§ 2.46 p.m.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET) rose to move, That this House takes note of the White Paper Reform of Local Government in England (Command 4276). The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Shackleton, I rise to move the Motion which stands in his name on the Order Paper. Our debate today follows one in the House of Commons the week before last. One of the most encouraging features of that debate was the wide extent of common ground. The leading speaker for the Opposition said that his Party agreed
that there is a genuine need for a major reform of local government".
He even said that, in the unlikely event of his Party being returned to power at the next General Election, they
would wish to proceed with a sensible local government reform in the early period of a new government.
He recognised the real difficulty caused for local authorities by a long waiting period. And the spokesman for the Liberal Party said that he, too, accepted that change was essential.
I feel that in a certain sense the Opposition may be in the same frame of mind as Petitioners against the Municipal Corporations Bill of 1835, of whom Lord Melbourne said, in this House, that: they had claimed that:
The Corporations should be put upon a more popular ground; that there ought to be an infusion of fresh persons; that they were
perfectly sensible of the evils of the existing system, and that it was desirabe to produce a better understanding between the constituents and those they represented. The second Counsel who spoke said that his clients desired reform above all things, but they did not wish to take it from His Majesty's present Ministers.
I hope that that roughly describes the extent of the disagreement on this important matter which exists between us on this side of the House and noble Lords on the other side.
§ The discussion is not about whether a radical reform of local government is necessary. The question is what form the new structure should take. The Government have given their answer in the White Paper. We have not put our proposals forward in any dogmatic spirit. We do not think that ours is the only possible solution. But after exhaustive study of the Redcliffe-Maud Report and widespread consultations on its proposals we have reached the firm conclusion that the structure in the White Paper is better than any of the alternatives.
§ I am sure that at this point the whole House would wish me to pay tribute to the noble Lord who was Chairman of the Royal Commission for three arduous years, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who served with him as a member of the Commission during that period. They and their fellow Commissioners undertook the most searching examination of local government that has ever been made. We are indeed grateful to them for the thoroughness of their review and the comprehensiveness of their recommendations. I look forward to hearing their speeches this afternoon, hoping that they will find merit in the White Paper where it follows the Commission's Report, and that they will not blame us too much for having departed from it in a small number of places.
§ My Lords, we have a formidable array of local government experience in this House. The Presidents of all the local authority associations are at present Members of this House, and I see that no fewer than nine Presidents, Past-Presidents and Vice-Presidents of Associations have put themselves down to speak this afternoon. So we shall not lack for advice based upon experience, and I look forward, also, to their contribution. I shall 228 deal primarily with the new structure of local government. This is what the White Paper has settled. The threat of an uncertain future has hung over local government for years now, especially since the Royal Commission were appointed. That was inevitable while the Commission worked. When the Commission's Report was published last June, the Government made decisions on structure their immediate objective. Many other matters have still to be settled before legislation can be introduced. There will be full consultation on them, and it is right that there should be. But the first step was to reach conclusions on structure so that everyone in local government would know what kind of system would be in force a few years from now. The consultations that we began when the Report was published were confined to structure. Many local authorities commented on detailed boundary issues and other questions, and we have taken note of what they said on them. We made it plain that in the phase of consultation that is now over it was their views on structure that we wanted.
§ Some people thought that we were taking these consultations too fast. But with the splendid co-operation of local government, and with the help of all others who sent in comments, we were able to lay a White Paper before Parliament at the beginning of February, just under eight months after the Commission's Report appeared. During that period we received and considered comments from over 2,000 sources. The decisions in the White Paper were therefore taken after weighing all bodies of opinion put forward. I think the Government can take some credit for having been not only fair but speedy. I have no doubt that to have taken longer over the consultations on structure would have been harmful to local government. I think it is a service to local government that we should be holding this debate today in your Lordships' House, not at large on the general merits of some theoretical reorganisation, but on the specific proposals in the Government White Paper.
§ At the operational level, where responsibility for services will be concentrated, we propose to divide the country between unitary and two-tier areas. The Royal Commission decided, after studying all 229 the material available to them, that there should not be one system of local government for the whole country. The facts and problems that local government has to deal with require a different pattern of authorities in different parts of England. Let me digress at this point to remind the House to bear in mind in the debate which is to follow that we are today debating local government in England, and that the proposals for Scotland and Wales are not contained in the White Paper before us this afternoon. There will no doubt be an opportunity to debate those two countries at an appropriate time. The Government agree with the analysis of the Royal Commission about England. There are great advantages in unified local government, with a single authority responsible for all services throughout its area. Not least of the gains is increased public understanding of how local government works. Unless people can grasp the principles of the system, unless they know what local government can do for them and where responsibility lies, local democracy will not flourish as it should.
§ But despite the benefits which we believe that unitary authorities will bring, we recognise that there are circumstances where a two-tier pattern is right. There are areas, needing to be planned as a whole, which have complex problems and large populations that make them unsuitable for administration by a single authority. In those areas a unitary authority would be unsatisfactory for the management of services, and would not be acceptable as a form of local democratic government.
§ But it is only in these areas that we consider a two-tier pattern is necessary. We have accepted the Commission's view that there should be a two-tier system around Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. We have decided that there are two other areas which should also be organised in this way—West Yorkshire and South Hampshire. The Commission discussed both areas in their Report. They very frankly set out the considerations, as they saw them, in favour of both unitary and two-tier systems in these parts of the country. They concluded that a unitary system would be preferable, at least for the time being. The Government take a different view, but I 230 hope that the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will agree that the Government's decision is one for which the facts of the situation provide good arguments in both cases, although I do not expect them to agree that they provide the better arguments.
§ We have also decided that there should be one major change in the allocation of functions proposed by the Royal Commission in metropolitan areas. The Commission thought that education should be administered by the same authority as the personal social services and made the metropolitan districts responsible for both. This recommendation was in harmony with the views of the Seebohm Committee. The Government understood the reasons which led the Royal Commission to suggest that education should be at the lower level in the metropolitan areas. But I think that most people concerned with education would agree that the greater need is for education to be administered by one authority over the whole of each metropolitan area. There is a great deal of movement for educational purposes between the different parts of these areas. Co-ordinated planning is possible only if the metropolitan authority is the education authority. This is especially true for higher and further education. There will also be advantages of scale and resources in making the metropolitan authority responsible for providing expensive, specialised items of equipment—laboratories and computers, and so on. Schools will be built more economically over a metropolitan area if the metropolitan authority is in charge.
§ There will, of course, have to be close co-operation between the metropolitan authorities and the districts which will remain responsible for the personal social services. This is a point to which we intend to pay particular attention. But under the Commission's proposals there would have been an equal need to co-ordinate the efforts of several different education authorities in each metropolitan area. It is better to get the right solution for education, and then make the necessary arrangements for co-ordination with the social services. This has been a difficult frontier to decide; there is much in favour of settling it either way. We believe that in this difficult choice we have chosen marginally the better course.231
§ My Lords, I should now like to turn to one of the charges that has been levelled against the new structure of local government proposed in the White Paper. It is alleged that the new authorities will be remote from the people whom they exist to serve, and that there should, therefore, be two tiers of local government throughout England. The Government do not share this view, but they recognise the sincerity and experience of those who hold it. Again, it is sometimes argued in favour of the two-tier system that the unitary authorities would be too small for certain purposes—in particular for planning—and should be larger. The Government do not agree that this is so either. But if, in a two-tier system, the upper tier authorities were made larger —and therefore fewer—for planning purposes, the effect would be to make all the services administered by the upper tier authority more remote from the public than they would be under a unitary system. No doubt the answer could be made that under a two-tier system the lower tier would also carry responsibility for services. But almost all two-tier proposals put responsibility for the bulk of the major services at the upper tier, and I think there is considerable agreement that the main local government services cannot be administered over smaller areas than the unitary areas recommended in the White Paper.
§ I accept that the unitary authorities will have to decentralise their administration. I think that this is a point which has tended to be overlooked in the discussion of the White Paper. I shall dwell a little, if the House will allow me, on the proposals in the White Paper for district committees.
There is an important passage in the Commission's Report, where they discuss decentralisation. It is paragraph 316. The Commission said that:
… there should be local 'town halls' easily accessible to the citizen, where he can take his questions and complaints about any local government service and either get an answer or be told where he can get one.
Now that was a very interesting suggestion, and the Government have taken it up and, finding it somewhat skeletal, have put flesh on its bones. Responsibility for the provision of services must be concentrated in the unitary authority. This is
where policy must be decided, and where the allocation of resources to the different services must be settled. The whole local government staff in a unitary area must be in the employment of the unitary authority. This is essential for the best use of the professional skills which local government needs, and which are at present divided between so many different types of authority. But the day-to-day administration of services need not, and indeed ought not, all to be done at the headquarters of the unitary authority. Nor should all the decisions be taken there. I cannot believe that any of the new authorities would wish to run the whole range of public business for which they were responsible from the central offices in the main town of their area. As so many noble Lords know from personal experience, that would be quite out of keeping with the way that local government works in this country. The people who serve in local government, both as members and as officers, are not going to change their nature when local government is reorganised. The same ideal of service to the community will continue to inspire them in the new system as it does now. Those who say that local government is in danger of turning into a bureaucratic paradise, where faceless officials take decisions affecting the lives of people whom they never see, are doing an injustice to local government, to the Royal Commission and to the White Paper.
§ The unitary authorities will wish to be closely in touch with the inhabitants of their districts. One way of doing this would be, as the Commission suggested, to have local officers of the main authority with power to decide matters on the spot. The Government are generally in agreement with the view of both the Royal Commission and the earlier Committee on the management of local government (which also was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud) that elected members should concentrate on policy and leave more of the detailed work to officers than they have done in the past. But, in the Government's opinion, to leave the administration of services in the field entirely in the hands of officers would be an enfeeblement of democracy. We think that there should therefore be more delegation of decisions than happens now, but that district committees should bring an essential element of control by elected 233 representatives to the decentralised administration of the main authorities' functions.
§ The detailed arrangements for district committees will have to be discussed with the local authority associations. But one point is already definite. Local councils —that is, not the unitary councils but the local councils which will continue where they are now, everywhere where people want them—will have a right to appoint members to the district committees to sit alongside the unitary councillors for the district concerned. The concept of local councils without any statutory responsibility for services has provoked some controversy. The Government are in no doubt that local councils are of fundamental importance to the new structure. Service on district committees of the main authority is the way in which members of local councils will be able to participate in the administration of main services. Legislation will make the necessary provision for this.
§ The Government believe that, in general, local authorities should be free to arrange their own internal organisation in the way they think best. We have therefore no cut-and-dried proposals for the district committees. We shall wish to hear the views of the local authority associations on the various practical ways they could be arranged. But there are a number of services which clearly look as if they would be suitable for local administration by district committees. Examples I have in mind are parts of housing—particularly housing management—and aspects of the social services. The district committees will keep the unitary authorities responsive to local requirements and will prevent the unitary authority from being overburdened with a range of questions with which it ought not to be because it is not so close to the spot.
§ The idea of putting members of local councils on these district committees will increase their sensitivity to the needs of the local situation. The job of local councils will be to preserve the individuality and special character of their areas. Members of local councils will have an intimate knowledge of the effect that the main authorities' policies, and the way they are applied, are having on local people. All told, I do not think that the charge of remoteness is one that 234 can justifiably be levelled against the proposals in the White Paper. If I think that, it is very largely because of the part the White Paper proposes should be played by district committees.
§ One point I should make clear is that the staff who serve the district committees will be in the employment of the unitary authority. The district committees will be committees of the unitary authority. They will not be the traditional second tier in another guise. Although executive responsibility will be devolved to them, they will operate within the framework of the main authorities' policies. It is a corollary of this principle that they should be served by the officers of the main authority. Otherwise the professional resources at the disposal of the main authority would be dissipated in the employment of a number of different units, as indeed they are at the present time. The district committee, composed of members of the unitary authority and of local councils, and served by the professional officers of the unitary authority, will thus combine the flexibility of local administration with the broad view and technical expertise of an authority responsible for a wide area.
Allied to the fear that the unitary authorities will be remote is the fear that in the new system the interests of the country will be subordinated to those of the town. This may be a subject on which a number of your Lordships feel a special concern, and perhaps you would like me to enlarge upon it. The Prime Minister has spoken of:
ending the present division between town and country ".
This does not of course mean ending the geographical division; it means ending the political and administrative one. Indeed, the geographical division can probably only be maintained precisely by ending the political and administrative division. No one who has had to deal with planning issues maintains that the present division between counties and county boroughs should be continued into the new system. The quite arbitrary boundaries that separate them make effective planning almost impossible over much of the country.
§ Planning, transport and major development can be dealt with properly only by an authority responsible for an area whose parts have to be looked at together 235 before a satisfactory solution can be found to their problems. To draw new boundaries that were little more than county borough extensions would be quite irrelevant to the needs of local government in the decades ahead. The degree of social and economic interdependence between town and country is now vastly greater than it was when the present system of government was brought into force towards the end of the 19th century. This was strikingly demonstrated in the study of the changed relationship between town and country which the Royal Commission published in a volume of research appendices, which your Lordships may be pardoned for not having read in as much detail as you no doubt did the Report itself. Some fascinating maps were published with these research appendices. They vividly show what a great change there has been in the pattern of settlement and travel to work.
§ Of course, it is not only planning and the services associated with it that require authorities which can administer town and country together. In a joint statement issued in November, the County Councils Association, the Rural District Councils Association and the Urban District Councils Association agreed that in a two-tier system education and the social services should also be the responsibility of the upper tier. They were further of the opinion that the upper tier authorities should have a minimum population of 500,000 whereever possible. My Lords, there are at this moment only five county boroughs in England with a population of over 500,000. The minimum population considered necessary by these three Associations for the administration of planning, transport, education and the personal social services, and other important functions of local government, can be attained only by bringing town and country together under one authority.
§ Within the unitary areas every parish, village and market town will, if it wishes, have a local council to champion its interests. There will be an obligation on the main authorities to consult local councils on any proposals which affect them. The detailed arrangements for consultation will be discussed with the associations. But the White Paper means what it says: local councils will be consulted, 236 not merely informed about something that is going to happen anyway. I repeat, they will be consulted. The rural areas will not be helplessly engulfed by an urban tide. It is a political impossibility that they should be.
§ Sometimes it is the metropolitan areas that are criticised for being too extensive. It is said that their boundaries take in too much of the country surrounding conurbations and that they should be drawn more tightly around the builtup areas. The Government are satisfied that the Commission were right in going out as far as they did. The Commission made a convincing case for bringing within the metropolitan boundaries the whole of an area that could be treated as a social, economic and planning unit. One of the virtues of areas as extensive as those proposed by the Commission is that they do not, in effect, determine where development will take place. If the metropolitan boundaries were drawn narrowly around the built-up areas, the pressure for peripheral development would be enormous. There would be quite a risk of urban sprawl right up to the edges of the metropolitan area, simply because this was the only land available. Local government boundaries ought not to exert this kind of influence on planning decisions. It is one of the banes of the present system that we must get rid of. Areas of the size proposed by the Commission and accepted by the Government will give the metropolitan authorities freedom of choice in directing development to where it can do most good and least harm. It is precisely because their boundaries are wide that the danger of an endless urban blight around conurbations can be avoided.
§ One subject in which I know your Lordships will be interested is the relaxation of central control. It is perhaps a subject which provokes a certain amount of natural scepticism. Successive Governments, often maybe because of the sheer burden of work that they suffer from, have good intentions about leaving more responsibility to local authorities but then find that their performance is less than their promise and they do not even have the time to do the work which they ought to do. It is clear that the reform of local government will be an opportunity that must be taken to reverse the tendency to centralisation. There are 237 many matters with which central Government will not need to concern itself when there is a system of strong local authorities all of which are responsible for substantial populations and coherent areas.
§ The Government are already preparing for the much freer relationship between central and local Government which will become possible when the new system comes into force. We intend to get rid of the individual loan sanction, one of the most tiresome controls over the activities of local authorities; and the Green Paper on finance, which we have promised, will deal thoroughly with all financial controls. We have already asked the local authority associations to look at the whole range of controls which central Government exerts over them and to tell us which they think should be removed. When we receive that list we will look at it to see how far we can go in that direction and not how short a distance we can go. I cannot at the moment tell the House when the Green Paper on finance will be published, but it will appear in time for the consultations that will take place on it to be complete before the legislation to reform local government is introduced.
§ Provinces form another topic on which one hears the view expressed in some quarters that we have put the cart before the horse. The argument runs that we should have waited for the Report of the Commission on the Constitution before reaching any conclusions on the new structure of local government. I hope I may say, without disrespect to any noble Lord who holds this view, that I think it is wrong. The Royal Commission were appointed in 1966 with the widest possible terms of reference in order to take a completely fresh look at the structure, areas and functions of local government. Little was then heard of the point that the Royal Commission would be restricted in their inquiries. Indeed, the Government were generally agreed to have taken the right course in appointing a Royal Commission with such a far-ranging remit.
