§ 3.0 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD HUGHES)rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland 1966–69 (Cmnd. 4150). The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is somewhat tragic that in this first Scottish debate for some time we should have come here with the sad news of the death of Lady Horsbrugh. While we have rather strict rules in this House about paying tributes, we also have ways of departing from them when it appears necessary. I think it is not only the Scots in your Lordships' House who would agree with me about the appropriateness of paying tribute to Lady Horsbrugh on this important Scottish occasion. Even if she was not the first woman Cabinet Minister, she was certainly the first woman to obtain that rank in a Conservative Administration, and her list of other firsts is quite a formidable one. She was the first woman to move the Address in another place, the first woman Privy Counsellor, one of the first Life Peeresses, and certainly the first Life Peeress who came to us from another place. Because of my own home connection, I am also aware of the fact that she was the first woman to represent Dundee in Parliament and I believe—though I am not absolutely certain of this —that she was the first Conservative to represent that constituency since the passing of the Reform Act in 1832. She just missed making it a centenary by getting there a year too soon.
§ But I wish to-day to dwell, briefly, less on her political career, greatly distinguished though that was, and more on her personal courage. Many of your Lordships will recollect how during the last few years, even though she was greatly in pain—and I think it would be correct to say that she was seldom completely free from pain—Florence Horsbrugh continued to attend and participate in all the activities of the House. In paying tribute to her to-day, we mourn not only the passing of one of the pioneers of the representation of women at Westminster in both Houses, but also the passing of a great woman.437
§ My Lords, it is now two and a half months since the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland under the chairmanship of Lord Wheatley. On the day of publication I repeated to your Lordships a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend, and in the brief subsequent discussion the important issues were touched upon and the interest of your Lordships was made clear. The extent of this interest is not at all surprising; this Report is one of the most significant documents for Scotland that has been produced this century.
§ The Royal Commission had a distinguished membership. Presided over by an acute and learned judge, it numbered among its company two Members of another place, several persons with long service on local authorities either as elected councillors or as officers, and others with wide experience in varied aspects of public life. Its Report is long—well over 400 pages, with many maps and charts. Such length is unavoidable, given a subject of such weight and complexity. The Report is comprehensive and thorough; and I am sure that noble Lords who have read it through will want to thank the Commission for the care and the objectivity with which they have approached their task, and for the valuable public service which they have performed.
§ As we approach the last quarter of the 20th century many of us can look back and see how much patterns of existence have altered, how rapidly technology and communications have developed over the years. The changes in the system of local government have not kept pace with this progress; the local government structure, which has been put together piece by piece in a rather haphazard fashion, is now held together only by the experience, skill and application of elected members and officials. It is this problem of structure which Lord Wheatley's Commission was faced with—how to create a framework in which local democracy can work effectively, in which the potential of the existing resources can be fulfilled, in which the needs of communities and individuals can be quickly and efficiently met. In the conclusions and recommendations of the Commission lies an opportunity to shape Scotland's future.438
§ As my right honourable friend said on October 14, this is an opportunity which the Government gladly accept. We have already welcomed the Commission's fundamental approach to the problems. We accept that reorganisation is necessary, that the number of authorities with executive powers must be reduced and that the division between town and country should be ended. But—and I cannot emphasise this too strongly—on no more than this have we already made up our minds; we want to ponder the Report ourselves and at the same time to learn what other people think. To this end we have sought the opinions of the local authorities and other interested bodies and individuals on the basic proposals relating to the structure of local government and the division of functions between regional and district authorities.
§ Thus, as the Government are them-selves considering the Report at present and have invited observations from out-side interests, it would not be appropriate for me to comment at this stage on the Commission's specific recommendations. My function here to-day is one that I am happy to have, although it is one that does not often fall to a Minister to perform. I do not have to state, explain or defend the Government's policy. What I have to do here to-day is to listen, as dispassionately as anyone with a deep interest in this field can, to the views expressed by noble Lords from all parts of the House. All that I wish to do now, therefore, is to draw attention to various points raised in the Report which the Government regard as of special significance and on which we should be particularly interested to hear noble Lords' opinions.
§ Through the Wheatley Report runs a consistent thread, the Commission's general philosophy of the purpose of local government: the Commission identify the objectives to be aimed at and go on to recommend a structure to realise these objectives. In considering the Report, the temptation for us all is great to pass over the objectives and basic principles and instead to jump straight to the proposed new structure. This is very understandable: functions and areas are probably closer to our own experience and perhaps easier to express views on than 439 is the general philosophy of local government. Nevertheless, my Lords, the philosophy is of fundamental importance; our concept of local government naturally conditions our views on how it should be organised to do its job well: and it is right that our underlying thoughts on these matters should be brought out into the open, clarified and if necessary criticised.
§ I hope that to-day there will be some discussion of the objectives which the Commission suggested a new system of local government should achieve—power, effectiveness, local democracy, and local involvement. I hope also that noble Lords will consider the scope and purpose of local government within society and in relation to the central Government. Practical considerations are obviously involved, such as the provision of services and the representation of local interests. and these in turn raise questions of power, scale, and finance: how much power does local government need to operate effectively? How much power can central Government give it? Where does one strike the balance between effective administration, suggesting large areas, and the need for local people to understand and to feel involved in the operation of the system?
§ May I turn now to finance? Since the Report was published the opinion has been widely expressed that a new structure of local government will be meaningless and incomplete without a new system of local government finance. My Lords, this we accept, We recognise the fundamental importance of finance, and Government Departments are at present engaged on a special examination of the subject. This internal method of inquiry seems to us to be the right approach. No outside inquiry could probe deeply into this subject and report within a reasonable time, having regard to the fact that it could not be considered in isolation from the national system of taxation. An internal Government inquiry can achieve this aim. Although these studies are now under way, however, they cannot be brought to a conclusion until the structure itself is decided. For the present, therefore, with the assurance—which we have already given and which I gladly repeat here: that we mean to equip the new local authorities with 440 the needed power and financial viability—I think people have a sufficient lead to develop their views on structure and make them known to the Government.
§ I do not intend to say much about the Royal Commission's proposals for the new structure of local government. Everybody has views on the two-level organisation of seven regional and thirty-seven district authorities, and on whether the number of authorities and allocation of functions recommended by the Commission are right or should be modified in some way. In the consultations which are going on at present, the Government have asked interested bodies, local authorities in particular, to concentrate on this aspect of the Report, and noble Lords' opinions also will be welcomed. in inviting comments we have emphasised that we are concerned with the general framework at this stage and that local authorities and others should not be preoccupied with points of detail; for instance, with the definition of individual local boundaries. Most of the local authorities from whom we have already received comments have succeeded in adopting this broad approach and in looking at the proposals from a general point of view. This is not to say that their particular experience has not conditioned their response. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that our debate this afternoon will be particularly helpful and useful if we likewise do not get bogged down with minor details.
§ To date, observations on the Commission's recommendations have been received from 50 local authorities and from 11 other bodies and individuals. This is a good response, but by the end of January, the date specified by the Secretary of State for the submission of 'observations on the general structure proposed, this number can be expected to increase very considerably. We have not yet received any more than preliminary comments from the local authority associations, with whom we shall be holding discussions in due course.
My Lords, it is my intention to read every letter we receive from local authorities. I have looked with considerable interest at the observations which have already come in, but there is no point at this stage in trying to summarise them; perhaps all that I might say is that their main characteristic,
not surprisingly, is diversity. I have, however, been very much impressed by the constructive approach most authorities have adopted. May I give an example of that? One that I remember well, without naming the burgh concerned, starts off with the statement:
It is recognised by everyone that the small burgh is the most effective and the most efficient form of local government. However, if this view does not prevail, we suggest …".
And then they go on to a very reasonable set of proposals.
§ The Report had much to say about the membership and internal organisation of local authorities. Local government has served us well, and in Scotland we have a heritage of which we can be justly proud. Let us, my Lords, not forget that. Because we recognise that change is necessary, it does not follow that we are saying that what has happened has been bad. What has happened is that the machine has perhaps outlived its usefulness. But it is clear, and I think it follows from what I have just said, that local government operates successfully, where it is completely successful, in spite of and not because of its own system. Noble Lords may wish to indicate whether they consider that we need to reappraise and revise the present methods of doing business within local authorities. This raises questions about the committee system, about delegation, about devolution. about the payment of councillors, and the respective responsibilities of elected members and officials and indeed it is worth thinking about the whole concept of local democracy which these methods embody. Democracy, we should remember, my Lords, connotes not only government by the people, but powerful government.
§ The Government are already committed to the view that radical reform of local government is necessary. This obviously means considerable disturbance and the loss of some hallowed traditions. When as individuals we have to alter our settled way of life, few of us are keen to abandon our well-tried habits and routine and to take a leap into the unfamiliar. But, my Lords, in this case the Government are not confronted with a uniform resistance to change. There is wide agreement that the alternative—to let things go on as they are—is quite unacceptable. There is agreement, for example, that many of the traditional 442 boundaries perhaps have a historical validity but are quite out of line with the reality of the patterns and needs of modern life. At the same time there is recognition that within a new system there should be scope for preserving traditions, privileges, and dignities which are cherished by local communities.
§ My Lords, if there is to be change, it is vital, as the Wheatley Report states, that the period of uncertainty must be kept to an absolute minimum. It is important that there should he no long delay, either in the Government's reaching conclusions on the main issues, or in the transition between the old system and the new. Local authority members and officials must be spared prolonged doubt about their future, and the standard of local services, and the planning of projects must not be prejudiced by any unnecessary delay. That is why the Government are pressing on with consultations as quickly as is consistent with having all the issues properly considered. We hope to announce decisions on the main proposals concerning structure and division of functions in a White Paper to be issued in the spring of next year. There will then be further consultation and discussion on the many matters of detail before it is possible to prepare and introduce legislation.
§ It is not always that a debate in your Lordships' House can properly be described as a form of consultation. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who, when I repeated the Statement on publication, hoped that those consulted would include Members of your Lordships' House. I am very glad, therefore, that to-day we are going to have, I hope, a debate which will fall exactly into that category of consultation. I believe it will be extremely valuable in assisting the Government to consider the many issues involved: and, my Lords, I shall listen with the greatest interest to all that noble Lords have to say. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland 1966–1969 (Cmnd. 4150).—(Lord Hughes.)
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, the friends of Florence Horsbrugh will be grateful to the noble Lord for the very graceful and appropriate tribute 443 which he paid to her at the beginning of his speech. The first time I met her was more than forty years ago, in 1928, when she came to speak for me at an open air meeting in Kirkcaldy, where was a candidate. I can see her now, standing on a platform in the street replying to hecklers with infallible accuracy, as she always did. We got into the House of Commons in the same year and remained there for fourteen years, from 1931 to 1945. We were colleagues as junior Ministers in a pre-War Government. She got hack again to the House, and although I was not a member of it when she became a Cabinet Minister I always deeply admired the selfless devotion with which she applied herself both to her Ministerial and to her Parliamentary duties. She would not wish a long tribute, or many tributes, to be paid to her, but her departure will leave a gap in many hearts.
I should like to thank those who arrange the business of the House for enabling this debate to be held before the Christmas Recess, and I am very glad that it should take the form of a Government Motion. The reason why I put my Motion down on the Order Paper on the first day of the Session was that I knew many of your Lordships were anxious to express your views in Parliament on the future structure of local government in Scotland before the White Paper to which the noble Lord has referred had been issued, and before the Government had made any decisions from which they might find it difficult to recede or which they might find difficult to modify later on.
The noble Lord has asked us not to become bogged down in too much local detail, and I do not intend to enter at all in this debate into local detail—not because it is not important, but because I do not expect that the White Paper will seek to prejudge the local questions which may arise out of this Report. I shall try to concentrate my own remarks on those general proposals of the Report which I hope may be rejected by the Government, and I shall not say very much about those parts of it with which I agree, because I so often notice that any prolonged Parliamentary display of acquiescence in any Scottish debate is equally unprofitable and unpopular.
444 However, before making the few criticisms which I have to offer, I should like first to say that I think the fundamental recommendation of the Wheatley Commission, that for the major purposes of local government Scotland should be divided into a small number of large regions, is right. The opposition which has been so far expressed to this idea in Scotland is not well founded; I do not believe it will be sustained for very long. If that is so, we ought to try to get this fundamental recommendation implemented soon.
Of course, any revolutionary change like this must take some little time to carry into effect, but I hope we are not going to think of it as the Redcliffe-Maud proposals sometimes appear to be thought of, in terms of four or five years, because local government reform in Scotland is an urgent matter. We need this change very soon, for many reasons, one of which is that it is essential to our economic growth. While we must take the greatest trouble to get it right, we ought not to tolerate any avoidable delay.
Having said that, I have three adverse criticisms to submit to your Lordships. One of them is concerned with the regional boundaries. I think that the area of the proposed Highland Local Government Region is much too big. From reading chapter 23 of this Report your Lordships may perhaps infer that there may have been some idea in the minds of the Highland Development Board, which they may have communicated through their evidence to the majority of the Wheatley Commission, that there is some substantial advantage to be gained from making the area of the Highland Local Government Region coterminous with the area of the Highland Development Board. But the more I look at this idea, the more fallacious it seems to be. The Board will be able to do their work much better if they have to deal with a compact, efficient local authority whose area is homogeneous and whose constituents are willing to be combined with each other, which I think the other six proposed regions, upon the whole, probably will be. But the proposed Highland Region will certainly not be.
I would not offer any objection if the Western districts of Moray, Nairn and 445 Banff were put, as is proposed in the Report, into the new Highland Local Government Region, provided that the inhabitants were not against it; and if it were proposed to include these very Highland parts of Moray, Nairn and Banff in the area of the Highland Board, so that they might qualify for the receipt of economic benefits which the Board can dispense, again I would not offer any objection, and I expect the inhabitants would probably welcome it. But these two questions—whether these three districts should go into a new local government region, and whether they should be in the area of the Highland Board—are quite different. The answer may be "Yes" to both, or "No" to both, or "Yes" to one and "No" to the other. There is no interdependence, and there ought not to be interdependence, anywhere in the Highlands between these two questions. What I most decidedly object to is the proposal by the Commission that the proposed Highland Local Government Region should include the Shetlands, the Orkneys, the Outer Hebrides and the County of Argyll.
Suppose that the island of Malta had been politically integrated with the United Kingdom, which very nearly happened in the 1950s. I think there was a 57 per cent. Maltese vote in favour of it, which was not considered quite enough. if it had come off we should now have had one or two Maltese Members of the House of Commons, but no one in his senses would have proposed that Malta should be combined with South East England for local government purposes. But anyone who has travelled both to and from Malta and to and from Shetland will tell you at once that the journeys between Heathrow and Malta are much more frequent, much more easy, much more comfortable, much more reliable and much less likely to be postponed for days by bad weather than the journeys between Shetland and Inverness.
We all understand that a very small all-purpose authority with a population of only, perhaps, 17,000, and very small economic resources, would need a high percentage of Government grant for its social services, whereas our general purpose in Scotland as a whole is to reduce this percentage. But we must consider geography, too, and we must also pay 446 attention to the local patriotism, the pride of achievement, the distinctive traditions and the culture of people like the Shetland islanders, who have far more in common with the faroe Islanders and the Scandinavians than with the Scottish Highlanders, and who have never at any time spoken Gaelic. If we try to compel them, against their strong desires, to be dominated in their local government affairs by the mainland, we shall create the most bitter resentment and there might easily be a serious movement for political secession.
I know the cynics will say, as they always do "Oh, there is no fear of that. They will never get as much money out of any Scandinavian country as they get out of us. They will grumble a little and then they will come to heel. "But money is not everything in this world. There are some people who prefer local independence to having more money. The facts of geography and the facts of history lay upon us the obligation to suffer a few small local government anomalies round the North and West coasts of this island in order to ensure the political contentment and happiness of a small number of people who have been politically associated with us for so many centuries. I would have one all-purpose local authority for Shetland, another for Orkney, another for the Western Isles. As for Argyll, I am not going to stick my neck out this afternoon by claiming to judge whether Argyll ought to be amalgamated with the Western Region or whether it should become another little anomaly of its own. What I am clear about is that it ought not to be included in the Highland local government region.
