§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, your Lordships may remember that some time ago the noble Earl the Leader of the House paid a delightful compliment to the members of the Royal Commission on Local Government in England; and I would on their behalf thank him most warmly for something that I know they will appreciate, particularly as perhaps it was more implicit than explicit in the White Paper that is before us to-day.
I should like to endorse what the noble Earl the Leader of the House said when he suggested what I might be going to say. I greatly welcome the Government proposals that are before us, particularly as the title on the outside of the White Paper—"Proposals for Reorganisation"—is a little misleading. As the draftsman got going he became more inspired by his theme, and by the last page these proposals for "reorganisation" are described as the most comprehensive plan for reform of local government in the century—as indeed they are. It is a real attempt to break through the deadlock of the last eighty years and I, for one, warmly welcome not only most of the content of the proposals but the timetable which has been proposed.
Here I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for many of the things he said, with most of which I agree. But I would at the same time sound a note of warning: if this process 1105 of consultation is to be carried too far, there is crave risk that the Government's bold plans to introduce legislation this autumn and have a new system working by 1974 will be disappointed. On that point of further consultation I am really against the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and in favour of the sturdy robust determination which the noble Earl showed for standing firm on most, but I hope not all, of the proposals and going through with them.
If I may now be personal, I must confess that I am completely unrepentant about the proposals which 10 of the 11 Royal Commissioners put forward unanimously in June, 1969. I do not want to upset any friends of the noble Earl who may be alienated if they think that a name which has become anathema to them—the name of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission—supports the Government's proposals. I do not want to alienate them from the Government; so let me make it quite clear that I do not think that the present Government's proposals are as good as those put forward by the Royal Commission; nor do I think them as good as those in the White Paper we had a year ago from what is now Her Majesty's Opposition.
I still think it would be better if we had a simpler pattern: if we had main authorities throughout the country—metropolitan areas in one place; counties, by all means, if you are bold enough to call them "counties", elsewhere—underpinned by local new-style town and city councils that would not only be the focus of local opinion but be able to take all sorts of action despite the constant misrepresentation of what the Royal Commission proposed for local councils. It would be best if we had that pattern, particularly if we could have the provincial councils as soon as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, and his Commission are ready with their proposals, complementing this pattern of main authorities, city councils and parishes.
However, the best must not be allowed to be the enemy of the good. It would be futile to ask the Government to do anything but introduce the best kind of two-tier system that they can. I think this is what the Government have set out to do, and the principles which they have announced in the White Paper are quite admirable. In many respects they 1106 echo the very words which we used in the Royal Commission Report—though that is not the only reason why I think them wise. For example, in paragraph 6 they say that we have been bedevilled in the past by the separation between county boroughs and counties, the big towns being separated from the hinterlands with which they ought to be associted if planning and other functions are to be administered in an effective way. And the Government have had the courage to propose the abolition of all existing county boroughs and county councils—good luck to them!
Then there is that excellent principle that services that are closely linked should be in the hands of one authority. This again is the principle on which we based our plan and what, more or less consistently, the Government proposed when they go on to apply the principles. Then there is the excellent principle that certain parts of the country have to be treated differently from others. We designated three. What is now Her Majesty's Opposition thought that there should be another two. The present proposals suggest one of those previously put forward and two more. So the Government now think that there should be six metropolitan counties and I, for one, would not demur at all, although that is going further than the Royal Commission went. The great thing about the metropolitan areas is that there it is possible to have two proper tiers, each large enough, and to give two separately elected councils full responsibility for a series of related functions. But in passing let me say that, when I last counted them, there were 11 of the proposed districts in the metropolitan areas which were under the 250,000 mark, several of them only a little, but seven quite substantially. That presumably is the sort of thing that is still worth considering further.
And outside the metropolitan areas many of the proposed new counties seem to me fine. Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset is almost (although not quite) one area that we proposed in the Royal Commission Report. Personally, I think it would be a good thing to have, as the Commission thought, a bit of West Wiltshire in, but doubtless some noble Lords would demur and I am not asking, at the moment, for 1107 any detailed change of that sort. Not only there but around Oxford, around Reading, in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire the right county areas are proposed. I think that the detail could be improved if at certain points they were shaved a little, but broadly speaking those are sensible areas which conform to the principles announced by the Government in the proposals.
