparsely inhabited county. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, I think, that after this change it would fall into about the middle of the list of counties in terms of population size. But, though large in area, it is by no means excessively large in population, and I should think that after this amputation it would be too small for present needs and might be very much too small in the light of the eventual Report of the Royal Commission.

I understand it is envisaged that if this area is formed into a county borough now, a number of quite important services will be shared. In that situation that may be the best solution for them, but personally I am not much in love with shared services if one can avoid them, because I think sharing blurs responsibility. The possibility of lower rates has been held out as one of the advantages, and that is always a nice thing to have, but I think it is our task to look at this rather in a judicial way. If lower rates do result, I understand it will be due to the beneficence of the taxpayer, who will be making an additional grant, at which Lord Kennet hinted and which I think has been computed at about half a million pounds. One other point is the question whether there has been a feverish demand for working together on the part of these local authorities, and in favour of "marriage", as it were. I do not think there has been. In the past there has not been any noticeably warm or close community spirit between the authorities concerned, or any very strongly expressed wish to join together.

In brief, in view of the very cogent statement in the Report of the Special Orders Committee, I think that, short of the most urgent and pressing reasons, this action at this time cannot be justified—and, so far as I know, no urgent or pressing reasons have been advanced at all. What those who think like me are pressing for is not a reversal of the decision that the Torbay area should be a county borough, but a suspension of the decision whether it should be or not until the Royal Commission has had a chance of expressing a view on the optimum size for future administrative areas. That is so reasonable a view, I should have thought, that I am amazed that the Minister, who I think generally tries to be fair-minded in these things and who certainly has a mind of his own, has decided to press ahead. I want to suggest to your Lordships that we should do our best to save the Minister from a misjudgment at which he has arrived, I think, rather hastily, and which he may well, in his heart of hearts, regret by now.

I would remind your Lordships of what the Prime Minister said when he announced the setting up of the Royal Commission, if I am in order quoting his words, as I think I am. The Prime Minister said: My right honourable friend"— that is the Minister concerned, of course— will be free to go on with any appropriate cases, but when it comes to the broader issues and those which involve matters of deep principle on which the Boundary Commissions have sometimes reached conflicting views we would do well to await the Report of the Royal Commission. I should have thought that this case fell exactly into that description. As Lord Amulree has mentioned, we have the fact that the Local Government Commission, in their first Report, decided against, or did not find in favour of, setting up this county borough. In a final Report they did, but, as Lord Amulree has said, only on the ground that the population in the Torbay area was increasing rather faster than had been expected and was going to reach the minimum size which is at present regarded as appropriate for a county borough rather earlier than it was expected.

It might well be that, so far as the size of these areas is concerned, that reason would not stand up, and so I suggest to your Lordships that a matter of principle is here involved. That principle is: what is the right size for these local government areas? I could not quite follow Lord Kennet when he seemed to imply that by taking no action we might be making the matter as difficult for the Royal Commission as if we did take action. I do not quite follow that argument. I should have thought that no difficulties would be involved for the Royal Commission if things were left as they are until they reported. I hope very much that the House will support the Amendment. It does not seem to me to be a matter involving Party principles or Party controversy in any way, and therefore I should personally have thought it essentially a matter of procedure on which your Lordships would be justified in expressing an opinion; and I hope you will.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, since my noble friend Lord Kennet took over responsibility for local government affairs in this House I have grown to admire very much his versatility and knowledge in tackling a good many complicated questions. I shall do nothing and say nothing to embarrass him to-day either during the course of our speeches or afterwards; but I want to represent to him that I think that here probably the Government have made a very grave mistake, especially in the light of the proposals for future drastic local government reorganisation that are being considered by the Royal Commission.

I should like to ask the noble Lord this question. If the scheme were now being considered de novo, would the Ministry come before us and ask us to approve it? If the answer be, No, then what justification is there for asking us to pass it at all, when we know that by the time it comes into operation (in about 18 months' time) it may be out of date and the new county borough may have to be scrapped after it has been in existence for no more than a few months? If the answer be, Yes, what justification is there for wasting all the time of the Royal Commission when the Government have charged them to work out a scheme for a fundamental system of reform in local government? I believe that this proposal runs counter to the future pattern of local government with which the Royal Commission were intended to charge themselves. It certainly is diametrically opposed to the remarks made by the Ministers of the Government at the time that the Royal Commission was set up.