That is all I have to say about regional boundaries, although I might mention in passing that I rather wish the Commission, in publishing in the Appendix and elsewhere their maps showing these boundaries, had also put in the rivers and inland lochs, which would have made it so much easier to see which places are supposed to be in which regions. Chapter 17 of the Appendix, which describes the boundaries of the East Region, clearly states that the southern boundary of this region will be the watershed between the Forth and the Tay river systems, then the Ochils, then the Cleish Hills, and then the Fife Lomonds—all very simple and easy to 447 understand. Then the Report itself states, in paragraph 750:We are satisfied that the Western district of Perthshire, which lies within the basin of the Forth, should' be excluded from the region.Again, that is perfectly consistent and easy to understand; but when you come to compare the Commission's map with an Ordnance Survey map, after two hours of painful and tedious labour with the aid of a magnifying glass, a protractor, a pair of dividers and a ruler, and having completely ruined your first two copies of the Appendices, you find at last, at the third attempt, that without any doubt whatever it is not only the basin of the Forth that has been removed from the East Region and from Perthshire but about 200 square miles of the Tay basin —the whole great area of Glendochart from Killin to Tyndrum, and further North the whole area of Glenlochay, all of which drains into Loch Tay and all of which is separated from the Forth basin by a range which includes two of the highest mountains in Scotland, Ben More and Stobinian.
When you compare the map with the other regional maps in the Report showing the existing regional boundaries for existing purposes, you find that this region of the Upper Tay in Glendochart—this 200 miles of the upper Tay basin—is still included in the East Region in Perthshire for the purposes of the regional fire service, the regional water boards, the hospital boards and the river purification boards, all of which purposes are assigned in Chapter 16 of this Report to the new regional local authorities. It is all very puzzling, my Lords, and there is not a word of explanation about it in the Report. But this might be described as a relatively local piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and I shall not press for the solution this afternoon.
My other criticisms can be stated together, because they are argued together in the Report itself. I think the most serious error which the Report has made is the proposal to divide planning functions so as to give strategic planning to the regional authorities and district planning to the district authorities. I think they have made another error in choosing what the Report terms the "shire level" rather than the locality level for the 448 second-tier authorities. Your Lordships will find the reasons given by the Commission summarised in paragraph 714. They say:It is important that the second tier of local government should have worthwhile functions … We do not consider that the environmental, amenity and other miscellaneous functions that could be assigned to the locality' scale of authorities would by themselves form a sufficient range of functions.Then they say:The picture changes completely when the second-tier authority's range of responsibilities is extended to include such functions as local planning, …And then in the next sub-paragraph but one they say:Those who wish second-tier authorities to be a credible part of local government must face up to the issue and make them bigger.Surely the Royal Commission are here arguing in a circle. When they are asked why it is necessary to split planning, their answer is, "You must split planning in order to have big secondary authorities". When asked why it is necessary to have big secondary authorities, they say, "You must have big secondary authorities so that you can split planning". I am not impressed by that kind of argument, because I am decidedly opposed both to the splitting of planning functions and to the choice of the larger area for the second-tier local authorities.
I think the strongest argument we have against splitting planning is to be found in paragraph 217 of the Report which quotes the evidence of the Scottish branch of the Town Planning Institute. According to this evidence, there are not enough qualified planning staff in Scotland now and there will never be enough qualified planning staff in Scotland to man more than one branch of local government. I think that makes sense. The more people employed in looking after other people's business, the lower their standard of efficiency is bound to be, and the less easy it will be to get the number of people required. In order to get the best results, what we want is less planning, but of a higher order and at a higher level, with fewer people of greater skill; and that is the reason why I think it is wrong, as this Report recommends, to split planning. It is not a boast but a fact, that the average level of competence is probably higher in Scotland than anywhere 449 else. Yet I do not think anybody could take offence if we said that the present planning authorities in Scotland are not planning very well. And it is not their fault: it is our fault for imposing upon them duties for which they are not constitutionally well fitted, and it is often their public duty to deal with matters which they do not properly comprehend.
Some years ago I had to act as a guide to a planning sub-committee surveying an area which happened to be in the Highlands. To get a comprehensive view of the area you had to walk for about two miles up the side of a hill. The members of the sub-committee—excellent people, anxious to do their public duty properly—arrived punctually, attired in bowler hats and patent leather shoes, with brief cases in hand. After the first 20 minutes all except one suddently recollected that they had to attend an important meeting in an hour and a half in a certain town for which they could not be late, and they had to withdraw from the hillside. But one member of the party endured to the end—he had remembered to bring a pair of gumboots. When we got to the top the sun shone; we had an excellent sandwich lunch and a most delightful chat about public affairs in general.
I think the case against split planning could hardly be stated better than in that very well informed and closely argued Note of Dissent on page 281 of the Report by two honourable Members of another place, belonging to different Parties but both with great and unrivalled experience of local affairs in Scotland. I would most earnestly warn the Government that if they accept this recommendation to divide planning between two sets of authorities, both with the right of appeal to the Secretary of State but neither with an adequate staff who understand the subject, it is simply asking, with both arms wide open, for the maximum of frustration, delay and inefficiency.
If we are wise enough to confine planning functions to the regional authorities, then I think the Commission's chief argument for the large shire level second-tier authorities disappears. The modern county is too small a unit for modern local government but too large for intimate association with the mass of the people which is greatly to be desired, even if the mass of the people do not always bother to vote in local government elections.
450 Since I am very anxious to see the main regional proposals of this Report carried into effect soon, it is only with the greatest reluctance that I feel bound to advocate a course which will probably take a little longer than if we accepted all the recommendations in the Report as they stand; because the 37 districts are fairly well defined, while the 101 localities are much less well defined; and I confess that if the thing was done ideally, as it should be done, there would probably be a good many more than 101 second-tier authorities at locality level. I think they should not be uniform either in size or in function. Some, of course, are identifiable communities which are anyhow large enough to carry out the functions listed in chapter 24, and others are not; and I think they should all have what is termed in the Report "a general competence." You do not want uniformity. You do not want to supply your customer with a ready-made standard suit into which he has to squeeze his unsymmetrical limbs. You want to supply him with a measured tailor-made suit which will tit him.
I would particularly ask, in conclusion. that the Government should try to see whether we cannot make the best use of the material which already lies to hand in the shape of the Scottish burghs, large and medium and small. I know that there are an awful lot of them, some 270 I believe, but the smaller ones do not have very extensive functions now, and it is not necessary for all the second-tier authorities to have exactly the same kind of work.
The roots of the Scottish burghs are far deeper in our history than those of any modern county or any modern county council. These burghs have worked for Scotland and fought for Scotland, some for six centuries, some for seven, some for more than eight and some probably for longer. They were always specially represented in the three Estates of the Scottish Parliament before the Act of Union. They have always been proud of their connection with the Crown and they have always had a tremendous sense of their own worth, which has often aroused admiration, sometimes amusement, but always affection.
After the great Reform Act of 1832, a huge banquet was held in London to celebrate the event; Liberals were invited I from all over Britain, and one of them 451 was the Provost of Peebles, who was a leading Liberal in the Border Country at that time. When the Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham, asked this great gathering to drink to the health of the majesty of the people, the Provost, who was a little hard of hearing, sprang to his feet and thanked the Lord Chancellor for his kindness in proposing the health of the "magistrates of Peebles". It did not seem odd to him that this should be done, and his error was greeted with loud and sympathetic applause.
The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has been Lord Provost for six years of a great City which is also a Royal Borough, an office which he has fulfilled with unusual distinction and success. He knows better than anybody else here what the small burghs mean in the life of Scotland, how active they are in serving the country, how eager they are—sometimes more eager than the large burghs—to help the National Trust, or the Historic Buildings Council, to preserve their little gems of architecture for the delight of future generations, and how they foster in a humble way, but over a scattered area, the civic virtues which are so badly needed in this age. Do your Lordships think it will be quite the same if we take away from these little towns the small amount of civic authority which they still have, and leave them with nothing but an occasional voluntary pageant?
Chapter 35 of the Report refers sympathetically to these small Royal burghs which it cannot bring into its recommendations. It suggests that they should be used to bring some ceremonial interest into the areas in which they may be situated, but that is not what I am asking the Government to do. I am asking the Government whether these little ancient authorities, who are often extremely modern in their outlook, cannot be used to advance the progress of modern local government by bringing into it the historical traditions of public service which they have always upheld.
§ 3.53 p.m.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I should like to express to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, my sincere thanks for what he said about Lady Horsbrugh. She will be greatly missed, both here and in Scotland. Her personality, modesty 452 and resolution made her welcome in all companies, and certainly in this House.
I should also say that I cordially endorse what the noble Lord has said about this Report. It is a statesmanlike document, of a very far-reaching character, and it has frankly faced up to the nature of the problems which we have to look at. That does not mean, of course, that one agrees with every emphasis the Wheatley Commission have put in it, but I think we are greatly enriched by having it in front of us. I have only one criticism to make, and that is that when they ran into difficulty they fell into the use of the categorical imperative: they said what people "should" do, and gave what was indeed an exhortation. I think that we have had enough of exhortation. But the fact that they resorted to exhortation emphasises they found it extremely difficult to give a structural answer to this problem. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for the way he has presented this case, and particularly for the emphasis he has made that we should ponder on it. I think this is the right attitude, and I am glad that he takes this view.
There are a number of things which enormously embellish this Report. The Minority Reports were extraordinarily interesting, and at the moment I am bound to say that I am inclined, on balance, to accept all the Minority Reports. The Report itself is extremely radical, and I wonder a little whether perhaps some members of the Commission felt it a good thing to make an extremely radical report, in order to present a challenge to every body to consider just what we do want with local authorities.
I should like to take up the first point which the noble Lord. Lord Hughes. made: what are our objectives? What is it that we expect of a local authority? Here I should like to read one passage from the shorter Report, because I think it puts the matter rather nicely. On page 1, paragraph 5 says:Local authorities have come to accept, and even rely on, a large measure of direction and control from the central Government. The electorate are aware of this. They are increasingly sceptical whether local government really means government. The question is being asked—and it is a serious question—whether, as an institution, local government is worthwhile maintaining at all.453 I was extremely glad that the noble Lord brought out the question of finance, which is of course part of that. But the fact remains that at the present time, unless we are going to put this point right, I am not sure whether an enormous reform of this character is necessary. if we are going to continue to make local government more or less like marionettes dancing to the tune of St. Andrew's House, assisted by the Treasury, it is not necessary to turn us completely upside down to do so.
May I take an example from the discussions on the Rent (Control of Increases) Bill last night? The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, replying, said that certain local authorities might not exercise discretion reasonably. If local authorities cannot be trusted to set the rents for their own houses, it seems to me rather doubtful whether the Government sincerely expect anything of a really positive nature from local government. I had a discussion earlier with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on the Highlands Development Board, as to whether it was given enough authority, and I was interested to see that the Chairman recently gave evidence to a Parliamentary Committee, more or less endorsing the arguments I used: that the Board had not enough freedom, and that there was too much delay in getting money from the Scottish Office and hence from the Treasury.
This is the major point, I think, because the Report goes on—and I quote from Chapter 32, at page 243. Paragraph 1013 says:… the kinds of control exercised by central Government have in total a damaging effect on the independence and initiative of local authorities.It is very doubtful whether this criticism can be answered by what the Commission ask for—that is to say:possible self-restraint by central Government in dealing with local authorities.They must have some real independence. I am sure the noble Lord—and I dare say whoever speaks on behalf of the English Commission—will say the same thing: we want the local authorities to be responsible; we want them to exercise their responsibilities. It is here that my anxiety arises. Because how will that happen? The only way that can happen is by piling the burden on to the rates, with the result 454 that housing, which as the Report correctly says is the scourge of Scotland, will become an even more serious problem. Indeed, I have doubts whether, unless the burden on housing as a subject for taxation is seriously reduced, we shall ever get a solution to the housing problem in Scotland. That is the nature of my anxiety.
I was delighted to hear the noble Lord say that he was looking at this question of finance. I believe that it is fundamental. Unless we get something of that, we shall not get local authorities with a sense of responsibility, and holding the confidence and interest of the electors, as such. It is interesting to note that this thought must have passed through the minds of the members of the Commission, for in a small footnote at the bottom of page 175, Chapter 23, they use the words, "So long as rating remains …"—indicating that it must have passed through their minds that a time probably would not come when rating was quite so significant. Indeed, I hope that this will be the case some time.
I think we must face up to the fact that there is really no popular clamour for a radical change in local government. In itself that is not an answer, but there is no demand for it. What is suggested is a complete abolition of the whole existing structure—that is to say, the structure administrative and, to some extent, legal: the boroughs, the counties. To some extent that will mean the sheriff court, and not least the provost. The noble Lord must have some regard for the office of provost or of lord provost. Does that mean this office is going for ever? Is it really worth while? Is it to be made purely a dignitary office, with no sort of authority—shall I say just a nice little chap put up for the afternoon to receive some foreign delegation? I really think this is a matter that should not be lightly looked over. Cities have their dignity, and it should be expressed in an adequate way.
May I also make this point? If we are going through with radical changes of this sort we must be sure that they are worth while, because the period of evolution is bound to be extremely uncomfortable for everybody. These Reports, or even half of them, will take from six to ten years to get working smoothly. if we go all through this manœuvre without 455 gaining very much from it it will be very unfortunate indeed.
My Lords, I should like to make a comment on the system of election. I am not wholly happy about one-member constituencies elected all together every four years. I wonder whether this is really the best way of getting people interested in local government as such. It means one of two things. First, it means an absence of continuity. I wonder whether the Government; if they want to adopt this basis, would consider that half the council should be elected every second year, so that there would not be a complete change-over. As I think the noble Lord will recognise, when a change takes place it takes those responsible from six months to a year to understand their jobs properly; and in local government, a more administrative matter, we do not want to have that break. There is a second point. With a complete change every four years there will be a stronger tendency for the candidates to adhere to one or other of the big national Parties. This is a disadvantage. National politics have only a relative interest in local politics and, on the whole, local political Parties have not been very successful or very strong. Finally, I say that it is all very well to compare this set-up with the Houses of Parliament, but in local government there is no Dissolution, no means of dissolving a council. The members, once elected for four years, stay there.
I would add one other thing, I thought the chapter on the control inside councils was extremely interesting. I will not go into it now, but on the whole I am against the Cabinet system, and I should have thought the management committee system would probably be best suited for most councils, though I agree entirely with the Commission that this is a matter which must be settled by the council itself. I am not going to follow the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on the question of size. There are some very odd things to be noted. Half of Scotland goes into one region and half the people of Scotland go into another region. You can make lots of funny jokes like that. How on earth someone elected from the Mull of Kintyre can expect to go up to Muckle Flugga, in Shetland, to fulfil his duties as a regional councillor I do not know. 456 This is the matter which I believe is supportive to the first point I made, that the local authorities should have responsibility.
Secondly, I do not really think it is possible to get round this problem by having community councils. I should have thought our experience of democracy was that representative assemblies which were not responsible were not likely to be very useful or very popular. I would not be in favour of community councils with nothing more than debating qualities. The test of whether the organisation works or not is whether you get quality—quality of men both in the elected representatives, on the one hand, and in the officials, on the other. I suggest to the Government that attaining both those qualities is the prime object of the structure and organisation which we should go for in local government.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his tribute to my great friend Lady Horsbrugh. I was very glad that he referred to her at the beginning of his speech. By great good chance for me, I spent Friday morning with her in Edinburgh, and although very frail she was extremely interested in everything I could tell her about Parliament and what was going on. She had been invited to the ceremony of the unveiling of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill—she had a special invitation because she was one of his Cabinet Ministers. She said to me as I left, "I shall see you on January 20." It was a great shock when I heard of her death only 24 hours later. On the other hand, it was wonderful to think that she suffered so little at the end and was keen and anxious and ready to return in January. She will be greatly missed by all of us. I feel a great personal loss, as I knew her intimately and she worked for many years with my husband when he was Minister of Health and she was his Under-Secretary.
I take part in this debate with the greatest possible pleasure and interest. Lord Hughes has opened the debate in exactly the way I hope he would, namely. by saying, "I want to know what all of you think", rather than by saying, "This 457 is what I think and this is what I am going to do." It is obvious that the Government are anxious to know what those of us in local government—and having been a member of a county council since 1946 I have had some experience—are thinking about the Wheatley Report. In general I am in favour of the larger areas which are recommended in this Report. In the first instance, financially it is obvious that if you have a large catchment area from which to raise funds you will be able to do far more for that area than if it is only a small area, or in the case of rural areas, one of very low rateable value. I am therefore in favour of the larger areas financially.