§ There was nothing to stop the Commission from making recommendations for an organisation at provincial level. And indeed, as your Lordships know, that is precisely what they did. They 238 made some interesting proposals for grouping the new operational authorities into eight provinces, each with an indirectly elected provincial council. The Commission suggested that these provincial councils should form part of local government. In the view of the Commission the primary function of these councils would be strategic planning. The immediately important point, however, is that the Commission did not consider that the provinces were the right areas for the operation of local government services. They had no doubt that operational responsibility should rest with the authorities in the unitary and metropolitan area, and the Government endorsed this analysis.
§ My Lords, the reform of local government is rather urgent. It can be reformed by concentrating services in the new main authorities and setting up the local councils, without simultaneously taking decisions on provinces. In these circumstances, I do not believe that action should be delayed until the Report of the Commission on the Constitution is to hand. No more comprehensive report on local government will ever be made than has been made by the Royal Commission. The Commission on the Constitution will not cover the same ground. They have different terms of reference, which ask them to pay regard to developments in the organisation of local government when considering the relationships between the regions and central Government—that is all. But, of course, the Commission on the Constitution will be considering such questions as the possible arrangements at what the Royal Commission call the provincial level. So it would have been equally wrong either to postpone all action on the report of the Royal Commission or to reach conclusions on their provincial proposals before the Commission on the Constitution has reported. I should make it clear that on provincial government we have not rejected the proposals of the Royal Commission. We have suspended consideration of them until we can study them again in the light of the Report of the Commission on the Constitution.
§ I should now like briefly to look forward with you to the next stages in the work of reforming local government. I have mentioned a number of subjects 239 which we shall be discussing with the local authority associations, and I have referred to the review of finance. But what will be of most interest to the individual authorities will be boundaries. We shall be talking to the local authority associations about the procedure for these consultations, but two things are clear. One is that the consultations will be thorough; the other is that the decisions on structure in the White Paper will not be reopened. It will not be possible to propose during these consultations either that any of the five metropolitan areas should be organised on a unitary basis, or that there should be a two-tier pattern outside these five areas. The House will remember what I have said about the district committees. Nor will it be possible to propose that any unitary area should simply be divided in two. That would create areas that were too small and would fragment problems that should be considered as a whole.
§ Although the Government think that the unitary areas recommended by the Commission are broadly the right shape and size, suggestions for a different pattern of areas will be considered, as well as suggestions for detailed changes in their boundaries.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but I understood the noble Lord to say that suggestions for splitting unitary authorities will not be considered. Will the reverse be considered; namely joining the future authorities, as has been recommended?
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, what I said was that suggestions for a different pattern of unitary authorities might be considered and suggestions for detailed changes in the boundaries proposed in the Royal Commission map; and I said that the same was true of the metropolitan areas—that is to say, detailed changes in the boundaries of the metropolitan areas may be proposed in the forthcoming consultations.
Making education the responsibility of the metropolitan authorities does not in the opinion of the Government call for a radically different pattern of districts as proposed by the Royal Commission. Effective housing and social service authorities will still need areas of the 240 general size proposed by the Commission, but there will be full opportunity during the consultations to express views on the pattern as well as the boundaries of the metropolitan districts. I ought to add, however, that the consultations will not provide the occasion for suggesting drastic reductions in the extent of the metropolitan areas. So much I think I have already made clear, and it will not surprise your Lordships. But there will of course be ample scope for suggesting changes in the actual line of the metropolitan boundaries.
The discussions which will be of particular interest to the staff will be those on the arrangements for establishing a staff commission to safeguard the interests of those employed on local government to-day. There is such continuing pressure to expand and raise the quality of the services which local government provides that the prospects of the officers who serve it must surely be good. The staff are bound to feel some apprehension about the immediate consequences of reorganisation, and the Government therefore have no doubt that a staff commission should be appointed, broadly on the lines of the one which dealt with similar problems during the London reorganisation.
My Lords, I have nearly done. This will, I think, be an historic debate. Local government cannot be reorganised every few years. In the nature of things, a debate on a Government White Paper to reform it can take place only once or twice in a century. I know from the list of speakers to follow that the discussion will match the occasion, and the Government intend to pay very careful attention to all the constructive points which I am sure will be made. I sometimes have the impression that there is much less between the Government and the Party of noble Lords opposite, even on questions of detail, than may appear in the course of argument. I hope that that is so.
It is one of the pleasures of my lot to speak to foreign visitors about our system of local government and the changes now proposed in it and to listen to what they have to say about local government in the lands from which they come. It is clear to me that the reform on which we are now embarked will provide England with a system able to deal more effectively 241 with the complex problems facing local government than any system in a comparable country. It may well be a model for others to emulate. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the White Paper, Reform of Local Government in England (Cmnd. 4276).— (Lord Kennet.)
§ [The Sitting was suspended at twenty-two minutes past three o'clock for Peers to hear an address given in the Royal Gallery to Members of both Houses by the Chancellor of the West German Federal Republic, Herr Willy Brandt, and resumed at half past four.]
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, I am glad that the Government have found a day for this important debate, and that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has been able to explain the Government White Paper with his usual clarity. I trust that he will not think it was through any disrespect to him that we all walked out of the Chamber when his speech was finished. I am bound to say to him that it was not an acceptance by all of us that he had said the last word on the subject.
I want to join with Lord Kennet in paying tribute to the remarkable achievement of the Royal Commission, both to the two distinguished members of the Commission who are Members of your Lordships' House, and whom we look forward to hearing later, and to all the other members of the Commission, and, if I may add this, to its secretariat. They all must have worked together so splendidly that within the space of three years from their appointment they produced a Report distinguished for comprehensiveness, for depth and for readability.
The outstandingly important finding of the Royal Commission was that, in principle, town and country should no longer be separately administered. That proposition has been received with a remarkable degree of support, even from unexpected quarters, and it has been accepted by the Government. This fact alone would justify the appointment and the work of the Royal Commission. In 1958, when last Parliament was discussing local government on a wide scale, such a proposition would have been met 242 with absolutely intractable opposition. That is the reason why the 1958 Act made no provision for the joining of town and country areas, though arrangements were made for special review areas. I suppose that the causes why opinion has changed, and in my view changed for the better in this respect, are the greater mobility of the present day, leading to a wider awareness of interdependence of town and country, and also, in the local government field, sheer weariness of unproductive quarrelling about county borough boundary extensions.
Most people, I believe, will agree that these new large authorities recommended by the Commission should be so shaped as to be strong enough to be education authorities. The Commission speak of a minimum population of 250,000 for a unitary authority. I would have said something rather larger than that—say 300,000. I am not surprised that the Government White Paper should suggest catching up at any rate the two smallest areas in the list on page 312 of the Report into a West Yorkshire metropolitan area. All the areas on that list which are under 300,000, and are likely to remain under 300,000, I suggest deserve further careful thought. Four of these smaller areas are in Lancashire, and like a good many other people I am not happy about the dismemberment of the Lancashire County Council's area as proposed by the Royal Commission and endorsed by the Government. Indeed, the whole of Lancashire and Cheshire seem to me to require further thought. I am not against phasing out traditional loyalties when that is proved absolutely necessary, as for instance I think it was in the case of Middlesex and the inclusion of Middlesex in Greater London. But I am not sure that that is the only sound course in the case of Lancashire and Cheshire.
In any event, the boundaries of some of the new metropolitan areas seem to me too farflung, for all that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said in defence of them. One reason for the inclusion in them of so many country villages is no doubt to make it easier to plan sites for overspill developments from the big cities, without compulsion to go to any one spot because that is the only land available, and without intruding upon the area of another powerful authority. I can only say that 243 had we adopted that principle in determining the boundaries of Greater London we should have gone gravely wrong, and we should wilfully have created a hatred of the Greater London Council in country districts outside the perimeter of Greater London, such as, fortunately, was not created and does not exist to-day.
The noble Lord explained that these farflung boundaries were in the interests of the built-up area. That, of course, is exactly what arouses the resentment of the country places, which feel they have an independent interest that should be considered equally. I cannot really believe that the Cheshire rural districts down in the southern parts of the Merseyside and SELNEC metropolitan areas genuinely look to, and live with, Liverpool and Manchester to any greater extent than, let us say, Elstree or Esher look to London. But Elstree and Esher are rightly outside the Greater London area.
Fortunately, there is time to consider boundaries closely. The noble Lord said that in the case of the metropolitan areas the boundary changes for discussion would be relatively small and not sweeping ones. I have made it clear that I would not accept his suggestion that substantial alterations of the metropolitan areas ought not to be considered. I, for my part, hope that we shall nowhere, unnecessarily play ducks and drakes with county boundaries because county loyalties go back a long way and are curiously and, I think, commendably strong. As regards county boundaries, by all means correct minor anomalies. I personally would accept that the village of Cumnor, in Berkshire, looks more naturally to Oxford, which is four miles away, than to Reading, which is much further away. But there does not seem to me to be any compelling reason to lift out a slice of Suffolk and put it into Norfolk, unless it wants to go. I cannot see any case for cutting off a strip of Wiltshire, including the county town of Trowbridge, and making it part of Bristol.
Incidentally, I have a great deal of sympathy with the reservation to the Majority Report by Sir Francis Hill and Mr. Wallis urging that some of the Royal Commission's large authorities are made unnecessarily large. Between 250,000 and 500,000 population is a good size for 244 a local authority with major functions; but beyond about 500,000 the danger of bureaucracy usurping power becomes greater and greater. We need to look carefully and critically at every case where the Commission propose to create by amalgamation a new authority greatly exceeding half a million population, to make sure whether so large a size is unavoidable. Of course the Government may say that it is easier to devolve powers on very large local authorities. But here we are in the difficulty that no one knows yet for certain whether provincial councils on the Maud pattern are or are not likely to come into existence.
The Government really have made it very hard for us to hold fruitful debate at this stage. We are given practically nothing to go on as regards either provincial councils or local government finance. I am not criticising the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. The Government have got themselves into a difficulty, and they cannot forecast or prejudge matters which have not yet been decided or have not been reported upon. But talk of Hamlet without the Prince! This is like Macbeth without either Macbeth or Lady Macbeth. Beyond any question the next Government will have to keep a reasonably open mind until they can take a new look at the whole local government structure in the light of the Crowther Commission's Report, when that is completed, which I understand will be some time next year. Almost everything one says at this stage, therefore, must be tentative. But certainly if we are going to have provincial or regional councils, I believe that there is more to be said for ending up with rather more of the new authorities, than with rather fewer as the White Paper suggests.
There is one concept which I fear has got submerged in the Royal Commission Report, and another which seems to have got submerged in the Government's White Paper. The first is democracy, and the second is devolution. To my mind Parliament and Whitehall are grossly overloaded. It should be one of the prime objectives of any reconstruction of local government to remove a great deal of power and work from Whitehall level to council level. The Royal Commission could, and did, prepare the way for that; but unwisely, as I think, the Government had excluded from the Commission's 245 terms of reference the whole question of transfer of functions from central to local government. The White Paper is completely vague about that. It speaks about relaxation of Whitehall controls, but not about transfer of functions.
When this Government talk about relaxation of central controls their credibility is low, for is not this the Government who have repeatedly asked Parliament to impose new controls to curb local freedoms? What about curbing the sale of council houses against the will of the electors? What about the Government insisting, against the wishes of the local electors, on local authorities continuing to subsidise the rents of council tenants who are well enough off not to need a subsidy? What about the Government, in a Bill now before another place, stamping on the declared views of the local electors as to the best form of secondary school organisation for the area? The least one can say is that Socialists simply cannot tolerate what is the essence of democratic local government. They cannot grasp that a Labour Government should allow a freely elected Conservative council to do what the local electors have voted it into power for, even if that conflicts with the Government's political ideas; exactly as the Conservative Government should allow a freely elected Labour council to do things which are contrary to Conservative convictions. It is fortunate that the next reconstruction of local government seems likely to be carried through by a Party in Parliament which believes that elected local councils should be the partners of the central Government and not their tools.
My Lords, I have been speaking of devolution; now I want to speak of democracy. To my mind, the democratic relationship between governors and governed should consist of something more than an opportunity to turn out one's governors every few years and elect new ones. There should be a genuine public interest in the work of the elected authority, and a belief that its work is relevant to the affairs of daily life throughout its area and that the authority is sensitive to public feeling. The Royal Commission thought that this was likely to follow if strong all-purpose authorities were created, more powerful and influential than local councils have been seen to be up until now. I am afraid 246 I cannot share this view, which seems to me to be wishful thinking. Even if the authority opens local offices and runs a vastly better information service than most councils have done hitherto, the big authority's decision-making apparatus will still seem as remote as Tibet.
Even if some councils are allowed to have more than 75 members, it will still remain true that each councillor will have about 8,000 people to represent on an all-purpose local authority which, on the Commission's proposals, will be taking all the important decisions affecting the place where they live; planning, roads, schools, houses, family social services—everything. If that councillor attempts to do his job properly, it is going to take him nearly all his time; yet he is to be unpaid, according to the White Paper. There is no escape from it—the web of democracy will wear too thin. Yet one of the Royal Commission's reasons for reorganisation is that this web is too thin already.
The strength of the all-purpose county borough council, which is stressed by the Royal Commission in paragraphs 252 and 253 of their Report, does not prove that it is democratically right for an extensive, less compactly populated area. I am sure that the rural district councils were right in stigmatising the Royal Commission's structure as too remote. Indeed, the Commission themselves must have been aware of this danger, for they devised the proposition of local councils, mandatory in what they called the unitary areas but discretionary in the metropolitan areas. I am not at all against local councils; I welcome them. I believe strongly in the potential of the parish council as it exists to-day But, with respect to the Royal Commission, this local council concept seemed to be the least well worked out of their ideas. I simply cannot see Brighton and Exeter and York—not to speak of Bristol and Nottingham and Sheffield—keenly operating a local council with the same powers as the parish council of a small village. There is an incongruity here which must be resolved: and I suspect that the Royal Commission too, were aware of that.
The Commission were perfectly right in recognising that something must be established in between the level of the ordinary person and the level of the big 247 authority. They tried to lessen the incongruity by suggesting that the larger of the local councils should be able to play some part in some of the main services administered by the unitary authorities. But the Government White Paper, we find, rejects this idea. The Government, instead, propose district committees of the unitary authority, with some representatives of the local councils on them. If I were a representative of a local council I should find this a depressing experience, because the policy would be that laid down by the big authority and there would be no possibility of changing it. Yet so often the point that the local people desperately want to make is that the policy laid down in a big city, miles away, simply cannot be made to fit in with the proper development or preservation of a particular neighbourhood.
In the White Paper the Government laid stress on making it obligatory for the big authority to consult the local councils; but of course there can be no obligation to pay attention to the views that the local councils have expressed. I know how depressing it was, in the days when the old London County Council was under obligation to consult the metropolitan borough councils over planning applications. When repeatedly the London County Council ignored views expressed by the metropolitan borough councils, the enthusiasm of the borough councillors for trying to take an active part in planning necessarily and naturally waned.
It is for reasons like this that I believe we shall come in the end to a two-tier system for England, as seems likely for Scotland and Wales. I am not sufficiently impressed by the Royal Commission's argument that all-purpose unitary authorities will revitalise democratic interest in local government. The old London County Council administered most of the services which the unitary authorities will administer; but—with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Fiske—the L.C.C. was regarded as so remote that popular interest in it between elections was virtually nil, and even at election times not a great deal higher. The idea of having a local council is appropriate to a village or small town, but not to the larger towns or cities outside the metropolitan areas.
248 It also strikes me as anomalous that second-tier authorities are considered necessary for thickly populated areas around Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham—and in the White Paper for two other areas, too—on the ground that one great authority for the conurbation would be too big and remote; the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said it would not be acceptable as a form of democratic local government. Yet second-tier authorities are not thought necessary by the Commission or by the Government in thinly-populated country areas, where distances and the danger of remoteness both of geography and of interest are so much greater.
I would not lay down any standard size or pattern for the second-tier authorities; emphatically not a minimum size of 100,000 population as seems to appeal to some people, because in a country area that would make the authority just as remote to the man in the street or the man in the village as one of the Commission's unitary authorities would be. These second-tier authorities should be tailored to the local population and the social geography. If this was seriously attempted, I believe that a sensible, though not a uniform, pattern could be mapped out within each big authority's area.
