§ 5.53 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET)
I beg to move that the Torbay
§ to which we could have agreed, ought Britain now to back out and be the one country which does not seek to implement the Resolution of the United Nations? I would submit not.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 13.1201
|Ailwyn, L.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Popplewell, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Gainsborough, E.||Reay, L.|
|Alport, L.||Gaitskell, Bs.||Rhodes, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Royle, L.|
|Archibald, L.||Granville-West, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Arwyn, L.||Hall, V.||Serota, Bs.|
|Asquith of Yarnbury, Bs.||Henderson, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Hunt, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Kennet, L.||Simey, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Latham, L.||Snow, L.|
|Bowles, L. [Teller.]||Leatherland, L.||Soper, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Lincoln, Bp.||Sorensen, L. [Teller.]|
|Burden, L.||Lindgren, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Listowel, E.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Chalfont, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Swanborough, Bs.|
|Champion, L.||Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Maelor, L.||Wade, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Mitchison, L.||Walston, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Darwen, L.||Moyle, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Ogmore, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Francis-Williams, L.||Phillips, Bs.||Wise, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Greenway, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Somers, L.|
|Coleraine, L. [Teller.]||Mar, E.||Wedgwood, L. [Teller].|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Order 1966 be approved. My Lords, we turn now, somewhat belatedly (for which I express my profound regret), to the question of a possible declaration of independence for Torbay. When this Order was debated on December 12 last a number of doubts about it were expressed by various noble Lords, so I said I would withdraw the Motion and discuss it further with my right honourable friend the Minister in the light of what had been said. This I have done. We went very fully into the matter all over again, and the Government's view is still that, notwithstanding the existence of the Royal Commission on Local Government, the new county borough of Torbay ought to be established and that the Order ought to be approved.
§ I should like to remind the House why my right honourable friend the previous 1203 Minister decided to accept the recommendation of the Local Government Commission that the new county borough should be set up. His reasons were that Torbay is a resort of national importance which has a major contribution to make towards the development of tourism in this country; and that, as a growing urban area unified by the Bay, there is everything to be said for its being planned and developed in future as a single centre by a single administration. The Order 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 local residents but also of hundreds of thousands of future visitors.
§ During the previous debate the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, asked me whether the Government were convinced that this was in the public interest as distinct from the local interest. It is an interesting question. I am not altogether sure about the validity of this distinction when it comes to considering, under an Act of Parliament providing for a nation-wide review of local government, the right form of local government for a particular locality. The public interest in getting the right administration in the right places is inextricably mixed up with the local interest when one place is being considered. Torbay is of importance as a holiday resort to the whole nation, and it is thus clearly both in the general and in the local interest to get the most suitable kind of administration there.
§ I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is also in the public interest that Governments should honour commitments and should keep faith with people affected by their decisions. As the House knows, the decision to set up a county borough at Torbay was taken in June, 1965, before the Royal Commission was announced. This is a decision to carve a new county borough out of a county; and, like most such Orders, it does not find favour with the county but does find favour in the proposed new borough. It is a commitment to those authorities who welcomed it; and, bearing in mind that the decision had been taken after statutory processes under the Local Government Act 1958, which went on for nearly six years, the Government would indeed be open to criticism if they had 1204 repudiated the commitment just because there was to be a new look at local government structure in general and there was a possibility of changes quite a long way ahead.
§ There is something else. In October, 1965, the Devon County Council asked whether full operation of the new county borough council could be deferred from April 1, 1967, which was the date given in the decision letter, to April 1, 1968. This was so that the County Council would have more time to make their transitional adjustments. This was discussed with representatives of the Torbay authorities, who were quite unhappy about it and were sure that, for their part, they could be ready for the new county borough to operate from April 1, 1967. But it was put to them that we should meet the wishes of all concerned as far as we possibly could, and that April 1, 1968, would not be much longer to wait. So the date of April 1, 1968, was adopted. There would certainly have been a breach of faith with the Torbay authorities if, after the whole project had been delayed for a year through no fault of their own, the Government had decided not to go ahead with the Order because the date of the expected Report of the Royal Commission was that much the nearer.
§ I dealt with many of the points raised in the last debate in my closing speech that day, and I do not propose to go over the ground again. I should like to concentrate on a main issue which ran through many of the speeches on that occasion—that is, whether it is right to go on with the Order, in view of the setting up of the Royal Commission on Local Government. I will deal with this under two heads: whether the setting up of the county borough could prejudice the Royal Commission in framing their recommendations; and whether, as the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, put it, the whole thing is mistimed because the new county borough would come into force in the spring of 1968, which is about the time when the Royal Commission are expected to make their report.
§ Approving the Order could not prejudice the Royal Commission in reaching their conclusions. In considering any possible structure of local government, they have to take into account the existence of 78 county boroughs in England, 1205 of which no fewer than 30 have a population of under 100,000, and will thus be smaller than the new county borough. This was a point overlooked by many noble Lords last time: that 30 of the existing 78 county boroughs in England are smaller than the proposed new county borough in Torbay. Having to take into account 79 county boroughs instead of 78 (or even 80 if this House approves certain Orders which are coming forward) could not conceivably upset the Commission's deliberations.
§ On timing, I think that there is a good deal of misunderstanding about the relationship between the setting up of the county borough and the report of the Royal Commission. The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, in our last debate referred to the possibility of having two shake-outs, two redeployments, in a matter of three years. The essential point is that, when the Royal Commission report, there will be no immediate effect on the present structure of local government. The Government of the day will have thoroughly to consider the Report and consult on it with local authority associations and the local authorities before they can take a decision. And if the decision is that major changes should be made, more time would be needed for the preparation and enactment of legislation; and, after that, more time for new authorities to he set up and to get ready for the take-over.
§ In the last debate the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, mentioned the possibility of the Royal Commission's recommendations being implemented in seven, eight or perhaps 10 years. I hesitated to confirm this because the whole situation is so uncertain. I still hesitate to do so because nobody knows what the Royal Commission are going to recommend, and nobody can assess now the likelihood of their recommendations being accepted by the Government of the day. The most one can say is that, even if progress towards a new structure of local government is as swift as one can imagine, it would be quite a long time before it could be introduced and the existing structure superseded.