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, whether he can give us any indication of how these schemes will be financed. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that if local government is to be really effective it is most important that it should be much more independent of grant aid than it is to-day, and to have larger authorities and larger areas ought to help very much indeed in that way. How often, when sitting as county councillors, have we wanted to reduce the rates and been unable to do anything about it because half of our expenditure is on, let us say, education, where the salaries of teachers are absolutely and completely outwith any influence we may have, apart from other considerations. It would therefore be a great strength if in the financial arrangements which come as a result of the Wheatley Report some form of finance could be devised which was not completely outside our influence as local government people. I would ask whether the noble Lord can give us any indication of what the Government are thinking. It would be an enormous help. I also think that the larger areas would bring in a greater variety of services for more people, and this would be very valuable indeed. Furthermore, easier access to those services would be a great help. I am thinking particularly of eliminating country and city boundaries for services such as education.
It is difficult to decide what the best regions would be, because so much depends upon finance; but for the moment I am going to discuss the regions as they are outlined in the Report. Presumably this is at the present 458 time simply tentative. I am in favour of the two-tier system. I think this is a good proposal, as opposed to the Maud proposals which are different. I should have preferred rather smaller areas in order that local government people might be more in touch with their localities; but again, without knowing about finance, it is difficult to suggest anything else, for I think finance is the real key to the whole of regional division. I see the point of bringing the cities and the rural areas together, since that is also going to give a larger catchment area for financial support. I agree with my noble friend Lord Dundee about the Highlands and Islands; more particularly about Orkney, the Shetlands and the Outer Isles. Whatever regional division you make, these areas are obviously still going to need a great deal of aid of one kind or another. It would be better to recognise this and to allow the Islands to be separate regions.
As there are, I think, 16 speakers this afternoon, perhaps I should keep my general remarks to the minimum. I should much prefer to speak about the area I know best, the one in which I have been a county councillor for so many years, and that is the area comprising the four Border counties—East Lothian, part of Midlothian, Edinburgh and the southern part of Fife. I would exclude the southern part of Fife. I should like the boundary to be at the Firth of Forth. I think it is a good idea to bring Edinburgh into this area. This would be of great assistance to the Borders, and would make for a more comprehensive and important region. I am against the recommendation to exclude the small villages of Castleton and Newcastleton, which are the southernmost towns of Roxburghshire, and to put them into the Western Region. They have always been part of Roxburghshire and I should not like to see them allocated anywhere else.
As I do not want to discuss the boundaries of the other regions, the question which next arises is the allocation between the top tier and the second tier. I am speaking now for myself, but I have had the opportunity to discuss this matter with some of my colleagues on my county council. There has been no meeting at which the whole county council could discuss their views, so the opinions I am expressing are the views of a certain number of key people on the county council, 459 but not the whole county council. We agreed that education should be a top-tier function, in view of the need to include in the area education starting at the primary school and ending in some cases with the university and in other cases with technical colleges and other educational establishments. Obviously, it is of enormous value to have the whole range of educational services in one region.
We did not agree, however, that the social services should be a top-tier function. These services are essentially personal. They are concerned, in the main, with detailed and often intimate arrangements for social case work, whether with children or with families, with the aged, the sick or the mentally ill. It is essential, in my opinion—and I am chairman of our County Social Work Committee—that the administration and the working of those particular services should be carried out at the second-tier level. Looking through the regional divisions which are given in the Wheatley Report, it seems to me perfectly clear that the second tiers could provide all the services needed for social work, and it would be a very great pity indeed if those social work services were given to the region rather than to the second tier. That has been argued in the Report, in paragraph 392, 393 and 395.
I well remember, when the Social Work (Scotland) Bill was going through your Lordships' House, begging the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to make the areas for social work the same areas as we had for probation, and not to split them up into the large burghs as well as the counties of cities. Now, in my opinion. the recommendation is swinging too far the other way, and I should like to see the social services dealt with by the second tier for the reasons I have given; namely, that provision can be made in the second tier for all the services required for social work.
Recently, on October 15. the National Institute for Social Work Training organised a conference in the Peebles Hydro of directors of social work in Scotland. Of the 60 people who attended. 47 were directors of social work and 11 were members of the Social Work Services Group in the Scottish Health and Welfare Department. In their report a 460 plea is made for treating the social services as something of very great importance. There is a reference in the Wheatley Report to social work as a minority service, which quite obviously it is not; and I am sure that the people who were at that conference were anxious that the social services should be administered as near to the recipients of social work as possible, and yet in the second tier.
As to the housing recommendations, those of us who discussed this subject agreed that the provision of housing could be divided as has been recommended in the Wheatley Report; that is to say. that the top tier should have responsibility for overall planning and the second-tier authority should be able to provide housing accommodation in a more intimate and closer relationship to the electors. However, we thought that in the event of a clash of interests on housing, instead of an appeal to the Secretary of State there should he an appeal to an independent tribunal, which would decide between the second tier and the first tier on the question of housing.
We also thought that there were certain matters which would be better dealt with by the second tier than by the top-tier authority but which, in the Wheatley Report, have been given to the top-tier authority. We thought, for instance, that those subjects which are grouped under consumer protection should be given to the second-tier authority. These are weights and measures; refuse collection and disposal; the registration of births, deaths and marriages; the registration of electors and tourism—because we felt that that, too, was something which was very intimately associated with areas. We thought that it would be better if the second-tier authority were given those matters to care for. On the question of the water arrangements, as we know, the new water authorities have only just begun their work, and we felt that it would be better if the water authorities were allowed to operate on the present basis for, say, about ten years, to see how their work was carried out.
We then discussed the question of the community councils—and here I agree with my noble friend Lord Selkirk. I do not think that there is any point in setting up councils which have absolutely no statutory powers at all. They 461 are just going to be small discussion groups, feeling highly frustrated if they cannot get any of their views accepted. For myself, I think that if we are going to have community councils then those councils should have statutory powers. I am not very enthusiastic about the idea of community councils. I should like to see the second-tier authority with a sufficiently small electorate to have a good number of elected representatives. It will be their job to keep in close touch with their constituents. I do not think that community councils would be really necessary.
On the question of payment of councillors, clearly those who sit on the regional authorities should be paid, and paid on a level basis throughout the country. We did not think that the second-tier authority people should be paid. We thought they should be given their expenses, as we are now, but, I should hope, on a slightly more generous basis. I think that regional government should cover those services which do not require an intimate knowledge of the electors. Then there is the question of division of planning. Obviously, there must be overall planning from the regions, but I do not see why there should not be also local planners working in close contact with the regional planners. I do not feel that this is impossible, although it would require tact and understanding as between one group and another.
Finally, in the Appendices there are two or three proposals about the type of administrative organisation that is recommended. I prefer the type outlined on page 108—the council with a policy committee and then the committees below it—rather than the type which incorporates the management board. I think that the council with its policy committee, and stemming from that the other committees, would be more effective. I think that that is what we, having studied the Report, should recommend.
When the noble Lord is gathering up everybody's ideas and discussing them, I hope that those are the points that he will consider. The question of the allocation between the top tier and the second tier is of vital importance. I hope very much that the more intimate and simple services which apply to everybody who lives in an area will be given to the second-tier authority; and 462 that the overall powers of the regional authority will be reserved for those administrative parts of the organisation which are, in a sense, not so closely allied to the electors. I would thank the noble Lord for allowing us this opportunity of putting our views to him. I hope he will find some of our proposals are at least helpful at the very beginning of this important debate.
§ 4.24 p.m.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
My Lords, having been closely connected with this subject since 1963, I am only too well aware that I do not know the complete answers to the problems. The difficulties became very obvious to me when, as President of the Association of County Councils in Scotland, I had to try to produce an agreed and coherent statement first for the Working Party and the Steering Committee of which I was a member (which was set up by the late Government in 1963) and later when preparing the written evidence for the Royal Commission and when giving evidence before it. Now, however, I am speaking solely as an individual.
When we were considering this problem in 1963 it became very obvious (and perhaps its unnecessary to state it) that Scotland is divided into three parts: the Highlands, the Central Belt and the rest. The rest have a very large number of individual problems. Then, of course, there are the Islands. It became very doubtful whether any one solution could serve the whole country. In fact, I think I can remember saying at one of the meetings of the Steering Committee that it would be like trying to put Scotland in a straitjacket if exactly the same solution were imposed over the whole country.
It seemed to me in 1963, and again when preparing the evidence for the Royal Commission, that our suggestion of 14 top-tier authorities was going quite a long way; but as time went on and once began to see something of the workings of the Royal Commission I must confess to having doubts as to whether that was really going far enough. Then came the Commission's Report. Here I should like to pay a very sincere tribute to the Royal Commission—to the Chairman, Lord Wheatley, and to all the members—for the enormous care they 463 took in going into everything in the greatest detail, for having absorbed that enormous volume of evidence which covers three or four pages of the Report and also for the trouble that they—not necessarily the entire Commission, but some of them—took in going round and interviewing a complete cross-section of the local authorities in Scotland. In that way the Commission acquired a direct and valuable knowledge of the feelings of the various authorities.
My Lords, I think the Report is on the right lines. A two-tier system makes complete sense, and I think that seven top-tier authorities are just about right. If there were many fewer it would become really full-scale regional government and I do not think anybody really wants that. If there were many more—I stress the word "many"—it would be merely tinkering with the subject. That does not mean that I entirely agree with everything in the Report about the top-tier authorities. I have already mentioned the Highlands and Islands, which, as I said early on, I found to be an almost insoluble problem. I think there is a great deal to be said for splitting up that very big regional authority, with Shetland and Orkney, as suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, being autonomous areas with special roles and with special financial arrangements. Then the Highlands and Western Islands would go together. There is a case for splitting the Outer Hebrides. The area is so small that I do not know how it would work; but I think it is something that should be carefully examined. I realise that I am on dangerous ground in mentioning these problems in this House, but so far as Argyllshire is concerned possibly it looks more towards Glasgow than towards the Highlands. That comes on to the other areas of the South-West, the West and the Central.
As has been mentioned, the Western Region takes in half the population of Scotland and is also, I think, a great deal bigger than what is considered to be the population limit for an efficient top tier authority, which is about 1 million. Here we have 2½ million. It might be worth while to take those three to pieces again and see whether the jigsaw cannot be reassembled to give a better balance. The South-West area, though admittedly 464 it includes a traditionally autonomous collection of counties, is a good deal smaller than the standard for viability laid down in the Report. I think that area certainly ought to be looked at in some considerable detail.
I do not propose to go into further detail regarding the boundaries. If one meets assembled together in Scotland two or three people who have any connection with local government, one will certainly hear an argument about why this or that bit of country is included in someone else's area, and why the boundary ought to be changed. There is a good deal of interest about such matters and a great deal of discussion goes on. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood about the South-East corner of Fife. Whether Fife should be divided is not for me to say, but it seems odd that it should come South across the Forth rather than go West towards Grangemouth and Stirling. East Fife does not join with Dundee, one would think. It is quite close to the Tay, but, despite the bridge, the Tay is a formidable obstacle.
So much, my Lords, for the Regions, the top tier. In the second tier there are 37 district authorities. On the whole, I think that number is too few, and that some of them are too large. The functions of these authorities include planning, which is the most important function, and it seems that to a large degree planning has influenced the boundaries of the top tier. There is no doubt at all that the major or strategic planning must go to the top tier, but I am very doubtful whether there is any need to divide planning at all. There are all sorts of reasons for not doing so. There is the question of staff which, obviously, should not be the final decider although it is important. It is quite clear that there will not be sufficient staff to man this very large number of planning offices, but there will be enough to get a really efficient organisation in the regional authorities.
My Lords, I believe it to be extremely important that the second tier, the districts, should be fully consulted in any planning problems, and I am also aware that leaving it to the top tier could make for unacceptable delays, partly because of congestion and blocking the pipeline. I think that problem could be solved by 465 filtering the detailed planning which sometimes clogs the machine—minor and quite uncontroversial matters, like the alteration to a cottage or minor change of use in a burgh—back to the district authority to be dealt with under building regulations or by some other means which would have to he devised to enable that to happen and to prevent possible long delays.
The right number of district authorities is very hard to arrive at. There has to be a balance between area and population. One of the notes of reservation gives it as 101, but I think that is too many. I should have thought that it could probably be got down to about 50, instead of the 37 mentioned in the Report. I will not go through the other functions. Housing has been mentioned. I know that that is extremly important, and I think it is dealt with correctly in the Report. The policy on housing should be left to the regional authority, and the detailed work—housing improvements and functions such as that—to the district.
There are a number of smaller matters which I do not think need be dealt with by the regional authorities. Weights and measures could be dealt with by the districts. Refuse is an unsavoury matter, but it is becoming of vital importance in the landward areas. I cannot see why that function has to be forcibly divided between collection and disposal, because a number of existing county councils have, I know, joined up and are using very efficient modern plant to deal with the whole thing. I do not see why that should not go on. It could be left to the good sense of the regional authority to decide how much and where it ought to be combined and how much could be decentralised.
I think that registration of all sorts, births, deaths, marriages and the registration of electors, is a district matter. It would be much easier done in that way and it is a very local affair which should be dealt with locally. The community councils have been mentioned, and I am inclined to agree with what is said about them. They have no powers and no "teeth" of any sort. But there is another form of small committee mentioned on page 233 of the Report, the local 466 committees which the Report envisages should have some powers. I know that this is very small-scale stuff—in fact, parish pump stuff. But it is important that the parish pump should be kept working, otherwise the huge superstructure will not get fertilised and will easily wither. I think it is important that there should be something which is really down to earth. That may sound absurd, but these bodies do work. I am chairman of a district council in a very thinly populated area. We never have a vacancy on that council. Great interest is taken in its work. Its powers are minimal but it has a great advantage in that in general ordinary people are much more prepared to talk to somebody who is in the parish, who is well known to them all and walking about among them the whole time. Such a person can bring forward a problem that is quite beyond the scope of a district council, and advice can be given about how the problem may be dealt with. That type of thing may not be according to the rules, but it is a way in which things are eased along and the machinery oiled, and the very heavy structure above kept working.
The management, or the internal organisation of councils, has been touched on this afternoon. There are three methods set out in the Report. Although saying that it is a matter entirely for the regional councils to decide for themselves, the Report undoubtedly reveals a preference for the policy committee. My Lords, I do not agree. I think that the policy committee is far too like the existing committee system on county councils. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has pointed out, it has been shown that this system can be made to work by the efforts of the members and staffs, it is not a good way, and I think it would be a mistake to put it up again with a completely new set-up in local government. The Cabinet system is going too far, and I should not welcome that. The management board I like, but I prefer the variety suggested by Sir Andrew Wheatley, in his reservation to the Redcliffe-Maud Report, which is quoted fully in the Wheatley Report that we are discussing. It has the advantage that both councils and committees have powers to do the job for which they have been elected. 467 One of the important parts of this proposal is that the actual carrying out of local authority jobs will go through the chief executive officers, if that is to become the new title of the clerks. I regret that the name "clerk" may go by the board, because county clerks and town clerks are old-established names: but it cannot be helped. It is a good plan that the actual work to be done should go through the chief executive officers, because it means that there will be one person to whom chief officers can refer about how their work should be carried out and who can assure that priorities are kept in the correct order.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, pointed out, the timing of the Government's request for local authority views has been fairly quick and associations of local authorities have been able to send in their preliminary observations by the required time. They have had time to give responsible replies. But, even so, I hope that the Government, after they have considered those replies, will not make the error of thinking that, because a long time has passed since this began, and because of cries that "We cannot have any more delay", it is necessary to rush through to the end. After all, this matter has been under consideration for nearly seven years and things have not dried up. Local government is still working as efficiently as it ever has before, which is extremely efficiently.
I would suggest that the Government, when they have considered the replies from the local authority associations, should not publish a White Paper, on which they will have to stand pat, laying down that this or that is what will have to be done, but should produce a possible solution. The Report of the Royal Commission has produced a broad outline of how a possible solution can be arrived at. I think that the Government should produce the actual possible solutions, send them out to local authorities again for discussion and then come to a final decision. It will take a little longer. but as it has already taken seven years, and as it is all too clear that it will take several more years, that is not so very important.
