HL Deb 09 March 1967 vol 280 cc1547-60

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, the Teesside Order, the approval of which I am moving this afternoon, creates a single large County Borough of Teesside by amalgamating the County Borough of Middles rough, the boroughs of Redcar, Stockton-on-Tees, and Thornaby-on-Tees, most of the urban districts of Billingham and Eston; part of the urban district of Guisborough, a small part of the urban district of Salt-burn and Marske-by-the-Sea, and parts of the rural districts of Stockton and Stokesley. What the Order does, therefore, is to wrap up the present very variegated situation consisting of one county borough, three non-county boroughs, three urban districts, two rural districts and a number of parish councils, into a large county borough under a single administration.

The proposal is one of those which came to the Minister from the Local Government Commission as a result of their North-Eastern general review. I will relate the familiar stages, which are the same in this case as in other recent Orders. They started their review in 1959; they consulted the local authorities concerned; they published their proposals in draft form early in 1962, and they then held a statutory conference, as they were bound to do, at which these proposals were discussed with local authorities in statutory form in late 1962; they published their final Report and Proposals in October, 1963, and in January, 1965, an inspector reported to the Minister on the results of the local inquiry which he had held into the objections. The Minister decided to accept the Commission's proposals and issued his decision to that effect in October, 1965.

My Lords, Teesside, as we all know, because we have just been approving a Bill to supply it with water, is an area of enormously rapid industrial growth. The population has increased by more than 50,000 in the last 15 years and so far as one can see that is by no means the end of the story. There is great potential for further growth. The Local Govern- ment Commission therefore came to the conclusion that this is substantially a single economic, physical and social entity, and that the present division of the area between 10 different local authorities and two county councils is no longer relevant to the nature and problems of that part of the world.

I should like to quote the two key passages of the Commission's Report. They state that it was: necessary to ensure that the pattern of local government was such as to make the planning of development and the organisation of services fully effective, and to make certain that new development, such as houses, main roads, bridges and shops would match the growth and location of industry instead of perpetuating the patterns of the past. We were impressed by the need on Teesside for more housing to relieve over-crowding, to replace outworn properties, and to meet the increase in population due to industrial expansion. Yet unless Teeside could be planned as a whole, it seemed to us impossible to ensure that new houses would be built in places most convenient for the people who would live in them, as it was difficult for the present ten separate housing authorities, each with their own housing list to do other than build within or near their own boundaries. The Commission also said: With the southern moorland, the coast and the river, Teesside has a splendid setting and it ought to be made worthy of its 400.000 inhabitants. This task requires a comprehensive plan for the whole area designed to secure the benefit of its port, its industries and its commerce, the reclamation of its marshlands, the building of new roads and bridges, the renewal of obsolete parts of the old riverside development, the designing of new centres and the provision of new amenities. For these reasons they recommended a large county borough in the proposal which is now before your Lordships. It was I think only natural, therefore, that this proposal should have the full support of the County Borough of Middles rough and of the boroughs of Stockton and Redcar. These authorities between them represent about 70 per cent. of the population of the area. In order to achieve a single administration, they are content to forgo their historic identities.

Like all such Orders, this one will reduce the counties of Durham and the North Riding. Both will lose urban areas of some importance. Durham will lose the urban districts of Stockton and Billingham, which between them have a population of 118,000. The North Riding will lose the urban districts of Redcar, Thornaby and Eston and the industrial development in the northern part of Guisborough Urban District together with the northern strip of Stokesley Rural District. The loss of population will bring the North Riding down from about 428,000 to 316,000. These are both sensible reductions of population, but the Local Government Commission, the inspector and the Minister were convinced that the effects on the two counties would not outweigh the advantages which a new county borough would bring to Teesside.

A word about the familiar vexed question of the relation of this change to the Royal Commission on Local Government. If your Lordships will cast your minds back to November, 1963, you will recall the publication of the Hailsham Report on regional development and growth in the North-East. This Report picked out Teesside as one of the areas fitted to support rapid economic growth and said that there should be discussions with the local authorities about the exceptional step of a planning survey of the area, to be undertaken with Exchequer assistance. This was done and early in 1964 the authorities agreed on how it should be carried out. In 1965 the Teesside Survey and Plan began to be worked out. It was commissioned by the local authorities acting jointly, with the Ministers of Transport and of Housing and Local Government contributing about half the cost. This work is still going forward. It is being done by consultants and consists of a comprehensive land use and transport survey, which will give rise to an overall plan for the area. The final report and recommendations of the consultants are expected to be in hand early next year.