But I must endorse most warmly what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, about the tight drawing of the metropolitan areas. We have not time this afternoon to go into that point in detail, but I am seriously disturbed that the worm which was in the bud of the 1888 legislation, the separation of county borough and county, which has grown to such a formidable snake since then, will be reborn in the new system: the worm of hostility between great urban areas too strictly confined within the proposed metropolitan boundaries and the surrounding country. Therefore I cannot praise or want to see put on the Statute Book as they are now either the metropolitan areas of Merseyside, Liverpool and the West Midlands or the adjoining counties, which I think, frankly, are still left too big and must be further shorn. I refer to Cheshire, for example, and to Lancashire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
I know that this is most unpalatable to many of your Lordships, but I must in honesty, as I go along with the proposals, tell your Lordships that I think the metropolitan areas are wrong at the moment and if they could be put right I should be much relieved—though from what the noble Earl has said it sounds to me as if only details could be changed. At least do not let us make them worse. It is bad enough that Cheshire should keep Warrington; but the siren voice of the Clerk to the Cheshire County Council may be asking that more of what is at the moment Cheshire should be kept within the Cheshire boundary, at the expense of those metropolitan areas to the North. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is shaking his head, and I am glad to see it. But we must not let the new counties claw back areas which—in 1108 Durham, for example—under the Government proposals are to be moved to a neighbouring authority. So I ask that some areas, particularly in the metropolitan regions, should be looked at again.
Another point on which I think the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, was right concerns the most serious problem of housing. I do not ask the Government—because it would be foolish of me—to go back on their determination to have a second tier, and if you have a second tier you must give them something worth while to do. Of course in the Royal Commission we found that the "crunch" came over the question of housing. If you are going to have second-tier district authorities they must have power to build, and I do not ask the Government to go back on that. But I do ask the Government most seriously to look again at what results, first of all in the metropolitan areas; and, instead of merely giving a reserve power to the metropolitan counties, to give them power to do housing if it is necessary.
Let them ask, and indeed instruct, the metropolitan county council to look at the whole housing needs of the metropolitan area and seek to determine priorities and decide where the needs for better housing should be met by new building, by redevelopment, by slum clearance, or by whatever it may be. There is a strategic job to be done in the housing field as part of the planning job (which is rightly given to the metropolitan county); but if there is any doubt about the metropolitan county having broad housing responsibilities, I think the whole plan will be in need of change much sooner than the noble Lord said he desired.
The same sort of problem recurs outside the metropolitan areas. Here by all means let the district be house-builders as well as managers of housing. But, for heaven's sake! do not let the county have only a reserve power to deal with problems "which transcend district boundaries". In any part of the country where housing is a serious problem, what problem does not transcend district boundaries? It seems to me that if the county council is to do its proper planning job (which of course not only is physical and land-use planning, but 1109 involves planning the various services entrusted to it, of which housing under the present proposals is not one) it must take account of housing needs, as well as the school needs and the Seebohm needs, in order that the family, with which we are particularly concerned when it is a troubled family, may not only have individual members looked after by the various welfare social services but very often, need for a house to be found for it so that the family is not broken up.
So I would ask the Government to think again about the way in which housing could be made a more integral part of what the metropolitan and the other county councils do, without going back on one of their main recommendations; namely, that there should be districts and that they should be housing authorities.
If those things were done I believe that these proposals would be much improved. Nevertheless, there are parts of the country (and Plymouth, Brighton and Peterborough come to mind) where one really cannot say that it is consistent to confess that it has been a great defect for the big town to be cut off from its hinterland and then to go on to say that the community of Plymouth—or of Brighton, or of Peterborough for that matter—must find itself henceforward part (in the case of Plymouth) of a county which stretches miles away to the North-East.
I do not myself want the Government to increase the number of main authorities, and I do not know, frankly, how they are to get round this problem of places like Plymouth. So, however different our original views or our present views may be from those which the Government now put forward, where there is, as in this case, a real problem within the general framework that the Government have laid down, we can only ask the citizens of Plymouth to believe that in future they can become a genuine part of a new community, consisting of the present Devonshire plus the county boroughs at present excluded from it.