Finally, I would say a word on finance. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in his 468 comments, has taken away some of the things I was going to say as a finale to my remarks, but I still wish to stress the importance of this question of finance. It is the greatest pity that finance was not dealt with much earlier, as was requested of both the last Government and the present one by the Association of Municipal Treasurers and County Treasurers, who said that we could not really get down to the reorganisation of local government without knowing how finance was going to work. I would put is strongly that, unless some way is found by the Government—and a way can undoubtedly be found—to make the local authorities financially solvent, no reorganisation, of whatever kind, will in the long run succeed, and we shall not get the members and the officials of the quality required.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I should like to start by associating myself with the tributes that have been paid to Lady Horsbrugh. She was in another place with my mother-in-law and remained a very close friend of the family. Her decisive comments and wise advice were always of the greatest value and she was a very good friend. I am sure that that goes for very many of us.
We are having a debate of a rather unique character to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, started it by speaking and he is going to do a lot of listening. If it is true that the Government have not made up their minds on the Wheatley Report, it is equally true that the Opposition have not made up their minds either. That leaves us an opportunity to let our Parliamentary hair down and to speak frankly among ourselves as we think fit. What is striking is the remarkable measure of agreement that has emerged so far. I very much agree with the wise speech just made by my noble friend Lord Stratheden and Campbell and with what my noble friend Lord Selkirk said on the matter of finance.
I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that this is an opportunity for considering the structure of local government as a whole. One of the things I have always found fascinating, in government and out, is that trends of opinion seem to go in opposite directions at the same time in England and in Scotland. 469 We have had unitary authorities in Scotland, certainly so far as the Landward areas are concerned. Now it is suggested that England should adopt unitary authorities and we should go to a two-tier system. There may be good reasons for this. I doubt whether it would be possible to arrive at unitary authorities of such a size for the whole of Scotland that would remove the necessity for a second tier at least in some places, and the Government will have to make up their minds on how much uniformity we want to have throughout Scotland.
My noble friend Lord Stratheden and Campbell has already asked whether any one pattern can be expected to fit the whole of Scotland, and I think that that is an important question. Incidentally, what I intend to do is to ask a number of questions which I think the Government have to ask themselves and which we equally shall have to ask ourselves as time goes on. There is considerable agreement that the sort of changes that are needed are those which first of all will recognise the inter-dependence between region and region, between county and county and between burgh and surrounding rural areas—I lay a lot of stress on inter-dependence, and I will come back to that—secondly, changes that will provide an adequate and appropriate basis for the economic and efficient administration of various services, that will be flexible enough to be adapted to the diverse needs of different areas and circumstances and will be as closely in touch with people as possible; and thirdly, changes to retain for the individual citizen a sense of belonging to a locality and a sense of participation in government in his own locality. I do not think mere involvement is enough. We cannot help being involved. But there is unquestionably a seeking after participation, not only in Scotland but in many parts of the world.
There is always one essential consideration in making changes in the system of government— a consideration, I would say, the observance of which has accounted for this country's reputation for political genius—and that is to maintain continuity through change. I suggest that, to be acceptable and to work well, changes must be in keeping with the instincts as well as the interests of the people.
470 On this I should like to say a word on independence and inter-dependence of local authorities. Inter-dependence applies both as between functions and as between authorities. The sense of responsibility for the welfare of those living in their areas is one of the great virtues of our local authorities. But it does not follow that they themselves should necessarily provide the services. It is their job to ensure that the services are provided, for example, if necessary, by a neighbouring authority better placed to provide them. It is the welfare of the individual that should always take precedence over tidiness of organisation. To my mind, this is something that was not perhaps always present to the minds of the Commission: that is my reading of the Report, although I may be quite wrong. At any rate, failure on the part of local authorities in the recognition of inter-dependence has stimulated demands for increasing the size of authorities, and to that extent authorities have themselves to blame.
Parliament has recognised this truth perhaps to a greater extent than local authorities. For example, it has provided that one authority may arrange for children to be educated at a neighbouring authority by agreement between the authorities concerned. But such arrangements are relatively seldom made, even where the absence of any such arrangements may mean that the children have to travel miles and miles to school in their own area, although schools in the neighbouring area may be just down the road from their homes. This lack of inter-dependence is not going to disappear, it is not going to be cured, by re-drawing boundaries.
I suggest that it needs deliberate and continuous pressure from above and below to see that regard is paid to those minority interests and that they take precedence over bureaucratic tidiness. The answer may sometimes be minor adjustment of boundaries. This may be right provided that the population transferred really feels that it belongs to the area to which it has to be transferred rather than the existing area. But the population may feel strongly—some do— that it belongs to its present area, but still would rather that certain services, and particularly education, should be provided for their children by a neigbouring area. The same inter-dependence, I 471 suggest, exists in services. Of course it is true, as the Wheatley Commission say, that health and welfare are closely connected with housing. But surely it by no means follows that for that reason both are necessarily to be dealt with by the same tier of authorities.
There is one other general consideration that I should like to put. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, mentioned, the Commission state four broad objectives: power, effectiveness, local democracy and local involvement. They add two more conceptions in this section which they seem almost to elevate to principles: concentration and consistency. I would far rather see inter-dependence given this status than concentration, which is closely linked with power. Concentration of power presents great dangers to freedom and to the independence both of individuals and of communities. As to consistency, this must be tempered by the recognition of the need for diversity. There should be variations and exemptions to meet different circumstances. Consistency is only a virtue if you are right, and what is right for one area may be wrong for another. A better formulation, I should have thought, was coherence and diversity. I would dispute that power should be an objective at all. I would emphatically substitute duty; and I believe that duties will still have to be defined. The duty is to see that defined common local services are provided. The powers that are exercised by local authorities over individuals must be carefully controlled by Parliament. Power comes from the people; powers are conferred by Parliament on behalf of and for the benefit of the people.
The Commission seem sometimes to accept that local authorities should be able to do what they like. This idea has no place in a free society. The mere fact that a division of duties between two tiers is proposed means that the local authorities are to be elected to carry out these defined duties allocated to them. They may have powers to do other things conferred on them. I am quite sure that we shall be doing a great disservice to democratic freedom if we abolish the ultra vires rule so far as local authorities are concerned. Their independence lies in the ways in which they 472 are to carry out their powers and duties, not in the choice of powers they are to exercise and the duties they are to perform.
There seems to have been a large extent of general agreement, first, that there should be two tiers of local government, and secondly, that local government should be as local as is consistent with economy and efficiency—as local as practicable; and what is practicable is a matter of judgment and varies with different services. It is, for example, a matter of judgment how local government should be, and on this there was disagreement within the Commission itself.
But as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, suggested, the big question is how to reconcile continuity and the recognition of local loyalties and local wishes with economy and efficiency. The noble Lord said that the Government were in no way bound to the seven regions and the 37 districts which the Commission have proposed. How will these proposals fit into the broad structure of democratic government in Great Britain as a whole? This, I think, is a question that has to be asked. Is it right to confine the role of existing communities in Scotland to a purely consultative one? Each community is to be allowed, and I quote:To do anything to improve its area.In Scotland it is proposed that the communities should be denied the right even to precept. This is in sharp distinction to what is proposed for the communities in England. It is not clear what the communities in Scotland are to do for money to pay for any such improvements, nor is it clear what their constitutional status would be. We might even have to have them as limited liability companies, or companies limited by guarantee. There does not seem to be a status to fit them at all, if they are to be allowed to spend money.
Then again, how many elected bodies are we to have in Scotland? In England there are to be provincial councils, each province containing roughly the same population as Scotland. Five of the eight provinces have between 4½ million and 6 million population, one with less and two with more. The provinces are initially to have councils, the majority of whose members are to he indirectly elected by the councils of the unitary local 473 authorities. Eventually, it is envisaged that they should be directly elected by the people in each province. Well, then, is Scotland to have an assembly initially indirectly elected by the top tier authorities and later by the people of Scotland? If so, that will mean that there will be five sets of elections: the communities, the districts, the regions, the Scottish assembly, convention or council—whatever you call it— and the national Parliament. One wonders whether this is not rather overdoing it. The proposed Scottish regions cannot conceivably be treated, in my view, on a par with the English provinces, because the proposed powers are so very widely different. Inter-dependence cannot stop with the Border, so it will be the border regions of Scotland that will have to work with the border unitary authorities of England—Cumberland, Westmorland, and Northumberland.
Again, one has to ask whether it is really necessary to have as few regions as seven for Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, was doubtful whether this was few enough, if I understood him correctly. The size and number of the regions and districts is bound to influence the pattern of services to be provided by regions and districts respectively. If there are to be seven regions and 37 districts, it seems to me to be wrong to give housing to the regions. Surely such districts are large enough to be entrusted with the housing functions. The lower tier is clearly more local than the upper tier; indeed, it is questionable whether regional government on the proposed scale is really local government in the presently accepted meaning of the term. One cannot define local government by a negative; one cannot say that it is simply all government that is not central government. Nobody would suggest that government by States or provinces is local government. Nothing, I would suggest, is of greater or more enduring local interest than local planning and housing. I wonder, therefore, whether we ought to put housing into the top tier. I should have thought rather that given a need for housing in a particular area—and housing needs will inevitably have to be co-ordinated at a higher tier, whether at Scotland level or regional level—it is essentially a matter for the locality as to where the houses are to be built, what size they are to be, what they 474 are going to look like and to whom they are going to be allocated.
I grant that the strategic plan has to be settled under the proposals by the upper tier, and where resources are scarce, priorities may have to be agreed by the top tier. But just as Maud would give the provinces in England,… a reserve power to undertake development if ever such action becomes necessary to give effect to the provincial plan …so in Scotland should not the strategic planning authorities, that is to say the regions, be given similar powers, leaving general housing functions to the second tier?
I do not want to deal with the functions in detail, but there is one allocation which has puzzled me particularly; that is, the allocation of weights and measures. This happens to be a subject I have learned something about in the past four and a half years. The curiosity is that the local authorities, in their evidence, put weights and measures in the top tier. The Commission seem simply to have followed, with hardly any discussion, the suggestions of the local authorities on this subject. I think it was my noble friend Lady Elliot who said that she thought this ought to be in the lower tier, and I heartily join with her. The only valid reason that I can think of for putting them in the top tier is that so few local authorities take very much interest in them.
What is quite incomprehensible is that food, drugs and milk functions, but not weights and measures, are by common consent allocated to the second tier. I should have thought that the sensible thing would be to put all those overlapping enforcement functions together in the second tier authorities. Weights and measures functions, which include the enforcement of the Trade Descriptions Act, are essentially local. The inspectors have to be in the closest day to day touch with local traders, local newspapers and local consumers. I think this goes for the authorities themselves, too. It is really a very personal job, not something that you want to decentralise down from Regions. You can, if I may say so, decentralise registration down, which is an information collecting job. But I should have thought that 37 authorities for weights and measures are none too many, and seven would be far too few. 475 But, of course, the seven regions may be far too few. Neither the local authority associations, nor the working party, seem to have recommended as few as seven. Fourteen to 24 was the kind of figure generally suggested, and map 23.2 of Appendix 23 of the Report makes it 17.
The Highlands have been mentioned. I should have thought that there were some good reasons for the Highlands forming one region, although I am inclined to doubt whether Orkney shares any real common interest with the Highlands. I feel fairly certain that Shetland does not. I would agree with my noble friend Lord Dundee that these might be made all-purpose authorities on their own—and this applies particularly to Shetland—each authority making such arrangements with such other authorities as it saw fit to provide for it the services which it could not reasonably provide for itself, such as further education. If it is envisaged that the Highlands region should ultimately take over the functions of the Highlands and Islands Board—if this is in the mind of the Government—then I should be inclined to favour a single authority, despite all its disadvantages. If not, it seems to me that it will be better to have Argyllshire with Lochaber, the Islands and Kyle of Lochalsh as a separate region. Although the population would be less than 100,000 the geographical and economic difficulties are such as to justify a separate region.
As for the Western Region, I would agree that it is really intolerably large. One reason why Ayrshire is included, I suspect, is that unlike Maud, Wheatley proposes to confer responsibility for new towns on the top tier. Surely, this is essentially a national function and should be left with the Secretary of State. It looks as if Ayrshire. with its population of 355,000, has been included in the Western Region because of the possibility of one or more new towns being developed there. Surely Ayrshire should be a region on its own. I should have thought people there were in many ways different from the people of Glasgow.
I would also ask: is there not a much stronger case than the Commission allows for the cities being regions on their own? Even if they are not to be, why should not the device adopted by Maud for 476 Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester be adopted? That is to say, these metropolitan areas should be divided into districts which would run the main services—education, social welfare, health, housing and many other local functions. Why should the territories of the cities, particularly Glasgow and Edinburgh, be extended to cover so much of the surrounding area? Is there any reason to think that a city will run the affairs of the small towns and rural areas round about them to the liking of their inhabitants? After all, many of the inhabitants have deliberately left the cities. Is it reasonable to claw them back? Of course. most of these have retained links with the cities, but they no longer feel they belong to them. If It is conceded that the procedures for extending boundaries have proved too cumbersome, is that not a reason for changing the procedures, rather than arbitrarily extending the boundaries?
But, whether or not the territories in the cities are to be enlarged to form districts, surely these cities themselves should retain all their present powers with very few exceptions—middle-distance transportation might be one. The idea that the existing cities, in so far as they retain their identity at all, may be degraded to community status seems to me both abhorrent and absurd.
My Lords, if there are to be more regions, then plainly there should be more districts. And how many more? I am not sure we need accept the suggestion of the two Members of Parliament on the Commission, that there should be as many as 101 districts based on the locality concept; nor do I imagine that implementing their recommendations would stifle all demand for communities. Neither 37 nor 101 need, I suggest, be the right number; compromises are often the best solution. But, whatever the number of districts should be, they would inevitably vary greatly in both density and population. And I ask again: need they all have exactly the same powers? If they must, then would it not be better to start off with 101 and encourage them to work together and to grow together. so that in due course the number would be reduced? Leave it to natural diminution instead of natural growth.
The one thing I think we should avoid is to try now—and this seemed to be 477 suggested by Wheatley—to fix a pattern that will last for ever. No pattern will do that. If it lasts a generation it will do well, especially in these rapidly changing times. What is important is that the services should be administered as close to the people as considerations of efficiency permit; and, above all, that they should be administered for the convenience of the people and not of the authorities themselves, nor the Government.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, I join with those noble Lords who have already spoken in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for having initiated this debate, thus giving us an opportunity of discussing this most important subject. Speaking for myself, and unlike my noble friend Lord Dundee, I would rather that he had postponed it until after the Christmas Recess; but, on the other hand, I have to acknowledge that the fact he put the Motion on the Order Paper has forced me, and perhaps other noble Lords as well, to study the Report of Lord Wheatley's Royal Commission.
Here, let me again join with those noble Lords who have already spoken in congratulating Lord Wheatley and his colleagues on the excellence of their Report, on its comprehensive nature, and also on its clarity. The Commission deserve the thanks, not only of this House but also of all our fellow countrymen for the pains they have taken in inquiring into every part of local government and for stating so clearly the arguments, as they saw them, for and against change, and finally for presenting their solution with the reasons for their decisions. Whether we agree or not with these reasons, their work has been long and arduous, and their study of the functions and pattern of local government in the past, and also as it is to-day and as they suggest it should be in the future, has been meticulous in every respect.
The Report has taken some three years to prepare. It is the outcome of a very great deal of investigation, much travel, many meetings, and the absorption of much evidence, both verbal and in writing. For the time, energy and thought that the members of the Commission have devoted to it. they arc entitled to and deserve not only our thanks but also our gratitude. In this connection, I am 478 sure that we in this House also recognise the devoted work of those who have served the Commission in a secretarial capacity and otherwise.
To assimilate the contents of this Report and its Appendices would entail a very serious study occupying many weeks. I regret that I have been unable to spare that time to make such a study, but if your Lordships will bear with me for a few minutes I should like to comment on a few matters which have impressed me. I hope that I am not here going to fall into all the pitfalls which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, mentioned to us.
The extent of the Highlands and Islands Region appears to me, as it has appeared to other noble Lords, to be far too widespread to be administered under a system of local government. John o'Groats and the Mull of Kintyre are 260 miles apart—that is, as the crow flies. I do not feel that the people of Campbeltown and those of Wick can have a great deal in common, except that both live in the crofter counties. Here I must say that the same thought struck me as struck my noble friend Lord Dundee (I think it was): that perhaps the inclusion of Argyll in the Highland area had something to do with the setting-up of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I should have thought that that part of Argyll from, let us say, the Mull of Kintyre to Oban, and then along the Southern shore of Loch Etive and through the Pass of Brander and on to Tyndrum, and thence following the Dumbartonshire boundary southwards to the head of Loch Long, has a much closer connection in every description with Glasgow and with the West Region than it has with the rest of the Highlands. And here I would observe that I consider that the West Region is already much too large.