Why should local government areas always be tidy and uniform? The pattern of population and of settlement is not that. The right local government pattern should grow out of the population and geography pattern. The structure should not be clamped uniformly on a pattern which is not uniform. I am not advocating—
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord just for information? I am following his argument very carefully, but is he saying that we ought not to accept a minimum size like 100,000? Is there any minimum size? Because there is clearly a point below which it would be pointless to have a council. Has the noble Lord any figure in mind?
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, I would not suggest any particular figure, because I think that the conditions vary so enormously. There are some very sparsely populated areas and there are 249 some compact areas. I am not saying that 100,000 would be too large for a compact urban area. But if one has had to study the map carefully, one realises that there are some parts of the country where, when one takes into account communications and low density of population, a realistic second-tier authority could be quite small relative to the figures of 100,000 and 60,000 that have been mentioned in some quarters.
I was going on to say that I was not advocating that any of the big services should be transferred right away from the main authorities. These second-tier authorities would, in my conception, discharge the functions in Appendix E of the White Paper which are too big and too expensive for ordinary parish councils, and should also play suitably assigned parts in the administration of some of the main services, as indeed the Royal Commission itself recommended that local councils should do. It would really be absurd for every question of housing management in an ordinary town to be settled by a big authority located miles away, or by one of that authority's officers, when it could be handled with much closer knowledge under the appropriate committee of an elected council of that town. And there really must be power to determine policies and take decisions at second-tier level on planning applications which have no general importance and significance outside the particular place. When people are proud of their town, and proud with good cause, sound democracy and common sense alike require that we should afford to the people of that town a responsible role in looking after it, and not make their only means of showing their love for their town either service on a farranging unitary authority, or the mere exercise of parish council powers.
My suggestions are really for a practical modification of the Royal Commission's proposals, breaking loose from the Commission's belief—mistaken belief, I think—that large unitary authorities are the secret of attracting more of the publics' interest and good will to local government; and breaking loose, also, from the fallacious but oftrepeated idea that by creating very large and very powerful councils you will secure the services of abler men and women who would not think local government work worth while 250 otherwise. This is pure theory: I have never come across any practical confirmation of that anywhere.
There is another aspect of all this, and that is the personal aspect. The Government are saying that outside the metropolitan areas they want to see councillors of only two sorts: those who will give fulltime, or nearly fulltime, service unpaid on a unitary authority; and those who will be content to serve on a local council with the powers of a parish council. Who will be found to man the unitary authorities I find it hard to see, other than retired people or leisured people or people whose employers give them ample time off to do so, as employers generally do now to men in their employment who are elected mayors of their boroughs. I would always encourage employers to grant this time off. But the men who are ambitious for promotion and want to get on in their jobs are the men hardest to spare and least likely to take advantage of this opportunity; and yet these are the men we specially want as elected members in local government, and we shall only be able to get them if we do not demand too much of their time.
To set up second-tier authorities will somewhat lessen the otherwise almost intolerable load on elected members of the big authorities, if they are both to take all the policy decisions and to look after all the local interests of the 8,000 people each one will represent. But it will do something else, too. It will preserve an opportunity of public service for a number of those excellent people who are carrying the load of council work now on all sorts of local authorities hot who could not possibly undertake the far more time-demanding duties of membership of a unitary authority. One thing I regretted in the reorganisation of Greater London—necessary as that reorganisation was—was its effect in squeezing out of local government work many of the people who could afford the time to give yeoman service on a metropolitan borough council, but who knew that they could not undertake the much heavier duties entailed in membership of the council of a London borough two or three times the size.
One effect of the Royal Commission's policy of linking together town and 251 country—a policy which almost everyone accepts; I certainly do—will be to extend Party politics in local government over the whole country. Curiously enough, no one seems to have publicly said this yet, but it will follow inevitably. It was the Liberals, or rather the Radicals in the old days, who first introduced Party politics into local government 80 years ago, in the first London County Council ever elected. But the Labour Party have by now extended it through virtually all the county boroughs and towns of any size—and this is a fact of life which must be recognised—and their candidates will succeed unless they are fought by candidates with an equally determined Party organisation behind them. I have experience of this, for I was a member of the last metropolitan borough council which sought to operate on non-Party lines, until that was made impossible.
Party control of a council, in my experience, tends to produce more coherent and tenacious policies. Where the opposition on a council has a Parly basis, it tends to probe and question more insistently; and fewer sleeping dogs are likely to be allowed to lie. The price that generally has to be paid for these undoubted gains is less quality in debate, because members tend to make Party points, whereas the originators of local government, I am sure, took it for granted that local councillors would stick to saying what they really thought, based on their knowledge of the locality, and would not bother about anything else. Frankly, I do not much care for local councils which, in debate, ape the House of Commons, and do it much less well.
What I am leading up to, my Lords, is the question whether we should so lightly abolish aldermen. When all the big authorities are elected on a Party basis—something which I think the Labour Party will rejoice to force—I am not sure whether the three-year paralysis which may result from deadheats or near dead-heats at elections will be a good thing. Hitherto, that sort of paralysis has been avoided by one Party or the other securing a clear majority of aldermen, and therefore a working majority in control of the council. I suffered in that way on the London County Council in 1949. But if aldermen are abolished, we shall be left with the prospect of three 252 years of paralysis or debility, so far as controversial issues are concerned, whenever the two sides are exactly or almost exactly balanced.
The Royal Commission say that:the office of alderman blurs the principle of control by the people's elected representatives ".But the Commission then sabotage their own argument by recommending that the provincial councils should be indirectly elected by the directly elected councils, exactly as aldermen are to-day. I am not a great fan of aldermen; but, speaking personally, with some experience of local government, I believe that the case for retaining a small proportion of aldermen is stronger than is made out.
That, however, is a comparatively minor point. My chief concern to-day is that local government shall not be denuded of its essentially local element. We can all enjoy a laugh against the mayor and corporation, just as we can all enjoy a laugh against the village "bobby"; but the fact remains that both lie very near the heart of British liberties. The Royal Commission scheme and the White Paper scheme both portray efficient methods of administering England, but each of them seems to me to be too far separated from genuine local democracy. I want to see a new structure for local government that will last, and if local democracy is subordinated to large-scale efficiency I do not think it will. I want to see genuine local government. To put it crudely, my Lords, the White Paper seems to me to outline a more efficient system of running English local affairs, but not local democracy. If I express that in crude terms, it is not to undervalue either the Commission's Report or the White Paper, but to underline the point of difference.
If all of us are determined to work hard enough in the next year or two on the first-class material now made available by the Commission, filled out by the forthcoming Crowther Report and by further ideas on finance, I am sure that it should be possible within those next two years to hammer out a really good scheme of reorganisation that will last. It will not please everybody—that will be quite impossible, and we must recognise that—but it should be able to stand up to all responsible criticism. I hope that I have made clear why, in my judgment, neither the Royal Commission 253 scheme nor the White Paper scheme can yet do that. The field to concentrate on is what I call the second-tier problem, which neither the Royal Commission, with their variegated local councils, nor the Government, with their district committees, have wholly solved. Nor, perhaps, has anyone else. Certainly I would not presume to be dogmatic about the solution: I simply want to spur forward further debate.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, this subject is one on which we on these Benches, as in a number of other cases, have a distinct and distinctive point of view, and on which we thought that the other two Parties were haggling over minutiae instead of tackling the real problem. I say "thought", and that was certainly my opinion even after having read a number of speeches by Conservative spokesmen on this subject. But having listened to the wholly illuminating and cogent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I must confess that I think that our views and those of the Conservatives to a very large degree match. My only complaint would be that I do not think that the Conservatives go quite far enough or follow the logic of their thoughts. In fact, there is only one point on which I would actually differ from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and that is on the question of aldermen. This question of two sides being equal in the council chamber is largely luckily solved by the fact that in most councils there are now three sides, and that works quite well, even though, unluckily, it is not so in the Greater London Council yet.
My Lords, as we all know, the local government system in this country has not been overhauled for a very long time, and the patchwork of different forms of local authorities with differing powers and functions is neither logical nor satisfactory. The construction of a new form is a difficult and a cataclysmic task, and I certainly join in all the tributes which have been paid, and I have no doubt will be paid, to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and his Commission. In fact, so difficult is it to upheave local government in this country and remodel it that I doubt whether it would be worth while except for one thing, something that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, 254 has so much emphasised: the need to bring more power and responsibility down to local levels.
Democracy, my Lords, is about giving people the right to make decisions about their own lives, and education is the stimulus which today causes more and more of them to want democratic responsibility. For a long time the situation was as described by Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, when, it will be remembered, she said:Fortunately in England at any rate education produces no effect whatsoever, if it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.We have had the acts of violence in Grosvenor Square, but we have also had plenty of other evidence of a better kind, of people's desire to have more say in the organisation of their society.
Central Government today becomes more technical and involved every year. If we go into the Common Market—and we on these Benches feel that we must— whatever the view that may now be held about the political form of Europe, we are bound in the end to have another centre of political power further removed from the ordinary man and woman in this country. People, particularly young people, feel very frustrated today because they can have no effect upon what happens in Vietnam or in Nigeria. I am afraid that I do not believe that they will ever have much effect on what happens in Vietnam or Nigeria, but I think we can at least give people more power over their own lives at close quarters. My argument is not vitiated, I think, in any way by the continuing low turnout or low poll in local government elections. Like all movements for more freedom and more responsibility, it is led by a growing number of politically conscious people, and it takes time for this to spread; but I do not think that anyone can deny that there is this growing demand for some more say in what goes on. If this is so, the decision to consider and act upon Maud before we have Crowther makes the whole business an exercise in the irrelevant.
The reason we need a revision of local government is almost entirely because we need to devolve from Westminster and Whitehall out into the provinces. Once that occurs, everything else falls into place. We believe in provincial councils 255 which will be directly elected, composed of paid councillors and will be given the great majority of the domestic powers which at the present moment are exercised in Great Britain. At the same time we believe in Parliaments for Scotland and Wales, with provincial organisations below them, if they so wish. Once you have these provincial councils you have a body of exactly the right size for regional planning of industry, transport and other major services. These councils will be both powerful and accountable and entirely different from the regional economic planning councils that we have at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that the reorganisation of local government is independent of what may be decided about provincial councils; but I suspect that in saying this he is thinking of a different kind of provincial council from the kind that we are thinking of. Again, he says that the Redcliffe-Maud Commission were not precluded from making recommendations on this matter. This may be so, but when we hear, as we look forward to hearing, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, I should be grateful if he would tell us whether he feels that consideration of a mass devolution of power from central Government to the provinces, accompanied by Parliaments for Scotland and Wales, a halving of the membership of the House of Commons and the turning of your Lordships' House into a regional and national senate—which is what the Liberal Party wishes to see—would be in any way within the terms of his remit.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, it is because we are now going through the business of adapting Maud without first dealing with this matter— and, indeed, I suspect with every intention of not doing much about directly elected provincial councils and the delegation of real power from the centre— that we think that the level of local government as proposed in this White Paper is wrong. Once you have a powerful provincial council of the kind I have described you can then have what we in our pamphlet, Power to the Provinces, 256 have called "district councils" with a minimum electorate of 60,000. Possibly, I suggest, even less in the rural areas— but considerably smaller than the unitary authorities of the Government, and able to be a one-tier authority for an area small enough for the people to feel that they are in touch. Such authorities would be, for instance, the city authorities that we have today; the big town authorities mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke; the borough councils, as in London, and so on throughout the system.
Underneath that we would welcome neighbourhood councils not unlike the local councils which the Government suggest but over very much smaller areas. In the Government's plan these seem to us to be rather pointless, since they are too vast to be really responsible to the immediate local community need, and they have no real power. But if there are smaller unitary bodies—and these neighbourhood councils are visualised as something much smaller and responsive to the immediate community —I feel that they have a great part to play. They can be responsible for the humanisation of the local community in a way which gets lost in the machinelike ordinary councils of the strong administrative powers. Mr. Peter Walker has said of the present proposals that they would become negative, critical bodies, with no other function but to make merry hell for the second tier. He may be right when they are of the size visualised by the Report; but if they are smaller I think that they will be positive and will equally make merry hell for the second tier. A certain amount of merry hell, and the merrier the better, is not a bad thing in local government.
My Lords, we see a need for a far greater dispersal of power in local government at the lowest level. We believe that at the moment tod much power is accumulated at the centre merely because the machinery at the periphery is not structured in the right way. If I may give an example, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, it is in the field of education. My Party supports the Government in their present Education Bill. This is partly because we believe that freedom from the selection process has something of the nature of a basic human right and should be protected by central Government. But 257 it is also because local government is not so organised as to reflect what people really want to see about education.
It is notorious that councils change political hands as much on what the country thinks of the Prime Minister of the time as on what they think of any other factor. I am not complaining that this is so. With the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, I agree that the "politicalising" of councils has been, on balance, a good thing. So many times an independent council is a conservative council, whatever the actual politics of the people who run it; and very often an independent council is run by its permanent officials —and however good they are, that is not something that we should completely want. But the fact remains that selection in education may be enthusiastically pursued by a council against the wishes of parents and teachers of the neighbourhood, secure in the knowledge that the councillors concerned will not be thrown out on the question of the education scheme—they will be thrown out often on the swing in the country.
If local education authorities were run on a basis where they were the elected representatives of teachers, parents, students (and where the local council would control the purse strings), I should be happy to leave the choice of the education system entirely in their hands and not have a central Bill. I believe that a necessary reform of local government, and one to which we must come in the future, is that the health authorities should be more or less separated from the general local government council—as indeed they are—and that this should happen also in education, and perhaps in one or two other fields, and that all these local specialist councils should be elected— which is not so at the moment in the case of the health councils.
To sum up, my Lords, we think that to tackle Maud without first tackling Crowther is to get the priorities wrong and to guarantee a botched answer. We should like to see elected provincial councils with large powers devolved from London, a single tier of district councils, much smaller than the present proposed tier, and underneath a proliferation of voluntary neighbourhood councils, each expressing immediate local democracy as vociferously as each is ready for—which will vary considerably. 258 What is needed is to bring power nearer to the people. The whole effect of the Government's plan is to remove it further away. It was for this reason that my friends in another place, against the wishes of both other Parties, attempted to divide the House against this White Paper, and, failing to do so, owing to the peculiarities of our Parliamentary system, at least managed to defeat the Government on the ensuing procedural point by the overwhelming victory of nine votes to none. We do not attempt in your Lordships' House to do anything nearly as aggressive; but we must make it plain that we do not think that either Party, not even the Conservative Party in what is a development of their policy as explained today, are getting nearly radically enough to the centre of the problem.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, I must first thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennel, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for the kind things that they have said about the work of the Royal Commission of which I had the honour to be the Chairman. For a few moments I want, if I may, not so much to enter the debate as to let your Lordships into my thinking as I remember the painful, indeed agonising, but delightful, process that I went through for five and a half solid years, first in the Management Committee on Local Government, which the Conservative Government asked me to chair, about the internal affairs of the authority and how we could perhaps get better people as candidates; and then in the Royal Commission, which this Government asked me to chair, in 1966.
Looking back, I think there were two assumptions that every one of us made in his or her mind when we started work. The first was that the present insulation of the county boroughs and the pockmarking of the face of England, with 45 geographic counties pockmarked by 79 county boroughs, must somehow be ended. The second assumption was that the splitting of main functions between two tiers of elected authority would have to continue in one form or another. I think the question "One tier or two, or three, or four?", is liable to be misleading because, of course, the answer 259 depends on the scale on which you are speaking and the purposes for which the various tiers are distinguished.
When I say that we started on the assumption that two-tier government must continue, I mean the continuance of the traditional plan which has gone on since 1894; that whereas each county borough is a unitary authority with all the responsibility for meeting all the local government needs of all the people in the hands of the one council, outside the county boroughs the county is split between two tiers, one taking—as it has now come to be in this Year of Grace—all the decisions on the main local government functions except housing; but housing, sewerage, water and various powers that may, by right or by favour, be delegated by the county to the second tier being taken by the county district—the non-county borough, the urban or the rural district. Below that, of course, there are the parish councils which, from this point of view, I did not think of then as a tier. Nor, I think, did my colleagues so regard them.
We thought that some splitting of the main function between two tiers would have to continue, and we were quite clear that, however dedicated the service and however successful the work of local government in many parts of England, it was up to us to suggest something which would provide the local governors with a very much better chance to give the ratepayers and taxpayers value for their money; and which would involve more people than are already involved. May I say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that democracy is not merely voting at elections. But it is some indication of democratic weakness when you do not get half the turnout at local government elections in this country that you get for national elections.
These were the assumptions from which we started, and long before the end of three years—I would say perhaps after the end of two—ten of the eleven of these curious persons that Her Majesty's Government had linked together in the Royal Commission were clear about what they wanted to recommend. "Faceless bureaucrats" some of us may be called in some quarters; though I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp— 260 who I hope will intervene in the debate later—could be described as faceless, and of course, she was no longer a bureaucrat.