I know that this is a harsh thing to suggest, and I doubt whether many of my friends in Plymouth would agree; but it seems to me that unless we can re-make the pattern, which at this stage 1110 we cannot, we must all, wherever we live, as an act of faith, accept the possibility that the new councils will not be simply the old county councils in a new guise taking over the county boroughs; those will genuinely have been abolished, and the new county, rising as a phœnix from the ashes of the old county and county boroughs, may be able to find itself a new community, which can be made more of a community as the years go on.
Finally, I would congratulate the Government on their courage in having taken decisions and gone bareheaded for a radical reform of local government that will last out the century. I ask them to have second thoughts on the points I have mentioned, because I think that an objective decision about main areas is at this stage absolutely crucial for the future of local government: we shall not have another chance of doing it, most of us hope, this side of the year 2000. And I sincerely hope that in answering the questions not yet answered in the White Paper they will be generous to local government, and put their faith in the possibility that these new authorities will be both democratic and efficient.
Will they, I ask, be allowed to have that general power to do, and pay for, things in the interest of the inhabitants of their area which we in the Royal Commission thought all the new authorities, including the parishes, should have? Will the parish, in which I believe and about which the White Paper towards the end makes polite remarks, be freed from this rather ludicrous anomaly of the limit of the farthing rate which is all it can spend in the interests of its own inhabitants? Will the councils of the future be as big as the great councils of to-day, or will the Government have some regard for what both the Management Committee on Local Government unanimously recommended and the Royal Commission endorsed—namely, that even the largest authorities should have a membership of not more than 70?
There is nothing mystical about the number 70. But will the Government remember that for the efficient working of a council and its committee system a lot depends on not having the rather ludicrous position that there must be a lot of committees and sub-committees, 1111 otherwise there will not be enough work for councillors? This means finally that one has to face the question of aldermen, and there has been this remarkably unanimous, completely objective, recommendation, both from the Royal Commission and from the Committee, that for all its great virtues and historic value the aldermanic bench should not be part of the new system.
Finally, let me say how greatly I hope that the almost ludicrously ambitious timetable the Leader of the House mentioned will prove to be practicable—that we get the legislation on the Statute Book in 1972, and that thereafter the electoral arrangements will be made, elections held, and the councils take over in April, 1974. Nothing will give me, and I believe all the members of the Commission (though I do not speak for them), more pleasure than to think that within a few years we shall have swept through the doldrums in which we have all been labouring over the last 25 years, and come out with something that preserves, not all the essentials but the best of the traditional local government system—something that gives us a chance of facing successfully these tremendous problems, of population, of motor car increase and of all the other factors which not only beset us to-day but will become increasingly grave as time goes on.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I must start by redeclaring an interest in this matter, because I have the honour to be President of the County Councils Association. I would like to congratulate the Government on the celerity with which they have carried through their consultations and reached their decisions, and on the admirable brevity of the White Paper. I should like to congratulate, too, my noble friend Lord Jellicoe on the lucidity and succinctness of his exposition this afternoon, qualities we have learned to expect from my noble friend.
We all enjoyed listening to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and to the practical points he made from his very wide experience and great knowledge of local government. I agree with what he said about the consultations held with the members and staffs of local 1112 authority associations, and I am sure he will agree with me in saying that our members and staffs were proud to have been able to put their experience at the disposal of the Government. When the Bill comes along I think we shall have to ask the Post Office to set up a "hot line" between the Presidents of the five local authority associations. Perhaps we might discuss that together a little later on.
The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, was once again a delight to listen to. Like many of your Lordships, I admire his techniques tremendously, particularly the facility he has for not holding a wad of notes in his hand, as I have, and therefore being able to make those magnificent gestures which I find so persuasive. It is right, I am sure, that we should again on this occasion pay tribute to the work of the Royal Commission who performed their task under his skilful chairmanship. That most thorough, comprehensive investigation, most competently carried out, was an absolute prerequisite of the reforms that are now brought forward in this White Paper. I think many of us will have been particularly glad to hear from the noble Lord that, on the whole, he is not unhappy about these proposals. That is very good to hear.
