HL Deb 23 February 1967 vol 280 cc870-91

6.36 p.m.

THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Plymouth Order 1966 [S.I. 1966 No. 1583], laid before the House under Standing Order No. 62 on 23rd December last, be annulled. The noble Earl said: I beg to move the Prayer which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I must apologise for detaining your Lordships still further this evening. It seems that whenever water is being discussed there is not enough of it to extinguish the heat which is usually generated. This Order affects quite seriously a large number of people—or, at any rate, a relatively large number, in local authority terms: 35,000 people who by the effect of this Order will be transferred from one local authority to another.

Your Lordships will recall that some weeks ago a debate took place on the Torbay Order. In some ways I feel that I should apologise for troubling your Lordships again to-day with a similar problem. However, I do not think that an apology is called for, since, as I say, this matter affects a considerable number of people who are entitled to have their point of view put forward in Parliament. I will deal as briefly as possible with the reasons why I am asking the House to annul this Order.

As your Lordships know, these Orders arise as a result of action taken under the Local Government Act 1958, and of the activities during the past six or seven years of the Local Government Commission for England. As your Lordships will also be aware, the Commission has now been wound up and will not be undertaking any further work in this field. Some people may say that this is a good thing, and may say, "Deo gratia", while others would prefer that it should continue. However, it is not to continue.

It is true that the local authority association were in favour of county reviews taking place to enable some reforms to be made in the structure of the second-tier authorities. Generally speaking such reviews were regarded as beneficial to the efficient operation of second-tier authorities. But, in the case of this Order, we are considering the proposed transfer of a large part of the population of Plympton St. Mary Rural District to the City of Plymouth, which already has a considerable population, for a city in that part of the country, of over 200,000; and I do not think it can in any circumstances be said to be a dying city.

In this case the Local Government Commission was against the transfer of population to the City of Plymouth, and a public inquiry was held. Subsequently, the Minister—the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, the right honourable Gentleman who is now the Leader of another place—decided to reverse the Local Government Commission's decision. In the letter conveying this information to the Clerk of the Devon County Council, the Minister stated that the Commission found the arguments for and against an extension of the City of Plymouth to be finely balanced. The Commission had decided, in fact, not to recommend any change in the City's present boundaries because of the adverse effect which such a transfer would have on the administration of county services in South-West Devon and on the organisation of local government at county district level.

The letter went on to state that the Plymouth City Council objected to the Minister because the Commission's proposals did not contain the inclusion in the County Borough of the whole of the outlying parishes of Plympton St. Maurice, Plymstock and Wenbury, and parts of the parishes of Plympton St. Mary and Brixton. These form an attractive selection of names of the country area of Devon, though they are quite close to the City of Plymouth.

One argument in favour of the extension of Plymouth is that they require land for further development, but I am advised (I am not a native of those parts, unlike my noble friends who are here to-day from Devonshire) that they have a considerable area of land still undeveloped. My noble friend Lord Falmouth may deal with this when he speaks in a few minutes. The City maintain that the areas to be included in the City, if the Order is passed, are an urban complex, and although the City's proposals were opposed at the public inquiry by the five parish councils concerned, the City Council thought that this did not reflect any deep feeling by the general body of residents against the proposals.

This assumption, my Lords, is not borne out by the referendum held, in September, 1965, to ascertain the wishes of the inhabitants in connection with this transfer. Out of a total of 20,204 entitled to vote on the then current electoral register there was a poll of 81 per cent; 15,092 people voted against the inclusion of their areas in Plymouth, and only 1,243 voted for inclusion. There were 208 spoiled votes. It emerged, therefore, that over 90 per cent. of the inhabitants who voted were against the proposal for their inclusion in the City. This is a substantial majority, and we are supposed to he a democratic country—though sometimes one wonders.

The Plympton R.D.C. is one of the largest local authorities in Devon and is recognised as being one of the most efficient. If this Order is implemented, the Council will be deprived of about three-quarters of its population. No one is suggesting that the local services in the transfer areas will be improved if Plymouth takes over, and the loss of the heart of the rural district, with no town of any size within 20 miles, makes it less convenient and more expensive to administer the rest of the truncated district, which will then have a population of less than 15,000. Not unnaturally, the Devon County Council take a serious view of this matter, as they did of the question of Torbay. In fact, as a result of this Order being implemented, the largest remaining town in the county of Devon will have a population of 20,000, and there are only two others with a population of more than 15,000.