There was Peter Mursell with a very wide and long experience as Chairman of the West Sussex County Council and a member of rural district and parish councils galore. There was Sir Francis Hill, with his experience of municipal administration. There were people who, frankly, did not know much about local government, but, like Mr. John Bolton, the vice-Chairman, knew about how business worked and how much use could be made of modern methods of managerial control, programme budgeting, computers and the rest.
After about two years ten of the eleven of us were absolutely clear that, basically, we wanted to recommend unanimously a system which did split main local government functions between two tiers in three great metropolitan areas of the country (on lines not unlike those designed by Parliament at the instigation of a Conservative Government, for Greater London, in 1963) and everywhere else concentrated them in 58 single-tier authorities. Perhaps we were wrong about the number, but all over the rest of England we were determined to recommend the non-split of main local government functions and their concentration in the hands of one authority.
What I want to try to explain, if I may, is why we abandoned at least one of the two main assumptions with which we started. I think the first reason (and here I can speak only for myself) was that when we looked at individual functions —education; housing; those functions which the Seebohm Committee was investigating, the personal social services; highways; traffic; planning and the rest —we found that they grouped themselves incontestably into groups. There was an environmental group about which there was very little doubt. You cannot do the planning job unless you have also the transportation job to do, and so on. But I believe, with no less firm conviction of common sense, that the personal services also ought to be grouped; and we were much strengthened in this view when the Seebohm Committee said the same. If you start with education, that at once leads on to child care; child care leads on to the personal services for the abnormal, the mentally handicapped and all the 261 young; and that leads on to the elderly and people handicapped in other ways. So one comes from the personal social services to housing, because so many of the problem families will be kept together only if a roof can be retained over their heads or found for them.
Housing seems in some way to be the real crux of this matter, because it is of course part both of the personal and of the environmental services. Surely the counties have been seriously handicapped in being the planning authority yet having no general housing powers; and so you come to planning, and back to education. We felt quite clear that the environmental services should be in the hands of one main authority, and the personals in the hands of one main authority; and, if possible, that both groups should be in the hands of the same authority.
This brings me to the second basic point that stands out in my memory. After endless examination of the 2,843 bits of written evidence; after all the oral chat we had with the witnesses who were good enough to come and see us; after studying the Reports of those valuable previous Commissions, in particular the Commission (under the late Sir Henry Hancock) on Local Government in England, and after endless discussions among ourselves, we came to the conclusion that a population of somewhere around 250,000 was the minimum that an authority would need to deal effectively, democratically and economically with the personal social services.
I will not bore the House by trying to justify that conclusion because it is based on a great deal of evidence. The evidence came partly from the Department of Education and Science, which was unhappy about it and thought the minimum should be 500,000; partly from the Home Office, with its experience of the Children's Service; partly from the Health Department, and so on. But in the end, in the opinion of ten of the eleven of us, all the evidence pointed to the fact that a minimum of something around 250,000 was needed if a proper job was to be done by those rare, skilled professionals who are now, as we all know, so integral a part of the Child-Care Service and the other services concerned with personal and social health and welfare. If they are to be employed 262 economically they need, as the Seebohm Committee again pointed out, a proper caseload and a team. This means that the job cannot be done effectively, from the point of view of the people concerned, the individuals and their families—and certainly not from the point of view of the staff, or of the ratepayers and taxpayers who are interested in the economic deployment of these rare people—unless the authority has that minimum population.
I know that this is tremendously controversial, and the debate will long continue, but we were convinced of it. That connection, coupled with the interconnection between all services, led us to conclude that where we had an area which, for planning, transportation and other purposes, needed a population of 2 to 3 million, as in the metropolitan areas we described, not only would that be too big an area for one authority to look after but it was big enough to contain within it main authorities with populations somewhere around the minimum of 250,000.
That was why we recommended the splitting of functions and two tiers in the metropolitan areas. But it made us equally clear that in the rest of the country there would be huge advantage in having a single authority. It puzzles me to find that a great national organ such as The Times can seriously be puzzled why, when we proposed two tiers for metropolitan areas, we did not also propose two tiers for the rest of the country. The whole argument is set out in the Report and in the shortened version.
What I would next mention is that in my view—and I know this will be contested in many parts of the House—our plan builds on the best experience we have had in local government over the last 50 years and therefore in the true sense is an evolutionary plan. Mr. Derek Senior, who wrote the Memorandum of Dissent, thought we were wrong to pay so much attention to what is on the ground today. But I am sure that he was wrong in that, as on some other points. We wanted to devise a scheme, and we think we did, which is evolutionary in, this sense.
First of all, it builds on the experience of the county borough, where we have 263 a single tier and all local government in the hands of one council. There are great advantages in this arrangement from the point of view of allocating resources, settling priorities, looking at all the needs of all the people in so far as local government can meet them, filling gaps and avoiding overlaps. We built on that in what we propose should be the 58 unitary areas—the Government White Paper, of course, suggests 51. We built also upon the virtue of the county. Surely some of the counties, we shall all agree, have devised ways in which they can administer a wide area of town and country, with many different communities contained within it, and in some cases a population twice as large as any of the unitary authorities we propose. Through decentralisation, through listening to what local people say and trying to find out where the shoe pinches in different parts of their areas, they have found means of making these main decisions on all the main local government services, except housing, in ways which are not only effective but democratic.
On that experience we build some of our hopes that we shall find, if we have some system such as this, that it does not fit the cap of remoteness and bureaucracy that the rural district councils naturally think it will. I do not for one moment say that I can guarantee that any new system, let alone ours or that in the Government White Paper, will avoid the charge of remoteness and bureaucracy and inefficiency. No one can guarantee this. But, by the same token, no one can say positively that it will be remote or bureaucratic or inefficient.
The other evolutionary aspect of our plan is the parish. I think that everyone in this House will agree that some parishes are about as good a specimen of local government as will be found anywhere in Europe. If the parish were released from the inhibition of the 4d. or 8d. rate, as we propose, and as I am glad to see the Government accept; if they go forward on the lines that many parish councils increasingly have been doing in recent years, then we shall have a foundation of real democracy, from which ideas can well up from below (as well as protests being made), and we shall be able to harmonise and integrate rural 264 communities with the wider community of the main authorities.
That brings me to my next point. I have always thought that we should bring decisions as near as possible to the people affected. If we look at England, we find that there are a multitude of communities, larger and smaller, and many kinds of decisions which in the course of local government someone must take. What the Royal Commission's plan proposes is that the various communities existing in the country should be matched with the sort of decisions that the representatives of these communities are the best people to make. There at the heart of the system we have the operational decisions of the main authorities, taken by representatives of the main authorities, whether two-tier in the metropolitan areas or single-tier elsewhere—and I am convinced myself that those decisions are better taken for an area as big as the area we suggested, with a minimum population of 250,000 and a maximum of not much more than a million.
Below them, and an indispensable part of our plan for single-tier authorities in unitary areas, are the local councils. Do not let this be dismissed in that easy way of dismissing things one does not like by putting in the word "mere" before it. I have even heard your Lordships' House described as "a mere talking shop". Of course it is a talking shop, but to call it, "a mere talking shop" does not discredit it effectively. So with the parish council and the local council in the town. A rejuvenated parish council and a new-style town council—shall we say, for the whole of Bath, expending the money of the citizens of Bath, in so far as the representatives of the inhabitants wish their money spent on arts festivals, on the baths themselves or on attracting people to come to Bath in greater numbers. If I may mention Oxford, for which I was a councillor for six years, there are things which Oxford "new-style" City Council will be able to do, according to its resources and the wishes of its inhabitants as interpreted by the councillors, which frankly would make the job of city councillor much more attractive to me to-day than it was for the six years before the war, when I was a member of a much too big council, with too many and too large committees, with too little delegation to our officers.
265 I claim that the decisionmaking process on operations is given to the representatives of the right size of community. It is nowhere suggested in the Report that the local councils should be merely consultative. It has always been clearly spelt out that they have minor jobs to do themselves, in so far as the local community wants jobs done, and they have another task—that of getting other people to do big jobs for them.
Over these bodies are the provincial councils, which I want to mention only in passing, because I accept the fact that, for reasons which seem to me convincing, the Government have decided not to reject yet not to accept them at this stage. The Government's idea is now to wait for further suggestions from the Crowther Commission. In the light of what the Government have now said they mean to do with the Royal Commission Report, the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, and his colleagues may wish to suggest ways in which the provincial councils we had in mind can be given greater powers and to raise again the question of their constitutions. We thought that they should not be operational, and it would be ludicrous, if I may say so in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, to have directly elected bodies for the jobs which we suggested as appropriate for provincial councils. Here again we felt that decisions need to be taken for the wider community of the North-East or the South-West by people who, though indirectly elected (and I agree that in a sense it means new-style aldermen), should be at least rooted in local government, with their own staff, and therefore quite different from the present regional economic advisory councils.
Finally, my Lords, I come to what is perhaps the most important aspect of the whole subject. Will this mean more democracy in Britain? The answer to that question, I think, will be decided less by reference to the relationship between the local councils and the main authorities than by the effect that a new scheme of local government may have on the relations between central and local government as a whole. I am sceptical, I admit, about any right honourable gentleman governing this country, either from one great Party or another, finding it easy to resist the temptation, as the years go on, to centralise and to increase 266 the number of decisions which they take and for which they have responsibility.
Judging from the past, right honourable gentlemen of both Parties have been very ready to charge the other side with any failure of achievement in the housing programme; and equally, when so many hundred thousand houses have been built, to take credit for it. But no right honourable gentleman of any Party has ever built a house or been directly responsible for the building of one. For all the houses built within the public sector it is the local authorities that are responsible. No right honourable gentleman has ever built a school or appointed— and only very rarely disappointed—a teacher. Yet when the education programme goes well, who takes the responsibility? And when it goes badly, who charges the other side with malfeasance? These temptations will continue and increase in power as the country shrinks, the telephone system improves and various things happen which make it easier for constituents to contact their Member of Parliament or drop in on a right honourable gentleman.
Let us be clear about this, my Lords. It is not the bureaucrats (call them what you like) in Whitehall who are the determiners of this: it is the Ministers; and no one but the Ministers. My friends in Whitehall would be delighted to shuffle off these silly files with which they do not think they can cope under the next six weeks to the places where they can be better decided—that is to say, locally. But Ministers are the people responsible for this. I do not believe that Ministers, of any Party, will resist the temptation to go on centralising unless there is a series of strong local authorities, with the necessary powers and areas to enable them to shape up to doing the big jobs of unsnarling traffic, getting the right houses in the right place, making room to take the place of declining industries and so on—strong local authorities with a mandate from their constituents, and with time not wasted in squabbling with a second tier.
I have the greatest respect for all the present local authority associations. They have done a marvellous job in commenting so quickly on the Report of the Royal Commission; and they have said relatively less rude things about the Royal Commission than I expected. But they are a symptom of the fragmentation 267 which is the curse of English local government. I want a single association of strong local authorities. They, and they alone, will be able to look Ministers and Whitehall in the face. They alone will make Ministers do what I am sure they want to do, when they are not tempted; that is, trust the people, and make our great democracy a greater one.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD FISKE
My Lords, this afternoon I think we have been enlightened by the speeches of the three Party leaders, and still further enlightened by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, who conducted and produced the Report of a very fine Royal Commission. I can rightfully think that it is a very fine Royal Commission Report, because I have operated the first stage in the reform of metropolitan government in London under the Report of a Royal Commission which was indeed very different, and under an Act of Parliament about which there was as much dispute as there will clearly be about the next one. But I think that what has been said so far underlines one thing; that is, that as between political Parties inside and outside this House—and inside and outside this House between authorities of different colours—there will never be agreement. The Government of the day, whichever it be, will have to make up their minds what they want to do, and do it.
On what has been said so far I want to make only one comment on something that I think ought to be put right. I refer to Lord Brooke's comment of not liking politics in local government. That is a remark which I like to hear, because when someone says that there should be no politics in local government it automatically tells me, if I do not know already, to which Party he belongs. In this connection, I should like to give your Lordships an illustration—and I am sorry that I have not brought it with me. Going through some old papers of my mother's only a fortnight ago I came across a scurrilous handbill written by my grandfather, who was a bloodthirsty Whig, and who dared to stand against his landlord, the squire, in a parish council election. Although he says in the pamphlet that he rented his cottage on a quarterly tenancy, 268 he was given a week's notice and he apparently had no alternative but to comply. That is the sort of thing that used to happen—I suppose this was seventy or eighty years ago—when there were no politics in local government. If that is the case, I am glad that now there are politics in local government.
We have also heard a lot to-day about the fact that, whatever happens under the Report of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, this will not be local government. I am inclined to agree with that remark, just as much as I think I should have to agree with the remark that a motor car is not a horse. But they are both—if there are not too many of them in any one place at any one timeextremely convenient means to avoid frustration and to get from place to place. Therefore, I think we must admit change in the field of local government, as we have admitted change in so much else in our lives—certainly in the course of my lifetime—as we find we have an enlarging population in a smaller world demanding more and more out of life. To me it is as simple as that.
But the process of the reform of local government throughout (I think that strictly we are talking only about England, but I am not quite sure) seems to me to be this. We have had the Report of a Royal Commission; we have a White Paper, and in due course, from someone or other, we shall have a Bill which will be implemented after consultation. This is where I think we come to the point that has been illustrated by the three Party leaders who have spoken on this issue. Consultation about what? There are no new authorities to consult with. There could clearly never be any agreement on the structure of local government. Somebody has to decide this and inform the authorities concerned that this is what is going to happen.
While that is happening there can be consultation—and with this I would fully agree—on boundaries and in metropolitan authorities on the division of functions, and I shall want to say something later on that. That was roughly the course that the London Government Bill took and, as it was originally drafted it was driven through both Houses of Parliament practically unamended, except in one very important particular. It is interesting to consider that for a 269 moment, because the important particular was the arrangement for education in Inner London, that is to say, the area of the old L.C.C. This was brought about not by consultation between Government and local authority, not by consultation between local authorities themselves, but by a spontaneous revolt of parents and teachers, who said that they were not going to have the old L.C.C. education authority removed without protest. The Government of the day—in my opinion very wisely—bowed to this considerable persistence.
There is a great difference, as I see it, between what was done in London and what is proposed now. In London it was laid down that the primary unit of government was the chief unit of government, and everything possible (and I cannot possibly put this in Parliamentary language) had to be fitted into that framework. It was only those parts which could not be pushed into the framework that were to be left over for the larger authority, the Greater London Council, to deal with. The Redcliffe-Maud Commission have reversed this decision, and put it the other way round—which I am sure is a wise decision—and will make a success of this reform in the other metropolitan areas, where as the previous decision has been the chief stumbling block in the Greater London Area. I think I can bring this home to your Lordships most clearly by giving one or two illustrations. One is from something which happened two or three years ago, and the other has blown up in our newspapers only in the past fortnight; that is, who shall take a decision to redevelop the area from which Covent Garden will move? Shall it be that second-tier authority that has in its area 35 per cent. of the whole, or that second-tier authority that has 65 per cent. of the area in its jurisdiction; or shall it be the authority which is overriding and has 100 per cent. of the area under its control? This remains to be resolved.
May I quote the even more confusing case—and one that I am sure that all your Lordships will know—of Euston Station. Euston Station, being a place where I think more than 2,500 people deposit themselves every day, is a matter for the Greater London Council. As soon as you move outside the station into Euston Square, and the roads outside, it is the responsibility of the local 270 borough of Camden, but only until you get to within 110 feet of the Euston Road, which, because it is the metropolitan road, again becomes the responsibility of the Greater London Council.
Many of your Lordships sit on planning committees. Can you imagine planning and working under a system that has complications of that sort? It makes a burdensome piece of work in precisely the field where the Royal Commission seek to move it: that it, from the members who are constantly brought in on issues of this sort, where clear definition would make it possible for the officers of a council to deal with it.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, if I may interject a point, if the noble Lord will allow me, does he not agree that this is precisely the sort of nonsense which forces decisions upwards into the laps of Ministers?
§ LORD FISKE
My Lords, most certainly, and the last resort is the Minister. Therefore, I would plead, above anything else, in any new Act reforming local government for a clear definition of the powers that are given to any authority. A second matter which I should like to bring particularly to your Lordships' notice is the term of three years under which a local government works. There are recommendations in the Report, although they are not conclusive, that this term might be extended to four years. The four-year term is better than the three-year term, especially where there is the possibility of political change, because three years is not long enough for an incoming Party to initiate, carry out and get the reward for the policies that it introduces. Indeed, four years is questionable, but it is better than three. I should therefore like to ask most specifically that the recommendation for a four-year term be very carefully looked at.