The point of this is the timing compared with the Royal Commission Report. We are going to get this unusual consultants' report on overall planning well before the Royal Commission can report, let alone before the date on which their recommendations can be put into effect. It was for this reason, among others, that the Government thought it right to go ahead with this amalgamation, so that the new large county borough should be all set to take over and carry out the recommendations of the consultants, if they are acceptable, as we hope they will be, and they were unwilling to put all this in cold storage until the Royal Commission on Local Government could report. I will not go further into detail at this stage, but if any noble Lords want further details of the background, I will be happy to give them later. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Teesside Order 1967 be approved.—(Lord Kennet.)


My Lords, will my noble friend confirm, having regard to what was said on the setting up of the Royal Commission, that it is going to take all this length of time to report? We were told in another place that this was being dealt with as a matter of urgency and that it would be treated dynamically. Now it appears from what my noble friend says that it will take a long time and that we must proceed with a lot of these Orders in the meantime.


My Lords, the Report of the Royal Commission is still expected, as we have always hoped, late next year—that is, towards the autumn of 1968. How long it will take to consider the recommendations, adopt or amend them and put them into effect, is anybody's guess. Different numbers of years have been hazarded, and I should not like to hazard any new figure.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, may I start by saying two things? First, I have no intention of asking the House to divide against this Order, because, for reasons which have been carefully explained already, many of us do not think it suitable for your Lordships' House to throw out a Government Order of this kind, although of course we have the power to do so. I will not go into the arguments again. Secondly, although some noble Lords do not agree with me, I agree with the Government about the need in the comparatively near future to set up a large new local authority in this area. However, I would ask the Government not to try to force this Order through this afternoon.

This Order, as the noble Lord has said, is based on the recommendations of the Local Government Commission. These recommendations have been adopted with no alterations of any consequence. It seems strange that the Government are relying on this Report to such an extent, because they are coming to the House next Monday to ask us to do away with the Local Government Commission and set up a Royal Commission to deal with the same sort of problem. It seems an odd situation. It seems to me inconceivable that the recommendations of the Royal Commisison will be the same as the recommendations of the Local Government Commission. First of all, there has been a lapse in time of several years and circumstances locally have altered; secondly, there are different terms of reference for the two Commissions and, thirdly, already different evidence has been submitted to the Royal Commission from that submitted to the Local Government Commission.

What does this Order do? I will not go into the question of rate able values, because they are liable to extreme fluctuations over a comparatively short space of time. The important thing here is the question of population. The noble Lord has given figures. May I repeat them in round figures, which are easier to remember? The Order will set up a new local authority of approximately 400,000 people—that is, of about the same size as the City of Bristol. At the same time, it will reduce the population of the North Riding of Yorkshire from about 400,000 to about 300,000.

The evidence which has been given before the Royal Commission, which is now dealing with this question, has been variable. Different bodies have put forward different solutions to the problem. May I quote two of them, which show the lines on which this evidence is running. First of all, in the evidence they have submitted the Department of Education and Science have said that in a mixed urban and rural area like the North Riding there should be a minimum population of 500,000. This Order proposes to reduce it to 300,000. They said further that from their point of view there should be no top limit to the population in an urban concentration, but the minimum must be at least 500,000. Teesside is going to be only 400,000.

The County Councils Association said that all first-tier authorities—and these two are first-tier authorities—should have a minimum population of 500,000. There they agree with the Department of Education and Science. They said that in an area of high density of population, such as Teesside, a figure of 1 million upwards is probably the most suitable. And so goes other evidence. Neither Teesside nor the North Riding are in line with these recommendations. Under this Order, they will be smaller. One of the reasons is that the terms of reference of the Local Government Commission are different from the terms of reference of the Royal Commission. I will not say that it is impossible, but it is most unlikely that the eventual recommendations of the Royal Commission will be in line with what is proposed in this Order. As the noble Lord has said, this Order becomes operative in 1968. Of course, there will be consultants who will report on parts of it; but apparently it will come into force before they have reported. The Royal Commission have already received virtually all, if not quite all, the written evidence to be submitted to them, and it is expected that they also will report in 1968. So if this Order is passed now, there is a likelihood, if the Royal Commission do not agree with the Order, that there will be two major upheavals in the space of two, three or four years. This really seems nonsense.