In our debate a year ago I remember saying that if the unitary authorities had been regarded as main authorities I should have welcomed them wholeheartedly, and that if the work of the second-tier authorities was to be worthwhile it seemed desirable that they should be given some direct statutory responsibilities. I owned to being personally a two-tier man. In these respects the proposals of the present White Paper seem to me much better. The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, is not happy about the allocation of housing responsibilities. No doubt that matter will be discussed when the Bill comes along. But I should have thought that these proposals on housing could be made practicable and workable.
One thing I am sure needs emphasis, and that is that the new counties are not simply the present county councils given a new lease of life. They are new bodies, with greater resources and with membership reinforced no doubt from the elected representatives drawn from the cities and 1113 the county boroughs within the area. They should therefore be far stronger bodies. I think it is important that the cities and county boroughs, who may feel a little sad at their apparent incorporation in the counties, should realise that they will be genuine new bodies in which their citizens will play very important roles indeed. The metropolitan counties, composed of areas built up or to be built up, are surely a sound concept.
The West Riding of Yorkshire seems, in principle, to merit some further consideration as having a tremendous lot of rural areas within the present proposed boundaries. Another area that I am sure deserves further consideration is that included in the present county of Somerset. There may be a good many other areas in the country that individually feel hardly served. The proposed new county centred on Bristol and Bath seems sensible, but the reasons for cutting Somerset—and Somerset is a vigorous local authority—from a population of, I think, 585,000 to 349,000, do not seem to have yet been given specifically by the Royal Commission or by the Government. I should have thought that those reasons would have to be very strong indeed to justify such a severe restriction to almost the smallest of the new counties. Therefore I would ask my noble friend, when he replies, to say that his right honourable friend will look again at some of these boundaries in detail, and particularly those between Somerset and new county authority to its North.
We are all eagerly waiting to learn more about the new districts. One can see no reason why they should not be thoroughly effective bodies for those services which are best carried out close to local electors and which have the greatest local interest. I should have thought they would be admirable for such purposes if the boundaries are well drawn. I hope that the boundaries will be drawn with far more attention to the local sense of community interest and loyalty than to uniformity of population; and I gather from the White Paper that that is the intention.
Those of your Lordships who live in country areas know how powerful local loyalties can be. I remember that about three decades or more ago, when I was on a local authority, we had to choose a site for a new school to serve two villages only four miles apart. We had 1114 the greatest difficulty in getting agreement as to where the new school should be sited. We could not understand the depth and strength of the disagreement until, at one meeting with the local managers, we heard one old farmer say to the other, "Why should we join with they? They be dirty Roundheads." That shows how long these things can last.
The other thing we are awaiting with anxious concern, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, has mentioned, is the Green Paper on Finance, which is always a matter of critical importance. I entirely agree with him that the order is right: first the functions, and then finance. But in this case, in view of the promise of devolution of responsibilities, that is particularly so—indeed, it is difficult to forecast how successfully the new bodies will work until we know more about the financial resources they will command.
So much for structural reforms. These reforms will reduce the number of authorities answerable to the central Government in England from about 1,200 to about 370, and that must be a notable improvement. But of far more importance is whether a spirit of vigorous local democracy will activate these new bodies. Will they breathe a spirit of virile local democracy? This depends, I suppose, on two things: first, that the devolution of responsibility should be real and, secondly, whether elected representatives of the highest quality will be inspired to come forward to participate in this work.
I think one can feel reassured, with the emphasis in the White Paper, that the Government resolve is to decentralise and reduce the incidence of central control. If that happens, then one of the things that we shall have to accept—and I hope willingly—is a reduced level of uniformity: standards will differ pretty widely between one authority and another, and may seem to be higher in some cases than in others. However, that is what meaningful devolution of decisions means. When uniform standards conflict with local democratic choice, it is the latter which must prevail.
As regards the quality of the elected representatives, that depends again, I suppose, partly on the reality of the responsibilities devolved and partly on a realistic remuneration for the time spent. 1115 The amount of time involved for members at the new county level, at any rate, will be very considerable indeed, and very few people nowadays are in a position to give a substantial amount of time during their working lives without some financial recompense. The extent to which new sources of elected representatives will be tapped can be only a matter of speculation, but this is perhaps the most important single factor, and I personally am pretty optimistic. I hope indeed that in the future local government may afford a productive recruiting field for your Lordships' House.