The last plea I would make is about something which has been only touched on because everybody is a little frightened of it. That is with regard to the financial arrangements for the members who serve. There is a great prejudice, which I share, against paying salaries to members in local government. But there are other arrangements that could be made. There is the arrangement that was made to deal with your Lordships' House. This is 271 something, it seems to me, that could be usefully extended into the field of local government. I am quite sure that if there are fewer people to carry out larger responsibilities, however they may be devolved, then consideration of their loss of time which will be concentrated more and more in the day time and less in the evening, because of distances involved, is clearly something that must be looked at in the preparation of the Bill.
I should like to say a word about the actual process of merging authorities on the scale that is contemplated here. It really is a large and daunting task which I should have thought at the minimum would last for ten years, and the maximum could easily be fifteen or twenty years. During that time, a new organisation is flexing its muscles, gaining strength all the time, and by the end of that time is doubtless in a position to seize the opportunities that are open to it to serve its own community. But the interval is full of problems, particularly human ones. You can, by having a strong staff commission, with adequate and generous compensatory powers, do much for the staff. But the servants of local government are dedicated people, and monetary compensation is not the entire answer to the interruption of a career in midstream; because the job you have been doing for fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years is no longer there. A reallocation of your activities, whether professional or administrative, or whether you are a more humble employee of the authority, might present really serious problems which cannot be overlooked.
For members it creates quite different problems; problems which are quite different in character. There is a sudden and dramatic cut of anything between 60 and 80 per cent. in the number of people who can serve on local authorities. Thus there is lost, on one election night or at one set of selection conferences (however one likes to put it), perhaps two-thirds to three-quarters of the people who may have put in many years of useful service in the communities where they belong. This, too, as I have seen with my own eyes, can be a human tragedy. It is something to which, again, we must be very sympathetic, although I 272 fail to see what we can do, except to spread the work that is left on a voluntary basis over as wide an area as is humanly possible.
When we move away from that part of it, we gather together a number of people—I think that 75 is the maximum laid down in the Report—who may never have met; who certainly have not been in the habit of working together, and may very well be extremely suspicious of each other. They may even feel in their little groupings that they are going to be kicked around by the biggest bully of the lot. That, again, is something of which I in London, at any rate, was extremely conscious. I felt it was my task as the first Leader of the Greater London Council to lean over backwards to avoid it happening; to weld those people, who came from such different kinds of authorities—from counties that were purely metropolitan, from counties that were quite rural in character, from county boroughs which had formerly exercised every power in the local government scale—and now found that they were only part of a two-tier system, which they did not like because they had lost a lot of authority and they thought they were going to pay twice anyway.
The need is to weld a body of people like this into a team which can be brought to the point of seizing the opportunities which exist. The opportunities that lie before a great organisation with great resources, in terms of manpower, of area of land and of rateable value are indeed immense. But it takes time to do so. It takes a great deal of hard work on the part of the people who are concerned in that first coming together and in getting the new authority off the ground. If that is done, and if we can face up to the immense reorganisation that it involves, then I am quite sure that a reform on the lines recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, will bring wellbeing and great opportunity to all our communities up and down the country.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, the first thing I should like to say is that surely we ought to have had a two-day debate on this very important subject, instead of one day and a broken day at that—although, I would hasten to add, 273 broken for a very admirable reason. I would start by saying, as my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor did, that we shall all wish to pay a sincere tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and his colleagues, for the dedication and the thoroughness with which they applied themselves to this formidable task. Whether or not one agrees with all their conclusions, certainly we shall all readily agree that they did not shy away from their fences and that they have presented us with a lucid, a comprehensive and a well reasoned Report. Also, we ought to acknowledge the Memorandum of Dissent by Mr. Senior, which was a remarkable effort on the part of one member of the Commission. The emphasis he put on the concept of what he called "the sociogeographic unit" was one that I personally found it easy to understand.
We have listened to a most eloquent and charming speech from the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud; it was a delight to hear. Lord Redcliffe-Maud is a Pied Piper of the utmost skill— I did not say "a mere Pied Piper", but he is a Pied Piper of outstanding virtuosity. As he spoke I found myself getting dangerously near to tearing up the carefully reasoned notes of criticism which I had prepared and falling in behind him. It might be said of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, as it was said of another:And still they gazed, and still the wonder grewThat one small head could carry all he knew.I have an interest to declare because I have the honour to be the President of the County Councils Association, having in dim past ages served for 15 years as a member of a county council, a job I found of outstanding interest. I know that many of your Lordships have more recent experience, more upto-date experience, and therefore speak with greater first-hand knowledge than I do. So I shall try to confine myself to summarising, as briefly as I can, the views of the members of our Association on the Report of the Royal Commission and the White Paper, and add just one or two observations from my own experience. Your Lordships will not be surprised to know that within our Association there are varying views and varying emphases placed on those views.
274 First of all, I think that all of us in our Association and everywhere else recognise the need for major reform in the light of the revolution in economic and social conditions and habits that we have seen take place during our lifetimes. Because there is the need for radical reform we must reject any temptation to adhere to existing patterns for purely sentimental reasons. The principles that the Commission adopted seem to me in general excellent ones, and such criticisms as I have to offer this afternoon are directed to some of the methods by which those principles are, it is proposed, to be implemented.
The case for unitary authorities, made with force and clarity by the Commission, is undoubtedly a strong one. If those authorities could be called "main authorities", instead of unitary, personally I could give them complete support. But the criticisms, I think many of us feel are, to start with, that in some cases the areas proposed are too small for some of the functions, being a good deal smaller than many existing county councils. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor mentioned that point. And many feel that from the vitally important aspect of promoting democratic participation there is insufficient decentralisation of worthwhile responsibilities below the unitary authority. I know that the White Paper proposes a study of what powers could be delegated—and that is good. But we should also favour a study of what statutory functions might be laid on the smaller authorities in their own right. Those will no doubt be difficult to devise, but many of us feel not necessarily impossible.
To turn to the three metropolitan areas proposed by the Commission, the attempt to give effect to the principle of combination of urban and rural areas, which in right conditions is an excellent one, I believe has failed here. The high urban concentrations will overwhelm the rural areas. Therefore we think the boundaries should be looked at again, and probably more tightly drawn. Many of us welcome the proposal contained in the White Paper to include two more metropolitan areas, one in West Yorkshire and the other in Hampshire, but we view with consternation the proposals of the Commission for Lancashire and Cheshire, which the Government appear 275 to have accepted. It seems to me that these cannot be justified on any grounds. Apart from the tragedy of extinguishing in this case authorities of proved progressive efficiency, in the case of Lancashire the proposals seem to be to substitute five separate authorities, four of them for an area with a population of about a million. The case for extending the two-tier principle to the Lancashire and Cheshire area seems to be overwhelmingly strong and I hope that second thoughts may prevail there.
While personally I am not keen, and I think many of my friends in our association are not keen, on an intermediate level of government between the main authorities and the central Government—and here I think we disagree with the Liberal Party, or where the Liberal Party was a few minutes ago!—we welcome the proposals of the Commission that there should be a place for consultative and coordinating bodies at the regional level. One approves and applauds the local councils as an important and integral part of the system but I wish to emphasise what I have mentioned: that they must be given worthwhile responsibilities to carry out. Finally, we deeply regret the decision of the Government to take away the health functions from local authorities and place them under central control.
I wish to add only two observations of my own. First, bigness: I believe bigness to be a danger and not an advantage in itself. It requires builtin compensatory safeguards. Even the technical advantages of size can be—and often are—overstated. It is surely a sound principle of administration that decisions should be taken at the lowest level that they can be taken with reasonable efficiency. I am sure we are forced by modern developments in transportation and the complicated needs of modern society to move further in the direction of bigness; there cannot be any dispute about that. However, do not let us move towards bigness with undiscriminating enthusiasm, because a price has to be paid for it.
My second point is about loyalty and involvement. My experience of life is that most people find it easier to feel loyalty to small groups rather than to large ones, and I am afraid I am not too optimistic that the ordinary citizen will 276 be seized with democratic fervour simply because the units are larger. At heart 1 suppose I am really a two-tier man and I should like to see that principle applied as far as pragmatic considerations permit. But I recognise that on the pragmatic grounds so ably argued by the Commission there is a case for larger units, and provided that they are main rather than completely unitary, I accept that case.
It seems to me that in putting forward the White Paper now the Government are rather rushing their fences and are even guilty of a certain amount of arrogance. The Royal Commission have presented us with a massive and comprehensive Report, full of meat, for a new system of local government that, one hopes, will last for many generations. In those circumstances it must surely be right to give sufficient time for most careful consideration and mutual consultation, and particularly time to receive the considered advice of those thousands of people who have first-hand experience of local public service and who know much more than we here at the centre can know of the practical problems that arise.
My Lords, I would end as I began, by expressing, in spite of the criticism of certain recommendations that I have made, a sense of admiration for the lucidity and the conscientious thoroughness with which the members of the Royal Commission have performed this Herculean task. This great reform of local government will make sense only if the result—and here I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor— is to transfer some responsibilities from central to local government. If that does not happen we shall have failed in our task; and when uniformity conflicts with local responsibility it is local responsibility that must prevail.
§ 6.16 p.m.
My Lords, like the noble Viscount who has just sat down I must declare an interest because, also like him, I am the President of one of the associations of local government authorities. In my case the units that form the association are a great deal smaller, but nevertheless much more numerous than his. I am the President of the Parish Councils Association.
My Lords, I entirely and almost unreservedly support the proposals of the 277 Royal Commission, and I very much hope that they will be implemented. In particular perhaps I may be forgiven for mentioning that I support the proposals, novel as I think your Lordships will agree they are, for local councils. I need not go into any detail, but in my view if they are properly implemented they will be greatly superior to the time-honoured parish council system. That is the main reason why I very much welcome this Report.
I have, however, one major criticism to make, not of the Royal Commission but of Her Majesty's Government. Your Lordships may think me a little out of order, but I plead that I am not really, when I say that my major criticism is that the Government did not appoint one body for England and Wales—and, for that matter, for Scotland as well. It was asking for trouble to appoint two separate, distinct bodies for England and Wales, and another for Scotland; and trouble I think they have got, because the two solutions proposed by these two bodies cannot, in my judgment, both be the best. And I want the best.
My Lords, when the White Paper on Local Government in Wales emerged about two years ago or more I immediately said that in my opinion it was very much better than the status quo. That was not high praise, because in my view nothing much could be worse. Nevertheless, it was a very great improvement. Many of my friends in Wales would be horrified if they heard me say this, because I must add that there is great opposition to it from those who want nothing done, broadly speaking. But, much as I think the White Paper for Wales was very much better than the status quo, I now think, having read the Report of the Royal Commission fairly carefully, that that is much better than the White Paper for Wales. The question arises: will Her Majesty's Government, having settled which they think is the best plan, apply it to the whole of the area for which they are responsible; and, if not, why will they not do so? I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that question. I am grateful to him for staying to hear such an unimportant part of this debate.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I do not regard it as unimportant in the very least, but it is perhaps a little bit marginal to, 278 or should I say parallel to, discussion of local government reform in England, which is the Motion before us this afternoon.
My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's rebuke, mild as it was. I do seriously urge Her Majesty's Government to think again; to decide which they think is the best scheme, and to apply it throughout this country. If they do not, I think they will have the worst of both worlds.
Wales has been denied the advantage of a Royal Commission; it did not have one. The proposals emanated from an entirely different source, and they emanated from a body which has been very much criticised—wrongly I think—because it was composed of civil servants. I will never criticise the civil servants, because they have no votes. I will criticise the people who have the votes and who appoint the civil servants, and ask them and tell them what to do. It is quite wrong for the people in Wales, as they do to a very large extent, to criticise the civil servants who drew up that Report. I criticise Her Majesty's Government because they enabled it to be done. That is all that I want to say. But I am very sorry to think that I live in a rural parish in Wales which has a parish council all of its own, which does its best I am quite sure—I was chairman of it for some time—but which will, when the Maud proposals are put into effect, be left standing and will be trailing along behind in the march of progress towards the ideal in local government. So I do, at this late hour, urge Her Majesty's Government to change their minds and to apply the best scheme to the whole country.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, like the two previous speakers, I must declare an interest. I was a member of a county council for 11 years and on an urban authority for 21 years, and for four or five years a member of the old Board of Guardians before it was abolished in 1930. Local government was one of my first loves, and throughout the years I have maintained an interest in local government in this country. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has left the Chamber because I should like to make one reference to him. If I interpreted part of his 279 speech correctly, it indicated to me that he was against change as far as the existing structure was concerned. If I have interpreted him wrongly, I would apologise. But, in any case, I would draw his attention to paragraph 5 of the Government White Paper. Because of the time, I do not propose to read it, but it says that the great mass of evidence to the Redcliffe-Maud Commission showed that the overwhelming body of opinion, both inside and outside local government, believed that structural changes were required.
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I hesitate to speak for my noble friend, but I can assure the noble Lord that he has misinterpreted him. In fact, 1 heard my noble friend say quite clearly that he is one of those who believes that reform is essential.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I thought the reform he was putting forward (perhaps in his absence we should not pursue this) was not on the question of structure but on the question of numbers. At any rate, we shall see tomorrow morning what actually was said.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, perhaps I could help my noble friend. I found Lord Brooke's proposals totally unintelligible.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
Well, my Lords, that is the opinion of the noble Lord the Leader of the House; I do not think I should go quite so far as that. On the appointment of the Royal Commission nearly four years ago all newspapers commented upon it, but there was an editorial article in the Guardian which impressed me very much. It was most interesting, objective and, I thought, forthright. Thinking about it in retrospect and having read it again since the publication of the Commission's Report, I have come to the conclusion that it was not only forthright and objective but in some respects prophetic as well. I know it is too long to quote, but I should like to refer to it and refresh your Lordships' minds as to what was said, because I believe it to be germane to our debate today.
I put (the points under six heads. This is what the article said: first, that the 280 Royal Commission had been well chosen. From the speech we have heard from the Chairman of the Commission today and from the Report that has been produced by the members of the Commission, there would be no dispute at all about that. Then it went on to say that they had a big job to do and that the local government structure which we have is a mess; it worked well in Victorian Britain but is no longer equal to the burden that it has to carry today. Local authorities would have to become larger and stronger. The task of the Commission was to say what needed to be done about local government, without regard to the susceptibilities of the established interests. Their terms of reference allowed them to range as widely and to be as radical as they wished. The article ended up by saying that it was a tall order, but a chance that must not be missed. In my view the Commissioners have not missed that chance, but have brought forward very objective proposals indeed. The article to which I have referred was written as far back as May 25, 1966, and at the time when I read it it echoed the sentiments I felt. And now both the Commission and the Government's White! Paper have not hesitated to propose farreaching and, one might say, revolutionary proposals in the structure of our local government set-up.
I recall the time when I first became a councillor. My seniors used to say at that time, "Well, my boy you've come into a very fascinating service, full of possibilities, but, you know, what is needed in local government is some reform in its structure"—and that is a fairly long time ago now. I discovered at that time that there was almost complete unanimity on the need for reform; there was scarcely a dissentient voice. But when various ideas were put forward by A, B, C and D as to what the reform should be, immediately there broke out a verbal civil war. There was then, and until very recently there has been, no visible sign that the people in local government have themselves been agreed on what kind of reform was necessary to meet the challenge of the last quarter of this century and even beyond.
The first paragraph of the White Paper indicates how the Government felt about the matter in 1966 and how they decided that local government by common agreement was ready for, and should be the 281 subject of, a fundamental review. So the Commission was appointed, and after three years of painstaking, hard work, many meetings and (as we have heard to-day from the noble Lord, the Chairman of the Commission) an unprecedented volume of written and oral evidence, they came to their conclusions and made their recommendations, albeit recommendations with which not every-body agreed. Even members of the Commission themselves had reservations on some points about which I will say a word or two later on. But, in spite of that, it is my view that the people in the country should be grateful to, and appreciative of, the Commission for the thorough investigation that they have made.
May I now refer to one of the paragraphs from the Report? It was the view of the Commission themselves that this was the first attempt that has ever been made to examine the government of our towns and countryside from top to bottom and to plan a radical new start. I doubt whether there is anyone, even inside local government, who would disagree with the thorough diagnosis of the situation that the Commission have made regarding the number of authorities and the administrative responsibilities at different levels. Those matters are of very relevant importance, but to go into the details would take too much of your Lordships' time; and if it is the case, as we all know it is, that there is a large measure of agreement so far as change is concerned, there is neither point nor purpose in going into too much detail. This fact is also recorded in the important Report that they have produced.