§ So there is no question of a new county borough at Torbay just having a short life until the Royal Commission report. If the Royal Commission make recommendations for radical changes, this will 1206 be no more than what many people expect. But the recommendations will not bring about a quick change in the present structure of local government on the ground. In effect what we have to consider is whether a new county borough at Torbay is desirable within the present structure of local government so long as that structure lasts. Granted that, in the view both of the Local Government Commission and of my right honourable friend's decision in 1965, there were considerable advantages in having a county borough at Torbay, it would seem to me wrong to abandon those advantages because there is a possibility, although not a certainty, that the present structure will be replaced in years to come. I think it would be wrong to abandon those advantages even if we assess that there is a possibility that this structure will be changed. A new county borough at Torbay is bound to have a long enough life within the present structure to enable many and valuable benefits to be reaped from the proposed change.
§ Since the decision was announced in June, 1965, a great deal of detailed preparation has been carried out by the Torbay authorities. For the reasons I have given, the Government could not now abandon the whole project without a plain breach of faith. In any case, the Government have no sufficient cause to alter the view, expressed on the original decision, that within the present structure of local government the grounds for setting up a new county borough at Torbay prevail over those for not doing so. I hope that your Lordships will agree that it would be wrong at this late stage, after no less than seven years of discussions and hearings in the statutorily prescribed manner, to change course on this project. I hope that your Lordships will also agree that this Order should be approved. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Torbay Order 1966 be approved.—(Lord Kennet.)
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I am surprised and disappointed that the Government have decided, despite the disapprobation with which this Order was received when we debated it on December 12, to bring it forward again a few weeks later. On that occasion your 1207 Lordships will remember that strong feelings were expressed by Members of all three political Parties—and therefore this is not a political issue in that sense—against the introduction of a change of this nature by the creation of a new county borough of a minimal size (even under the present criteria) to take effect shortly before the Royal Commission are expected to report and, in particular, when it is commonly expected that the Royal Commission are likely to propose a new pattern of local government which will involve very different and probably larger units of administration. I do not intend to repeat the arguments against the passing of this Order in the present circumstances, which were, I think, put forward fairly fully by Members of all three Parties when we last debated it.
In suggesting the postponement of this Order, I am not concerned with the merits of the particular proposal, but with the timing proposed. It seems to me that the arguments in favour of a standstill remain as valid as ever they were. I would remind the House that the Special Orders Committee expressed the view that this Order would raise important questions of policy and principle in regard to the timing proposed. It is not, therefore, merely a minor matter of administration. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was good enough to write to me on this matter, and he told me that his right honourable friend the Minister considered the creation of one new county borough could not prejudice the Royal Commission in their work. With that I agree. But he went on to say that inevitably—and he repeated it to-day, and factually I have no quarrel with this at all—some years would elapse before any recommendation the Royal Committee might make would be implemented. Therefore, in the meantime, he could see no good reason for not having the new county borough during the period when the present structure of local government would hold the field.
If I may say so with respect, I do not agree with him. It seems to me that it would be a serious mistake to bring about what amounts to quite a major upheaval with the risk of another upheaval within four, five, six or even seven years. This is a major operation for Devon because it involves the transfer away from the 1208 administrative county of almost one-fifth of its present population. Of course, it is not the only upset with which Devon is likely to be faced. I understand that there is another Order laid (which we must not discuss on this occasion) which proposes the transfer of a further 25,000 or 35,000 of the population away from the county to the City of Plymouth. I realise, from what the Minister told me, that the Government feel that they stand committed by the intentions they have declared to the local authorities concerned; and that, therefore, something must be done.
I think it was Lord Melbourne who said, "When people have told me that something must be done, I have generally found they are about to suggest something singularly unwise. "I hope I have quoted him correctly; in any case, the words were to that effect. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord, even now, to consider the adverse reception that this Order received a few weeks ago from all quarters of the House, and I urge the noble Lord to seek permission from his right honourable friend to withdraw the Order and to put all proposals for new county boroughs or major transfers of population in suspense until the future shape of our local government has been decided in the light of the Report of the Royal Commission. If, in fact, the Commission's proposals and the considerations that follow them point to this proposal and others not being in conflict, then of course the Orders can be re-laid; and I respectfully submit that that must be the sensible course to pursue.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I entirely agree with the recollection of the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, that there was a difference of opinion on both sides of the House with regard to this Order when it last appeared. What would have happened had the matter been pressed to a Division is perhaps another story, but agreeing, as I do, that this kind of question does cut largely across Parties, I do not approach it in any Party spirit. I think that these proceedings to-day raise a question of some importance as to the proper functions of Parliament—I am not talking about the powers of Parliament—in relation to the Local Government Act.
As I see it, it was the intention of the Act, and of the Tory Government which 1209 put it forward, that questions of this kind should, in the great majority of cases, be determined by what has proved to be a rather tedious process of local investigation, consultation and, almost always, local conflict. Nobody expected that in the majority of cases the county and the county borough—those ancient protagonists—would agree, and this was intended to be a method of resolving their differences in the interests of efficient local government. That, if I remember rightly, was the test in the Act.
That test and those proceedings have gone on in this case for some six or seven years, as we were told not only here but also in another place, and there is no doubt about the result. Indeed, there was far more criticism here the other day than there seems to have been during the previous stages of the Order. As I understand it, and this comes only from reading the previous proceedings, the Devon County Council was not opposed to this Order, or to the proposals in it, until some time at about the death of their chairman. Their then chairman had appeared on television and said he did not like the Order in many ways—and that is quite fair—but the Order having been made, and at the stage at which it then was, he thought it the business of the local authorities and others concerned to get it going. I cannot but feel that the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, must be of the same opinion. I do not think he would suggest that Parliament ought to be at all quick, at any rate to intervene in a case of this kind, and I do not think he would suggest that this Order raises any question of principle that is not common to a great many of these Orders—unless the question of timing can be elevated into a question of principle. I am glad to see, as I expected, that the noble Viscount agrees with me.