Plymouth, of course, is an historic city. I need not tell your Lordships its history, because noble Lords will probably know more about it than I do. Obviously, Plymouth has problems—all local authorities have problems to-day. It is difficult to see, however, how this transfer of population is going to solve anybody's problem. It will increase the County Council's problem and it will increase Plympton R.D.C.'s problem. There will, of course, be an increased rate able value to Plymouth, which the City Council are keen on having, but it will be only a small proportion of that total.

It will be necessary—this is a side issue, but noble Lords who sit on these Benches may be interested— for Plymouth City to reorganise the educational facilities in the country area, and in this connection I understand that the City Council are against comprehensive education, although this principle has been accepted by the Devon County Council, who at the moment are in process of reorganising their schools in order to implement that policy. The 35,000 people who will be transferred to Plymouth if the Order goes through will not in these circumstances receive the benefit of comprehensive education for their children. I think that this might be of interest to noble Lords on the Government Benches.

The Minister, in his letter of June 2, conveying his decision, agreed with the Commission that the arguments were finely balanced, but he felt that there were considerations which tipped the scales in favour of extending the City boundaries to include Plympton and Plymstock. He was concerned at the effects on Plymouth of the drain of younger citizens to these two areas. He also felt that with the addition of these areas Plymouth would become a free-standing city. He then expressed the hope—rather a pious hope, if I may say so—that by extending the City's boundaries to take in these areas it would be possible to reach a settlement between the County and the County Borough for them to work in amity for a long time to come.

I should like to comment briefly on the arguments which the Minister used. There does not seem to me to be much in the point about the drain of younger citizens, because presumably many of these people choose to live outside the city, even though they may work in Plymouth. No one is suggesting that there is not a movement from the towns into the country for living purposes, because many people who work in towns prefer to live in the country. And I would agree with them. We can go on extending the boundaries of cities into the country, and every ten years or so, the towns say that they need to extend their boundaries still farther. This has been going on for a long time.

In regard to Plymouth being a freestanding city, we cannot alter the geographical facts: we cannot move the river. The City already has a population of 220,000, and if this 35,000 were added, it might become free-standing, if there is such a thing. But this argument, which seems to be one of the main arguments put forward, does not seem to me to be conclusive. So far as the Minister's pious hope for working together is concerned, I would remind your Lordships that the same Minister, soon after making this decision, decided to set up the Royal Commission to examine all local government areas and functions; and great stress was laid at the time on the importance of the Royal Commission's reporting speedily—in fact, within two years of its being set up. Therefore this point about the County and the County Borough working together in amity for a long time to come does not seem to be a very strong one, in view of the fact that the Royal Commission may well recommend something entirely different, so far as county boroughs of the size of Plymouth are concerned.

There is another matter which I should like to mention briefly before resuming my seat—that is, the appearance of the right honourable gentleman the Leader of another place on a television programme called, "The Power of Parliament", in which he spoke of what he called his "package deal". I do not want to read out the whole thing, because the hour is late, but I have it here if any noble Lord wishes to see it. The right honourable gentleman said that he thought your Lordships' House had a part to play in the consideration of legislation and Orders in Council; that the work of the Executive ought not to go by default and ought to be considered more fully than there is time for at the moment. I agree with him. That seems to me all the more reason why he might have made a mistake in reversing the recommendation of the Local Government Commission. Everybody makes mistakes—even eminent politicians. It seems to me a pity that, when a mistake is made, it cannot be recognised that it was a mistake due to a policy which will be implemented later, such as the establishment of the Royal Commission. For these reasons I feel that this is a matter on which your Lordships may wish to support me and ask for this Order to be annulled.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Plymouth Order 1966 [S.I. 1966 No. 1583], laid before the House under Standing Order No. 62 on December 23 last, be annulled.—(The Earl of Gainsborough.)