Unlike the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, I have never lived in Devon, but I have been approached by various organisations, various individuals and various local government bodies asking me either to support or to oppose this Order. I have told them all that I will try to acquaint myself fully with the facts and I will then make up my mind independently as to what I shall do. I have refused to bind myself one way or the other; I have been eager to speak, as it were, as a virgin. I want to look first at the Torbay scheme itself and then to see how it would fit into the framework of the future local government system that is envisaged for this country and into which the Royal Commission are inquiring. It appears to me that the scheme itself has little to commend it. It has been surrounded by confusion, uncertainty, inaccuracy and contradiction through all its stages. Its genesis was not a happy one. This was not a case of having a tightly knit homogeneous community with the ability to provide all the services it needs for itself. It was nothing of the kind; it had not even the requisite population.

This was rather a question of the promoters scampering out into the highways and byways, dragging in half a village here, half a town there, putting out one of them, putting in another, in a frantic effort to make up the criterion of 100,000 population. Originally Teignmouth was in the scheme; then it was out. Originally Paignton was out of the scheme; then it was in. One village after another was brought in, then pushed out, or cut in two so that half was in one place and half in another; and all this was done, as I have said, in a frantic effort to ensure that the necessary 100,000 population could be obtained. Then when the Commission started their inquiries they found there was a very big gap between two of the towns. The promoters got over that by saying, "Oh we shall be building new houses." That may be so, but it rather grieves me to think that large-scale building is going on along the beautiful coastline of Devon.

My Lords, I do not know whether it is generally appreciated that there have been three separate schemes put forward by the promoters of this plan. There was what they called the First Scheme; there was what they called the "A" Scheme; and there was what they called the "B" Scheme. The final picture as presented to us is not like the homogeneous built-up community which we would naturally expect from an area seeking to convert itself into a county borough. This is how it is described in the printed Order which some noble Lords may have before them.

Page 4 of the Order says: The new county borough … shall comprise—

  1. (a) the area of the borough of Torquay, other than those parts thereof which are shown hatched green on the map;
  2. (b) the area of the urban district of Paignton, other than that part thereof which is shown hatched green on the map;
  3. (c) that part of the urban district of Brixham which is shown hatched red on the map; "—
and, of course, half of Brixham is staving out of the scheme— (d) those parts of the parishes of Coffinswell and Kerswells … which are shown hatched red on the map; (e) those parts of the parishes of Churston Ferrers and Marldon in the rural district of Totnes which are shown hatched red on the map…". That shows, as I have said, that they have gone round the highways and byways snatching part of a town here, part of a town there, in an effort to make the 100,000 population. Geographically it is nothing like the kind of big town that we associate with county borough status. It is a strip of coastline 14 miles long with a very narrow strip of hinterland.

As has been suggested, a bait was held out by the promoters of the scheme in the first place. That bait was a big reduction in rates. Originally it was to be a reduction of 3s. 3d. for the inhabitants of Torquay; then it came down to 1s. The latest statement is that probably there will not be any reduction of rates at all. We all know that public services organised on a small scale cost more than those organised on a large scale, the scale we associate with county councils. I do not know what other increased expenditure the county borough inhabitants will find necessary. They will most decidedly have to expand the town hall or provide additional municipal offices of some kind. I wonder whether the people who fell for this idea when it was first put forward by the promoters would be quite so keen on it if they knew that the bait of the 3s. 3d. reduction in rates was no longer in existence. I suppose the inhabitants of Paignton and Brixham realise that their two towns will be in a permanent minority in the seats of the new Torbay County Borough Council.

I ask myself whether this would turn out to be a real county borough or merely a sham county borough. One of the criteria applied is whether the council can provide its own services. Can Torbay provide its own police service? No. But I will not press that because we know that the idea of police amalgamation is in the air throughout the whole country. Can it provide its own fire brigade? No. There is to be a joint arrangement with the county council with some members of the county borough council sitting on the county council committee. Can it provide its own ambulance service? No. The control station is to be operated by the County Council. It is true that the South Devon Technical College and School of Art in Torquay is to be taken over, but it will be administered by a joint committee, partly of the County Council and partly of the new county borough council.