In those circumstances what we do to-day, as I understand it, is not to speak or decide, if we are going to, on the merits of the matter, but solely on the question of whether or not it is right to approve this Order at this moment with the Royal Commission on Local Government sitting and likely to produce some changes—perhaps comprehensive changes, but changes of which we know nothing—at some time in the future. I know that the Royal Commission on Local Government are there. They have 1210 taken over Gwydyr House, where I used to work. They sit there with a very permanent-looking plate on the door. Indeed, they have entertained evidence. We have seen the evidence from one Ministry at least, which has been printed. It seems to me quite impossible to say how long they are likely to take to produce something, and almost equally impossible to say what the something is going to be when it comes. It is in face of that rather vague future that we are asked to do something which, in the view of the responsible Minister, amounts to a breach of faith with the local authorities and with a number of other people in this part of Devonshire.
I feel that there are matters of timing where Parliament is not in a good position to judge and that this is exactly the kind of case where one must pay attention to the opinion of the operative Ministry itself. In so doing one is not yielding in any way in whatever battle there may be between the Executive and the Legislature; one is merely agreeing that a question of this kind is difficult. This, I should have thought, is rather a borderline case. It is a difficult question and one which involves so many considerations—most of them, but not quite all of them, local ones—that it is wrong for Parliament to intervene unless an overwhelming case can be made out. I should have thought that in a matter of this sort it was rarely indeed that an overwhelming case could be made out, because the knowledge and experience is bound to rest so much in those who have to carry this thing on their shoulders year after year (not necessarily in this particular form but in one form or another) in the responsible Ministry. Therefore, I said, and I beg leave to repeat it again, that I feel that this is the kind of matter where one must pay a great deal more than the usual attention to the views of the responsible Minister.
My Lords, I hope that I am not turning into a sort of Lobby slave or lackey of the Government—I do not think that I ever have been one. It is not for that sort of reason, it is for no sort of Party reason, that I feel we ought to approve this Order to-day. If we do not do so we are taking on ourselves a responsibility that we ought not to seek to carry and which we ought not to be asked to carry; and moreover we are being rather unfair 1211 to people, not merely on the naked question of breach of faith but because people have adapted their views and in many cases have perhaps changed their arrangements (I believe there has been a little of this) on the faith of definite statements made recently by the Ministry.
It was in February, 1966, I think, that the then Minister of Housing and Local Government made a statement about what was to be done regarding these Orders in the pipe-line. It was a perfectly clear statement; it covered this case, and this Order ought to proceed if that statement is to be adhered to. It would be rather naughty of us, if I may say so, if, having taken little exception to that statement at the time, we now decided that in a case which turned out to be of considerable importance, but not of significant importance (a good many of these Orders are coming), we were to depart from that principle. If there was a strong objection to it, I think that then was the time for Parliament as a whole to say, "We do not agree with this treatment." There were faint rumblings, if I may put it in that way, but very little more.
To avoid any misunderstanding, may I say that I am not attempting to deal with the number of Orders which may be pending and with the question of how many of them will come forward in one form or another for approval or may be subject to annulment. That does not seem to me to be the real point here. The point here is that a decision, not so much of principle as of governmental machinery and executive action, was made a long time ago, was acted on and was accepted by a great many people, though not necessarily agreed to. Surely it is wrong now to take what I believe is almost the first case that comes up involving it and to say that though we did not object a year or more ago, we do object now. I suggest to your Lordships that the wise thing would be to let this Order be approved. I venture to hope that at the end of the day the noble Viscount will feel able to accept this view of the matter, much as he may differ from the Order itself or from the questions of merit which it undoubtedly raises.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Amory advanced as his rea- 1212 son for not proceeding with this Order tonight the appointment of the Royal Commission on Local Government. That was the only ground upon which the noble Viscount based his argument. I should like to make one or two observations about this, because this reason for not proceeding with the Order was advanced in several quarters in your Lordships' House when this matter was before the House in December last.
Everybody is agreed that it will be some years before the Report of the Royal Commission is available, and that there will be a further time, perhaps a protracted interval, before effect can be given to their recommendations. But whatever proposals the Royal Commission may make for the future reorganisation of local government, I cannot conceive of any proposal which would not bring these three local authorities into the same urban area, whatever its size or powers may be. I cannot conceive of any proposal for these three urban authorities, practically adjoining each other, occupying what is virtually a continuously built-up area between Torquay at one end and Paignton and Brixham at the other, which would not say that they should be administered by the same urban authority. Whatever the Royal Commission recommend, I am sure that that is one thing they will recommend. This is precisely an area of which it is often said that the existing local authorities are too small and do not possess the necessary resources to provide an adequate service. The local authorities have proposed this amalgamation, which will give a county borough with a population above the statutory limit and above about 30 per cent. of the existing county boroughs.
There is another reason why I hope that this Order will not be delayed until the Report of the Royal Commission is available. For twenty years local government has been conducted in an atmosphere of uncertainty, hesitation and indecision. There have been innumerable investigations of one kind and another into the conduct of local government. There have been two Royal Commissions. One is sitting now. There have been two investigations into London government, one of which was wound up before it had hardly commenced its task. The other produced a report upon which the Government of the day were able to 1213 act, but that is almost the sole effect which all these prolonged investigations produced. There are two departmental committees sitting at the present time, one investigating the question of elected representatives, and the other the question of the recruitment of staff. Out of this mass of investigation, which has gone on ever since the end of the war, nothing has emerged except the London Government Act—with which some noble Lords do not agree—and these Orders which are reaching Parliament now from the Boundary Commission.
Is it surprising, in those circumstances, that those engaged in local government, either as elected representatives or as officials, are suffering from an acute sense of frustration and uncertainty of purpose? I urge your Lordships to-night not to add to that sense of frustration by delaying the operation of this necessary Order for an indefinite and uncertain time—because that is what your Lordships are being asked to do.
I have only one other observation that I desire to make. How should your Lordships' House deal with these Orders which come to us from the Boundary Commission? If an Order has been the subject of prolonged investigations before it was made and presents no feature of exceptional or unusual character, I would submit that your Lordships ought not to reject it merely because it proposes some changes with which some noble Lords may not agree. This Order has been the subject of prolonged investigation: first, a long process of negotiation and investigation by the Boundary Commission; and, then, when the Commissioner's Report went to the Minister, a local inquiry which occupied, I think, ten days. Since then, it has been examined by the Minister and approved by him. So far as I can make out, it presents no exceptional or unusual feature. That being so, I would suggest that your Lordships ought not now to hold back this Order merely on the ground that at some future time an Order might be made upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission which might affect this area in a different way.