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Gainsborough for giving us the opportunity this evening of praying against this Order. I would congratulate him on his lucid and detailed speech. I cannot help having great sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who, having been on the Front Bench opposite all day listening to the long and interesting debate on Tees Valley, has now to defend this, as I see it, very wrong decision come to by Mr. Crossman when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government. However, I am quite convinced that, although his defence may be weak, it will be made with his usual charm and courtesy.

Three or four weeks ago, when we were praying against the Torbay Order, the Minister, very ably supported by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, rested the case on the fact that Mr. Crossman, the Minister of Housing and Local Government at the time, had merely confirmed the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. Our point was that those recommendations were made on false premises. The Plymouth Order is quite different. The Boundary Commission, as my noble friend Lord Gainsborough pointed out, recommended against Plymstock and Plympton being included within the boundary of Plymouth. It cannot be argued that it is the will of the people. As my noble friend pointed out, 90 per cent. of the people who voted—and it was a very heavy poll—were against it. Their reasons were simple. The Plympton Rural District Council is recognised throughout Devon as being one of the most efficient of the councils. There, again, if they are to be included, their rates will go up by I s. in the pound. For those reasons they are almost unanimously against the Minister's decision.

As your Lordships know, yesterday morning this Order was prayed against in another place. So far as I could see, the main argument of the Minister in another place was that people go from Plymstock to work in Plymouth—and then he was good enough to say that possibly they spend their luncheon hour in the library at Plymouth. That seems a very odd reason for including these two districts within the area of Plymouth. Surely it would be much more sensible to leave things as they are, or, at any rate, wait until the Royal Commission report, which I understand will be in the middle of next year, in some fifteen months' time. By leaving things as they were at the moment an efficient authority would not be disturbed; extra effort would not be imposed upon the County Council of Devon and the Plymouth Council; and there would be considerable saving. I understand that the extra cost to Plymouth of administering these two areas will be at least £100,000.

Again, upheaval, surely, is not conducive to efficient administration. Obviously we cannot—and it would be unwise to try—anticipate the findings of the Royal Commission, but the Ministry of Housing and Local Government maintain that for an authority to be what they are pleased to call a "first-tier authority" the population must be a minimum of 500,000. Plymouth, even with these new additions, will have only half that number. One would be very dubious, even if Plymouth had the requisite number, whether they would be made a first-tier authority, because they are right at the end of the area they would have to administer. I wish that one could do more than express regret that the Minister is determined to go on with this Order. One only hopes that not too much dislocation will be caused. It seems sad that all the work that will be caused in the next four or five years to get these two authorities into Plymouth may well be destroyed when the Boundary Commission make their recommendations.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to add a word of support to the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, in his Prayer for the annulment of this Order, and I wish to reinforce some of his arguments. This is an important case of deciding where to draw the line in local government, and even though some of your Lordships may think it parochial, nevertheless I submit that it is worthy of the attention of the House even now, because of the surrounding circumstances.

This is the last instrument in a trio of Orders with which we have been concerned with relation to Devon. Last May there was the Exeter Order, and at the beginning of this month the Torbay Order, which caused the loss of important areas in Devon. Both of those changes were recommended by the Local Government Commission. In this Order which we are now considering, however, the Local Government Commission's Report, published in February, 1963, came down in favour of the status quo. In their own words, the arguments for the transfer of the built-up part of Plympton and Plymstock to Plymouth "were finely balanced", and the case was not strong enough to justify a change. I submit that the Commission's recommendation of no alteration to the present boundaries should not he discarded lightly.

We hear that the Minister's arguments for reversing the decision of the Commission rest on the ground that there is a drain of citizens, and especially young citizens, from Plymouth to Plympton and Plymstock. But many of these are just those people who voted against their being swallowed up by Plymouth. If I remember rightly, when your Lordships were discussing the Greater London Council Bill the question of the independence of the Borough of Epsom came up. After powerful speeches, Epsom was allowed to keep its independence, even though it could be said that it is, to some extent, a dormitory town for London, just as Plympton and Plymstock are, to some extent, dormitory towns for Plymouth.