My Lords, a county borough council is supposed to be able to do its own work without having to call upon the county council as partner. It looks as though the education and children's services will also need to make some use of the County Council's high-grade specialist officers; because although Torbay will have a population approaching the 100,000, it is populated largely by old people and its school population is appropriate to a population of only 60,000. It looks as though there will be shared services for the junior training centre, for sheltered workshops and for the school meals training centre. I suggest that the County Borough of Torbay would fail to fulfil the criterion of being able to provide all its own services. Apart from these cases where it says that it will not be able to render this, that or the other service, it is taking a step in the opposite direction. It is going to set up its own motor licensing department, as any county borough naturally would, when we all know that in a few years' time motor licensing is going to be centralised in London and county and county borough licensing departments will become merely post offices for transmitting documents to Whitehall.

I think that noble Lords are all aware that the standard minimum population for a county borough is 100,000. But I think that your Lordships are also aware that that criterion is now regarded as being out of date by practically everybody engaged in local government and by a good many people in Central Government as well. It is regarded as far too small, and figures of 150,000 and 200,000 have been suggested. When the Greater London Council was originally suggested, 200,000 was to be the average population for its new boroughs, and they were most-purpose boroughs and not all-purpose boroughs, as this county borough is to be. Yet in some cases this figure was raised by the Government to nearly 400,000. We must have a big community that will be able to engage officials and technical experts of the calibre required and to provide the wide range and high standard of services that are needed in local government to-day, and some of these services must of necessity be spread over a wide geographical area.

How does Torbay measure up even to this out-of-date standard of 100,000 inhabitants? It does not measure up to it at all. No matter how they tried, the Commission could not force the population up to the required number, with all the jigsaw juggling with places on the map—a village brought in here, half a town turned out there. So the Commission rejected the idea of a county borough. They did so for three reasons: first, because the population was inadequate; secondly, because there was a discontinuous area and not a real town area, as your Lordships will see by glancing at the map; and, thirdly, because if there was to be any merger—and I can see some reason for some kind of merger or association between these three towns—it should be on the basis, not of a county borough, but of an ordinary municipal borough.

When the Commission had turned down their proposal, the promoters began to get worried over the failure to reach the population required. They thought that if they could push up their population, then they might have a chance of getting their case reconsidered. They sat down, scratched their heads and thought of another number. They had the bright idea of including in the population figure the holidaymakers who happened to be staying in the town at the time.(I saw a signal from the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. Does the Minister want to make a Statement? Tell me when he does and I will stop; I am always chivalrous.) They did that by taking the Census figures, which included everybody who happened to be staying in every house at the time, instead of taking the Registrar General's figures, which are the regulation figures for a transaction of this kind. Then they projected themselves forward into the population of future years and counted the babies who had not yet been conceived, let alone the babies not yet born. Then they realised that the district would consist largely of old people and that deaths would exceed the births so that there was a natural decrease in the population year by year. So they got over that by talking about the immigrants, the people coming into the district, and claimed that they had a lot of houses built and a lot more being built.


My Lords, we know that the noble Lord has championed the interests of expanding counties. Could he tell us whether, in reckoning how much they are going to expand, they take into account the unborn babies and immigrants?


I am not associated with an expanding county; but, as I pointed out in this House last week, in the case of a county which has been diminished and hopes to expand, we have had half of our county cut off. We will leave the maternity side of this. They said that they have a lot of new houses built and building, but omitted to say that many would be occupied by existing residents—shopkeepers who were retiring and people who had got on in the world and could afford a bigger house, and so on. And they omitted to mention that many of these immigrants were retired people of advanced age, so that their contribution to the increased population would be to raise the death rate and not the birth rate.

However, the promoters ultimately arrived at what they said was the figure of 100,000, plus 810, and claimed that this would rise to 110,000 by 1965. That forecast is on record. I should like to test the validity of that forecast. If we look at the Order, on the inside back page we find that the population in June, 1965, is given as 97,800. Fortunately, the Commission were not taken in by this figure put forward by the promoters. They decided that the population at that time was only 97,000 and that it would reach 100,000 by 1966. As 1966 is not over, we do not yet know whether that figure will be reached or not. But we do know that the official Order, which was made on August 1 of this year, said then: The population of about 97,800 as of June, 1965, is expected to increase to about 102,000 by 1968. They foreshadowed an increase of just over 4,000 in three years; that is, of just over 1,300 a year. So, if we add 1½years'increase in population to the June, 1965, figure to bring it forward to the end of December of this year, we still find that the population is below the 100,000 mark. If the Commission's first figures were wrong, what real confidence can we have in the second set of figures?