I hope that your Lordships will allow this Order to go forward so that this amalgamation may take place. If your Lordships take this course, I am sure that, whatever is proposed by the Boun- 1214 dary Committee later on, it will be much easier to carry out their recommendations for this area if all these three urban districts have been combined into a single authority. I am sure that it will be much easier to absorb this area into the new structure, whatever it may be, if it is administered by a single urban authority, as it ought to be. I hope your Lordships will have no hesitation in allowing this Order to go forward, as the Minister has expressed the hope that it will.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT LAMBERT
My Lords, at the outset of the few remarks that I propose to make I should like to correct a statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. I think he must have gathered a wrong impression which led him to say that the late Chairman of the Devon County Council, Alderman Day, was in favour of the Order, and that it was only the present Chairman, Mr. Whitmarsh, who was against it.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, if I said that, indeed I stand corrected. What I meant to say was that on television, before he died, Alderman Day said that, though he did not like the Order, now that it had reached the stage which it had then reached, he thought that people ought to accept it and to carry it out. That I agree is not quite the same as saying that he liked the Order all the way through. The question to-day is just that: whether, it having reached the stage it has, the Order should be accepted.
§ VISCOUNT LAMBERT
I did not sec the television programme, but I can assure the noble Lord that Alderman Day was opposed to the Order from the very outset, as is the present Chairman of the County Council.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that it is only right for a Government to honour their decision. Well, those are sentiments with which I should entirely agree, except when the circumstances change. I think that many circumstances have changed since the Boundary Commission reported on Torbay. First of all, I gather that Paignton, which was a very necessary town to be included in order to make up the numbers, understood that if they joined with Torbay they would get a reduction of rates of 3s. in the £. That, I gather, is not what will happen. Then, I understand that the 1215 Boundary Commission were under the impression that any loss in rateable value that the Devon County Council might suffer would be made up by the Treasury. The position, as I now understand it, is that Devon has to join with other counties and share in the £30 million that the Treasury are providing to reduce the burden of rates. I feel that, with hindsight, Paignton might have come to a different decision, and the Boundary Commission would never have made this recommendation.
I understood the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, to say in his speech that the Minister confirmed these Orders in February, 1966.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, if I may interrupt, it was in June or July, 1965. What happened in February, 1966, was the announcement of the appointment of the Royal Commission.
§ VISCOUNT LAMBERT
But, surely, when the Minister announced the setting up of the Royal Commission he said that any Orders in the pipe-line to which he had given his consent would go through. Then the Royal Commission was set up, and they have taken evidence from various Government Departments. Every one of these Government Departments have said that authorities should have a minimum of 200,000 population, whereas the Boundary Commission were going on 100,000 population. I understand that the Ministry of Health said 200,000; the Home Office, so far as children's welfare is concerned, said 250,000; the Ministry of Education said 300,000; and what is most extraordinary, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government said that the minimum population for efficient administration was 500,000; that is, five times the population of Torbay.
When the then Minister, Mr. Crossman, made these announcements, I do not think he realised the great support there was going to be among all the Ministries affected for local authorities of a larger size. My noble friend Lord Ilford said that there had been many Royal Commissions (I am afraid I am not an expert on local authorities) and there had been one sitting on London. But we are discussing Devonshire, which has nothing to do with London. I feel strongly that the interests that affect London might possibly 1216 affect Devonshire in a totally different way.
I am quite convinced that when the Royal Commission report, which will be at about the same time as the County Borough of Torbay becomes operational, they will suggest that Torbay as a county borough should be abolished. The reasons are quite simple. First, the authority will be too small; and secondly, it is badly situated, having the sea on one side. Surely an administrative authority should be surrounded on all sides by the area which it has to administer. Finally, if one lives in Devon, one knows that it is almost impossible to get near Torquay on the roads in the summer months.
Then, my Lords, just think of this county borough trying in the near future to set up their administration. How would they be able to get their staff? The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said (I do not want to misquote him) that it may well be seven or eight years before the proposals put forward by the Royal Commission will start to be put into effect. Eight years is a long time in a man's life, but it is a very short time in the life of an authority. Therefore, the County Borough of Torbay is being set an almost impossible task. In eight or nine years' time all that will have happened is that we shall have had a constant change over of administration, which does not make for efficiency. We shall have had considerable extra expenditure—I gather that the extra cost to the county, as a whole, will be £80,000 a year. Torbay will be back to square one, and the Devon County Council will have to start all the organisation again.
For these reasons, I do urge the Minister to speak once again to his right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, Mr. Cross-man. He is a most reasonable person, and if he looks into it, I am sure he will regard it as only right that the Order should not be put into effect until at least the time when the Boundary Commission report.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I entirely agree that my right honourable friend is a most reasonable person, but, unfortunately, he is not the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
§ VISCOUNT LAMBERT
Surely it does not prevent him from coming to decisions which are in the interest of the people of the county as a whole.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, it does prevent him from coming to decisions about local government boundaries.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, after the admirable speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Lambert, with every point of which I fully agree, I have little to say, but I would begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, for his great kindness and courtesy in taking my place on the last occasion. I should also like to thank all noble Lords who made such admirable speeches last time and, in particular, to express my indebtedness to noble Lords on the Government Benches who spoke so persuasively against the Order.
I think Her Majesty's Government have made a mistake in disregarding the advice given by those noble Lords, especially those on their own Back Benches. The Government really must remember that it is particularly true of noble Lords on the Government Benches that they have made their way by devoted attention to local government. They are great experts on local government, and I feel that their opinions should have had far more weight with Her Majesty's Government than in fact has been given.
Much emphasis has been laid upon the commitment of Her Majesty's Government in this matter. I think we should always remember that in a constitutional country the Government cannot make an absolute commitment. All the Government can do is to undertake to persuade Parliament. To go further than that would definitely impinge upon the constitutional responsibilities of both Houses.
I think enough has been said upon the merits of the Order, and it would not be proper at this hour to argue them at any greater length than has already been done. My position is perfectly plain. I am not opposed to Torbay becoming a county borough—I am opposed to its becoming a county borough now. I can see no injury at all to the three towns, or the other interests which they wish to absorb, by waiting a little until the Royal Commission have reported. I do not see that any sub- 1218 stantial interest in Torbay would be in the least damaged by a much longer delay. To my mind, it will be surprising if the Royal Commission, despite all the evidence to which the noble Viscount, Lord Lambert, has alluded, recommends the continuance of these "mini" boroughs of 100,000 population. If they so decide, what future is there for the counties? In my view, none at all.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl for a moment? Surely there is the prospect of an enlarged authority, as Torquay may well become under the Royal Commission's decision?