We hear arguments from the Ministry that with the transfer Plymouth will become a free standing city, whatever that means. But surely Plymouth, a big town, can stand on its own and develop its own acres without encroaching on its neighbours. The Commission, in their draft proposals, said they thought that Plymouth had overestimated the amount of land needed for industrial development, although some of its needs in this respect might be met in Plympton and Plymstock.

My second point—and I think it is a strong one—is that this transfer is against the wishes of the locals, as we have heard. Your Lordships have had the figures put before you. I will repeat them: 15,092 against inclusion with Plymouth; and 1,243 for joining—this on an 81 per cent. poll of those affected. It might be argued that the many in Plymouth must take precedence over the comparatively few in Plympton. But whatever one may think of this argument, it cannot make void the rights of the aggrieved to fight their case by all legitimate means, even up to your Lordships' House, a case which has been so strengthened by the result of this referendum. It may be argued that the inhabitants will have better public services if they are transferred, but surely they themselves, through their own county council and rural district council, are the best able to judge that.

Like many others, I do not think that bigness is necessarily the best. Why should people be compelled to join something bigger unless there are compelling reasons? Here, as we have heard, the reasons are finely balanced. Both the Commission and the Ministry say so. I know that if I were a member of the Plympton Rural District Council, I should fear the overwhelming numbers of our neighbour; I should fear that they would subdue our voices in council, that our purposes and endeavours would be doused when faced by their great numbers, and that apathy would ensue.

My third reason for opposing the Order is that the present rural district council of Plympton will be virtually destroyed with its reduction in population to about 14,000; and, at the same time, since Plympton and Plymstock form Devon's second largest urban areas left, they are at present the base for the county council services in South-West Devon. Go ahead with this transfer, and though Devon may keep their local offices in these towns, they will lose the volume of work which makes the decentralisation of their offices practical, and much dislocation will follow.

I have been careful not to allude to the feelings of local pride. Down there, there is a saying: Plymouth was a furzy down when Plympton was a borough town"— and all that. But I base my arguments on the Local Government Commission's Report, and on the contention that this transfer would not bring enough advantage to warrant riding roughly over the declared feelings of those most affected. This may be a small matter compared with the great issues of the day, but I do not think we have wasted the time of the House in discussing it here this evening. I think that the Order will weaken local government in a corner of England for no very good reason, and against the local wishes. It should be the job of the central Government not to disturb local loyalties unnecessarily; and I hope that, even now, the Minister will relent and leave things as they are in view of the very great local opposition to this change.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, if I might start with a generalisation I should like to say that I hope the noble Lord the Minister realises that there is a large body of opinion which honestly and sincerely views with increasing horror the continued urbanisation of rural Britain; and those of us who have the ear of the Government in any form consider it our bounden duty to protest at any increase of this urbanisation. But, by the same counts, we hope and pray that the result of the Royal Commission which the Government have set up will be a more united Britain and one that is no longer divided by this issue of "town versus country" or "wealthy versus impoverished areas". I should like also to join with my noble friend Lord Lambert in commiserating with the Minister on having to put up with such a long day, and I hope that the Government will give him at least a week's leave as a result.

To get down to the particular, this is the fourth time in just over one year that we have debated the dismemberment of the County of Devon, and when I see certain eminent Peers coming on to the Government Bench I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, is bound to add—


My Lords, I am not on the Government Bench.


Then behind the Government Bench. Perhaps yet again this evening we shall have from him jokes at the expense of inhabitants about the names of inhabited places—I am referring to Pinhoe.

The last Order we discussed was the Torbay Order. What interests me is the comparison between the Torbay Order and the Plymouth Order. If there was any logic in the arguments for the Torbay Order—and I do not think there was—this Order should be annulled at once. For in this case the overwhelming majority of the population concerned is against being incorporated in Plymouth. Secondly, the Order is contrary to advice given by the Local Government Commission on two separate occasions. Were they not the two main arguments in favour of the Torbay Order? The Government have now appointed a new Royal Commission, and this Order, to my mind, is another method of hamstringing future possible changes that the Commission might recommend.