Regarding the diagnosis of the situation made by the Commission, I would say that diagnosis is one thing, but it is only the first step. Of course the first step is an important one, but the main thing is finding the best known remedy. In this regard perhaps I may use a medical metaphor: it may mean surgery. That is never pleasant and is often painful; but if surgery is to be remedial it has to be faced or there will be other serious consequences. On the Report and the White Paper on the fundamental structural changes required in local government there is almost 100 per cent, agreement. As one would expect, there are differences on a few matters. Those matters are important; but this situation 282 in no way detracts from the unanimity on the need for fundamental structural changes in our existing local government set-up.
Now as we all know, there are some existing units known as boroughs whose charters are very old, some of them centuries old. The county councils and the urban district councils and rural district councils are 82 and 75 years old respectively. But they were created at a time when English society and industry was so different from the pattern that we have today. May I give an example. In 1888, when the county councils were established, and seven years later when the urban and rural district councils were set up, a few miles was a day's journey, and communications were very poor compared with modern standards. The best example that I can think of is this. When I was a boy, the City of Nottingham, which is the county town in my native shire, was only 20 miles away from my home; but to me it was "somewhere South", beyond the Annesley hills that Byron himself: used to write about. It was no more than that.
To-day, the situation is so different. In that period of time fundamental changes in communications and other circumstances have taken place and, as I see it, parish boundaries are no longer sacrosanct, as they used to be. I am sure that we should all agree that movement is more expensive, that society is more sophisticated, and that the pooling of resources covering a wide area can be a decided advantage so far as efficient local government administration is concerned. I think it is with these changes in mind that the Commission and, through their White Paper, the Government, have arrived at their respective conclusions and proposals as to what should be the future setup of local government in England.
I should like now briefly to make a few observations on some of the proposals that have been made by the Commission. I take first the Provinces. On this point, I must say that the Government have for the moment suspended judgment until the Commission on the Constitution have reported. The point I want to make in relation to the Commission's proposal respecting the eight Provinces in England is that they suggest that 20 to 25 per cent, of the members should be coopted. In talking about democracy (about which so much has 283 been said by your Lordships in this debate) I would ask: is this principle of co-option necessary even so far as the provincial councils are concerned? My own view is that it would certainly be of psychological value if the whole membership of the provincial councils was chosen by the unitary authorities, for the reason that the membership of the unitary authorities will be directly elected by the people. I have read very carefully paragraph 441 of the Report which deals with this question, but I think— and I put this forward as a suggestion to the Government—that in the unitary authorities there will be people whose experience. ability, talent, and knowledge, will enable them to face the problems so far as the provincial councils are concerned. In view of the suspended judgment of the Government it may be premature to ask this question, but if co-option is accepted so far as the provincial councils are concerned, who will be responsible for making the choice? Will it be the Minister? Will it be the unitary authority? Perhaps we can have some indication from the Minister who is to reply.
On the question of the metropolitan authorities and the metropolitan district council, I would only make this observation. I wish that it was possible to have the all-purpose authority for all areas. But from reading paragraphs 289 to 294 of the Report it appears that the Commission were convinced that this was not practicable in the three areas mentioned —which has now been extended to five in the White Paper. It is one of the circumstances of our country that in some areas there are more heads than acres, and in other areas there are more acres than heads, and I assume that perhaps that was one of the difficulties that the Commission had to face.
May I say one or two words about the unitary authorities? Personally I am of the view that this is the right road to take, and if I may I should like to make a reference to a pamphlet written almost forty years ago by the National Association of Local Government Officers. They put forward this view as long ago as that. The advantages of the all-purpose authority, in my view, outweigh any disadvantages that there might be. Again, paragraphs 252 and 253 of the 284 Commission Report contain a sound and, I believe, convincing case for the proposal of the all-purpose authority. I quote only from the last two sentences:There is no doubt where responsibility lies …so far as the unitary authority is concerned. There is,no confusion over which authority does what. This is local government in its simplest, most understandable and potentially most efficient form.My reservation so far as the report on this unitary authority idea is concerned is the proposed maximum size of 1 million. I think it is a bit too big, and I share the view of two members of the Commission, Sir Francis Hill and Mr. Reg Wallis, who wrote a note of reservation on this particular topic. It is to be found at page 148 of the Report. They make particular reference to the area from which I come, the counties of Notts and Derby. The Commission, so far as these two counties are concerned, proposed two unitary authorities; Sir Francis Hill and Mr. Wallis proposed four. May I remind your Lordships that in these two counties now there are nearly 2 million people, and by 1981, another decade, they estimate that the figure will be much higher. However, having drawn your Lordships' attention to that note of reservation on the size of unitary authorities, I would not sacrifice the principle of the all-purpose authority on numerical grounds because 1 think it is sound, but I suggest that there is a case for the reservation note of Sir Francis Hill and Mr. Wallis to be studied further.
In conclusion, may I make a brief reference to the local councils. I may be right or I may be wrong, but I am of the opinion that the Commission, after deciding that the principle of the all-purpose authority was the correct one, found that this question of the local councils was the most difficult they had to deal with in order to maintain democracy in the parishes, even though they will be advisory and consultative bodies only, with powers to levy a rate for what is described as amenity and convenience purposes of the parish. But it appears to me that the working of the councils in the initial stages will produce different reactions—and we have heard some of them today during the debate. My own view is that the less remote the unitary authority is the better, and that in the 285 densely populated areas the ceiling, which is proposed as 1 million, should be less. If that were so, there would be a better chance, in my view, of the proposals respecting local councils being acceptable and it would bring local government right to the doorstone.
In conclusion, I hope that the Government will look at this question of local councils with the idea of continuing with local government on the doorstone— democracy at the smallest point so far as the parishes are concerned—and then I think we shall have a scheme with which we can go forward and look forward to with pleasure that it will be a success.
§ 6.49 p.m.
My Lords, I am glad to feel that 1 have at least one bond in common with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, in that we were both in long past, prehistoric, days, members of boards of guardians. Probably, according to the age limit set by my noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud, we ought not to be taking part in this discussion at all. I suppose that one of the difficulties in talking about local government if you are actually engaged in it is that you cannot help being, as it were, local. I have been entrusted by my own county council with various tasks which bring me in contact with neighbouring authorities; and as a member of the London Standing Conference, I know something about events and happenings in the South-East. But I have no first-hand knowledge of the North or the Midlands, where conditions are probably very different.
I must confess, speaking with this limited outlook, that this White Paper fills me, not so much with hostility as with a certain measure of alarm. I am alarmed on two points: first, that it is apparently proposed to conduct this great upheaval as one single operation, with results which make me feel that the transitional period may be nearly, if not entirely, chaotic; and, secondly, that all this should be based on presumptions and hypotheses which may not be well founded. If they are not well founded, then I do not believe that the standard of local government will be improved, and it may not even be as good as we have to-day.
286 We are really being asked to speculate on the likely behaviour of various classes of people, such as the Ministers and the people we hope will volunteer for service in local government to carry out the various duties which we assign to them. Then there is also the public. Will the public accept what has been described by the Government as "this great upheaval", with the displacement of many of the features which they have known so well? We can all have views on this, and I do not think anybody can be dogmatic. We cannot be dogmatic about the course of action which any of these classes of people will take, any more than we can be dogmatic about the action to be taken by a particular horse in the next Grand National. It is because of this that 1 should much prefer that this reform, or any reform of equal size, were conducted by a series of stages or steps, giving us some opportunity of seeing how things in fact turn out before we proceed to the next step. I shall come back to that point, but for the moment I ask that Parliament should consider these hypotheses, because this is not a matter for expert opinion: it is a matter for political experience, judgment and common sense.
The Commission came to a certain conclusion which I think will command almost universal support; that is, that there are far too many small local authorities. Indeed, from my own observation —and I think that many of the smaller authorities would agree—there has been a great change in the last five years, which is perhaps entirely due to the impact of the Report. But then there is a hypothesis which I find much more questionable; that is, that if we had fewer, stronger authorities, Ministers would be prepared to hand over much more power and discretion to them; if these large authorities had more discretion, service in local government would become much more interesting, and a new and abler type of councillor would volunteer for service. Following on from that, if we had fewer and abler authorities, local government would be so much revitalised that the Government of the day would no longer wish to detach services from them and hand them over to nominated boards.
From this point of view, it is rather unfortunate that at the time when the White Paper is being presented we have 287 a Green Paper which advocates taking away various medical powers from local authorities, and a Bill which will certainly limit the discretion of local education authorities. That shows how wrong one can be if one starts prophesying; and it bears out how difficult it is to prophesy five or ten years ahead.
I should like to revert for one moment to the question of Ministers and their powers. Perhaps they will hand them over. I am aware that there is an inter-departmental committee which is now sitting on this matter, but I am also aware that we have been told all this before. When the Local Government Bill was introduced in 1958, one of the attractions offered was much greater liberty as a result of substituting block grants for percentage grants. In fact, the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir, said in terms that no longer should we have any Whitehall interference except on matters of national importance; and Lord Hailsham (as he then was) backed him up. But, of course, that has not happened. So little has happened, indeed, that ten years after the promises were given the Maud Commission found that all local initiative has been strangled by White-hall's controls.
I personally believe that this strangulation argument has been considerably overstated. Of course these controls are a nuisance and they are time-wasting. A great many of them could be dropped now, and I do not know why they are not. But as for frustration, all I can say is that I have had far more frustration in my career in local government through not being able to discover what Government policy was in a number of different and important directions than I have ever had from having Government policy thrust down my throat. But that is by the way. The important point is that the Commission attach very great importance to freedom from control; it is one of their main planks. I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, said on this very point, and if he had not said it I was going to ask him what were his real views. He does not seem any too certain about it. But I agree with him that there must be constant vigilance.
We have not had any explanation of why the promises to which I have referred 288 were not adhered to, but I imagine that one reason is that for the last ten years we have been living under varying degrees of financial stringency, if not crisis, and that that has led to the Treasury's rationing the Departments, and the Departments' rationing us. We are all very glad to hear of the much more cheering figures for the balance of payments and so on, but that news has not yet in practice filtered down to us in local government. In fact, I have never known such rigid instructions as accompanied the latest issue of the general grant. That covers not only the current year, but next year as well. Moreover, of course, we are still borrowing money at unprecedentedly high rates of interest.
The Government say that they cannot bring out their Green Paper on finance for some months, and that in itself adds another element of uncertainty. But I imagine that, whatever new sources of income we have, they will all be governed by the overall necessity to check all capital payments while the financial stringency remains. Finance is not, of course, the only weapon that the Government of the day might use against us. We have seen that the Greater London Council, with its enormous size—it is the biggest authority in England—has still been considerably controlled by the Government in the matter of council rents and the selling of council houses.
Another point which was touched on by various speakers is the sort of people we look forward to having in local government. It is pleasant to think that we shall get a new, abler type of person into local government; and of course we may. But I do not think we can necessarily presume that we shall. I was interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Brooke said of his experience in this matter. I imagine that the only organs of public opinion large enough to find and support candidates will be the main Party organisations, and this means that the independents will tend to be squeezed out. I heard what Lord Fiske said about the dictum, which I know is current in the Labour Party, that anybody who is not a Labour man is a Conservative or a Liberal, but I did not quite follow where that argument was going to take him, because I think that in local government we have more than double the number of self-confessed Conservatives compared to 289 the number of Labour councillors, and if all the independents are, as it were, crypto-Conservatives, then the Conservative Party must be a good deal more powerful than even I thought it was. But perhaps that is a minor point.
I just cannot believe, my Lords, that we can expect these younger, abler people —everybody is so busy; we find this very much in local government now—to give three or four years of their lives to service in local government and to work in local government, because they will have to do a lot of work. I simply do not believe in this comforting theory that they will be able to delegate all the details to officials. We do that now up to a point, but if anything goes wrong nobody can shelter behind the officials—unless, of course, we want the officials to take a leading part in controversy themselves, which I do not think would be a very good thing. Furthermore, I am certain that the Press would not let them do so, because in my experience what interests the electors is detail. There are people who are interested in voluntary service and there are people who are interested in something like the Seebohm Report; but for every one such person there are fifty whose views on local government turn very much on the impact that it makes on them personally.
The fact is, my Lords, that so much depends on the reactions of the public. Will they accept this White Paper as being sufficiently democratic? We have had some mention of democracy. I do not know what the definition of "democracy" is. I have no doubt that some pundit will give it—probably at considerable length; but I imagine that somewhere in democracy it is necessary for those who are being governed to feel that they are being democratically governed and that people are paying attention to their views. I do not know whether they are going to feel that. I do not know whether they are going to feel that this participation, about which there is a great deal of talk nowadays, is going to be like George Orwell's equality: that we are all going to participate but some people are going to participate a good deal more than others. What will they make of these local councils? Who can tell? What are we going to make of them? What are the powers of these councils going to be? Who is going to 290 prepare their agendas? Under what rules of procedure are they going to work? All these things remain to be thought out. Yet we are supposed to pass judgment on it to-day.
I suppose one could be cynical about the public. I have heard experienced people say that the public will accept anything provided that they get their services. I do not entirely agree. After all, we have traditions of local government which go back to Saxon times. In my county we have a phrase, a proverb, which says, "We won't be druv". And I do not think we shall be, either. I believe that if the public find that these so-called proper channels are simply a thin facade for bureaucratic administration we shall have trouble—and I think I know what sort of trouble we shall have. A few weeks ago we had a debate on student demonstrations, and I remember a most remarkable speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham in which he, without exactly defending the students, more or less excused them on the ground that the proper channels for dealing with their complaints were too remote, too computerised and too incomprehensible.
I do not think that this demonstration habit is going to be confined to students, to farmers, to nurses or to teachers. I personally belong to what I can claim to be one of the most respectable parts of England. With a few exceptions, which shall be nameless, we are simply brimming over with bourgeois virtues. Yet I have seen perfectly respectable housewives squatting in the street, doing everything they can to interfere with the traffic, over some unpopular road scheme. I have seen some very respectable commuters in their bowler hats marching up and down in London over some rate question; and it is quite common, when I go to a quarterly meeting of the town council, to find some form of small demonstration going on. So far it has all been quite orderly, and rather a joke, but it could easily turn into something much more serious. My Lords, it is recorded that in the last century, at the Congress of Vienna, a Russian diplomatist explained to a French historian that their political system in Russia was "absolutism moderated by assassination." I do not think we shall have that in this country, but I certainly feel there is a danger—and this, I know, is what the 291 Commission tried to avoid—of our having "bureaucracy moderated by demonstration". I hope that this will not happen. I hope that Parliament will see that the so-called proper channels are proper channels.
My Lords, I am not trying to give a general smear to this Report. On the contrary, I agree that there is a great deal that ought to be done, and this Report is exceedingly valuable. But I am trying most definitely to argue that we are now being asked to pronounce judgment on a scheme, many important features of which remain to be worked out, and which is based on assumptions, many of which remain to be proved. So I revert to my plea that we should proceed by stages. I do not suppose anybody will pay attention to what I am saying, but I will suggest how it should be done because I believe that one ought to be constructive.
First, I think we should "cash in" on the one conclusion that has general support—namely, that there are far too many small local authorities; and I think we should start by amalgamating them. We could go so far without any new legislation at all. I think we should amalgamate them into second-tier authorities, and they should vary very much from, say, 50,000 to 200,000. I suggest that the divisions of power should be similar to those already suggested for the conurbations, or in the Wheatley Report, or any form of division which could be agreed between the associations and approved by the Minister. I want to get more responsible people into local government.
I know that the Government have set their face against this two-tier solution, or, rather, have partially set their face against it, because 42 per cent, of the population will still be under two-tier government. I know that Lord Redcliffe-Maud does not agree that this has any significance; but with Wales and Scotland, if that is the ultimate solution, it will be a pretty patchy picture. I am glad to know that my noble friends, who feel they may perhaps have a sporting chance to carry out the legislation, seem a little more openminded on this matter. It may take perhaps three years before all the details have been thought out, including possibly the extended role of the parish councils.
292 I would suggest that all the existing second-tier authorities—by which I mean the boroughs and, now, the small county boroughs—should at the end of the third year hand over their powers to the new second-tier authorities. The other major authorities would go on exactly as they are. I think that the whole of this operation could be entrusted to the existing county councils, plus Government assessors. We should start with the second tier, because I feel that if we start with the first tier, with brandnew officials and then, when they are hardly in the saddle, ask them to undertake another big operation, the division of territory into smaller units, it will be too much. I feel that at the end of the fifth year the present county councils and county boroughs should hand over to the new first tier, or, if appropriate, to the second tier, according to the prearranged programme of devolution of power.