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, that may well be, and I myself hope that there will be an enlarged authority. But if all the conurbations are to be exempt, then I say that counties will become sheerly dependent upon the magnanimity of the central Government, a position that very few people would accept. I think I anticipate Lord Ilford's point. It may be that entirely different directions will be arrived at—a completely new scheme—but that, surely, reinforces the argument for delay, which is all I am pleading for.
For my part, I do not propose to press this matter to a Division. The House has refrained from rejecting an Order on a more important issue. I think it would be foolish to defeat the Government on this matter, even if we had the power to do so, but I end by expressing the strong hope that the authorities of the Torbay boroughs, as they are now, will proceed rather slowly with grandiose and expensive schemes. I understand from the Western Morning News that plans are under discussion for new county borough offices, because the office accommodation of the three boroughs is judged to be insufficient. I very much hope that those plans will not be implemented too rapidly, to the damage of the ratepayers in Torbay and the wastage of public funds.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, once upon a time there was a public forum where, when the great majority decided that such and such a thing should take place, it took place and when the great majority decided that a thing should not take place, it did not. The people thought it was a 1219 magnificent system. The trouble about fairy stories is that when one wakes up to the truth a certain amount of cynicism, and even, perhaps, disgust, creeps in. On December 12 the whole of your Lordships' House, practically without exception, so far as I could see, labelled this Order for what it was. A Motion in the name of an Independent was moved by a Liberal, supported most ably by three excellent speakers from the Government Benches; and of course from the Opposition we had speeches from my Devon neighbours. The Order was withdrawn: we hoped that it would have been forgotten. But now the executive arrogance is brought back.
I have been trying to make one or two inquiries as to why, and for the life of me I cannot see any particular reason. With regard to the promise of waiting for one year, my information is that there was no question of a promise of waiting a year—the arrangements could not have been made before that time and, in fact, were still being made on and about December 12. If it is a question of promises, in our part of the world we have had promises for the last twenty years that something will be done about an extra by-pass, but nothing has been done about it.
Another excuse which was given was that this would be the last such Order. My information is that Durham County Council is about to have another lump taken out of it. In other words, why pick on Devon? Just over a year ago we had the best parts of East Devon shoved into Exeter; now we are having Torbay whipped away, and within the next fortnight the best parts of Plympton will be thrown into Plymouth. All that is against the wishes of many people. I know that we have to watch the question of local government. We are all under pressure from reformers, from conservationists, from mere empire builders, but to my mind this particular Order is completely without rhyme or reason. What are the Government doing about it? First of all, we have a county borough created, with probably a very limited life, which will cost an extra £84,000 a year. It is a borough which, as the noble Lord has already pointed out, will probably not last very long, as the future equivalent status will be more in the neighbourhood of four hundred 1220 thousand. It is unviable in so many ways. I think all these details have been gone into before.
If the Government would only read again Lord Leatherland's speech of December 12 they would get the best answer to all these problems. What is it going to do to the County of Devon? The County is going to be left an impoverished hinterland, and it is going to cost about £500,000 a year extra from the General Fund to keep it going. The third thing it is going to do is make a large, added increase of civil servants, with pension rights and all the rest of it. Perhaps that is in line with the general trend nowadays, as it seems to be the only spectacular national growth product we have had in the last two years. Poor Torbay! They had to pay their contribution towards the large County Hall that we have in Exeter. Now they will have to pay for a new one of their own. With the old habit of "keeping up with the Joneses" they will be stung for some considerable sum there. Again, when the empire builders were getting this under way, as the noble Viscount, Lord Lambert, has told your Lordships, they went around talking about a 3s. reduction in the rates. I may say that since that terminological inexactitude was nailed there has been no further test of public opinion.
My Lords, I have a personal interest or prejudice to declare in this matter. I happen to live in the Newton Abbot Rural District Council area, which has had a chunk lopped off it for this new authority. What is even worse, my property covers a portion of the main road into the Torbay area. My woods are public lavatories; my gates are no longer replaced, for they are broken and used as firewood. That is all done by people going into and out of this Torbay area. They get fleeced by the people in the Torbay area, and we in the impoverished hinterland have to bear the cost of the depredation. Therefore I would much rather that Torbay stayed under the County Council and we all got hit with the same amount.
My Lords, I cannot see any rhyme or reason for this movement, and I do not think anybody else in our part of the world does. I do not appreciate at all what seems to me—and I know I am 1221 extremely naïve politically—to be skulduggery that is going to force this proposal through. It reminds me of the state of my woods in the summer on the road to Torbay.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords as there have been a certain number of non-runners, and two people have scratched, I think I am the next speaker on the list. I remember very well December 12, which was a Monday, because I had a very difficult journey to your Lordships' House. I remember coming in when we were discussing grey seal pups. When I woke up, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was opening the debate which we had on this subject on that date. I recall that debate very clearly. If I remember it correctly, and leaving out the instigators of the debate, I believe there were seven people from all Parties who spoke very strongly against the proposal. There was only one person who, so far as I remember, supported it. There was one other noble Lord who made the most brilliant speech of the day and I listened to it with amusement and interest; but what he was talking about I do not know to this day. However, I think he was neither for nor against.
It struck me that if we had gone to a Division then, that would have been the end of the matter; but we did not, and it was left. One point that struck me very strongly in that debate was the number of times the Royal Commission was mentioned. The Royal Commission was obviously going to alter the face of local government; and so, when the Report comes out, I think it will. One has to face the fact that there has been a great change of thought about local government in the last few years, since these things have been put into the pipe-line.
It is now realised that with modern machinery and with a larger unit, local government can give more efficient service and can run better. There are all sorts of machines nowadays which the local authorities can afford to have. I am too old to worry about this myself, but I am afraid they can buy better brains. That is the thing of the future: to be able to have the money to buy the best management.