With all the respect that I can muster, I must say that all over the country the Government are making a most untidy mess of local government. If the Government are going to try to force through this Order to-day, I think we are entitled to ask two questions, and to have answers to them. The first is: Why now? Why is it impossible to wait a comparatively short time for the Report of the Royal Commission? If the Report of the Royal Commission agrees with this Order, there will be a delay of two or three years, which in the matter of local government is not a very long period. If they disagree, and the Order goes through, then there will be two major upheavals in a short space of time.

The second question that I would ask—and I ask it for my own information—is: Why is it that this Government, whenever they want to do something, always seem to find the most inefficient way of doing it? because this is an inefficient way of running local government. I beg the Government to delay. It will not be for long. This particular set-up is nonsense. I know that Her Majesty's Government believe, quite erroneously, that they are always right. But may I again quote to them the words of Oliver Cromwell, which were misquoted by Mr. Silverman earlier in the week: I beseech you…think it possible you may be mistaken.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I must first of all declare an interest, because my home, like that of my noble friend Lord Derwent, is in the North Riding of Yorkshire. But if I have a particular interest, I may also perhaps claim to have some special knowledge. I shall be sorry if the Government insist on forcing through this Order at the present time, though most reluctantly, I concur with the advice that my noble friend has tendered, that we ought not to divide upon it. I shall be sorry for that; and I think that, in the long run, the Government will probably be at least as sorry. I regret that we should be unable to divide, because the arguments against implementing this Order now are extraordinarily strong.

As my noble friend has said, a strong Royal Commission are now sitting and have gone a long way with their work. They are charged with the specific duty of recommending what the authorities in local government should be, and (I ask your Lordships to note this especially) their boundaries. Both these issues are being prejudged by the present Order. If the Royal Commission recommend different authorities and different boundaries—as I think is most likely, on all the evidence which has so far been tendered to them, and which has no Party bias aboutit—then, if this Order is put into force, some time at the end of 1968 the whole of the omelette will have to be unscrambled.

There will have been a waste of time and of energy; and, perhaps even more important, there will undoubtedly have been a waste of money: because the first thing that happens when a new local authority is set up is not just that there is an increase in staff; there are also buildings, and so on, required. Just think of the expense that will be incurred. And this waste of money will take place in an area where at the present time I think we all agree—certainly the Chancellor of the Exchequer does—it is vitally important that economy should be used; namely, in the public sector. Why not wait for the Report of the Royal Commission?

I was greatly interested in the point made by the noble Lord opposite, but I should like to reinforce what was said by my noble friend Lord Derwent. I do not think we shall have to wait very long for the full Report of the Royal Commission. But there is no earthly reason why the Royal Commission should not be asked, when they have come to their general conclusions and before they have written their full Report, which of the interim Orders that would have been held up for the moment—assuming that they were held up—satisfied their requirements and which did not. If on this Teesside proposition the Royal Commission, in answer to that inquiry say: "Yes; this is a good idea: go ahead", then the Government can go ahead straight away. If, on the other hand, the Royal Commission say: "No; this is not a good plan. It is not consistent with our recommendations. We are going to recommend something quite different in the matter of the size of areas and in boundaries" then nobody on any side is going to contend that the Order ought to go through. But if the Order has gone through, and the Royal Commission so report, the Government will have to undo all the work which they are now insisting on doing.