At the end of the sixth year we should then have gone a long way towards achieving what the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, would like to see. I hope that it will be done in a more orderly way than that which I foresee. At some stage during this period we shall have the Crowther Report, and further discussions and legislation on the provincial councils. I believe that the development of these may well be a most important part of local government reform. I think that the necessity for a provincial policy in the South-East has been shown by the fact that two Governments have had a shot at producing a provincial policy. Both have failed. It has now been handed over to the London Standing Conference and Dr. Wilfred Burns who may or may not report some time this year.
Much valuable advice has been given on this matter by Ministries and leading civil servants. They have made certain observations on local councils and councillors, some more complimentary than others. I think, therefore, that it might be an admirable principle to regard this as a mutual system. I should like to say that in my view our senior civil servants are wonderfully dedicated people, and probably the best civil servants in the world. But, so far as structure is concerned, I have often wondered whether the Civil Service was based on the Athanasian Creed. They are like a lot of (I hope I am not being 293 blasphemous) a lot of "Almighties" who may be connected by some mystical union which is not very apparent to us in the lower ranks of the machine. I feel that there is too much apparent discrepancy between ministerial decisions. There may be advice from one Ministry to have more development, and another Ministry, say the Ministry of Transport, may come along and say that one area cannot have the vital roads which the development requires for another ten or twenty years. There are two towns in my area— Ashford, in Kent, and Hastings -which are being expanded, but the railway between them is being discontinued. I have no doubt that there are perfectly good reasons for doing this; but it certainly seems rather odd.
I can testify to the fact that it is not easy to get an explanation of ministerial policy. Ministers have these enormous powers, but it is not easy to discover how they intend to use them. I think we should know more about certain matters—for example, policy on the location of industry and offices—so that we shall be able to find out more than we can at present. Perhaps one day these provincial councils will manage to give us this sort of direction by a combination of ministerial and local authority effort. This would be a very big step forward.
My Lords, that is all that I have to say. 1 realise that I am speaking a long way above my proper station in life— in fact, I am amazed at my own presumption. Nevertheless, I assure your Lordships that my intentions are strictly honourable. I am only hoping that something will come out of all this.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLLEY
My Lords, I cannot make any claim, as most of your Lordships can, to speak with knowledge and authority on this most important matter. The only grounds I have which embolden me to speak are the fact that I have some experience in the agricultural field, which I think is important, and also that I am in the county of Cheshire which is one of the counties which is involved in the metropolitan area. On the agricultural aspect, I would make the point that there is very great concern at the proposal to abolish the local councils over the country generally and 294 that there is a considerable feeling of worry that it is going to be very much more difficult for the rural point of view to be effectively represented.
In the Report of the Commission there is reference—as there is also, I think, in the White Paper, or at least in the Statement which the Prime Minister made on June 11—to the anachronism of a division between town and country. This is not, in some aspects at any rate, an anachronism at all—.if that means that it is something which is belonging to the past and is no longer a reality. It is a very great reality. There is a very great difference between the life and work in the countrsyide and that in our great cities. There is a difference between "a division of activity and interests" and "hostility" and I think that perhaps the two are being confused. In Cheshire we have no hostility towards our neighbours in Liverpool and Manchester; bat we have a great difference of interests and activities; our life and work are of a very different nature.
I hope, therefore, that in the working out of the administrative reforms that will follow—and here I would pay tribute to the great work that has been done by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and his colleagues, for this is a truly remarkable Report—there will be attention paid to the points that have been made of the need for people to feel that their interests are adequately represented and safeguarded. I should scarcely go along with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who made the positive point that one of the advantages—and this came out more clearly and explicitly than in the Report or in the White Paper—of creating these metropolitan areas was a planning advantage so that the big city areas could more easily acquire their land for housing and other non-agricultural development. I do not think that it is necessarily a virtue to facilitate this process of land acquisition in a country where land is such a scarce commodity. I do not think it is right to make it unduly or unnecessarily difficult; but I think it is right that there should be a well-proven case before these acquisitions take place.
My Lords, I would seriously ask the Government to keep an open mind about the metropolitan areas. From what has been said in another place and what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in 295 opening the debate, I think that the Government have come to a rather firm conclusion on this matter. In Cheshire we do not accept that conclusion as being well-founded, because if one talks about mutuality of interest and the integration of the communities there is no natural adherence. Liverpool is not a natural centre for Cheshire; nor is Manchester, except perhaps for small areas round the hinterland of those two great cities. Still less, I think, is Stoke-on-Trent for the southern part. Surgery has been referred to, but I think that here surgery of an unnecessarily drastic nature has been proposed and we are very opposed to it. I ask the Government to show more flexibility than has been indicated so far in their statements regarding their willingness to look at these boundaries.
We are not saying that the present pattern is immutable. We are saying— and I say this without hesitation—that the county council of Cheshire is a first-class local authority with a first-class record in any respect that one cares to look at, be it roads, education or recreation for the people of these big conurbations. We were the first county to set up a Countryside Commission; the first county to have accepted for grant a proposal under the Countryside Commission, in the Wirral Walk. This authority is for the people of Merseyside and it is a forward-looking authority. It does not justify being carved up, having its base cut off and allocated to Stoke; having its right part truncated and handed over to Manchester in Selnec and its left part handed over to Liverpool in the Merseyside metropolitan area.
These things do not make sense from an economic or development point of view. I have looked very carefully at these things before making this statement and I am satisfied that the contentions of Cheshire County Council are well-founded. I ask that there be a fresh look at this. I know perfectly well, and accept, that the Commission could not go into detail in every part of the country, or go and hear the view of all the constituent parts. But I say without any equivocation that I regard it as the duty of Government to go deeply into this before making such fundamental changes. These are changes of a deep and long-term 296 nature and they should not just be galloped through. The amount of time allowed for consultation was extremely brief. Consultation in detail on the boundaries has been promised and we have not had consultation to anything like the extent which is needed. I do not propose to take up more of your Lordships' time. I know that there are many speakers to follow and that the time is getting late, but I sincerely ask that the Government look at this objectively and fairly and do not seek to bulldoze something through which will be very strongly resisted by the people in those areas.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CRANBROOK
My Lords, I find myself in agreement with the basic principles of the Royal Commission and the White Paper. The reasons for them have been set out by the noble Lord who introduced the debate and by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and I will not weary your Lordships by repeating them. There have been a number of objections, mainly from this side of the House, which I must confess I find it difficult to understand. The common factor in them seems to be the classical reason for not liking Dr. Fell:I do not like thee Dr. Fell,The reason why I cannot tell.But this I know, and know full well,I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.That is the only common factor that I have been able to see.
We are told that democracy is going to suffer; that the unitary authority is going to be too remote. Those are statements which those of us who can remember the passing of the Local Government Act 1929 will look upon with some cynicism. We can remember exactly the same things being said when the old boards of guardians and a great many local councils were abolished. The powers of the guardians and some powers of local authorities were transferred to the county councils, and we were told then that the county councils were too remote; that democracy would suffer and that the people would not stand for it. In point of fact, the people did not care tuppence. The wind of change blew through the Poor Law; the transferred services were infinitely better administered, and democracy continued to flourish. The present changes, of 297 course, are larger, as indeed they need to be. I can recollect that when the 1929 Act was passed there were people who were still coming to district council meetings in horsedrawn carts. Many people feared (and I must confess that when I first looked at it I felt the same) that the constituencies would be so large that the representatives would lose touch with their constituents. But I think the fundamental definition of a democratic system of local government is that the man who is elected to carry out certain functions is able to get in touch and keep in touch, with the people who elected him.
My Lords, if I may now get down to "parish pump" stuff, keeping in touch is not just a matter of sitting still and waiting for the grumblers to write to you. It means actively trying to seek out the patient people who do not grumble, finding abuses and putting them right. That can be time-consuming, as every Member of Parliament, and I suppose every good county councillor, knows. It means encouraging the members of rural district councils or parish councils to invite you to their meetings. What is more, it brings you into touch with the people who elected you and not with people elected for some other purpose. It means going to mothers' union meetings and women's institute meetings, parish meetings and the like. If too much time is spent on committees, that work, which I regard as fundamental for a councillor, can become time-consuming. But if councillors can confine themselves, as Maud recently suggested, to laying down policy and leave it to the officers to implement the policy, then there should be time enough.
I must confess that I was surprised at one of the things said by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. He suggested that people would have to go so many times a week to the unitary authority that they would not be able to do all these other jobs. If I were organising a unitary authority of 60 or 70 members, and governing a population of between, say, half a million and a million people, and if I could not so arrange that the average member did not have to attend more than once a week, I should be fit only to go back and play tiddleywinks with my grandchildren.
298 Again, I would join issue with my noble friend Lord Brooke when he says that if we had that sort of authority, only the retired, or the man receiving compensation for loss of office, who could spend the whole day in committees would be able to do the work. The fundamental difficulty is that retired people—perhaps the "Backwoods" Peers, and people getting compensation for loss of officewant to spend the whole of their time in these committees, and it is very difficult to organise them so that they go less frequently and spend less time on this work. I believe that if there were only unitary authorities, if they were properly managed and organised the members would have ample time to keep themselves in touch with the people who elected them, and we should get every bit as good service as we need.
On the other hand, I agree with the White Paper that some form of decentralisation to area committees in those areas where the Royal Commission recommended there should be administrative decentralisation would be welcome. That would be a two-tier system, but a two-tier system administratively and not geographically, as we have at the moment, which causes so much inefficiency. Where I disagree with the White Paper is on its suggestion that the second administrative tier should no: be elected. I believe that what should happen at that level is that there should be an elected council which would act as agents for the unitary authority. This, I admit, would introduce a new concept into our system of local government: the election of people to serve on an elected body which acts as agent for another elected body. But I believe that that would be infinitely better than the proposal in the White Paper that it should be partly nominated by the unitary authority and partly by the local council.
The White Paper itself points out that the whole future of the local councils is in the melting pot. It says that these new areas for local councils should be worked out as soon as possible. It does not seem to me to be sensible that the existing local councils, whose boundaries, powers and functions are so shortly to be reviewed, should appoint members to district committees when we do not know what their future is to be. I therefore ask the Government to consider seriously whether they could not introduce a 299 system of election at this district level instead of nomination, because we should then get at that level the member elected ad hoc, responsible to his constituents, instead of the nominated member responsible not to the constituents who elected him for that purpose but to constituents who elected him for another.
I should like to see these elected district committees given limited concurrent powers whereby they could supplement the provision made by the unitary authority, provided always that they did not involve that authority in additional annual expenditure. We have already accepted the principle under the Transport Act 1948 that a local authority, either by capital or by income, can pay for keeping open a railway station if they think tit, and pay for it out of rates. I suggest that this is a principle which might well be extended to other services, even to the Health Service, with which of course we are not dealing to-day. If local people like their cottage hospital; and if they want to keep it going when the hospital board wish to get rid of it, I can see no reason why the local people should not be allowed to retain it and pay at least part of the cost out of the local rates. Again I would venture to suggest that this is a point into which the Government might look.
The boundaries, functions and powers of local councils are going to be reviewed. One thing we want them to be is councils of living communities. A parish council is a council of a living community, as is the council of a small town; and as is, perhaps, the council of a middle sized town. But when we get to the large town, it is probable that its living communities will be districts within the town. In some small towns, we often find some voluntary body that has more impact on the local people than the statutory one—maybe a community council, a sports club, the society running the local museum or a society which tries to improve the amenities of the district. I think it would be worth looking into the possibility of having the local councils partly elected and partly nominated by voluntary bodies. It is in the tradition of mediæval government in this country. I can see no reason why it should not come back again in the twentieth century. Subject to these two 300 points, one large and one small, I feel that the Government are working on the right lines here. But I should like to see elected district councils, instead of district committees, and a thoroughgoing investigation of the future of the local councils.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, perhaps it would be convenient to suggest to your Lordships, after consultation with the noble Earl the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, that we may consider breaking this debate at a convenient moment and continuing it on Monday. We have taken the opinions, I think, of all noble Lords in the House and the majority are in favour of this step. The condition would be that those noble Lords who are unable to be present on Monday (like the noble Lords, Lord Clitheroe and Lord Rhodes, both no doubt representing Lancashire in this debate) may take the opportunity of speaking tonight and the rest of us would postpone our speeches till Monday. It would mean that the next speaker would be the noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, and on Monday we would start off with the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I should like to ask whether, in the opinion of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, this step is acceptable.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. On personal grounds, it is very acceptable. The next best thing to not making a speech at all is postponing a speech, and from that point of view I would go along with the suggestion. It is, of course, unconventional, but we are always free to make our own rules and set our own programme. Provided that it will not cause grave inconvenience to those who have been expecting to speak this evening, it seems to me that the suggestion made by the noble Lord gets round any possible inconvenience. I myself would be quite happy to fall in with this suggestion.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I do not think we have been able to ask the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who is at the moment the "tail-end Charlie" of the list. I think that he would welcome 301 it as much as anybody, if he were willing to come down from the North. In that case, we can proceed with the noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes. We could then move to adjourn the debate and some of us might even have time to get dinner.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, may I add a postscript to my noble Leader's suggestion? He suggested that as I am next on the list I might open the debate on Monday, but on Monday at 11 o'clock I have a university meeting at Colchester over which I have to preside. I should find great difficulty in getting to the House before, say, 3 o'clock or 3.30. Could my noble friend put me lower down on the list of speakers?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
If the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, is forgoing his right to speak now, we can be accommodating in that respect. It is an unfortunate thing that my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy was inadvertently left off the list, and we shall be able to restore him. We shall have a fairly full list of speakers on Monday, and I only hope that other noble Lords will not take this opportunity of putting down their names to speak.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, I might be thought not to be an interested parly, having spoken already, but I am deeply interested in the debale. While I entirely concur with the good sense of the suggestion that has been made, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord the Leader of the House if owing to previous engagements later on Monday evening I am not able to be present to hear his winding-up speech.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I seem now to be prolonging the debate. I accept the apology from the noble Lord. We were rather thrown out of gear. On the one hand, there were comparatively few names down to speak last week, and it did not seem to justify a Monday; and when it did, it was too late. Then there was the important visit that we had to-day, which perhaps we should have taken into account. I apologise for not having foreseen this, and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Beswick feels the same. This suggestion seems acceptable, and in another place Mr. Speaker would now be calling on the noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I do not wish to be awkward, but would it be convenient if we could be told at what time the House will meet on Monday?
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ LORD CLITHEROE
My Lords, I propose to detain the House for only a few minutes. Before I begin, I should like to say haw disappointed I am that I shall not be able to hear the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp; but I shall read it with great interest. I want to deal with one point only; that is, the effect which the White Paper will have on Lancashire. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, has already told us about Cheshire, and the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, has mentioned it in his speech. I am fully in agreement with the view that there must be a change in local government, and I should like to express my regret to my noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud, who is a most respected colleague of mine in another sphere, and who made such a fascinating speech earlier to-day, for the fact that I feel bound to make criticism both of his Report and of the White Paper on this specific point.
The Lancashire County Council is a highly developed organisation which has been built up over eighty years, and it has a very fine record. Except for London, it has the largest rateable value in the country, and it is an organisation which has great experience. I want to tell your Lordships that the Lancashire County Council has received this White Paper with dismay, because it is felt by them that effective local government will not be provided for in Lancashire, out-side the two conurbations centred on Liverpool and Manchester.
The proposal is, as the noble Viscount Lord Amory, has said, that in place or the Lancashire County Council there should be five unitary authorities or, as I call them, minicounties. The areas of these mini-counties in Central Lancashire where I live, and have lived all my life, have many common problems, and it seems to me that what the Government have proposed in the White Paper for West Yorkshire, namely, a two-tier system, would be right for us, too. I find 303 it hard to see why this has not been proposed by the Government, especially as the two-tier system is thought to be suitable for nearly half the population, as well as for the whole of Scotland and Wales.
I have had long experience of the great services of this authority which it is proposed to condemn to death. I believe that this decision is wrong, and I beg the Government with all the force that I can command to think again, and to avoid what one Lancashire Labour Member of Parliament called an "unprecedented disaster". Have the merits of this really been considered? The Royal Commission, if I may say so, never even saw this great authority. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, nor the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, are here to respond to this.
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, I am sure he appreciates that the Royal Commission propose to divide all four counties in the North-West of England.