I am sorry to say that if your Lordships allow this proposal to go forward and if it is not altered, the people of Torbay 1222 will in a few years' time be very sorry they have gone in for this scheme, because I think the people of Paignton, who did not want to enter it and only came in because they thought they were going to get cheaper rates, will find they have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage and outside everything is running much more efficiently. I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, talking like a chap who writes to a local paper and who is very angry and signs himself "Backyarder". He puts the heading on his letter, "This is not fair", and writes about people throwing old tins and cats into his garden. He says, "Somebody has to stop this". I feel that the County of Devon, with this little golden fringe—all those great moors are empty in winter; there is not even the skirl of the curlew but only the running of a deer—
§ LORD STRANGE
There is the running of the prisoners from the leaking prisons, and perhaps the running of the deer with the more able members of the hunt after it; and then there are the hounds, with the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals after that, and possibly the British Society of Blood Sports after that—and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. Apart from that there is complete silence over the whole of this great region in almost the biggest county in England.
I think my Lords the next thing that happens is the running of appeal, and with the running of appeal comes the running of the tourist; and down they come, bumper to bumper, right through the county, as one noble Lord said, lifting the gates, and throwing down their rubbish so that the cattle will pick up plastic bags and die in horrible agony. That is happening actually all over the country. They come to Devon. Dart-moor is a National Park, supported and run by the County Council of Devon, and the people of Torquay use it as their playground. It is the back yard that I am talking about, into which people throw their dead cats and tins. I think it is extremely unfair and unwise that this proposal should go forward at the present time. I trust that it goes to a Division.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, in the discussion that we have had on this Order this afternoon one traces something which has been uppermost in our local government life and in Parliament for very many years, the old argument between town and country. Before coming into this House, I served in rural administration for some 18 years. For 21 years, or thereabouts, I served a single borough authority, Newcastle upon Tyne, in the other House. During the forty years of my experience, this has been the recurring decimal, as it were. One traces the arguments, which remain the same here this afternoon, although stress has been put on the fact that if this Order now goes through the area will be subjected to another upheaval a little later. In any case, I should think that the area is going to suffer an upheaval when the Royal Commission eventually issues its findings on the new structure for local government—something that is long overdue. In the meantime we are faced with the difficult legacy that has been left to us by the Boundary Commission. The Boundary Commission, charged with the task they were given, conducted a full and thorough investigation, and, quite distinct from the lobby that we have heard this afternoon, were able to analyse all the pros and cons from both sides. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that it was not a question of a 3s. bribe in the reduction of rates, or anything like that, that made the Boundary Commission issue their findings. They would issue their findings based upon all the facts before them at the time.
The difficulty arises from the foresight of this Government in doing the right thing in establishing a Royal Commission for reviewing local government, something that ought to have been done very many years ago. We cannot live in this modern age with a local government structure that was geared to the horse and cart, or the horse and buggy, as it were; and therefore this matter ought to have been dealt with many years ago. However, it was not, and the Government at the end of last year wisely decided upon this new structure and to draw to a halt the Boundary Commissions. However, there is some difficulty because of existing findings and recommendations that have been made by the Boundary Commissions. It is right that the Government 1224 I should honour them, and Torbay and the other few Orders that still remain in the pipe-line are subject to the Government decision in that direction.
It is always an extremely difficult thing to know where the dividing line should be established. Is the bringing of this Torbay Order and the other few Orders which have to come for ratification by this House the right line to take? Should the Order have been deferred or brought forward a little earlier? The Government have decided. The Commons, by an overwhelming vote, have agreed to this particular Order. I think it would be wrong of this House, with the little information that it has available regarding all the pros and cons which were gone into by the Boundary Commission when discussing this question, to reject the findings now before us.
It has been said that before the new Royal Commission issues its findings some time will have to elapse; some few years will have to be given by any Government to digest those findings; some few years will have to pass before they can be fully implemented. Various estimates of time have been made—five, six, seven, eight or nine years—before the full review could be applicable to the whole of the country. The opponents of the Order say that this puts the Torbay people in an individious position. They say that five, six or seven years is not long in local government. But to the individual in local government at the moment it is rather a long time. On the other hand, Torbay, and many of these other authorities we shall be called upon to deal with, have experienced a degree of uncertainty covering a long period of years. In the case of Torbay, it is some six years since the South Western investigation commenced, and then, following the preview there, there was the inquiry into structure carried out some four years or so ago. Torbay and all the authorities in the area have already suffered considerably because of the uncertainty. The difficulty of staff recruitment and staff replacement is a very real one in local government in all these cases where alterations are taking place.
Therefore the full inquiry having taken place and the Government having given great consideration to its findings, I think it is most certainly in the best interests of the area that the increase to 1225 county borough status should be authorised. I could not in any circumstances feel it would be a hindrance to good government in the area to allow the larger authority to operate. It would be no hindrance but would improve the government of the area, compared with the present situation, with rather small authorities, with continual town and county opposition—the old "town and gown" of the university areas, as it were. Therefore, while I can understand noble Lords expressing their points of view upon this subject, I sincerely hope that, on the balance of the argument, which is in favour of the Order, it may go through without a Division.
§ 7.7 p.m.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
My Lords, at this late hour I do not wish to detain your Lordships more than a few minutes. Several things have been said during this debate which have struck me as interesting inasmuch as they do not appear to accord with what has been said by Ministers on previous occasions when local government reorganisation has been discussed. One of them was said by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, and also the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell: that in any event it may be some years before the Royal Commission report, and also after that some further years before anything is done about it, and after that it will be some further years before anything happens in the areas affected. I hope that is not misrepresenting them. Perhaps it is a slight exaggeration of what they said, but I understood them to say it was generally recognised that several years would elapse before action was taken after the Royal Commission had reported.
That was not the impression I had when I went with the local authority associations to see the then Minister, Mr. Richard Crossman, who said the Report was going to be made in two years flat and action would be taken very rapidly after that, and in the meantime only the most urgent cases of reorganisation would be allowed to proceed. Subsequently, due, admittedly, to representations from certain local authority associations, he agreed to extend the time to August of last year for Orders that were in the pipe-line. This brought this Order into the pipe- 1226 line, and now we have it before the House to-day.
I appreciate that this question was discussed at considerable length on December 12, when on all sides of the House noble Lords spoke against it. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I think was taken slightly unawares; he did not expect there would be such strong feeling against the Order that day, and he withdrew it on the understanding that the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, would not press the matter to a Division, as had seemed possible might happen on that occasion. Now we have it back again. What consideration has been given we know only from what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet has said. It does not seem to have made any difference because, as I understand it, the Government are relying on the fact that they cannot break faith with the local authorities concerned which the Minister had told he would allow this Order to go through.