May I add this comment? There is a special additional reason, which applies only in the case of the North Riding, why it would be undesirable—indeed, quite wrong—to take a decision to-day. We know under this Order what is to be taken away from the North Riding; but what we do not know is what, if anything, is to be added to it. There is a great argument as to whether Ripon and Harrogate, or one or the other, should be added to the North Riding. That is a very natural and normal proposal, convenient in every way. They are both places much more closely related to the North Riding and to Northallerton than they are to Wakefield. In fact, I should have thought that the argument that both Ripon and Harrogate ought to go into the North Riding was quite unanswerable. But we do not know what the proposal about this matter is going to be, and I suggest to your Lordships that, until we know where we stand about that, it is impossible to take any right decision as to what the boundaries of the North Riding should be.

The Government are really quite extraordinarily and unnecessarily dictatorial in these matters. I do not mind them dictating to us on what are mere issues of Party policy, if they think they are right, Heaven knows! I think they are not as a rule, but on this kind of issue, which has nothing to do with Party politics, why must they be so dictatorial and lam it into us in this way? If they persist in flouting the Royal Commission they will be incurring unnecessary expenditure when economy should be the order of the day. It is quite unnecessary to take this arbitrary decision and, although I do not know whether this will have any effect upon the Government, I am sure an overriding decision of this kind is not going to be lost sight of by voters in the municipal and local elections.

I have one other question I should like to ask, to which I think we are entitled to have an answer. I see there is a Motion down for Monday next, from the other side of the House, by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, for a Humble Adress praying that the Sheffield Order 1967, laid before the House on February 8, be annulled. As I understand it, that it is an Order which is to compel a district of Derbyshire, which does not want to be absorbed, to go into Sheffield. We are entitled to ask what line the Government are going to take over that. Are they going to say that Sheffield shall not have it, or are they going to say there shall be a free vote? Why on earth cannot the Government withdraw this Order and have another free vote? The noble Lord is always courteous to the House and he said he would give us all the information we require when he replies. I think your Lordships will agree that one piece of information we certainly ought to have is what course the Government intend to take in regard to the Motion next Monday.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might ask one question about this Order. Can the noble Lord give us any idea of the proportion of local residents who are in favour of it? I quite realise that Her Majesty's Government are not particularly interested in that, since only about a fortnight ago we passed the Plymouth Order when it was quite clear that 90 per cent. of the local residents were strongly against it, but none the less it would be interesting to know.


My Lords, I do not intend to make a speech, but in case silence may be taken as acquiescence I should like to make it clear that I strongly disapprove of this Order.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that in the course of this series of Local Government Orders which I have been presenting to the House recently I may not have gone as fully as I should have done into the general background of the Orders, because it is clear to me that there are many misconceptions still abroad. Therefore, I hope the House will bear with me if I go into this at a little greater length. Until to-day I had thought of holding this back until next Monday, when we have an Order coming forward which is more contentious than this one, but I see now that it will be better to do this to-day.

The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, spoke about two pieces of evidence which had been presented to the Royal Commission and which, taken in isolation, I agree with him would give the impression that the proposed change might be out of harmony with what might come out of the Royal Commission. But I must remind the House that these are only two pieces of evidence out of a large number of submissions which have been made to the Royal Commission, which by no means agree with each other. A great quantity of conflicting evidence has gone into the Royal Commission and, of course, the evidence is not of such great importance; what is important is what is said by the Royal Commission itself. Of this we have at the moment no idea, and it would be quite wrong for the Government to temper their course in these Orders so as to agree with any possible recommendation which might come from the Royal Commission, rather than any other recommendation. We just have to wait until we get the Royal Commission's recommendations.

The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, asked why we had to do this now. The answer is because we need the new county borough ready in 1968 to put into effect the results of this special survey which is being carried out, which I would remind noble Lords opposite stems from the energetic intervention of the then Lord Hailsham a few years ago, which I mentioned earlier. So far as my noble friends on this side of the House were concerned, this was considered to be a good thing. We were not very sure at the time, but it has turned out very well. Lord Hailsham went to the North-East because there was an economic crisis, and he came to the wise and far-seeing conclusion that there should be a special survey, the results of which in fact will be ready next year; and we think we should be letting down the people of Teesside rather badly if we did not have the appropriate form of local government ready to put into operation. I think the ghost of Lord Hailsham should be hanging over this Chamber this afternoon. To oppose the Order at the moment would seem to be cutting away a good deal of the ground from under his excellent feet.