If I may be permitted some crystal gazing as to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, it seems to me that local government in the future could well be of regions and sub-regions. From all the people who are supposed to be experts on this subject to whom I have spoken, it seems to me that the logical number to provide efficient services in the modern State will be a minimum of about 500,000. If you start from the West of England and move East, then I would suggest that your first sub-region would be Cornwall, with a population of 300,000, plus Plymouth with its 200,000, ergo 500,000. Then your next sub-region would be the rest of Devon, including Torbay, and so on. The point I am trying to make here is that if there is any logic in this crystal gazing then the best demarcation line would be the river Plym; in other words, the status quo. A note of caution to the Government: you must be quite certain that if this sort of thing comes to pass you give Plymouth to Cornwall and not Cornwall to Plymouth, otherwise Trelawny will rise and there will be another Western Rebellion.

I am wholly against this continued absorption of the countryside by voracious cities. One of the arguments is that Plymouth wants more room. My noble friend said I was going to draw attention to it. Well, herewith. What is it going to do, and how long will it take to use up the 3,500 acres it is not using at the moment? The next point is this argument that because people commute or go out of Plymouth, or any other big town, that can be used as an excuse eventually to incorporate the areas. I have friends who work in London but who commute, some from Basingstoke, some from Newbury, some from Brighton. Is that an excuse for incorporating those places into the Greater London Council?

Lastly, we come to the one thing which, by the making of these Orders, the Government seem to be insisting upon nowadays. Every one of these measures which are passed adds a greater number of people to the national payroll, those people who are neither civil nor servants. If this goes on much longer there will not be enough people who are not employed by the Government to pay those who are employed by them.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for speaking again on one of these Orders, but when I give your Lordships my real reason I am sure you will sympathise with it. I was concerned with this Local Government Act when it passed through another place as a Bill, and I remember acutely my own difficulties in criticising the machinery of it. I respectfully agree with what one noble Lord has said: that this is a question of democracy, and what has happened in this case is that Parliament has set up this machinery—first of all the Boundary Commission, then the Ministerial Order, and then Parliament itself—with the object of promoting the most efficient form of local government.

The Commission is bound to take into account a number of things, one of which would cover, for instance, the question of the inhabitants of Plympton shopping in Plymouth, or even reading in a library there. Another thing they have to consider is the wishes of the inhabitants. Parliament has expressly delegated to the Boundary Commission itself the question of the weight that should be given to the wishes of the inhabitants. I suppose that, if one were to take it a little further, the views of the local Members in another place, who come out with unfailing regularity on the side of their respective local authorities, should also be considered.

This is a curious position. This is not a case where another place has approved the Order. On the contrary, the consideration of the Order has been deferred, as I see from Hansard. Consequently, what we shall be doing if this Motion is carried, is to step in and tell the other place what they ought to do about it—or, rather, to deprive them of the power of doing it.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him, I have here the Report of the debate in another place yesterday morning on the Prayer to annul the Order.


My Lords, that is all the better. I am relieved to hear it, because I was getting anxious as to how far we were going. All we are proposing to do, then, is to differ from another place on an administrative Order. I will not cause any more trouble on the Benches opposite by dwelling too much on a point of that kind. But surely we have had exactly the same arguments on this occasion—perhaps with more force; perhaps with more life; perhaps with different metaphors—that we have had on every single Order. There are always things to be said about rates; there are always things to be said about the efficiency of the smaller authority. And on the other side there are always things to be said about the efficiency of the larger authority, and about the wishes of the inhabitants.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way again. May I point out that in this case the Minister is expressly going against the recommendations of the Boundary Commission—that is the whole point. The Commission said: Accordingly we recommend no alteration in the present boundaries of Plymouth".


My Lords, I am well aware of that, but that does not prevent noble Lords from trotting out, as indeed there were trotted out in another place, exactly the same arguments about these Orders. It is because there are bound to be differences of opinion and a list of factors which will always be taken into consideration that the whole of this machinery was set up. The intention was that these were the things that the Boundary Commission and the Minister should consider.