In relation to the Highlands and Islands Region there is another matter which has struck me—and it has already been mentioned by other noble Lords. Why must the Orkneys, the Shetlands and the Western Islands be included in this Region? That is, of course, a question which is dealt with fully in the Report, but I am far from being convinced by the arguments leading up to these Islands' being given second-tier responsibilities and not those of an all-purpose authority. 479 When I refer to the functions which the regions are to exercise I am still further from being convinced. It is not as though the Highlands and Islands Region is ever likely to be financially viable and able to carry the financial burden of the Islands; and I think it has been admitted that the Orkneys and Shetlands have a considerably closer connection with Aberdeen than with the more adjacent mainland. As for the Western Islands, they are attached to Glasgow far more than they are to the Highland Region. My feeling is that which is shared by other of your Lordships: that these Islands should be all-purpose authorities, responsible not to any region but to St. Andrew's House direct.
I do not propose to comment upon the North-East, the East or the South-East Regions but, as I have already said, I think that the West Region is too large. If consideration were to be given to it, then changes in the Central and the South-West Regions might well be appropriate. From North to South the West Region is 115 miles long. It may be that the northern part of the Region has an affinity with Glasgow, but that is not the case so far as South Ayrshire is concerned. I feel that much of the southern part of Ayrshire—possibly the whole of the South Ayrshire constituency, or even that part of it lying South of the River Doon or South of the River Girvan—could well go into the South-West Region; and that would certainly make that Region stronger than it is at present.
The heart of the West Region is of course Glasgow, surrounded by the great industrial complex of which it is the centre. But the West Regional Council is going to be the authority, not only of the industrial area, hut of very large areas which are purely agricultural. While I am in agreement with the Commission that no longer should the cities and burghs be treated administratively as apart from the country by which they are surrounded, I feel that to take in with a great industrial area large areas of open agricultural land, stretching 70 miles to the South of its centre, 30 miles to the South-West and 40 miles to the North-West is a very different proposition.
480 Another aspect is the extent to which Glasgow would dominate the West Regional Council. To man its various committees—if the committee system is to be followed—and to provide reasonable representation, a council of some 91 or 134 members might be appropriate, and of these numbers the share of Glasgow would be 40 in one case and 59 in the other. South Ayrshire, which is so far away from the centre, would have either seven or ten members, some of whom would represent places as far to the South as Barrhill and Ballantrae. And these are so far from Glasgow as to make it, if not impossible, certainly unreasonable to expect attendance at other than fairly widely spread intervals. As a councillor in the City of Glasgow, with my place of business within a quarter mile of the City Chambers, I find it difficult to give the time to my work in the Corporation—work which I think probably would be more or less on a par with the regional council—and to meet the requirements of my business. In fact when I am attending meetings of committees I frequently have to run both to the municipal buildings and back again.
If young, active men and women are to be attracted to local government, the work of the councils will have to be most carefully organised, and transport will need to be provided for those members living at a distance from rail and bus services. While I in no way decry the services which retired or semi-retired people can give, I anticipate that there will be a great deal of difficulty in finding people of the quality desired to man the councils, both regional and district. My hope is that both industry and business may find it possible to release some of their personnel to undertake the duties of councillors. Reference was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, to the payment of councillors. I sincerely hope that if they are to be paid they will be paid a fixed salary and not simply be compensated for loss of earnings.
My Lords, I feel it is almost an impertinence to pick out one or two points from this excellent Report, particularly when the Report shows that the Commission have not failed to take those points into account, and indeed have given them much consideration. However, the Report also emphasises the difficulties which 481 the Commissioners have found in reaching certain of their decisions. It is for that reason, and also because of the invitation of the noble Lord opposite, that I have ventured to intrude into the debate. While welcoming the Report, and agreeing that a two-tier system will add greatly to the efficiency and also to the status of local government, I have to record, like other noble Lords, that I do not like the community council, and I feel that further consideration should be given to the size and composition of the West Region and to these other matters that I have ventured to mention.
§ 5.25 p.m.
My Lords, I want first, if I may, to pay a tribute to Florence Horsbrugh, and I do so also on behalf of all her many European friends, who I am quite sure would wish me to do so. I was with her when she led the British delegation to the Council of Europe. I gained a great deal of experience in working with her and was guided by her advice and knowledge. My memories of her are very pleasant. She will be a great loss. I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for the tribute he paid to her—far better than any I could pay.
I would also thank the noble Lord for putting this Motion on the Order Paper to-day, and thus giving us the opportunity of expressing some preliminary views. I stress the word "preliminary", because in my part of the world we have had rather unfortunate experiences of expressing preliminary views which were taken as being authentic views after full consideration, whereas in fact they were nothing of the sort. We were then faced with a fait accompli, and a Parliamentary political decision was taken with which none of us agreed. It was forced down our throats. We were told that we had had our chance and ought to have expressed our views then. In fact we did not know at the time that it was our final chance. I am referring to the case of the water board. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, knows all about it. With the exception of making that point, I shall endeavour not to transgress or to go into detail. The noble Lord has quite rightly asked us not to do that, and I think it would be futile if we did. However, there are one or two small points in regard 482 to boundaries which I must venture into if we are to discuss the Report at all.
As noble Lords have said, the Report is a wonderful piece of work, but I must admit that I find that some of the details which have not been discussed (and which I do not mean to discuss now) have a dreamlike quality about them. In fact, some of them have quite a nightmarish quality. Local government deals with people, and not with punched holes in cards to feed into a computer; but with certain of the details one gets that kind of feeling. Certainly in the district of Kincardineshire, where I come from, our experience of the working of regionalisation has not as yet been happy, and therefore many people are highly suspicious. We have had experience of the regional water board. In one borough our experience has been that exactly the same water, coming out of exactly the same wells, down exactly the same pipes, which used to cost fivepence per thousand gallons now costs the people two shillings per thousand gallons, and they are asking what benefit regionalisation has been to them, the ratepayers. That question is not particularly easy to answer, but in time I agree that it will "come out in the wash". At the moment it is not a very good advertisement for regionalisation.
Again, turning to large-scale administration, we find that the East of Scotland Water Board recently accepted a tender for quite a large piece of engineering work, and then had to submit the tender to Edinburgh. It was the lowest tender. Edinburgh sat on it for so long that the time for acceptance, which was two months. ran out and a very large increase in price was demanded by the contractor and agreed to as being reasonable by Edinburgh. If one appoints a water board and official engineers and instructs them to invite tenders in the proper way and accept the lowest tender, I do not agree that it is reasonable that there should then be this further delay. I do not think it is good; and if the regionalisation we are discussing now is going to result in this kind of thing, we have cause to be jolly careful.
Again, there is this point to consider, if one abolishes the small borough administration. Small boroughs have part-time clerks and officials. and they share the services of the county council 483 officials, engineers and so on. The cost of that is probably in the order of £800 a year. You will not be able to do without an official at all, and you will certainly have to appoint a permanent official to look after those functions which are now done by part-time people and delegated authority. You will certainly not get the quality of man you want for less than twice that sum. I feel that before one can really consider the Wheatley Report on a reasonable basis one must have a cost-benefit and a cost-effectiveness forecast of what the new setup will be, and I hope the noble Lord's departmental inquiry will come up with something of that sort. We are in the dark. We are very suspicious on the grounds of the experience we have already had, and I think that with that experience we are entitled to be suspicious.
I should like to know also what services which are not already supplied will be provided, who will benefit, who will pay for them and how much. As a local example, we have in our county two deaf children. It costs us £2.000 a year for two taxis to send those children to a centre. We very willingly pay that and it is quite right. But regionalisation is not going to alter it; we shall still have to do exactly the same thing. It is the local problems of that sort that worry us. This is a matter of geography, and that is not going to be altered. I agree with the Municipal Public Service Journal of October 31, where they say of the large units proposed by Wheatley that they areno more likely to create effectiveness but tending rather to result in increased bureaucracy.This is a danger upon which we want reassurance.
Should the cost-benefit cost-effectiveness show any improvement over the existing system of maximum cooperation with neighbouring authorities and regional bodies carrying out certain functions, only then, I maintain, is the Wheatley system a valid system to impose. It is unrealistic to consider what functions should go to which tier authorities until you know the numbers of each authority and, broadly speaking, their size. What may be a good solution for Glasgow and the greater Glasgow area need not necessarily be good for the Highlands, or Aberdeenshire and the North-East.
484 The unanimous conclusions of the Kincardineshire County Council are stated in a letter—quite a short one—to the Association of County Councils. It says:
and as I was at that meeting I can tell you it was more than disfavour—
- "(a) the four Cities should continue as all-purpose Authorities, their problems being quite different from those of the rural areas;
- (b) no County should be split between one region and another unless there are very good reasons;
- (c) there do not appear to be such reasons in the case of Kincardineshire where an arbitrary line has been drawn based apparently on geology;
- (d) the County of Kincardineshire should form on its own a lower-tier authority in a region comprising, broadly speaking, the area of the North-Eastern Counties Police Board. In this connection it is noted that two members of the Commission favoured the creation of 101 second-tier authorities as against the majority of the members' 37;
- (e) the proposals for setting up community councils are regarded with disfavour;"—(f) the Council renews its protest on the inadequate time allowed for considering the Report.As regards (c), reference is made to paragraph 747 of the Report, where it is stated, 'The whole forms a well-defined region, already recognised for various purposes such as economic planning. police, fire, water and hospital administration', but it is the whole of Kincardineshire which is in this well-defined region (i.e., the North-East Region), for all these purposes except water. Other services in which the whole of Kincardineshire shares with other local authorities in the North-East Region are social work, valuation and civil defence.Paragraph 748 of the Report states: 'The County of Kincardine is most often regarded as falling wholly within this region' (the North-East) 'but physically it is cut in two by the eastern extension of the Grampian massif'. This is only true in a very limited sense and important other considerations lead to a different conclusion.In Appendix 17 of the Report it is stated that'South Kincardine is included in the region' (East) 'by virtue of its physical continuity with Strathmore in Angus and its economic links and communications with Dundee'. It has also economic links and communications with Aberdeen and it is believed that these are by far the more important and stronger. Splitting a county between one region and another is setting aside arrangements built up over many years. To take one example in Kincardineshire—a new senior secondary school was opened recently in Stonehaven which serves the whole of the South of the County. But under the Commission's proposals, the South of the County goes into the Eastern Region and Stonehaven into the North-Eastern 485 Region. In the same field of education, it is to Aberdeen that the South of the County looks for University, College of Education, College of Commerce, College of Domestic Science, theatre and cultural interests generally—not Dundee. Such examples could he given in the other fields of local government administration.I am sorry to go into this detail, but I must do so to state our claim.
There remains the matter of water. Her Majesty's Government having just divided Scotland into water boards and regions and got their organisation going, surely it is folly to put the whole lot again into the melting pot. And I suggest that water is controlled by gravity and not by politics. I therefore consider that political considerations are not valid when dealing with water, or at any rate only to a very limited extent. I hope the noble Lord will not produce a White Paper, because anything in a White Paper is very difficult to get out; but if he could produce a working paper before he produces the White Paper, then I think it would be of very great value.
My own opinion on planning and housing is that provided you can delegate the detailed work to a lower-tier authority, they should stay in the upper tier authority, but you must have that local delegation. I fully appreciate the fact that planning staffs are hard to come by, and also that a great deal of the detailed work does not really require a highly qualified planning officer and can quite well be done by the authorities as they are doing it at this moment. The size or number of districts I feel should be, so far as possible, decided on population, on area of country, and on how the problems will be financed. I do not think you can come to a uniform answer all over Scotland, nor do I acknowledge that it would be desirable.
§ 5.41 p.m.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
My Lords, I shall be extremely brief. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in his excellent speech, asked us not to go deeply into detail. My very few remarks will concern one subject, and one subject only—libraries. This may be a detail in the Report, but I think it is of such tremendous importance that I hope the noble Lord will excuse me. In the first place, I think it slightly unfortunate, and it has created perhaps rather the wrong impression, that in the Report library services 486 are placed under the heading of "Amenity Functions". It seems to me that they are treated by the Commissioners in what I might call a slightly cavalier fashion. Surely public libraries are an essential service. They are, or should be, educational, cultural and informative.
Secondly, if libraries are to be administered by the second-tier authorities, the districts, as is proposed in the Report, and not by regional authorities, and if the minimum population figure regarded as having adequate resources to provide the ground services is envisaged as 100,000, I am afraid that there will be a dearth of efficient services, because more than half of the district authorities will fall below this population figure. I hope the noble Lord sees the point I am trying to bring out; we feel that the figure is too low. Many of these districts are bound to be unable to maintain effective central libraries.
It is very important too that libraries should be able to meet the needs of the Open University, which is now being set up, and particularly that the remoter areas are able to get all the information, and plenty of good and adequate books. I certainly agree with the Report that there should be only one authority responsible for library provision in each area. As the noble Lord knows, the town council have the responsibility for administering the Public Library Acts, and the counties have responsibility for the Education Acts. This, of course, makes for overlapping, and it would be far better if only one authority were responsible.
The cities, I think, are well endowed with library resources, and I do not think they need be touched; but it seems to me that the larger the unit, the greater will be the resources available, and therefore the better services it will be able to provide. On balance, therefore, I should have preferred libraries to be the responsibility of a regional authority, always provided that the structure allows for some local participation and control. This is a difficult and a highly technical matter, but I believe it to be highly important in an age when so much emphasis is being placed on education. However, I am quite sure the Government will give this matter very earnest consideration.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, like other noble Lords I should like to start by saying a word about Florence Horsbrugh, of whom one's only thought is of personal kindness, and in my case personal kindness, plus gratitude for one or two gentle but very shrewd rebukes, in season, for my ebullience. When she did rebuke me it was to my advantage, and it was done with such sweetness and courtesy that I should like, even now, to put on record my gratitude to her. One remembers her also as an intrepid politician. My first sight of her was making a political speech, standing with her shoes two inches under water at a Conservative fete, when the rain simply pelted down, but she went on.
Like other noble Lords I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for this opportunity to debate the Wheatley Report, and I should add that if it had not been for the generous and liberal manner, if I may put it like that, with which he introduced the debate, my strong inclination to withdraw would indeed have overcome even my taste for loquacity. But the noble Lord asked us to look frankly and constructively at the broad philosophy of the proposals in front of us, and in particular at the balance between central and local government which we are considering. I find this Report so confusing, so difficult, so complex and, I must confess, at points contradictory, that I would begin by seeking to underline the point of the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, when he asked the Government, before a White Paper is published, to produce a working paper to give us more time to look at the implications of what is proposed.
It seems to me that the Royal Commission might have approached their task in any one of three ways. They might have begun with the idea of a regional top tier, and then asked how well that would fit the facts. I think that possibly they might have been better advised to start at that end. Alternatively, they might have taken the facts of physical and human geography: watershed by watershed, commuting focus by commuting focus, and then asked how sovereign each resulting unit could have been. In fact, they began with an abstract idea of functions, and then sought to 488 create bodies to perform them. This seems to me to have resulted in an heroic endeavour to face both ways; and while I too am grateful for a brilliant study—but brilliant in its complexity as well as in its scope, something that has produced a textbook for debate for a considerable time to come, something that will influence debate on the Redcliffe- Maud Report South of the Border—I am bound to say that it provokes various anxieties and puzzlements in my mind.
It would seem, surely, that frustration in local government is due as much as anything to lack of clear definition of function, and my first question is whether the Wheatley Report gets the functions right or, having begun with functions, has ever had a chance of getting the facts of central Government right when finance was excluded from the terms of reference. I believe that the heart of the matter lies in the balance between central and local government, and I believe that the clue may well be found rather in the scope given in the planning operation for the free inter-play of market forces than in some of the lines of thought that have been developed so far this afternoon.
The city region, or a rural area focusing on a town, is itself a behavioural system of great complexity, and one is bound to ask whether the Report focuses decisions that are functionally relevant to the behavioural context in question in each case. The Report seems to take the citizen largely as a consumer of welfare services, be it in housing or health. Yet the citizen is also a householder, maybe an employer. He may be an employee. He is bound to be a consumer. He is certainly a shopper, and very often a smoker. He may be a commuter and from time to time she could be a baby sitter. He will be a member of a trade union no doubt, and possibly a member of some football supporters' club. He may be a bingo player or a churchman, or both. He may be an apostle of righteous causes; or he may be one who indulges in unworthy pleasures.