The only other comment I have to make on what has been said this afternoon is on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, who remarked that it seemed obvious that these three urban authorities should be amalgamated. I would agree with him if he were to say that they are to be amalgamated as a second-tier authority. That would seem reasonable, because they are all urban in character and they are all seaside resorts. But when he went further, and said that they ought to be a county borough, then most of us who are concerned with local government to-day would not agree that a county borough of 100,000 is something which should be perpetuated in these days, when the evidence of practically all the local authority associations and the Ministry is in favour of larger top-tier authorities.
For those reasons, I think it is a retrograde step to let this Order go forward to-day, even though I quite appreciate the difficulties in which the Government find themselves, which are not, like some of their other difficulties, entirely of their own making. I hope that that is not an unfair thing to say. But they are in this difficulty and I think they would show great courage and statesmanship if they said: "We see the difficulties of the Torquay and Torbay authorities, but we feel that as the Royal Commission have not yet reported, and 1227 in view of the tremendous weight of evidence against one-tier authorities of 100,000, the Order ought not to go through".
Finally, those of your Lordships who know about local government—and there are a great many who do—will know that even if a new authority is set up next year they must first get themselves organised, which will take some time. Any projects they wish to bring forward in the way of education or health services have to be prepared; they have to get loan sanction; and it may be several more years before any of this can come to fruition. By that time the Royal Commission will have reported, and unless there is a miracle (which to some of us who come from small local authorities—I come from Rutland—seems unlikely) they are more than likely to say that top tier authorities must have at least a quarter of a million in population. All that time and money will have been wasted. I think this is one of the occasions when the ordinary people, the ratepayers of this country, will say that it is a pity that the Government had not the courage on this occasion to say: "We think this was a wrong decision when it was made, in the light of what has happened since the Royal Commission reported and the inquiry was held". Therefore, I hope that this House will not allow this Order to pass.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, coming into this discussion at the end of the day I may have to repeat some things which have already been said. If I do, I apologise beforehand. I wish, however, from this side of the House to express briefly my opposition to this Order. My two noble friends have given it their blessing, so I think I am justified in saying my little piece from a different point of view. I do not do this with any joy or satisfaction, but having supported the Labour Part for forty years I can now tell those concerned with this Order that in my view its re-introduction has been ill-conceived and wrongly timed. I am not alone in this. I cannot support those responsible for bringing this Order again before your Lordships so soon after it had been withdrawn by the Government, who obviously realised then that if a vote had been 1228 taken the Order would not have been agreed to. I think that is quite obvious. Defeat for the Government was avoided only by the well known grace and kindliness of the noble Lord who moved an Amendment and gave the Government a chance to reconsider their decision.
I was hoping that we had heard the last of this Order, and that the Government were prepared to await the Report of the Royal Commission. The whole conception of local government may be changed by that Report; the existence of Torbay as a county borough may be short lived, and it may disappear after being brought into being at great expense and trouble. In those circumstances, why cannot the Government take back the Order? That seems to be the sensible thing to do, and the residents of Torbay and district might have cause to thank them for that action. That view was also expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory.
I wonder who or what is behind this sudden urgency? Is some Minister or official trying to save his face, or simply being stubborn? The hasty re-introduction of this Order is treating your Lordships with disrespect and discourtesy. It has been fully discussed before and found little favour. The Government should take note of such discussions. My noble friend Lord Mitchison said that he was not a lackey of the Government. Neither are we conscripts who are compelled to fall into line on the orders of anyone. We are men and women of age, experienced in life and world and national affairs, with minds and wills of our own. We are free agents.
There is no need for me to enlarge upon the many speeches which have been made in opposition to the Order both to-day and in December. I know Devon fairly well, and I am in the county two or three times a year. I know Torquay and its surroundings; I have known it for 50 years. The town, with its seaside and residential qualifications, does not fit into my idea of a county borough. The scheme would cover a coastal area of length without breadth. I am a countryman, and I have lived in counties in which there has been only one county borough. That was no drawback to residents in those counties. Why a rural county like Devon wants three county 1229 boroughs is inexplicable. Devon County Council cannot afford to lose its towns and areas. In a short time Plymouth may seek new powers for expansion.
Like my noble friend I do not speak without knowledge of local government. For several years I was a member of the county council—in fact, the first Labour member. I was also a member of a borough council and a rural district council, all at the same time. I have been informed on good authority that residents in Torbay are not now so enthusiastic. Perhaps they are beginning to count the cost. I have made my appeal to the Government. The present Order is of such small importance in comparison with the great issues with which we are at present confronted. Its timeliness is inappropriate, and it could have been further postponed. Ministers, whether senior or junior, should take heed of voices on both sides of your Lordships' House. Perhaps that might be for their benefit and security of tenure.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, one question, to get this matter in perspective? When he replies, can he confirm the rumour that the Government have put out a three-line Whip for to-night, and whether, faced with defeat, they had the same Whip out when the Order was debated on December 12?
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT FALMOUTH
My Lords, I intervene as a fellow West countryman, and I shall not delay your Lordships for more than a few minutes. I am often in Devon, although I am not a Devonian. When I am there, I always think what a thinly populated county it is. I always wonder how on earth it can support good public services on the rates.
Then I remember the towns which lie around the margin of Torbay, perhaps the brightest gem in Devon's crown. I fully support my noble friends in their opposition to this Order. It can only lead to greater financial burdens on the general taxpayer to support the Devon rates and will saddle Torquay with fresh and new administrative costs. I cannot think the Government have made out a good and clear case for this Order, and I earnestly hope, even now, that they will withdraw it at this very late hour.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, in the course of this interesting second debate on this Order we have touched on many of the themes which were broached last time, and I do not propose to enter into these matters again in depth, except to correct one or two misunderstandings and misconceptions which may have arisen in different parts of the House. I should like first of all to take up a small point made by one of my noble friends about the shape of the proposed new county borough. It is an unusual shape for a county borough: it is long and thin and has the sea on one side. But it is worth remembering that the Devon County Council in their analysis of a survey which they themselves made in connection with the preparation of Town Maps for this part of the world, said that "these three towns are closely interrelated". They also said:Paignton is a popular resort and it forms part of the almost continuous built-up area which continues round the Bay from Torquay to Brixham.They also said thatBrixham has developed as part of the major holiday area for Torbay.These are the words of the Devon County Council about the relationship between these three towns.