It is said that the Boundary Commission has decided, on what I think we shall agree is a finely balanced case, in favour of one side and the Minister has decided in favour of the other. But that, too, was the intention of the Act of Parliament, and I do not see how that makes the argument any better. It clearly indicates that this is a finely balanced case; and everybody has said so, in the course of the discussion in another place and, I think, in proceedings before that. Very often these cases are finely balanced, but in such circumstances what exactly is the reason for preferring the one opinion to the other? The intention of the Act itself is that the Minister of the day should have the right, if he thinks the Boundary Commission has made a mistake, to step in and reverse it; and it is not sufficient to say that whenever the Minister reverses it the Boundary Commission must be right, and that therefore we go back again, for that is very far from the machinery which it was intended to set up and which has been in operation for many years.

I simply say that I do not know the Minister's reason for reversing the decision of the Commission in this case. It is true that these are all highly arguable matters. It is equally true that the Boundary Commission took one view and the Minister took another. But the Act provides that in a case of that kind the Minister's decision shall prevail, and it may include variations of the Order, as well as a direct approval or a direct re- fusal to approve. The Minister's decision shall prevail unless either House decides otherwise. What I am waiting to hear, and what one never does hear, is not a repetition of the arguments which have already been deployed before the Boundary Commission and before the Minister, but some reason why, in this particular case, Parliament should interfere—and particularly, I may say, why this House should interfere when another place has already refused to do so. Such a reason is always lacking.

Looking back on the Act (and in saying this I am speaking only for myself) I feel that it was a great pity to set up quite so much machinery. It results in protracted inquiries; it results in people entertaining hopes and wishes which in some cases—I am not saying in this case, but in some cases—are rather unreasonable; and it results in the kind of shift of attitude over prolonged inquiries that one had over the West Midlands Order, which your Lordships will no doubt remember. But the fact that the machinery is too complicated is no reason for upsetting the Minister's decision on a matter where he has power to upset the views of the Boundary Commission, and where he has to take into account (as the Commission has) the wishes of the inhabitants and a number of other matters.

When this matter came up in another place the proceedings followed the exact course that is always followed. The Members for the Plymouth constituencies got up from their different sides of the House and supported it, and the honourable Member for Plympton and these other places was against it. We have heard it so often. But, surely, it is the right subject to be decided by the Boundary Commission, or, in a doubtful case, by the Minister. Exactly the same point arises in connection with the Local Government Commission that is now sitting. This, too, was raised and considered below. It is a point which your Lordships had to consider before, and it would indeed be strange if, having come to one decision in two or three earlier cases, your Lordships came to the opposite decision in this case.

For all these reasons I earnestly hope, in the interests of local government as a whole, rather than of either the County Borough or the smaller authorities con- cerned here, that we shall not feel bound to interfere with this decision or to throw a doubt, which any such interference would throw, on the general efficiency of the Act of Parliament which passed through this place as well as the other place. As I sit down I will merely remind your Lordships that Plymouth is old enough to be respected as a borough, even in this place. I think it became a borough in 1440.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, I have been asked to put it on record that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, is unavoidably absent. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, protested against the urbanisation of rural Britain, but I wonder when he last went to the area we are discussing. Plympton and Plymstock are very nice suburbs of a large city. They have been urban at least since the Second World War. What we are talking about is not the urbanisation of rural Britain—we are talking about whether one section of urban Britain shall belong to the city of which it is a suburb, or whether it shall belong to the county in whose area it still finds itself because the boundary has not yet been redrawn.

The Local Government Commission found that Plympton and Plymstock were substantially continuations of the City of Plymouth. All the same, they found that the question whether or not they should be thrown in with the city was a finely balanced one and, as we know, they concluded that the balance lay just on the side of leaving things as they were. They so reported to the Minister. At this point something very unusual happened. Normally, the Minister then goes ahead and makes up his mind, after hearings, on the recommendation of the Commission. But in this case something quite atypical happened that had not happened in any of the cases we have discussed recently: that is to say, the Plymouth City Council objected to the Minister, as they were entitled to do under the 1958 Act which governs this, against the Commission's failure to make a proposal for extension of the city boundaries. This was the form it had to be in, and the public inquiry subsequently held was then an inquiry into the objection. This was held in 1964.