However, the Commission went on to persuade themselves that the first draft of their recommendations, against the county borough, was wrong and that they could now feel comfortable in recommending the county borough. This was after several alterations on the map, two different attempts to determine the population, three versions about what the rates would be, and with two diametrically opposed decisions by the Commission themselves. I am sure that noble Lords who preside on benches of magistrates, as I do, would look with some suspicion upon a case which was put forward by any prosecutor in the manner in which this case has been put forward through its various stages by the Commission. Certainly there is no proof to-day that the population has reached 100;000. This is apart from all the other shortcomings of the case: apart from the fact that Torbay is unable to provide all its services, and apart from the underlying fact that 100,000 is not now regarded as being a high enough figure for county borough status. I believe, as the Commission thought in the first place, that there is something to be said for some kind of merger, but that this should be with the three towns combining as a municipal borough to perform as many services as they can and relying on the County Council for the remainder.

What will be the effect of this scheme on the Devon County Council? The noble Viscount has already given us some idea of that. But county councils have to plan for an extensive range of services; and services often scattered over a wide area. And they need to draw their revenue from the built-up areas, as well as the sparsely populated areas, which have little rate able value. Moreover, the provision of these widely based services requires a large-scale overhead structure. If you have set up an organisational machine which is appropriate to a population of 500,000, and if you take away 100,000 of the inhabitants it means that the overheads will have a disproportionate effect on the economic operation of the organisation with its reduced population.

The Commission admit that Devon is going to suffer. But the bait was held out that Devon would get a £500,000 donation from the Exchequer by way of consolation. That may be so, and it may be most acceptable. It is coming from the taxpayers. We all pay our taxes willingly, and we know that the Government can spend the money better than we can; but what I think the people of Devon must be thinking is this. They know that the whole question of Exchequer grants to local authorities is shortly going into the melting-pot, and they may be content to say: "Yes; this £500,000 a year is very welcome to-day. It will solve most of our financial problems. But what guarantee have we that it will continue in the future?" I say nothing more about Devon, because that has already been covered by the noble Viscount.

However, I want to say a word or two about the general question of local government reorganisation. We know that this is coming in a few years' time. The Report of the Royal Commission will come a few months after Torbay comes into existence. So there is every chance that the new county borough of Torbay, having been born, will have to be slaughtered without any delay. Nobody knows what the Commission will recommend. But most of the evidence has been in favour of much larger local government units; and even before the Royal Commission began to consider these claims for larger local government units there was a vigorous agitation throughout the greater part of the local government world that county boroughs should either be abolished or be increased from their 100,000 minimum to the 200,000 mark. Even the onetime champion of county boroughs, the Association of Municipal Corporations, has changed its outlook. In its evidence to the Commission it said that "reorganisation is not a matter of extending or enlarging existing authorities; it is a matter of creating a brand new system of local authorities." That is the body which used to champion county boroughs kicking away the stool on which they stood; and, incidentally, it kicks away the stool on which the whole case for the Torbay County Borough stands.

I should like to sum up and say that I have not much confidence in the scheme as put forward. I say this, first, because the Boundary Commission changed their figures; they changed their areas; they have changed their "No" into "Yes", and that does not inspire very much confidence. Secondly, Torbay cannot provide all its services. Thirdly, although originally a big rate reduction was suggested, that promise seems now to have disappeared into thin air, and one cannot have much confidence in that. Fourthly, there is the effect on the Devon County Council; and I think this must be to the disadvantage of local government in that part of the country. Fifthly, the date for the introduction of the new borough has already been altered from April 1, 1967, to April 1, 1968, the only factor that remains constant being April 1; and the present 1968 date, when Torbay County Borough will be flying its flag for the first time, is just about the time when the Royal Commission will be compiling or presenting their Report.

I do not want to say much more. I will not quote the references that were made by the present Minister, and by his predecessor, at the time the Royal Commission were appointed and at the time when the old Local Government Commission was killed off. But I will just say this. This scheme comes to us out of the grave of a Commission that was killed because it was not effective enough to do the job for which it was established. I would plead with my noble friend to urge the Minister to think once again.