Several noble Lords have touched on the question of costs and how much it will cost to have a new local government unit, an upper-tier unit of this kind, and the figure of £84,000 has been mentioned. The question of these increased administrative costs was argued at great length in the public local inquiry and it was set out in the inspector's report. What was said at that inquiry was that the administrative costs of the County of Devon would be reduced by £13,000 and those in the proposed new county borough would be increased by £97,000: hence the difference of £84,000. The House should bear in mind that these figures are not estimates made by the Government of what is likely to happen; nor are they estimates accepted by the inspector of what is likely to happen. Indeed, the inspector himself commented in the report of the inquiry:I think the present estimates although made, I hasten to add, in perfectly good faith, like all similar ones must be regarded with tolerant scepticism.1231 I commend the inspector's tolerant scepticism to your Lordships.
On the question of increase in subsidy to the County of Devon, I should like to repeat what I said at much greater length in our last debate. Whatever increase there may be will be in the form of an adjustment within the present total Exchequer expenditure on grants, and thus it will not fall on the taxpayer in any shape or form.
The noble Viscount, Lord Lambert, spoke of the evidence given by Government Departments to the Royal Commission on Local Government, and pointed out that they all said that 200,000 was about the smallest one would wish to see in the top-tier authorities which might be proposed by the Royal Commission on Local Government. He made the point by implication that Torbay, being about 100,000, should not be set up. This, I submit, entirely misses the point. The Government do not propose to set up the county borough because they think that it is going to look good in a new local government structure, because they do not know what the new local government structure is likely to be. They propose to set up the new county borough because they think that it will bring clear gains and advantages in the present local government structure, where, as the noble Lord knows, it will be larger than 30 existing county boroughs.
I think that the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, may be under a misapprehension about the extension of the "acceptance of orders" to August. This does not refer to implementing the decisions arising out of the Reports of the old Local Government Commission, of which this Torbay Order is one. What it refers to is reviews by county councils under the 1958 Act of their own county districts. So that this does not in any way extend the series of the Orders of the type we are now discussing.
I hope the House will not divide on this Order to-night. I hope that, if it does divide, the House will decide to confirm the Order and I think I should not be doing my duty to the House and to our possible future discussions if I did not say that, in the event of a Division and of the Government's being defeated in a Division, the Government will con- 1232 sider whether or not it would be right to effect the establishment of the Torbay County Borough by the introduction of a Public Bill. This inevitably would mean a further delay beyond 1968, but it may be that the Government would think it worth it.
Let us stand back for a moment. We have heard a conflict of views between two local interests: between, on the one hand, the County of Devon, who do not want a new county borough to be carved out of their territory, and, on the other hand, the existing second-tier local authorities around Torbay, who do want to amalgamate into a new county borough. When a Government are faced with such a conflict of views, there is no doubt about what they should do. First of all, they will have regard to the Local Government Commission, which duly held its South-Western Review and concluded that this new county borough should be set up. They will then see what happens during the statutory consultations between the Local Government Commission and the local authorities in the area. They will then have the whole matter aired at a public inquiry on the spot. They will then consider the report of the public inquiry and will take their decision, which will then be submitted to both Houses. The Government have done all these things. One of my noble friends spoke of urgency and haste in presenting this Motion. It comes to your Lordships as a result of the process of statutory consultations and hearings lasting no less than seven years. I do not think one could call that haste or urgency.
To my mind the most important point in all this is one which has been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, when he said that once upon a time there was an assembly where, if a great majority were in favour of doing something, it was done, and if a great majority were against doing something, it was not done. I am glad to say that there still is such an assembly, and it is an elected assembly which, I believe, would be the most appropriate body of all to listen to what should be done in the case of a conflict of interest in one part of the country. That elected assembly, the House of Commons, as this House well knows, approved this Order by a very large majority. At the end of the day—
§ VISCOUNT LAMBERT
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I understand that the only reason why there was a large majority in the other place was that there was a two-line Whip on the Government side, while on the Opposition side there was a free vote. The voting, I think, was about 160 to 10. According to the Rules of the other place, 160people must be kept there to get a closure. So that, far from showing any overwhelming majority of the ordinary Members. I feel it shows the reverse.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I do not think we should be drawn into a discussion of the domestic arrangements of another place. The point I was seeking to make was this: would the Government in this case be better advised to listen to the advice of the Local Government Commission, and of the inspector, and to pay heed to the decision of the House of Commons; or should they, on the other hand, at the end of the day, pay heed to the views expressed in the House of Lords? I think that, in reintroducing this measure to the House, they are only fulfilling the last movement in a minuet which has already lasted for very many years; and I hope very much that the House will agree to put Torbay and Devon out of their prolonged agony, and to allow Torbay to get on with it.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, it may be the last movement in a minuet, but perhaps I may strike the last note in the minuet. I must say that I have listened twice to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and he did not strike me as being any more convincing on the second occasion than he was on the first. I do not think he has very many people in the House to support the Government's point of view. I think it rather a pity that the Government have adopted this attitude, and I have great sympathy with my noble friends behind me and with noble Lords opposite who feel differently from the Government.
However, I rise to say only this. There are one or two noble Lords, not only on this side of the House but also, I think, opposite, who suggested that if there were a Division they would feel 1234 compelled to vote against this Order. It seems to me that since, by some quirk of the Parliament Act, as your Lordships know, Orders do not come under the provisions of the Parliament Act, and, therefore, it would be a question of defeating this Order and making it impossible for it ever to take effect—or, of course, the Government could re-lay the Order and this House could throw it out again—this would be a large constitutional step to take on what, if noble Lords who feel strongly about this will forgive me for saying so, is a relatively minor issue. I think that, before your Lordships decide to do something like this, we should at any rate make sure that the issue on which we are dividing is an issue of constitutional importance and national significance. Therefore, even though your Lordships may feel that the Government have been rather silly and rather foolish—and I must say that I think they are very silly and very foolish—I hope we shall think that this is not perhaps the right moment on which to divide the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.