When the Minister finally made his decision, he did so on the basis of a recommendation of the Commission, finely balanced, but just "no change", and also on a subsequent statutory objection to that recommendation by the City Council. As we know, he decided that the objections of the City Council were weightier than the original reasons of the Commission for recommending "no change". There is no doubt that in this all the parties were following stages which are laid down in the Act as being the right way to determine these things. The Commission should advise; it had a right to advise as it did. The City Council had a right to object; it objected. And the Minister has the final decision in this case, as in others, subject only to the approval of Parliament. All these stages were gone through.

I turn to the merits of the matter. Fascinating as it would be to go into the general political situation as between the parties, yet I shall not do so but shall confine myself to the merits. On education, the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, who moved the Prayer, made the point that the education aspect contained ramfications which might not be entirely to the satisfaction of all sides of the House. Be that as it may, I am not sure that he has recently consulted the education committee of the County Council. He might find that they were not too unhappy. The County Council did not bring education into their case against the suggested change at all at the Inquiry. It was not until after the Minister's decision that this became an issue, and I believe it is not now as much of an issue as it was until recently.

To turn to the great question of the wishes of the inhabitants, when the inspector went down to look into the objections to the Commission's recommendation he found that the suburban local authorities presented their objections to change in the boundaries, and said that they represented the wishes of the inhabitants, again of the suburban areas. However, no member of the public and no local organisation other than local authorities spoke at the public inquiry to voice this alleged local feeling against the change. This in itself is quite remarkable. We usually find that, when an inspector goes to look into these matters, not only the local authorities give evidence, but crowds of citizens queue up to do so, and very often the inspector has to arrange special extra hearings to take into account all objections of individuals. In this case, not one objection. The Inspector therefore reported to the Minister that "he gained the impression from the evidence that there was no strong feeling in the matter among the inhabitants; there had been no mass meetings of protest or other manifestations of strong objection". The rural district council were also on record as having said at the inquiry that there was no indication that the people who had moved into Plympton and Plymstock were strongly interested in local government affairs.

Then the Minister took his decision. After the decision, we find the situation changing. The rural district council and parish councils concerned arranged public meetings and carried out a postcard referendum, to which they got the results quoted by, I think, the noble Viscount, Lord Lambert. What is one to do? There is a due process of law in this matter. It includes a local hearing, which is for the sole purpose of getting an impression of local feeling. If an inspector gets the impression there is no local feeling and so reports, and a decision is taken, and you then get local feeling, are you to take notice of the results of the inquiry or of the campaign whipped up after the decision is taken? I think it is clear that changes in local government would be impossible if you were to base yourself on manifestations of opinion after decisions were taken rather than on the public inquiry held at the right time before the decision is taken.

The latest move in this campaign against the decision was an advertisement in the press locally which called for 15,000 people to send letters to the Minister saying, "Hands off Plympton and Plymstock". Seven hundred did—700 out of 15,000 who were expected to, and out of an electorate, we believe, of about 21,000 or 22,000. I have already said that I think the Minister would be wrong to take into account expressions of local opinion which come up after he has taken his decision, but if we are even to mention them in this place it would be right to mention that figure of 700 out of 22,000, as well as the figure of 90 per cent. of a 80 per cent. poll which Lord Lambert mentioned. Even since that time deputations have been received from the county council and the rural district council. It is not as though opinion has not been taken into account.

The overall merits of the situation are that these places are continuous with Plymouth and that they have closer and more special links with the city than those which necessarily arise from near proximity. So much is conceded by the Devon County Council. Both areas are close to the city centre, closer than some of the western and northern suburbs of Plymouth as it is at present. The majority of people living in Plympton and Plymstock work in Plymouth and use the services, although they are paying county rates. There is no suggestion that either place enjoys community existence separate from that of Plymouth. It is conceded generally that the growth of Plympton and Plymstock has been due almost entirely to migration out of Plymouth. There is the added fact of which the central Government must take account in securing the general health of local government, that most of this migration has involved young people, and that the whole Plymouth conurbation (if I may use the phrase) has a right to the voice, the views, the work and the energy of its young people as well as those who have stayed in the centre. It seemed to the Minister, after considering everything, that the whole was a genuine urban complex and that the proposed fusion would be of advantage to both parts. The prosperity of the whole zone depends, of course, on the proper delineation of the local government frontier; and it is in the belief that the most proper delineation would be the one now proposed that this Order has been laid before the House.