All this being so, there are two possible bases of analysis. One can look at the locality as a place where people live and join clubs, or go to pubs for that matter, or as a locality that is a centre of earning 489 and activity—in other words, fundamentally as a market. The Wheatley emphasis is on the first. I personally would prefer the second, for I believe that the goal of good planning should really be to create the maximum choice for a consumer, and that because choice in itself is an exercise in life and growth, whereas provision without choice is in itself to provide for stagnation.
I believe that planning should provide the environment for the maximum interplay of free choice, and that is why I welcome the fact that redevelopment has been placed with the top tier. We are told that redevelopment is one of the biggest problems that local government has to face. But surely it is no use allocating land for a shop development if private developers will not risk their capital at that spot, or if shopkeepers will not risk the rentals that such a spot would require. It is the private enterprise developer who is likely to give the public what they want and what fits the behavioural complex in which they live rather than the well-intentioned planning officers who think it good for them. My comment, my Lords, is that the Wheatley Report really dodges this market facet of the localities altogether.
Planning is so important that at the structure level it is of course placed with the top tier, but the goal of the planning operation is not clear from the Report and once again one seems to see it facing both ways. At points it reads like an exercise in urban land use planning; elsewhere it reads like an exercise in economic planning within the context of some Scottish national plan. We are told that the local authorities' powers to attract industry should not only be retained but enlarged; and here again we have the Report facing both ways. For these powers are to be enlarged without usurping the powers of the Board of Trade—in turn described as powers to lure the movement of industry from one part of Britain to another. But if that is so, what is the purpose of the powers to attract industry that are to be given in enlarged form to the local authorities? Surely, my Lords, merely to say that local government must have power to give industry an extra shove at the taxpayers' expense is not to say anything very serious at all.
490 In paragraph 225 we are told that there must be "imaginative steering" by the top tier which must take acomprehensive view of land use, redistribution of population and the provision of employment.We are also told with regard to the air services thatit is as a co-ordinating and planning agency that local government can make the most valuable contribution.With the greatest respect to the eminent persons who served on this Commission. with the greatest respect to the skill of those who drafted the Report, and to those many unseen servants who did research by the yard and by the year. I must say that those phrases are verbiage and nothing else.
We are told that local authorities should be able to raise ample revenue to be able to stand up to Whitehall, but in paragraph 1014 we are told that Governments and Parliament shouldretain overall control over the shape and direction of major services".So here we have the Royal Commission aiming, it would appear, at partnership, but really trying to have it both ways once more.
In the planning activities of the top tier we are not reminded, as I think we might well have been, that planning sovereignty at that level is really bounded on every side. There are critical prior rights to which little or no reference is made—the National Coal Board, the G.P.O., British Rail, Gas and Electricity Boards all have a capacity for undertaking development. They have this capacity which they may exercise exempt from the development levy like the New Towns, and so they bring, and must bring, a certain distortion into the whole planning operation to which, as I say, no reference is made.
Nor, surely, can the whole proposition of planning be considered even superficially without some reference to land values. Yet the very heavy hand, the very Mortmain of the Land Commission, is ignored altogether. However valuable it may be to have a body able to challenge silly planning without waiting for a developer and able to assemble sites in advance of the opportunity for development; however valuable in that respect the Land Commission may be, the fact is that its powers have had the 491 effect of land being held off the market and therefore being kept grossly under-used—another major distortion of the planning process. So as with other distortions, one is bound to ask in what respect—it is not clear from the Report—the top tier exercising its planning functions would be able to deal with these distortions.
My Lords, worse contradictions follow with regard to housing. This was called in such an effective phrase by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk "the scourge of local government in Scotland." Without a blush we are told in paragraph 425 that some 40 per cent. of householders are tenants of the State, and of the 1968 house completions the figure is not 40 per cent. but 74 per cent., if one takes paragraphs 425 and 428 together. Yet the argument elsewhere is that because housing is the big spender, therefore housing must be with the top tier. It would seem that this state of affairs is one which the Commission approve of and expect or want to continue. In other words, local government must stand up to the State but keep the citizen in his place as a fief and tenant of the local authority.
Yet, my Lords, this is another contradiction, because in paragraph 432 we have a wind of change. It says:… a new perspective is essentialin housing policy, anda broader viewis wanted, both of housing needs and of ways to meet them. Then I quote from paragraph 431:… the time has come for a new approachwith local authorities actingnot only as the providers of houses for letting, but also as the co-ordinators of all effortsto establish housing for the whole community. Finally, we are told—and it is interesting that this comes from a Government of the noble Lords opposite (it is something which should have been said by my side years ago, but they never had the courage to say it):'Further increases of the housing stock,… have become less important than renewing the existing stock, either by replacement or rehabilitation'".My Lords, the logic of that flies in the face of the Wheatley argument itself. 492 There is a Gresham's Law about housing: that subsidised drives out unsubsidised, so that the more subsidised State shelter is available, the more rent control is enforced, the less private enterprise will provide housing to let and the more the demand for council housing builds up until, with absurdly low rents in some parts of Scotland, we are ashamed to have to admit that we have some of the worst housing in the whole of Europe.
The answer to the Wheatley quest is surely a new look along these lines: giving rent subsidies in money terms direct to the needy; finishing with rent control; reviving the free market in rented accommodation; charging economic rents in the public sector and selling council houses to sitting tenants at a 10 per cent. discount; and generally doing everything possible (and this is surely implicit in the wind of change of which Lord Wheatley has given just a little whiff, to encourage us) to stimulate owners to keep up and even redevelop their own property. Whether or not such a policy would commend itself to noble Lords and right honourable gentlemen of the Party opposite is not for me to say. But any policy along these lines removes house construction from the public to the private sector and dismisses, therefore, the biggest spender of the lot. So the Wheatley objectives are contradicted by the unspoken logic of the Wheatley remedy.
In that case housing can be taken down from the top tier, along with management and related personal services, and put on the second tier, closer to the people. This second tier could then be more in number—say 100, or more still: I do not know—and we could save at least half, at any rate one-third, of the burghs, as I know my noble friend Lord Dundee would wish to do; and I with him.
My Lords, against that background I would leave regional planning (with all its limitations and the distortions to which I have referred corrected), transport and industrial location in the top tier. I would lop off future housing as a mini-spender; and then of course we could come to a very different pattern of local authority, still within the context of the philosophy of the Wheatley Commission. It would then be quite possible and logical to have a smaller Highland area, leaving the 493 Islands alone, as most noble Lords who have spoken would like. It would be possible to put the Borders together without incorporating them in the estuary of the Forth.
Having said that much, however, I would suggest that in the area where land-use planning is the most difficult, and is critical to the prosperity and industrial development of the whole of Scotland, there should be created a mammoth, super-strong planning tier for the Forth-Clyde land bridge to replace the absurd fragmentation which is now proposed for it. Like other noble Lords, I should want to see metropolitan areas made of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, with local planning powers; and I should want to see the Economic Planning Council, as we now know it, replaced by a Strategic Planning Agency for the whole of Scotland, on which top-tier authorities would be directly represented.
My Lords, at heart this is a debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said when introducing it, about power and scale, rather than about boundaries; about areas of economic activity rather than about areas of residence; about whether or not we can create the environment for market forces. I believe that only by freeing market forces can property ownership be restored to its social rather than an artificially socialised function, and then the top and second-tier authorities can be kept small enough in either case to escape the ravages of that new Parkinson's Law of the bureaucrats, that in any hierarchy a man will rise to the highest level of his incompetence, so that proxime accessi is much better than achievement. Only so, I believe, can the gulf between governors and the governed, which so defies participation, be to some extent narrowed and bridged, and the citizen's inherent gift for communication be restored and set free; and we can take a further halting step, I pray, towards a society that is strong and efficient, a society compassionate and fair, where none shall walk in want and none shall be stalked by fear.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I should like first of all to associate myself with those noble Lords who have paid tribute to Baroness Horsbrugh. In common with my noble 494 friend Lord Stonehaven, I was a member of her team at the Council of Europe for a considerable time, and I can certainly confirm exactly what he said about her great qualities of leadership and, even more, testify to the many kindnesses that she did me personally and, I think, all those who ever associated with her.
I should also like to add my gratitude to that expressed by other noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for giving the House this opportunity to-day to debate this Report. I think it is extremely valuable to do so, even though the noble Lord may be getting, as he probably anticipated, a great variety of comments and suggestions and many different points of view. So far he has been able (I do not know whether it is an advantage or a disadvantage) to see all the speakers who have spoken to-day, and it struck me that possibly he might be interested to have a little commentary from behind him as well. Perhaps he has been getting that in private.
I think that on any view the Wheatley Report is an exciting document, and it presents an inescapable challenge. To my mind it also has the additional merit of being well written. In tracing so clearly the history of local government in Scotland, and in presenting so clearly and forcefully its merits and its defects as we see them at the moment, noble Lords are left in no doubt at all by the Report that local government in Scotland must be fundamentally recast, for if not it will lapse slowly but surely into complete ineffectiveness and will become. to all intents and purposes, not local government at all but more and more an administrative agent of the central Government.
It is this process that the Report is at pains to attempt to counteract. To my mind it succeeds in doing so, partially at any rate, in the suggestions and recommendations. At any rate I think there is little disagreement in the House that the Report starts by pinpointing one essential factor in local government in the future: that is, that the two-tier system is the best for local government. That is why the Report has suggested the setting up of the seven regional authorities about which noble Lords have spoken so much this afternoon. I personally have no quarrel in general with 495 this proposal. I think that all noble Lords have different ideas on the sizes of the different regions. With the exception of the Highlands and Islands region and, possibly, the Western region, I have no quarrel with this; but I should like to support those noble Lords who think that for geographical, economic and social reasons the problems of the two island groups should be considered further. I think there is a good case for treating them separately as all-purpose authorities.
These regional authorities must be sufficently large to enable them to function and, more important, to finance themselves with maximum efficiency. At the same time there is always a risk that they may become too impersonal, too bureaucratic, too divorced from the people that they are representing and the people the services for whom they are trying to administer. This, in itself, implies that the second tier must be as genuinely and democratically local as possible and, in particular, must be seen to be so.
I think it is here that the recommendations of the Report are open to criticism. There are proposed 37 different district authorities with responsibility for lesser local authority matters which I need not go into now. These districts have been drawn up to conform with the concept of the shire level and to fit in, on the whole, with general community interests, topographical factors and so on, rather than on a purely population basis. The Report openly admits that there are anomolies in the boundaries and that further consideration is going to be needed before a final decision is come to. This I think is perfectly true. Speaking of my own area on the Borders, I personally feel that the proposal to combine the four Border counties is a sensible one; but I know that there are other places where boundary adjustments can and I think must be made.
In common with my noble friend Lord Dundee, however, I think that the real controversy in this matter centres around the burghs and whether, as under the proposals, they should lose their status as separate authorities and become part of the district authority. This is a very difficult problem, because while I appreciate the economic and administrative 496 arguments I cannot convince myself completely of the wisdom of this recommendation. I realise that it is desirable that town and country should become more and more integrated; but at the same time this proposal means, I think, that by removing the burghs' power to run their own affairs we are in danger of causing a marked falling off in local pride, local patriotism and interest; and this, in the end, must cause a loss of administrative efficiency. Apart from the great historical traditions of the burghs (which have been referred to) they tend to be separate entities who know their own problems intimately; there exists in them a healthy spirit of competition with their neighbours; and I think much of this is going to be lost under the Commission's proposals.
The Commission were obviously sensitive about this point because I think the recommendation for community councils was designed, to some extent, to get over this difficulty. In common with my noble friend Lord Selkirk, I am personally doubtful whether it will do so; for experience has shown how little influence a body without power or authority can really exert. Of course, in some areas we already have such organisations as ratepayers' associations which, to some extent, would seem to fulfil the same kind of function.
My Lords, I wonder whether there is still a case for dividing the second tier into two parts and allowing the burghs, or at any rate burghs over a certain size, to retain their status as local authorities. Even if there is some reduction in bureaucratic tidiness, and there would certainly be financial problems to get over, I think there might be an over-compensating gain in local human interest and in responsibility, on the desirability of which the Report time and again rightly insists. If this is not possible, then I agree that it would be sensible to have smaller and more districts so as to ensure that this local participation is not lost sight of.
Among other suggestions—and this has been touched on already to-day—the Report makes one very revolutionary one, and that is that councillors should be paid. I should like to support this entirely. I would support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde who said that they should be paid sufficiently. It has not 497 been stated exactly how payment for councillors is going to be assessed, but possibly we shall be told that when the White Paper comes out. I am sure that it is right that they should be paid; for local government cannot rely any longer on the spirit of voluntary service, especially now that we are getting these new, larger local authorities which will give a far greater work load to councillors. I do not think it is right that they should be asked to bear this load for nothing. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said about the financial aspect of the Report, because it seemed a pity that this aspect of the new structure was left so much in the air. As he says, it is vital to the whole operation. I was glad to hear that studies are already taking place in the various Departments in this respect, and I hope that the studies will be brought to light before too long.
The Report covers a great deal more than any of us have time to discuss to-day. It does not claim to have found the perfect or ideal solution yet; but one theme runs through it which I think all noble Lords would endorse: less Government interference, more genuine local control. I think that this aim is one that would appeal to anyone, even if the word "local" is, as it is, susceptible of many different interpretations. One thing is certain: if these proposals are adopted and legislation is put through, the ballot box is going to become much more familiar to people in Scotland than it has been in the past. That is something that may take a little getting used to. I do not think that for that reason it is a bad thing: but I have heard criticisms made that these proposals are going to mean that we shall endlessly have elections of one sort or another. That is why I do not entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Selkirk who wanted to have elections staggered every two years. I would finish by saying that in my view the Report points, broadly, the right way for the future of local government in Scotland; not only for its survival but for its survival as a useful, essential, and indeed vital, element in the life of our country.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, I ask for forgiveness if I have to leave before the end of the debate, as I have an 498 engagement of a Scottish educational nature. I had the privilege of working with Florence Horsbrugh for several years as her chairman when she campaigned in the constituency of Midlothian. The more hopeless the cause and the more beset by adversity, the more courageous she became. She was indeed indomitable.
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords who have congratulated Lord Wheatley and his colleagues on the Commission, and the staff, on their Report, much as one may disagree with certain of its conclusions. The parts that I think will prove the most valuable for the future are the written evidence, of which there are something like 24 volumes. If you delve into them you find a most interesting series of bits of information. I think it documents Scotland, as at last year, 1968, for all time and will be invaluable to historians.
I wish to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, about having a fresh look and trying to be frankly constructive. I shall confine my remarks particularly to education because I think that the Royal Commission have missed a very great opportunity in this respect. A major upheaval is about to take place and under the circumstances it is reasonable to expect a very long and hard look to have been taken at the problem of education as a whole. Should school education be a function of local government? Is it right that school education should be divided into regional compartments? Boundaries for areas of education are not, and are unlikely ever to be, co-terminus with those essential for other functions of local government.
The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, drew attention to the anomalies resulting from this policy, and with its evidence the Scottish Education Department has drawn a map of Scotland showing the desirable areas. These are not co-terminus with the areas laid down by the Wheatley Commission. The vision of what is possible is worth considering. What the Commission should have considered is whether the co-ordination of all education in Scotland, from the nursery schools through to the postgraduates of the universities, is not only desirable but also feasible. Some will say that this would put the Scottish Education Department in a position of great 499 power in dealing direct with ad hoc authorities; and of even greater power in controlling the expenditure in the universities. I very much doubt this, unless the education authorities are composed of pliant members of the community. The oversight of education is a very special matter. Many persons of expertise and understanding, and many parents with these qualities, would most willingly come forward and give their services freely in this cause. But such persons are unwilling to get involved with what they consider to be the mundane problems of local government. They are unwilling because they lack understanding of the problems; or perhaps because they are are not interested in them; or again, because they have not the time to devote to them. To cut education away from local government will result in better and more personal contacts at the local level.
My Lords, I know it will be said that ad hoc education authorities did not work in the period from 1918 to 1929. I would question whether they really did all that badly under the difficult financial circumstances in which they had to work. In some cases they did extremely well and better than their local government successors. But I envisage a completely different set of circumstances; nominated boards consisting in part of representatives of local authorities and at least an equal number of persons selected for their special interest in, and knowledge of, education. Certainly such boards would have to be financed by the Exchequer. But, my Lords, the Exchequer is already financing about two-thirds of the cost of school education in Scotland. Surely it would be a perfectly simple matter for the Exchequer to pay the last one-third, using the grants they are making at present to local government for other purposes. Thus we would get a much more clean and tidy way of doing things than the financial "dog's breakfast" that we have at present. The local authorities would achieve what the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, wants them to achieve and has advocated for them, a substantial measure of financial independence and freedom from grant aid. That could be done in the one operation.