So, my Lords, as always, it is the less tangible things that are most decisive for good or ill; the spirit more important than the structure. I remember that the headmaster of my old school was said to have exhorted the boys in these words, "Be pure in heart, or you will be thrashed". Well, the Government's paraphrase for that admonition to local authorities would be, "Practise local democracy, or your grant will be cut". My Lords, you cannot create a vigorous spirit of local democracy by legislation, but you can create the best conditions and best opportunities for it. One thing on which, I am sure, the success or failure of this great reform will turn is the extent to which it calls forth a vigorous and active spirit of local democracy. It is because I believe that the structure which has been outlined by the Government, with the help of the Royal Commission, is well designed to fit the conditions that lie ahead that I warmly support the proposals in the White Paper.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I think I should adapt what I have to say this afternoon by following the noble Viscount who has just spoken in acknowledging the part which has been played by the local government associations in reaching the proposals which are set forth this afternoon in the White Paper. The noble Viscount, who is President of the County Councils Association, felt no embarrassment in doing that, and I, as a former President of the Association of Municipal Corporations, feel no embarrassment either. We are very grateful for the work that they have done. I think we all appreciate the presence of the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, in the House this 1116 afternoon. We always regard him as one of the principal protagonists of local government.
This White Paper marks the end of a long and somewhat disturbing chapter in our municipal history. For twenty years local government has existed in an atmosphere of change, uncertainty, and procrastination. Successive Governments have declared their intention of reforming local government. There have been White Papers, other sorts of Papers, Boundary Commissions and all the machinery of bureaucracy, but nothing appears to have emerged from this long struggle to find an acceptable solution.
If my recollection is correct, the story began in 1946 with the "all-purpose" proposals made by Sir Malcolm Eve in his Report of that year. His proposals might well have formed a suitable basis for the reform of local government, but for some reason the Minister of the day smothered the Report or, at any rate, got rid of it and nothing more was heard of it or of Sir Malcolm Eve's proposals. Then my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor set up a Boundary Commission, but it was so slow in getting out its work that people got tired of it and that, too, was put away.
Then came the Royal Commission with the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, as Chairman. I think all of us welcomed the appointment of the Royal Commission and the appointment of its Chairman. We have welcomed Lord Redcliffe-Maud on several occasions since. This afternoon he gave us a most invigorating and encouraging speech to which I am sure all of us listened with the greatest attention. It is perhaps a little surprising to find Lord Redcliffe-Maud advocating a two-tier system. I always thought of him as the apostle of the unitary system, but I may have been mistaken.
Whether the local authorities will accept the new proposals or whether they will find some of them unacceptable, everybody concerned with local government will be grateful to the Minister who appears to have put an end to this protracted and uncertain dream. He has found a solution which will, I think, come to be acceptable—perhaps with modifications—to everybody. His success may be due to the fact that he has departed as little as possible from the existing pattern of local authorities. Local authority 1117 people are conservative in their ways, and the similarity to the existing set-up which these proposals bear may well have been one of the causes for their so ready acceptance. There are certain matters, to which I shall refer in a moment, where I hope that the Minister will be prepared to accept certain modifications to his proposals. Nevertheless, he has succeeded in finding a base upon which a substantial measure of agreement may be founded. That in itself is no small achievement.
Let me turn to certain aspects of the White Paper regarding which there is not likely to be any substantial measure of agreement. The county boroughs will disappear altogether. That is a bold proposal. Everyone in local government has been brought up to believe that the unitary "all-purpose" authority, administering all local services within its area, is the most effective and efficient form of local government. That was one of the aspects of the Royal Commission's Report. As I said, it is a bold step. Whether or not it will succeed only the future will show. But I believe that in the new circumstances of these proposals, the county boroughs will eventually forget that they once enjoyed a very wide measure of autonomy. The Minister has made it plain that his insistence upon the two-tier system is a matter of Government policy, and for that reason he is not likely to give way on these proposals. In those circumstances, the local authorities feel that it would not be right that they should press the Minister to give way on a matter which is clearly one of major Government policy.