For the reasons which I will not go into again, because we went into them so fully on the Torbay Order, I hope that the House will not feel that it has a duty to oppose the Order which is now laid before it, after it has been through all the statutory hoops which I have outlined.


My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes his seat, may I take it that he is not suggesting that the referendum was not a properly conducted one and did not represent the proper views of these inhabitants?


My Lords, I have no knowledge at all about the manner in which it was conducted. The point I was making was that it was conducted after the decision had been taken, and so it is difficult to take it into account: indeed, it is virtually impossible.


My Lords, I intervene in the last moments of this debate for a good reason. I feel that here the question of democratic principle is much at stake. In that, I am so far in agreement with most of your Lordships. But I feel that here is a clear case of a democratic principle. We have already heard the principles, and we have already heard the numbers of those involved in the referendum. Surely that is sufficient to remind us that local government should be kept local. In this principle I would support the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough. However, I think we should be careful in doing so, because we have already listened to speeches from the opposite Benches stating that there are a number of reasons why local authorities should deny themselves that right. I think that this is a wrong-headed Order and that it should be annulled. In saying that, I support the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough.

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, however much noble Lords on our side of the House may agree with what has been said in this debate by those noble Lords who have spoken against the Order—Lord Gainsborough and others—and however much we can understand the strength of feeling with which they spoke, I think it is right that I should say that we will not be able to join them in pressing any Division here, for the reason which was given by my noble friend Lord Carrington when an almost identical issue was discussed on February 6 on the Torbay Order. What the noble Lord pointed out on that occasion was that, by some quirk of the Parliament Act, the provisions of that Act do not apply to Statutory Orders, and therefore all that this House can do is to reject the Order altogether. This is a matter which has been discussed in another place quite recently. The protest was made, and a majority in that House decided to accept the Order as it stood; so therefore, for those reasons, we on these Benches would not he able to vote if there were any question of a Division.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords who have supported me in this matter. I am also most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his courtesy in his speech in reply. He has had a hard day, and I am sorry this debate came at the end of it. I think it was for the convenience of the Department for which he speaks that this debate was taken to-day and not yesterday, for which day it was originally put down and which might have been more convenient for quite a number of people.

We have had a good debate. It has been shown, I think, that the case for this Order is very weak indeed. I am greatly reassured in that feeling since listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, because, with great respect to him—he is a man of great experience, far greater than mine—I do not think he advanced any argument why the Order should be agreed to. He said that we have advanced no arguments why the Order should be annulled, but I think there have been quite a number of arguments presented to your Lordships why the Order should not be agreed to.

In ordinary circumstances this is a matter on which your Lordships might quite easily be asked to express an opinion. However, I know that there are problems. I have been a Member of this House for over twenty years, and I can remember well what happened in the first Administration of the Labour Party. These problems used to crop up. We still have them to-day, and we shall still have them for a long time if things stay as they are. Nobody ever seems to do anything about the alteration of this House, particularly noble Lords who sit on these Benches.

I feel that this was a wrong decision of the Minister, although no doubt taken in perfectly good faith by him. Having considered the circumstances, and although thinking, as he did that local government reorganisation needed looking at again, he nevertheless proceeded with this decision, and I feel that the people concerned have every right to be most aggrieved. This will be something which will rankle in their breasts for a long time to come, and the right honourable gentleman the Leader of another place, in expressing a hope that amity will be brought about by the amalgamation of these people into Plymouth, is expressing not only a pious hope but one that is altogether a non-starter. However, I appreciate the problems here. I am not a political Member of this House. I know that there are political questions involved. In all the circumstances, I feel that it would not be right for me to press this matter to a Division to-night, although I know that when I get outside the Chamber I shall be attacked by my friends from Devonshire. In the circumstances, I would ask leave to withdraw the Prayer, having made this, I hope, strong protest; and I hope that we shall not have too

Airedale, L.[Teller.] Falmouth, V. Rea, L.
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