If anyone would like proof of how just is my description of the present expenditure and finances of local 500 authorities, I suggest that they study the figures of local government expenditure in the Report as set out in the table on page 245 and then compare it with the table set out on page 300. The figures in both tables are derived from official statistics. Both draw on the Local Financial Returns (Scotland). In the first table the Commission also use Rates and Rateable Values in Scotland, and in the second Miss Betty Harvie Anderson uses Local Taxation Returns (Scotland). The difference between these tables regarding both income and expenditure for each year are so large and, so far as I can make out, so inconsistent, as to make a nonsense of the whole subject.
My Lords, I have read with care what the Commission say about finance. Some of it is most alarming, not least the frank admission in paragraph 1029 that the effect of the Commission's proposals will be to increase expenditure. This is followed, in paragraph 1037, by this quotation:…it is absolutely fundamental that local authorities should be enabled to raise a much higher proportion of the money they spend.This presents a rather bleak prospect for the local ratepayers, especially as that statement is reinforced by the ominous statement:Where there is a political will, there is a financial way.The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, talked about categorical imperatives. I beseech the Government to take this opportunity to get education out of the financial morass of local government. The present financial situation is so confused that there is little wonder that we are having instances of excessive over-expenditure, due to lack of supervision, by the elected members and by officials. It seems to me that neither can grasp the complexities of local government finance and I for one sympathise with them.
The Commission give three reasons against an ad hoc body for education. The first is that an education authority which lacks an independent source of revenue would be handicapped in implementing its own policies. I doubt whether this would be the case. The reins of financial control can be drawn very tight by the Scottish Education Department over the existing local authorities. I question whether the Department would even wish to ride a properly constituted ad hoc 501 education authority with as tight a rein. The Government would find themselves up against a much more vocal and effective body. To divorce the administration of education from that of social work and health, the Commission concludes, wouldbe bound to disrupt the working coordination which is so necessary amongst all those services ".My Lords, "disrupt" is a very strong word for the Commission to use in this connection, and I question very much whether they are justified in so doing. They might have said "a possible cause of friction" but it cannot be put higher than that. My own experience is that we are likely to get friction between departments of the same authority as between individual departments.
The third reason given by the Commission against an ad hoc education authority is that it would take much of the interest out of local authority work. That I would dispute. There is plenty of other work to be done; and people standing for election would better know what was to be expected of them. Nor do I think there is any justification for the fear that if education is made ad hoc, other services will want to follow and local authorities will exist, but without any work to do. I consider that to be an extremely thin argument to put into the Report.
The evidence submitted to the Commission must be considered. With one exception, the well-recognised bodies dealing with education come out very strongly in favour of central Government finance for education and as strongly in favour of ad hoc bodies to administer it. There is the one exception, and that is, predictably, the Scottish Education Department. All the rest come down in favour of ad hoc. I will not give a whole list, but they include the Educational Institute of Scotland, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, the Scottish Schoolmasters' Association and, in this connection perhaps the weightiest of them all, the Association of Directors of Education. The arguments they put forward are to my mind quite overwhelming, and many of us regret that the Commission have done very much less than justice to their evidence. I hope that this vital subject will be fully discussed in Scotland.
502 At the other end of Scottish education, the top end, I suggest that the time has come to set up a separate University Grants Committee for Scotland. I am firmly of the opinion that the problems of the Scottish Universities will be better understood, and their problems more adequately dealt with, by a committee of Scotsmen sitting in Scotland and fully conversant with the eight Scottish Universities. What is more, the present threat to the independence of the universities posed by the increasing power of the English Ministry of Education and Science over the English-dominated University Grants Committee will be averted for the Scottish Universities. if we are to lose any degree of our academic freedom, let it be to a Scottish and not to an English Government.
Time is short, my Lords, and I will not dilate on the other advantages to Scotland. But I must say that I can see no financial difficulties here. It will not be difficult to work out what should be Scotland's share of the Exchequer cake for university education. Research grants would continue to come, as at present, from a variety of sources, including the United Kingdom Ministries, Departments and Councils. Benjamin Disraeli said in another place that:Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of the people of this country depends.Disraeli was no great lover of the Scots, but he most certainly recognised us for a distinctive and peculiar people. On its system of education, the future of Scotland depends. We cannot leave it to the remoteness of these large regional authorities; nor should our universities be run from London.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, I should like to start by adding my tribute to the late Lady Horsbrugh. I do not think this House will forget her kindness and her splendid and pungent wit. We shall all miss her.
We are grateful to the Minister for giving us the opportunity of discussing an event of major significance, not only to every Scottish Peer in your Lordships' House, but to every man, woman and child who has the privilege of living in our country. We have before us a very large subject, with infinite ramifications, 503 covering every aspect of organised and civilised existence. I will confine my observations to the Highland Region, which covers an area larger than any other in the country—indeed, almost half the area of the whole of Scotland.
We all realise that we speak this afternoon under a major handicap. We do not know how this great change is going to be financed, and we must remember that size in itself is no criterion of either financial viability or ability to influence the corridors of power. Seven poor areas joined together will equal one poor area. Having said that, I would add that I myself and the great majority of people in the far North welcome, and realise the necessity for major change in local government. There is no need to repeat the reasons why this is necessary, except perhaps the two main ones. I refer to the inability of rural counties to finance themselves to any appreciable extent, due to the astronomic rise in all public expenditure. This leads to the second reason—namely, the weakening of local democratic government and the very undesirable drift to bureaucratic control, which is the antithesis of bureaucracy and, indeed, can develop into a form of dictatorship.
The objectives of the Report are that local government should be able to play a more important, more responsible and more positive part in the running of the country and in bringing this reality nearer to the people. Local government should be equipped to provide really efficient services from the point of view of the people receiving these services. Local government should constitute a system in which power is exercised through the elected representatives of the people, those elected being locally accountable to their electors. It is of the greatest importance that local government should bring the people into the process of reaching decisions as much as possible and that those decisions should be made intelligible to the people.
I agree that the areas of the present local authorities are too small and too numerous, that the new authorities should be made autonomous, that the resources should be commensurate with commitments and that the staffs should have greater facilities for promotion. 504 Turning to the structure, here I must voice disagreement, as I can see that all-important word "local" disappearing from the following word "government". In my view, and indeed in that of the Northern Counties, a region that stretches from the Northern point of Shetland to Campbeltown, in the far South of Argyll, is far too large, having regard to the Wheatley distribution of functions as between region and second-tier district authorities. In the Wheatley Report, we already have the making of a three-tier authority—namely, region, district and community centres.
In my view, the first tier should be a provincial overall authority, with defined and limited power. These should be, first, strategic planning, which could cover the whole Highland area, in view of its importance in social and economic development, including tourism in its widest sense; secondly, transport; and, thirdly, development and control of industry. There are some other functions, such as the Fire Service, which at the present moment in the Highlands are dealt with over the whole area, and this state of affairs could continue.
With regard to the second-tier authorities, I submit that the major functions should be allocated to these authorities and that there should be 14 to 16 of these in Scotland. These second-tier authorities should be known as regional authorities, and for the Highlands their number should be three or four. In view of the size of this vast Highland area, to these authorities should go the functions of education, planning, roads, water, sewerage, river purification, flood prevention, police, civil defence, housing, countryside recreation and control of tourism. The Wheatley Report, on page 190, paragraph 776, says:Local government must on no account become hard and impersonal. Its object must be, as we remarked in Chapter 7, to provide public service with the greatest possible satisfaction to those receiving them.Without suggesting that any authority would be hard, I think it is surely self-evident that if such personal functions as education are to be controlled by a remote top tier over such a wide area they are bound to become impersonal, if for no other reason than the geographical structure of the Highlands.
I would suggest that the remaining services, mainly environmental, should be 505 allocated to the third-tier authority, which should be increased in number to, say, about 30, spread over the Highland area, and these should be known as district authorities. To these authorities the following functions should devolve, with the funds and status necessary for their implementation: building control; housing improvement and ancillary housing functions; civil defence in its local aspects; parks and recreation; community centres; environmental functions, such as refuse collection and disposal; food and drugs; clean air; regulation and licensing; licensing courts and the administration of justice. My own county council are of the view that there is a case for the establishment of local community centres for the purpose of correlating local public opinion. It is, I think, self-evident that the Highlands and Highland Development Board should remain until such time as the new local authorities are fully operative.
I would suggest, as I said before, that the second-tier authorities, which I have referred to as regions within the Highland Province, should number three or four, and that the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland should be an autonomous authority. To my mind, it is against all common sense to equate these Northern Isles with either the mainland or the Western Isles. Apart from the fact that they are islands, the Northern Isles have little or no connection, culturally, linguistically or racially, with the Western Isles; any connection that there may be is with Aberdeen, in the Wheatley North-East Region.
If the Western Isles are not to be a separate autonomous authority—as might indeed be desirable—then I submit that the following areas would constitute viable local authority units for the remaining part of the Highlands: (1) Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, the Western Isles, Skye and the Glen Elg district of Inverness; (2) Argyllshire and Inverness-shire, excluding the Western Isles, Skye and Glen Elg. It is of mutual benefit and importance to mainland Ross and Cromarty and the Western Isles that adequate communications and transport should be maintained between them via Stornoway. This would be the most beneficial way to implement the underlying aims of the Wheatley Report 506 without in any way weakening the all-important local aspect of local government.
My Lords, if I have gone on longer than is my wont, I crave your indulgence. but this is a matter of vital importance to Scotland and that thinly populated but immense part which makes up the Celtic Highland area. There are many other important considerations, such as how the hospital administration will fit into the new scheme of things, and how the historic burghs can be saved to Scotland. But, with co-operation, this and other important matters can and will be solved. Meanwhile, I hope that all concerned with local government will do their utmost to bring up to date and improve what in the past has worked so well, thanks to generations of devoted councillors and officials.
§ 6.45 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF AILSA
My Lords, I have read and studied with great interest the Report by Lord Wheatley on Local Government in Scotland and his suggested proposals for its reform, and I should like very much to welcome these proposals. Though in his Report Lord Wheatley lays great stress on the value of local involvement in the local administration of government, he appears to go on to evolve a system which excludes this involvement. I am well aware that whenever this suggestion is put forward great play is made of the formation of local committees and community councils by the regional and district authorities within the various district and regional associations. But it seems to me that it has been made quite clear from subsequent statements of Lord Wheatley and other members of his Commission that it is intended that the proposed regional and district authorities will decide what is in their opinion best for the communities, and implement these decisions regardless of the wishes and desires of the communities.
This was forcibly put forward by Mr. Imrie during a lecture given on Monday, December 1, when in answer to a question he replied:There will not be the same close connection between members of the public and councillors. The most important thing is to promote economic health and so improve amenity environment. The Commission were faced with making a choice between a modern 507 business approach to the problem and the present unsatisfactory and inefficient system of councils. There cannot be effective organisation if there is complete access by people.Surely this is a complete reversal of the present situation, in which communities are very much involved in the local administration of government. I use this terminology deliberately, as this is really what we are talking about, because the majority of the work carried out by the local authorities is the execution and implementation of the will of Parliament and central Government; it is the local administration of government. This deals with people.
At present, as we know, there is a very close connection between the local representative and those whom he represents. I am well aware that Lord Wheatley has made great play with the percentages of the populace voting in local elections, and has suggested that this implies a lack of interest. I think that there are many county councillors and burgh councillors who wish that their electorate were not quite so interested. They do not hesitate to bring their problems to them. But surely this is what we need, because by being able to go to a representative, he can go to the official responsible for whatever the problem is and get an answer, and the matter is dealt with regularly and quickly. It appears to me that under these proposals these arrangements will go. They will be replaced by regional and district authorities, each with their elected members and paid staffs.
But I gained the impression that the elected members are to be concerned only with laying down the policies to be followed, leaving their implementation to the staff, thereby taking away the present situation by which both elected representatives and the staff are involved, and the elected member is responsible to those whom he represents for the carrying out of whatever the policy is. I gain the impression that under the proposals this responsibility will lie nowhere. But I would again remind noble Lords that what we are dealing with are people, however modern and forward-looking we have to be, and whatever is done has to be acceptable to the people.
I want now to turn quite shortly to the proposed regions, and specifically to the Western Region. I am of the 508 opinion that the inclusion of Glasgow in this region is unwise. I feel strongly that Glasgow and its own immediate problems will dominate the region to the detriment of the remainder. It somehow appeared to the Commission that all the good things in the West flow from Glasgow. Personally, I do not agree, because those of us in the West who are not in Glasgow have always been well able to look after our own affairs. I am very much of the opinion that Glasgow and its surrounding parts and industrial complex should be made a region on its own. I dislike, also, too much power being placed in the hands of the local authority staffs. While I am very much aware of the valuable and high standard that is upheld by local authority staffs, I know also too well of instances where members of the staffs have assumed far greater power than they should ever have been allowed to obtain. While I accept the case for there being a regional authority, I feel that so far as the districts go I would be far more agreeable to the suggested 101 district authorities, as mentioned in the Minority Reports. By retaining these it should be possible to retain greater contact with people which is essential when administering government to a locality. Finally, I should like to remind your Lordships that the real strength of Scotland, and England as well, comes from small communities being prepared to shoulder the responsibility of running their own affairs in a manner that they feel best suits themselves.
§ 6.52 p.m.
LORD BELHAVEN AND STENTON
My Lords, my reason for a brief intervention in this debate is that I am, as I foresaw, the only speaker to-day who lives in the province of Galloway, and I thought that this ancient province should not go unrepresented and unspoken for in such an important debate. I confess at once that I am not a member of any local council, and I never have been, but I have taken the trouble in the past week to inquire around and get some idea of what people and local councillors are thinking. Of course, I am not a walking Gallup Poll. I can only give my own impressions of what I have heard. I came to one conclusion, which I received from the local people, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has disabused us of 509 this idea to-day: they seem to think that the Wheatley Report is a fait accompli. I said that I think the Government are still willing to listen, and they said, rather doubtfully, "Well, we hope so." I am very glad that the noble Lord is still open to suggestions.
In the South-West, in Kirkcudbrightshire and in Galloway, there seems to me to be a general acceptance of the South-West Region of Dumfries and Galloway. Dumfries and Galloway have hung together for a long time and we are all very relieved that we are not being flung in with Glasgow or anywhere else. I think that, on the whole, the majority of the people in the province are pleased with the recommendation for the South-West Region. We have gathered that some people in the rural district of South Ayrshire would like to join us rather than the rest of their compatriots in Ayrshire, and I gather that there is a general welcome for them if they can find their way in. Where I found a great deal of disagreement, not only with the Commissioners but among the people themselves, was in regard to the second tier. Most of the county councillors I spoke to seemed to like the idea of doing away with the small burghs—I suppose because they looked upon them as something of a nuisance. From my point of view I am entirely in favour of the small burghs continuing as they are. My noble friend. Lord Dundee, said almost everything I would have said, and a bit more, and said it a great deal better. It would be a great tragedy if these small burghs, some of which I think are older than the Westminster Parliament itself, had their graves dug for them by the Westminster Parliament. They have a great deal of civic pride and cohesion and form distinct communities, some of them relatively isolated, and I think they should be allowed to continue.
The only other point I want to make is about the division which has been put across the province of Galloway. Granted that the Wheatley Commissioners wanted to divide it into two districts rather than three, the counties of Wrytown, Kirkudbright and Dumfries, they have put the boundary in a rather curious place—along the summit of the Kells range, which puts one district as Wrytown-shire, and in a small part of Kirkudbrightshire, and the other district as the whole of Dumfries- 510 shire, practically the whole of Kirkudbrightshire, and a part of Roxburghshire. I should have thought that for the lowest tier of local authority this was demonstrably too large, and that if you are going to divide the province in two, it should be divided along the Nith so that half the province was Dumfries-shire and the other part was the ancient province of Galloway, which has always been recognised as a distinct area. As an inhabitant of the Stewartry I would rather we went in with Wrytown-shire if we have to do away with our own county and be Galloway, than to be cut up between Dumfries-shire and Wrytown.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, I also should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for this debate. I hope that from the barrage from these Benches, not always unanimous but providing many constructive points, he has got some useful ideas. It seems a pity that there has been no speech this afternoon from the other Benches, as I am sure that many of us would have liked to hear some other views. As there have been many speeches, I will not try to speak to the Wheatley Report as it affects the whole of Scotland. On the other hand, I feel that I shall not be accused of being parochial if I speak about it largely as it affects the proposed Highlands Region, for this area is indeed not only nearly half of Scotland, but one-sixth of the whole of Britain.