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend will explain that last sentence. Is he speaking on this occasion for the Association of Municipal Corporations?
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I do not speak for anybody. The views that I am now putting forward are probably views which are shared by the A.M.C., of which I was once a President. But I am not speaking as an advocate who has any special interest in the proposals that I am putting forward.
The loss of powers and functions which will pass from some of the county boroughs who are not included in the 1118 metropolitan districts is very severe and is perhaps very serious for them. I want to put to your Lordships this afternoon, and particularly to the Minister, the case of such places as Plymouth, Cardiff, Leeds and Nottingham, all of whom will lose services for which they have hitherto been responsible. It may well be that some of these authorities will be the centre of a district area very much greater than the area which appears to be envisaged in the White Paper. The White Paper speaks of districts with a minimum population of 40,000. Some of the districts which contain these great cities have a much greater population than that. They may well have populations of 75,000 or 100,000. These places have the populations and the necessary resources which enable them to conduct with full efficiency very many of the services that will be passing from them.
What I want to ask the Minister is this. If a county borough or a municipal borough has a population adequate to enable it to maintain the major services which would otherwise pass to the county, will the Minister consider in that individual case transferring a service to a new district—if the Minister likes to call it a new district—composed of the former borough and its hinterland? If the Minister would do that, I think it would go a long way to overcome the sense of soreness that some of these greater boroughs feel about their loss of powers. Services have been conducted with full efficiency for very many years by these authorities, and there is no reason why after the separation they should not be conducted with full efficiency in the future. I ask the Minister to look at the case of these big municipal areas to see whether something on those lines can be done.
I want now to turn to another matter. Much will depend upon the fixing of areas and boundaries and I regret that this is to be clone at a very early stage. I understand that it is intended to fix boundaries and areas at the stage of legislation. My Lords, the districts will not be fixed at that time but at a later date. They will be fixed by the Boundary Commission. As I say, much will depend on the fixing of the right areas and boundaries. Indeed, if the new order of things is to settle down, it is 1119 very important that the boundaries and areas should be carefully and sympathetically fixed. But the Boundary Commission are not to be brought in until a later stage. I would suggest to the Minister that the Boundary Commission ought to be introduced at a much earlier stage than is proposed in the White Paper. The Boundary Commission would be a suitable body to fix the new boundaries and areas of the new counties, and I hope that the Minister will consider whether the task of fixing the areas and boundaries of the new counties ought not to be assigned to the Boundary Commission as well as the task of fixing the boundaries of the new districts. I hope that the Minister will agree to consider this proposal which I believe may do much to ensure that the new authorities get off to a good start.
My Lords, the disappearance of the county boroughs is, I think, the major change proposed in the White Paper. After the county boroughs, the next major change seems to me to be the disappearance of the rural districts. There has never been a time in our local government history where there were not administrative units whose separate existence was based upon the rural character of their territory. It is true that many of the rural district councils today have become largely urban in their population and general character. Nevertheless, their status is still based upon their supposed rural character and now, as I understand the White Paper, they are to be merged in the new district councils which will consist of boroughs and the present urban district councils. This is an expression, as I understand it, of the Ministry's policy to end what the White Paper calls,the artificial separation of big towns from their surrounding hinterlands for functions whose planning and administration need to embrace both town and country.I believe that the distinction between urban and rural units has ceased to have any reality, and I believe that the policy of combining urban and rural authorities is probably the right one. If the policy of combining these authorities is to be made acceptable it will, as I said, involve great care in the fixing of boundaries and areas.
1120 My Lords, I have one further point. I welcome, as I think everybody welcomes, the new proposals to reduce the number and scale of controls which central Government now exercises over local authorities. There have been many proposals to reduce these controls; Ministers have given pledges that they would be reduced, but nothing much has resulted; indeed, the number of controls seems actually to have increased. I hope that these promises, which are made in the White Paper and which the Minister has repeated, will prove more fruitful and that we shall be able to arrive at some solution which will ensure to the local authorities a greater measure of responsibility than they enjoy at present.