The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, asked why we did not ask the Royal Commission whether this Order—and I imagine he would say, whether all these Orders—will satisfy its requirements. The answer why we do not do that is because the Royal Commission does not know what its requirements will be.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I am afraid he has misunderstoood. What I said was that the Government should ask the Royal Commission, as soon as it knows and before it makes its final report, what its recommendations are going to be; and, when they have made up their mind on the size of the authority, whether the Orders which have been held back for the moment do or do not conform. If they do, let them go straight ahead; if they do not, even the noble Lord would not agree.


My Lords, I do not really see any need to ask the Royal Commission about it. As soon as the Royal Commission says what size it thinks would be right, we shall be able to see for ourselves.

If I may ask the House to stand back a little and look at this matter, I think it has been clear to all Ministers of Housing and Local Government for a good many years—possibly even decades—that the present structure of local government dating back to the '70s and '80s of the last century was coming towards the end of its natural life. The demography of the country was changing so fast, people were going in such large numbers to live in cities, transport was improving, and all this made it clear that the day of "dickering" with the present system was rapidly coming to an end and we should be compelled to have a complete, radical overhaul. It so happened that it was the last Minister who faced up to this situation and said, "Right, we will now appoint a Royal Commission to look at everything from the bottom up". The moment he did that he was faced with a problem: what do we do about the existing machinery of adjustment in the local government structure? I would remind the House that this is really quite a complicated matter.

The existing local government order, the old local government order, had three ways of adjusting itself. There was a Local Government Commission, which we are going to wind up, which carried out, first, general reviews and, secondly, special area reviews. In the general reviews the Commission looked at the boundaries and nature of top tier authorities, counties and county boroughs. In the special area reviews it looked at the boundaries and nature of both top tier and second tier authorities. There was a third means of adjustment, the county review, where the counties themselves examined their own second tier authorities. So you had the centre looking at the top tier, you had the centre looking at the top and second tier together, and the top tier looking at the second tier.

All these three machines were producing recommendations of changes under the 1958 Act fairly regularly. There were a good many in the pipeline when the Minister decided to set up a Royal Commission. Clearly, it was a problem of turning the tap off, and the question was: "When do you turn it off? Do you turn it off there and then, and waste the seven or eight years of work which had gone into those proposals which were awaiting decision, or do you examine the pile of proposals on your desk and take those which seem to you most urgently in need of implementation and implement them, although we all know that in a certain number of years the Royal Commission will come up with completely new answers? The Minister chose the latter course, and I cannot see anything illogical or indefensible in having done so. He did not accept every recommendation which came from the former adjustment machinery. In no less than seven cases he refrained from taking action on Local Government Commission recommendations, because the Royal Commission was coming up, and he said: "No, these are not urgent; in these cases it will be expedient to hold our hand until we see what comes out of the Royal Commission on Local Government." The Orders coming before the House now are the other cases in which he said: "No, this is so urgent that we will go ahead with it in spite of the Royal Commission." Each has to be judged on its merits.

I should like to turn for a moment to what the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said about local opinion. It all hinges on local opinion, and it is for this reason that we have the immensely complicated machinery of the old adjustment machine; You have a look at the situation, draft your proposal, and consult with the local authorities. You make a firm proposal, and you send it to an inspector to hear the objections from the local people. The Minister considers all objections, takes his decision, and the decision goes to the House of Commons where representatives of local people can once again come forward and speak in favour or against the decision. What more one can possibly do than that to make sure that local opinion is fully tested and weighed at every stage, I do not know.

In conclusion, I should like to take up the image that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, gave us: the whole omelette, he said, may have to be unscrambled in a few years. So it may, but the Government believe that it is well worth the effort to keep the omelette up to date in the meantime before any major unscramble.


My Lords, may I put one point to the noble Lord? He mentioned a number of authorities where the Government decision was not to proceed. Does this apply to Tyneside? Is that one of the seven?


No, my Lords, Tyneside is in a different position from all the others. Nothing will be done that will not have to be confirmed in this House. It is an atypical case. The Local Government Commission made a certain recommendation. The Minister neither adopted nor rejected it, but made a new proposal of his own, and that proposal is at present still lying there and at the moment no steps are being taken to implement it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.