§ LORD CLITHEROE
I have looked at the map, and I am as equally horrified as the noble Lord. I want to know whether the merits of this have been really considered; and I alluded to the point that the Royal Commission never even saw this great authority. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, spoke of the loyalties of people, and this is something that we must all remember. Lancashire is a great county. It is a county with a great tradition, and it is very proud. It is a County Palatine, and it is a Royal Duchy. I beg your Lordships to think about this, and I beg the Government to give this matter further consideration.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the Commission on their Report. I am only sorry that events have made it impossible for the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, to be here, because I wanted to say to him that his words were very illchosen when he referred to the county boroughs as "pock marks on a map". I personally think the county boroughs of Lancashire have done a wonderful job. The people who have been elected on to those county boroughs will not think much of the description of "pock marks". I have 304 got that off my chest, my Lords, and that is about all I have against the noble Lord. If I had not spoken to-night I should not have dared to go home, because I live in a district on the Lancashire side of the Pennines, just in Yorkshire. It is said that the Maud Commission are going to make me personally respectable, because it is proposed to put it into Lancashire. But will there be a Lancashire after Maud, once this carving up has taken place? I thought that the drawing of lines on a map and the arbitrary carrying out of decisions finished with the Conference of Berlin in 1884, when lines were drawn across Africa and divisions made which even now have not been caught up on.
I want to make a plea on the basis of paragraph 91 in the White Paper, which says that further consultation will take place. This small district of Saddleworth is a very closely knit community. It does things for itself; it always has done; it is independent, and has character. I have mentioned in this House before some of the things that it does. Imagine our consternation when the Report came out and we saw that our community is to be divided into two. One part is proposed to go to the metropolitan district of Oldham, and the other to the metropolitan district of Hyde and Ashtonunder-Lyne. The district as a whole does not really mind going into Lancashire; it knows that it gets all its services, apart from some aspects of education, from the Lancashire side.
The feeling was epitomised in the remarks of an old friend of mine, "Old Joe", when he was going down the steps after a meeting I had chaired, where the young people of the district had put up two resolutions: one, that we object to the district being divided and, two, that our future lies with SELNEC. The first resolution was received with acclamation. The second resolution was turned down by one vote. I asked Old Joe, "How did you vote?", and he said, "How does thou think?" I said, "Against", to which he replied: "If they had asked us whether we wanted to go into Manchester, or whether we wanted to go into Lancashire, I would have voted with them, but I'll be damned if I'll vote for a lot of bloody initials". There is a moral to this, my Lords. Those who want to draw a line and make everything tidy, and to divide people who have pride of 305 place and of associations, can make a serious mistake.
I usually travel 400 miles a week in the county of Lancashire. I see many local authorities. I have been in Liverpool and Manchester 68 times in the past 18 months, and I see a good deal of what is going on elsewhere. I am searching all the time for the enthusiastic focus which makes a village, town or city tick. Every place has something that makes it tick, even if the beat is sometimes weak. Sometimes it can be a very queer thing; sometimes it can be a Rugby League club that they are proud of, but it holds the people together, and there is a unity. Sometimes it can be a junior chamber of commerce. In my opinion this country can save itself by building on enthusiasms and pride—pride of place where they live; pride of county where they live, and pride of the country that has borne them. Any effort made in the course of streamlining which destroys these loyalties is undoing something that years of loyalty have built up. The noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe made this point in his speech which was a good one.
The biggest compliment paid to the county councils this afternoon has been paid by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, himself. If anybody will take the trouble to look to-morrow to see his remarks on the county councils, he will see that the noble Lord even outdoes the noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe, in praise of the county councils. I know that Lancashire County Council are no exception to this rule. They have done a wonderful job of work. To think that they are to be decimated hurts me very deeply. I should like to make my first request now. Will the Minister see our local authority to talk over this really silly and foolish decision to cut our community in two? I hope the House will excuse my going back to request this.
My second request is that they should have another look at this area, which the Lancashire County Council have had under their wing for so long. I know that revision and reform are necessary. I know that this will have to be done on a basis that has never been attempted before, because of the times we live in, and because of the necessity to change the type of industry in which we are engaged, and also the type of international trade which demands so much 306 of our output. Where we have gone wrong in the national plans to improve the structure of our industry is that we have been short of a real basis, of a properly constructed local government. I believe that the ability of manufacturers to sell their goods abroad, the ability of localities to provide good locations for growth industries, are all part of the same question. Questions are asked in the country to-day about the political implications of our entry into the Common Market, and the likely association with EFTA countries, and the Commonwealth. These are important questions, and they are being asked everywhere. People are asking how the taxation system will be altered if this new structure of local government goes through.
In Lancashire, too, they are asking about the Government's policy towards the importation of cheap textiles from abroad. They are asking whether the central Lancashire city which is being proposed can be the dynamic industrial complex which can be developed with Government assistance, and really be the part of Lancashire that will infuse some new life into the North-East Lancashire cotton towns. We must have change in local government, but it must be economically viable. It is necessary that it should be streamlined. But pride should take its place in what we do.
If we have the two metropolitan areas why cannot we retain the Lancashire County Council for some time to carry on what it is good at? Surely the economic development that would take place, especially starting at the Liverpool end, coming through St. Helens and Widnes and Runcorn and the New Town of Warrington, through to Manchester, would need all the attention and all the help that Government can give.
I will not keep the House more than another minute or two. We have a metropolitan area which the Government have decided for the foreseeable future should be of development area status. The other metropolitan area has no such status at all; and yet if there is a place in Lancashire which needs that status it, too, will be the other Manchester metropolitan area. We have had two major industries decline in a generation—cotton and coal. Manchester built on cotton and coal, sending its goods all over the world, with its services built up in Manchester 307 to make it possible for the industry to carry on—the merchants, the entrepreneurs, the converters, the exporters and the rest of them. In a generation we have had a drop in terms of volume which is something that no other part of the country has ever experienced— unless it may be the coal and the shipbuilding up in the North-East.
But this is a very difficult problem to solve. We cannot solve it by drawing lines on a map. We can solve it by getting into it, having a look at it and talking with the people concerned, week in and week out, month after month. Only then you can realise that the variation in the enthusiasms between one local authority and another varies as much as the difference between one pole and another. Some have it and some have not. I could take your Lordships to places where the will to exist has nearly gone; and I could take you to places where they are cock-a-hoop and absolutely on top of the world, where they are going to make the grade.
It is a tragedy that this debate has turned out as it has; it should have been a two-day debate from the start, instead of all this hurry at the end. Local government reform must be on the basis of a realistic view about the economic situation in the component parts of it. If this is not taken seriously into consideration, we shall lose out; and the Government must give a little more consideration to what they are doing with regard to places that have been mentioned to-day. We are nearly agreed, and I hope that when this reorganisation takes place the differences will have been ironed out.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
My Lords, I apologise for rising to make what may be the last speech tonight in this debate, and I am glad to hear that the people who will speak after me will have full time to do so next week. I should like first to declare my interest as Chairman of a county council and a somewhat obsolescent alderman. I think that what we should look at quickly (and I hope to be as brief as possible) are the three main principles on which the Maud Report was based. The first was that a major reform was needed; and everybody who has spoken here, or in another 308 place or in the country, seems to have agreed on this fact: a major reform is in fact needed.
Why do we agree on this? I suggest that it is because people think that local government is inefficient. But it is not local government which is inefficient; it is the system under which it has been operating which is inefficient. I believe that this is not the fault of local government itself, but the fault of central Government, who over a very long period indeed have failed completely to grasp the nettle of local government reform. Meanwhile, local government has been able to go on with the job, working under a system which is, as we all agree, out of date.
If I may give one example of the procrastination which has happened I would choose my own area, Tyneside. Local government reform was first talked about in 1934 under the Wallace Report. This was followed in 1937 by a Royal Commission which reported, and about which nothing happened at all. There was then the 1945–49 Local Government Boundary Commission. On their Report, again, nothing happened. This was followed by the Local Government Commission under the 1958 Act, and nothing happened again. We finally had a proposal from Mr. Crossman in 1966 for the reorganisation of Tyneside, and this was abandoned in 1967 by his successor, when the Maud Royal Commission was set up. So in 36 years we have had nearly 36 solutions to one problem, and absolutely nothing has been done about it. I think that those who work in local government often are apt to look at another place and perhaps to cry "Physician, heal thyself!"
The root cause of this decline, in my view, is the total lack of freedom from central Government which local councils have. People who are considering whether they should stand for election only too often ask, "If I am successful, what can I do for my neighbours? What can I do to influence events?" Too often the answer is, "Nothing". Local government's essential freedom, which in my view it lacks, and always has lacked, is perhaps, put as quickly as possible, freedom to make mistakes. I do not think that this Government in the White Paper have done more than pay lip-service to freedom of this kind.
309 I give your Lordships one example. The Local Authority Social Services Bill now before Parliament, and the Green Paper on the Health Service, both illustrate only too aptly this local failure of central Government to trust local government and to delegate any of its powers whatever to a lower level. Beyond this, I think we need much wider recognition that the time has come to look closely at the various functions and roles of local government; and something more than just pious hopes must be expressed if we are to make local government more powerful.
In his Report the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, went on to say that the next matter which was essential was the reduction of the number of units of local government; and this again was generally agreed. I will give a simple example of a place I know, where a county borough has expanded beyond its boundaries into a rural district and where it has built houses. The people inhabiting that housing estate have four councils to deal with: the county borough council which owns the houses, the county council which provides some of the amenities, the rural district council and, in this case, an active parish council. People talk about "the council", and they are totally confused because they do not know which council they are talking about. It is undoubtedly a fact that we have not reduced the number of councils. I do not think that anybody has ever denied that this is the case. In fact I would say that many urban and rural councils would long ago have amalgamated voluntarily, and have even discussed doing so twenty or thirty years ago. Some have even had plans ready.
The problem of reducing the number of units is as simple as this: how far can we go? We can, of course, go so far as to reduce them to five or six local government units, which is not local government. The essential dilemma, naturally—and I think it is one that everyone will recognise—is that local government is in fact, and always will be, a compromise or a conflict between democracy and efficiency. The danger of remoteness has been mentioned many times in this House to-day.
The third principle in the Redcliffe-Maud Report is that the anachronistic division between town and country must be ended. Again I think this is generally 310 agreed, and there will be no dissent over this—even if, I may add, it has been conspicuously ignored when the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, carved up my part of the country. I believe that the best solution for overcoming this distinction between town and country is to be found in the provincial councils suggested by the Redcliffe-Maud Report, and although one realises the reasons for abandoning this proposal I think it is a great pity that it has been postponed. The regional economic planning council provides no sort of alternative.
All these principles are right, and I think everybody agrees that they are right: there is no question that they would be acceptable to most people. But if we accept this, then I think we ought to go back a little further in history and look at what happened to England after the Norman Conquest. William the Conqueror (and I intend no comparison between him and the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud) divided England into counties, and each division has stood the test of time for nearly a thousand years. Indeed, I think it would be fair to say that William the Conqueror will be remembered long after the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, has been forgotten.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
My Lords, the point is that people say, "I am a Yorkshireman"—or a Lancashire man, or a Man of Kent. But nobody will go about in future saying, "I am a citizen of unitary area No. 29". It will not mean anything. Therefore, before we throw out the system of William the Conquerorthe Norman division of the country, which was a natural thing with the county town and the countryside all round it, forming a boundary which people recognised and understood—I think we should look very carefully to see that we are putting in its place something which is better.
Naturally, in a thousand years a great deal has happened, and I freely admit that it makes quite a different solution necessary for these parts now that we have the large conurbations. This has been clearly recognised by the noble Lord. Lord Redcliffe-Maud. But for the rest of the country we are faced with what is called the "unitary principle". I hope, my Lords, that somebody will think up a better word than "unitary". If there 311 is a word which is ugly and unacceptable, and difficult to pronounce, it is "unitary". Perhaps we might hope that a new Royal Commission will be set up to find some better method of describing it. But, better than that, I hope that we can do away with the principle altogether.
The most ironic thing is that under the solution proposed for England, 42 per cent. of England, including the metropolitan areas, most of which were county boroughs and did not want a two-tier system, are now going to get one, possibly against their wishes. I do not know, but certainly in some cases it will be against their wishes. The other 58 per cent. of England is going to get a one-tier unitary system that it did not want, whereas it did want a two-tier system. So it seems to me that we are putting the cart before the horse. I do not know that it is at all fashionable to suggest this, but in my view what people want is something that ought to be considered before these things are decided.
People will say that it is only the vested interests of aged aldermen and councillors who wish to preserve some form of the status quo, but I do not think that is so. I have found recently that the unitary principle, as applied at least in rural areas, is enormously unpopular, and there is a very strong feeling that an effective second tier is needed throughout England. The cold logic of the Redcliffe-Maud Report—and we have heard the noble Lord himself expound it with great skill this afternoon—argues the unitary case very strongly. As regards the almost universal dislike of the idea of the local council which has been expounded in the White Paper and in the Report, I strongly believe that many leading societies and pressure groups are an extremely important part of our life. In fact it is true to say that nothing creates a sense of unity in a community so much as a proposal—an unwise proposal perhaps—by central or local government which will affect people's lives. The word "Stansted" has passed into the English language for this very reason.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
My Lords, one hopes that these societies will always continue to exist in a free society, but I 312 think the idea of electing them for that purpose alone is absolutely ridiculous. It will mean that the loudest mouth will get the seat at an election, and that the councils so formed will have nothing else to do but to scream, protest and generally argue, apart from the occasional diversion of building a new public convenience from time to time. It is an insult to call this local government.
I do not think that the district committee idea, although worthy of very serious thought, which is propounded in the White Paper is a proper solution at all. I can see nothing but friction and frustration, from the point of view of the district committees who are to be overruled by these new unitary authorities. I do not think this is democratic and it is likely to be very inefficient. Therefore, my Lords, I say that there must be an effective second tier ail over England. Why should the Scots and the Welsh have it and not the poor old English?
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
My Lords, it sometimes seems to me that we lean over too far backwards to help our minorities. When we are talking to-day about England we have just as much right to a two-tier government as any other part of the United Kingdom.
The second tier, of course, must have functions as of right, but this is not the moment to go into that, and I certainly do not propose to do so. The point is that it may mean a division of responsibility between services, and there may be —in fact there are—things which are far better done by local councils at district levels. Everyone will have his own example, but I will only say that in my own county we have operated extremely successfully a system of delegating certain detailed matters of planning control. It can be done; it does not mean delegating major planning functions, only that those people who know the ground intimately should deal with the smaller matters. I think this is important partly because planning affects people's lives more than any other service provided by local government, and because people are much more concerned from day to day with what happens in the planning field. It is here that they want at least some say, however small, in the policymaking process.
313 If the need for a second tier has been accepted by the Government, as I think it has been accepted by almost everybody else, then most of the objections to the Redcliffe-Maud Report would fall down to one of detail: details and discussions about boundaries; and, of course, any boundary, wherever drawn, is always wrong because somebody is left on the wrong side of it. But I think it could be left to local government, which knows a great deal more about these problems than Whitehall ever will, to settle a great many of these boundaries themselves. It may be said that a metropolitan solution would find favour throughout the whole of the country. But in my view this is not the answer. I think it would be wrong to have any further metropolitan areas as suggested, parlly because the metropolitan districts as proposed are in themselves so large as to be remote, and would not provide the second tier which we need in the case of the rural 58 per cent. about which we are speaking.
I want to add one other thing. The question of the size of these district councils is something on which people will never agree. I put forward the suggestion that the right size is roughly the size of a Parliamentary constituency. This (assuming that the Government get round to revising them) is from 60,000 to 80,000 electors, which would provide a reasonable unit, with a reasonable sense of coherence; and within a top-tier nonunitary authority there would be something of the order of from 5 to 10—perhaps a little more—constituencies. I believe that we should seriously consider that each constituency should be formed as a second tier with give-and-take about certain detailed boundaries, and this would be an ideal solution to the right scale for the second tier. I do not feel that enough thought has been given to the work of the councillor who would be asked to work in a unitary authority. I think he would find himself as hard pressed, with absolutely no pay, on his spare-time resources as an M.P. does. I do not think we could expect to get the best people by asking them to be on unitary councils on this scale.
Finally, on the question of aldermen, we have no trade union and therefore little has been said about the system, whether it is to be retained or not. I 314 believe that, before we reject something which has proved its worth, we ought to look more carefully. Many people have given up their time to be aldermen and many of them have not the time or the inclination, or even the funds, to stand for election, because it is expensive. But they are prepared to give their experience to local government, and they have done so satisfactorily for a long time. I know that the system is open to abuse by manipulation of numbers, but I have discovered that the system of co-opted membership is just as open to political manipulatoin, unless you insist on a certain technician, and there are technicians in both political Parties. If we are not to pay councillors anything—and I believe we should—I think we must not throw the aldermen out of the window at the same time. I believe that in trying to stop this political manipulation we are in danger of burning down the house to cook the pig. I conclude by saying that I think we want fifty or so counties in England, each of which is divided approximately into Parliamentary constituences, and that a second tier of government is needed throughout England.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned until Monday next.—(Lord Kennet.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to and debate adjourned accordingly.