One last point—this may be a minor matter, but I attach importance to it. The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, told us that the office of alderman is to go. I rather regret the passing of the alderman. I was an alderman myself once and I think it is a useful and valuable institution. But I am glad to know that the mayor may have his robe back. I believe that a little pageantry in municipal work is not a bad thing. The robe, I am quite sure, impresses on the mind of the wearer the honour and responsibility of the office which he holds and that office has been assumed for generations by worthy men from the earliest days of our local administration. For those reasons I hope that the mayor will still be allowed to have the robe. I wish that the Minister could recover for mayors the status of magistrate during their period of office which was taken from them by recent legislation—I thought quite unnecessarily.
My Lords, perhaps I may end on the note on which I began. I should like to express my appreciation of these proposals and my belief that they will be effective. May I also express my thanks to the Minister for having achieved what nobody else has achieved—a measure of agreement upon which those proposals can be based.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ BARONESS SHARP
My Lords, I should like to join with those noble Lords who have expressed a welcome for the White Paper, especially my noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud. I, too, welcome these proposals, because I think 1121 they offer the promise of a genuinely radical reform of the local government structure and the creation of a network of relatively few and really big authorities to carry the main operational responsibilities.
I should also like to refer to the question of the two-tier system. Like my noble friend, I accept the Government's proposals for two tiers. I think the truth is that all of us who have struggled with the difficult question of how best to organise local government have really groped after a two-tier system. We have all believed that one must have big authorities for the major operational responsibilities, and that at the same time there must be a local representative body for the local issues and the many matters of local interest which to a great many people are perhaps the most important and the most interesting part of local government. We on the Commission went for the local councils. Our proposals were widely misrepresented, but apart from that there was, I think, a genuine disbelief in the country that in the rural districts the parish councils would be big enough to make an effective base. I accept that; although there are certainly problems associated with it. I am content to see a second tier of sensibly constructed district councils to be responsible for the local issues. There will be problems and overlap between district councils and county councils and there will be a price to be paid for a second tier; nevertheless I think it is the right way to go.
I also agree with the proposal for six metropolitan counties instead of the three which the Royal Commission proposed. Given the two-tier structure that is proposed across the country, I think that is perfectly sensible, although with other noble Lords I have great reservations about the boundaries of some of these counties.
My main criticism of the Government's proposals is that in some areas they simply do not apply their own criteria. Some of the areas suggested in the map which they attach to their proposals owe a great deal more to political pressures, I think, than to any idea of constructing a rational local government area. I think this applies only to some areas—at least it is acute only in some areas—and I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord 1122 Redcliffe-Maud, said about the rightness of many of the areas proposed. But some of these areas simply will not do.
The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, referred to Plymouth. There has been a good deal of clamour and protest from some of the existing county borough councils against being joined with their counties, and a tendency to count heads and say, "If we are being joined with a county and the result will be that there will be a substantially larger population coming in from the county than coming in from the county borough, that will not do at all: we shall be submerged". I do not feel any sympathy for that point of view because I think that the thesis that town and country (or, if you like, county and county borough) should be joined together because they have a common interest, because they are interdependent, because their fates are inextricably interlocked, is right. But when we come to the proposal to put Plymouth, right down in the South-Western corner of Devon, in with the whole of the county, this is not part of the thesis. The Government themselves say that one of the criteria that they want to apply, and rightly propose to apply, is:Local authority areas should be related to areas within which people have a common interest—through living in a recognisable community, through the links of employment, shoping or local activities.Elsewhere, they say that the areas—that is, areas for planning and transportation—must have,a sensible external independence and internal cohesion".There is no internal cohesion between the area centred on Plymouth and the whole of the county of Devon; and I am stressing this particularly because I think this is one of the very important areas of the country.
In all my long years in the Ministry I watched the Plymouth City Council pull itself up after the blitz and really do an enormous amount towards creatting, in Plymouth, one of the strong growing points of the South-West. There really is an area that is based on Plymouth, that is related to Plymouth, and which makes a Plymouth County, which is not part and parcel of Devon; and if you throw Plymouth into Devon you arrest and cripple a great deal of the enormous efforts that have been made in that part of the country to pull up 1123 the City and to increase its strength and its economy.