After nearly 21 years on the county council—not quite so long as my noble friend Lady Elliot—and having also the reputation of being somewhat controversial, I should like to start by saying that I certainly disagree with the opening remarks of the Report. It says:Something is seriously wrong with local government in Scotland.Perhaps the Commissioners were thinking of the Glasgow City debt, or something like that. I feel that in the North overall the authorities have been basically sound and effective. I am not saying that there should not be any change, but in all the deliberations on the Report, the point which has struck me most is the remarkable loyalty of people to the local authority in their own particular areas, and the huge community spirit which exists at the moment. Maybe this is just a case of "Better the devil 511 you know than the devil you don't "; but, whatever it is, the fact remains that these loyalties do exist. The Inverness-shire islanders, though they may not always be unanimous among themselves as to the best solution to the problem, are—and I should like your Lordships to mark this particularly—always begging Inverness-shire not to throw them away to Stornaway. Several times this afternoon we have heard that they would like an outer island completely autonomous body, but I would beseech you, my Lords, that this should not happen.
Though one hears of constant bickering between the Lewismen and the mainland of Ross-shire, when there is any threat of one or other being put somewhere else it appears that they immediately close their ranks. I believe that Caithness is somwhat frightened of being dominated by Ross-shire. However, there are certain quarters in which there appears to be a substantial desire to work together, perhaps the most surprising being between Argyll and Inverness—surprising in view of the fact that this is largely a question of Camp-hells working with Camerons and Macdonalds, and also on account of the extremely difficult transport communications.
Nairn has always wanted to co-operate with Inverness. The Findhorn has always been the dividing line between two different types of people, so that Nairn looks much more to the West than to the East. Moray and Nairn have had a joint county council, but this has never been a very happy association. For some reason, however, Ross-shire has no desire to work with Inverness, in spite of the fact that they lie well together. I see that my noble friend in front of me is laughing, but I believe this to be the case. Indeed, at the present time one has to go through parts of Ross-shire to get into another part of Inverness-shire, and it seems extraordinary that there is this lack of desire to co-operate.
If one looks at the broadest aspect (I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will agree with me from the memoranda so far submitted to him), in spite of all these loyalties there has been remarkable unanimity that the 512 Highland Region, given the powers suggested by Wheatley, is far too large. This seems to have been perhaps the most unanimous point which has come up from speaker after speaker this afternoon. It is perhaps scarcely surprising when the proposed region is not only half of Scotland, but that half with the poorest communication, stretching from the Mull of Kintyre across the stormy seas to the North of Unst.
There is, however, another alternative to dividing the region. This is to leave the area of the top tier as proposed by the Commission, but very markedly to reduce its powers and give these to a very much enlarged second-tier authority. I think that my noble friend Lord Cromartie was making rather the same point; and I think that on this all the Northern authorities are agreed. From what has been said to-day, it would appear that a good many other parts of Scotland also are thinking along the same lines. I think that particularly my noble friend Lord Stonehaven said that this was an idea which appealed to Kincardine. Inverness-shire County Council are to discuss this on Thursday, and at present, therefore, I can have only a guess at what their findings will be; but I think I can make a fairly inspired guess.
When I put the proposal to our District Council that this upper tier should have its powers reduced and that the lower tier should be increased in size, it was accepted unanimously, and I was surprised that in fact there was practically no discussion on it at all. The District Council was unanimous. From the newspapers it would appear that practically all the Northern counties hold very much the same view. Generally I think we are agreed regarding the more impersonal services, such as major roads and overall planning, along with the fire services and police (though I am not quite sure that I agree with all my noble friend's list that he read out just now), that it would be possible to operate these on the top region, as proposed by the Commission.
However, for the more personal services (I think my noble friend Lady Elliot made this point), such as education, health, housing and the more detailed aspects of planning, second tiers covering bigger areas are essential. For 513 instance, the Wheatley proposals would mean that there would be 516 schools in this region. I cannot see how any director of education could possibly effectively manage 516 schools. Indeed, if the powers of the region were reduced it could well be that the region would still have to have an aeroplane—perhaps two aeroplanes—to get around the region if they were not going to waste an enormous amount of time of their officials. As my noble friend Lord Cromartie said, I think this must completely dispense with the idea of having a local authority; the word "local" just comes completely out of it.
I am not quite sure that I agree, and I do not believe that Inverness County Council will agree, with my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn on weights and measures. I could not quite follow his reasoning on this. It seems that this responsibility could be administered from the upper tier. I agree with him that there is a great deal of local business in this, but I do not see why it should be a second-tier responsibility. However, to give the personal services to a second tier covering the areas suggested by the Commission would be unworkable, as the areas would be far too small and one would not be able to obtain officials of the right calibre if the areas were as suggested by the Report. A suggestion has been put forward that the second tier should be somewhat similar to existing county council areas. I think that this point has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. If I mention boundaries I am bound to run into trouble—like my noble friend Lord Cromartie here, who tried just now to "pinch" a bit of Inverness-shire for Ross-shire. On the other hand, I feel that it is necessary to stick one's neck out to some extent.
I gather that Argyll County Council, with one exception, were unanimous in thinking that their existing area would make a good second-tier authority. I am sorry that on this particular point Argyll County Council seem to be at loggerheads with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. But this is apparently the County Council's views, as they appeared in the Press. I do not know which is right. The case of Inverness is rather more complicated, as there is this problem, which I have already mentioned, of the Islands. Unlike most other noble 514 Lords who have spoken, I should hate to see the Inverness-shire Islands being thrown away to the Stornowegian wolves. There would be Nairn to add to Inverness, and the two small areas of Moray and Banff, as proposed by the Commission. There is also the question of South-West Ross. It seems rather ridiculous that one has to go through part of Ross to get from one part of Inverness-shire to another. And South-West Ross, I feel, with their loyalties, would not want to go to Inverness. But it might be possible, perhaps, to divide this district in two.
Moving further North, the remainder of Ross-shire, Sutherland and Caithness would appear to make up quite a good second-tier authority. This leaves only Orkney and Shetland, who have a vexed problem about which we have heard several times to-day. It may be that they should go to the North-East mainland, to which communications are easier. I think the Far North would be the least desirable, in view of what we heard when the Water Board was proposed. Quite possibly, as many noble Lords have said, the best solution would be that they should have an all-purpose authority on their own. If this occurred they would need substantially greater subsidies than any other part of Scotland. This means that they would be very much more tied in many ways to St. Andrew's House. We have heard this point about subsidies tying one down and that it would be a disadvantage. This would leave, I suggest, for the Highland Region a first tier with reduced powers, the impersonal services, and three, four, or possibly five, second-tier authorities.
The only other feasible method of operating the personal services over these vast areas is to divide the Northern Region into two. This has substantial drawbacks. It creates a greater number of problems in the Islands on the West; and in the East it means that the Burgh of Inverness would completely dominate the surrounding rural areas. I know that this is contrary to Government policy, and in England I think it has been proposed that there should be the maximum integration. But we heard from a speaker from another part of Scotland just now that they were hoping they would not be dominated by Glasgow. I think there are disadvantages in having a large urban conurbation sitting with a 515 fairly large, sparsely populated rural area surrounding it. Their problems are somewhat different. I feel that this point should be looked at.
I had intended to say that possibly the greatest problem that would arise would be that different powers would have to be given to different tiers in the North from those proposed throughout the remainder of Scotland; but as this debate has progressed, it seems there is a considerable desire throughout the whole of Scotland for the second-tier authorities to be increased and given more powers. It is to be hoped that the Government will reduce the powers of the upper tier proposed by the Commission and increase the powers of the second tier.
My noble friend Lord Dundee was not happy about the division of planning, but I feel that this is essential. There must be overall planning—and I think everyone will agree with this—in the upper tier, but there are local considerations, such as whether a house looks attractive or not, which are not really a question for an enormous region. I think we must have some sort of lower-tier planning.
Another point I should like to make is that if these lower tiers were enlarged it would be possible for them to have water and drainage. I feel it is important that the purification board should not be on the same tier as the body which is the biggest polluter, as is the case at the moment. The local authorities pour their sewage into the rivers and do things which they would never allow private enterprise to do, and it is only when the purification board is a separate body or on another tier that this can be checked. One further advantage of increasing the size of the second tier is that it makes the second tier a more worthwhile undertaking for a councillor to operate. At the moment I feel that the Commission's proposals really do not give their councillors sufficient to do. There was the question of community councils, and it appears that most of your Lordships are opposed to this, although apparently some places would like them. I think this is quite a small matter.
There is one other point I should like to raise. At the moment all county 516 councillors sit on their district councils. This seems to be an excellent system and I should like to see it perpetuated. It leads to better liaison, co-operation and cohesive thinking throughout local government as a whole, and I hope this will be continued. My noble friend Lord Haddington made a plea on public libraries and I know this will be a point which will come up from the Inverness County Council. They are very anxious that this should be a top tier responsibility; it is impossible to have really good libraries without it. The sending out of the books can be delegated but the top tier must bear the responsibility.
Finally, I should like to enjoin the Government to think seriously as to what are the objects of reorganisation. The principal object is obviously to increase efficiency. This is all very well and good, but if that is the case will they ensure that they do not allow any political expediency to creep in, and will they ensure that they do not allow the officials any Empire building? So far as Empire building is concerned, I am thinking, like my noble friend Lord Stonehaven, of what happened when the water authorities were reorganised. Has it not, basically, been the practice for all the existing officials to be employed by the new Boards and for new positions to be created for overlords? Then, having hived off water from the local authorities they have had to appoint drainage officers and departments. It would be interesting to know, throughout Scotland, what has been the increase in officials as a result of setting up these Boards.
If one takes the simple case of valuation, presuming that each valuation officer is gainfully employed at the moment and has as much work as he can manage, what will happen with amalgamation into the regions? Will there be an overlord, and perhaps a deputy or two? I can see that that is what is going to happen. Will the bigger authorities reduce cost, or at least make more money available for their own area? There is a grave doubt on this, my Lords, and I think this should be looked at very carefully.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I hesitate to speak this evening because my knowledge of local government is, I am 517 afraid, rather superficial, but I have perhaps four reasons why I might do so. One is that I want to say, "Thank you" to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for introducing this debate and for giving us all the chance to discuss the Wheatley Report before it took any concrete form. My second reason is because, as the noble Lord, Lord Burton, said, he had only heard people speak from one of the Benches and I speak as a Cross-Bencher. My third reason is because I have read the summary of the Wheatley Report and I have listened to all your Lordships speaking in to-day's debate. My fourth reason is that I promise to be very brief.
It seems to me that there are three main points arising from the Report and from the debate to-day. One is on finance; the second is on planning, and the third is on structure. Of course the key to all this is finance. We all know that without the power of the purse we get nowhere. It is interesting to read that for each man, woman and child £80 per year is spent on local government in Scotland. That is a large sum, and I am worried when I read at page 5 of the summary that for local government to play a more important part involves accepting a greater share of the financial burden. Then in brackets it says, "leaving less to be contributed by the taxpayer". I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said he would look into the question of finance. It is very worrying if, as a result of this local government reform, we are to get, as it were, double taxation in Scotland, accepting a greater share of the financial burden with less to be paid by the taxpayer. I hope that this does not mean what it says. It seems to me that the answer is not that there should be a greater burden on the local ratepayer, but rather that St. Andrew's House and the Treasury in particular should think how much more they can subscribe to local government in Scotland not only in money but also, I think, in functions.
I come now to the question of planning. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, who said how tremendously important it was that planning should be of the highest quality but not divided. I can only say that I entirely agree with him and I think we should look carefully at the proposed division of functions to make quite sure that planning is in one hand and can be performed in the best possible way.
518 Lastly, may I say a word on structure. The Report comes out quite firmly in favour of the two-tier system—or so it says. They say that there should be a two-tier structure, and then they are really rather frightened and say also that there should be community councillors. I think they have "funked" the issue and we are given here what is in effect a three-tier structure and not a two-tier structure, because they come out in favour of the community councillors. I think this is the fault of suggesting that there should be 7 regions, 37 districts and the community councillors. If they had followed the advice of the Minority Report, as the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has suggested; namely, that there should be a considerably greater number of districts—the Minority Report said 101, and I have no great knowledge whether it should be 101 or a compromise between the two—to that extent the need for community councillors would disappear and the reality of the local government would be stronger in a two-tier form.
When I look at what should be the various functions of the two-tier structure, I have a curious feeling at the back of my mind that those functions which have been given to the regional authority have been given in some degree because they are afraid that the regional authority will not have enough work to do; otherwise I really cannot see why they are having to take on such things as the registration of births, deaths and marriages; the registration of electors; refuse disposal; weights and measures, and several other things. So I wonder whether they have attempted in their Report and recommendations to give these functions to the regional bodies because they are afraid that they will not have enough to do.
That brings me to my last thought. At the very beginning we are told that something is seriously wrong with local government in Scotland. Then we are told that at the root of the trouble is the present structure of local government. I do not agree with that, because it does not go far enough. That is not the root of the trouble. If you added the words, "and its relation to the central Government", then I think it makes sense. But what we have at the moment is a Report on Local Government, and there is really nothing which says: "This is 519 what should be local government functions and this is what should be central Government functions". I do not believe that you can have a Report which is in the water-tight compartments which we find here.
The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, made a very powerful plea in relation to education and how it should all come out of the one and be put into the other. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, when he considers the whole of this Report, the debate to-day, and representations that have been made, that in addition he should also most seriously consider the functions and the responsibilities of St. Andrew's House and Whitehall as well as those of local government.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, we have been discussing Wheatley now for four hours and twenty minutes. I have accumulated twelve pages of notes, and if I were to follow my usual practice in an ordinary debate and reply to the points raised—because I have fairly copious notes of every speaker—I should have very great difficulty in compressing it into 30 minutes. But this is not an ordinary debate. It is not incumbent upon me to find instant rebuttal for proposals of one kind or another. I said at the beginning that what I wanted to do was to hear the views of noble Lords, and because of what I have already read about the views of local authorities I should have been astounded if I had not had in these four hours and twenty minutes conflicting views. But one thing that is quite certain is that when the Government eventually produce their proposals for the reform of local government in Scotland some of your Lordships must be disappointed, because we should have to divide Scotland into 16 different types of local government to be certain that each of you had somewhere exactly what you wanted.
I am quite certain that Lord Wheatley and his colleagues did not expect for one moment that the result of their endeavours would be a Bill which implemented to the last comma the proposals they put forward. It does not in any way diminish the value of what they have done that we should be contemplating, every one of us, whether inside Government or out- 520 side Government, the possibility of some changes in some of their proposals. What we have heard to-day will help the Government in making up their mind.
I think there were only two cases where I was asked a question. I do not propose to answer even those, because, believe me. the greatest difficulty I have is keeping firmly to the resolve that I am not going to make up my mind about what is going to be done until I have heard all those, or read the comments of all those, who are entitled to put proposals forward. I think I could fairly state what the Government hope to do in this way—that we should much prefer at the end of the day to put into operation a system which was not on paper 100 per cent. perfect but which could achieve the maximum degree of co-operation.
I am not an engineer, but I understand that no boiler, for instance, is ever operated at its maximum efficiency; one gets a percentage of operation. If we get that in a system of local government—and I am not putting forward percentages to which I wish to adhere—it seems to me that something like 80 per cent. efficiency with 80 per cent. acceptance would be very much better than perfection to which 90 per cent. of those who are going to be governed or going to do the governing objected. I hope that out of all the discussions that have taken place and will take place we shall produce something which, on the face of it, ought to work better than what we have got at the present time, and which, on the face of it, is something which those who will be the elected councillors and who will be the appointed servants will wish to make work; a system into which they will go with enthusiasm to get the best possible results.
I would close by saying that of course we accept that the reform of local government implies the reform of central Government, in the sense that you cannot completely have a better working local government unless it means a certain devolution or transfer of power from the centre to the local authorities. All this is implicit in what we are looking at; and I hope that at the end of the day we shall at least have satisfied your Lordships that this afternoon has been time which you have well spent.
On Question, Motion agreed to.