I do not go with my noble friend Lord Redeliffe-Maud in saying that he hopes that the Government will not create more major areas. I know of no magic in the number of 44 for the major areas, and I am quite sure that one additional major area which really must be made is a county based on Plymouth, with a population, I would guess, of around 320,000 or 330,000. Incidentally, it is a piece of sentimental nonsense to say that the Tamar is still the western boundary of Plymouth, because it is not. Anybody who goes there knows perfectly well that Plymouth has spread across the Tamar; and in creating these new local government areas, however much one may want to stick to the historic county boundaries where one can, one really must not do that to the point of crippling a proper local government area, as the proposals in this particular area would do.
If I may give another example where it seems to me that politics have dictated what is proposed rather than local government, it is in the suggestion that Coventry should be part of the West Midlands metropolitan area. This, honestly, is nonsense. There is very little connection, in the sense of commuting, travel to work, and so forth, between Coventry and the West Midland conurbation; and Coventry, as you have only to look at your map to realise, is part and parcel of Warwickshire. Between Coventry and the West Midlands conurbation there is a very important, though very narrow and extremely vulnerable, green belt. The Government are devoted to the maintenance of green belts around the other metropolitan areas, but the green belt around Coventry, apparently, is of no importance. The reason for this odd proposal, I am told, is that the Coventry City Council, faced with the prospect of losing its county borough status, said, "At least we will be a metropolitan district and will retain the greater functions that metropolitan districts are to have, and not decline to an ordinary district". If you want an example of the hopelessness of trying to settle the reorganisation of local government according to the wishes of indivi 1124 dual local authorities, this is a perfect one.
One other example I should like to give, which I suspect will command a great deal less sympathy in your Lordships' House, is the proposal to retain almost unimpaired the county of Hampshire. If I may again refer to my years in the Ministry, I think that no county council in my experience was a better one than Hampshire; or did more to try to help in the whole problem of London's overspill; or was a more competent, efficient, progressive, far-ranging county council. Nobody, therefore, who has been concerned with local government could want to propose the break-up of Hampshire. But explosive growth has broken up Hampshire, and the local government pattern of the future simply has to recognise this. There really is no, or very little, connection, now between fast-growing Basingstoke in the North (which, together with Aldershot and the Blackwater Valley, is really far more part of Berkshire) and the huge growing complex of Southampton and Portsmouth in the South. You really do not provide a sensible local government structure, and in particular you do not provide one which complies with the criteria set out in the Government's own White Paper, if you try to retain the county of Hampshire intact.
I could mention other examples, but I will not take up more time. I should like to come on now to the metropolitan counties. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and my noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud, that it is very unfortunate that we have to contemplate that the boundaries of these metropolitan counties must be tied to the bricks and mortar. I realise very well—perhaps no one here realises more clearly than I—what are the pressures that produce this result. I have lived with the bitter, furious battles between the Manchester conurbation and Cheshire; between the Merseyside conurbation and Lancashire; between the West Midlands and Warwickshire and Worcestershire; and I can understand that it is perhaps too much to ask any Government of any complexion to create what would undoubtedly be right from the local government point of view—that is, areas around these metropolitan counties which properly include the country with the 1125 towns. It may be that we have to live with this, but do not let the Government (if this is a parliamentary expression) fool themselves. What they say here, admitting that none of these proposed metropolitan counties can contain the solution of all the planning problems of the conurbations, is:… where it is impossible to meet all housing and redevelopment needs within the county boundaries, the answer will lie in development well outside the metropolitan area, in accordance with a carefully worked out regional plan.Who, my Lords, is going to implement that plan? Not the county councils, nor yet the district councils. This is what we have been trying these last 10 or 15 years. There have been carefully worked out regional plans, but they have not been acceptable to the outer county councils or to the outer district councils—quite understandably so.
If there is one thing that we have learned over the past years it is that it is useless to have planning powers in one authority and the powers to implement the plans in another. This gets you nowhere. All we can do is to hope—although I am not sure how firmly we can hope—that something will come out of the Crowther Commission; because if we cannot face the idea of a local government structure for these metropolitan counties which will include both the urban and the rural areas, and so enable them to solve their vast problems of redevelopment, of traffic, of transport for themselves, we may have to look for something in the shape of provincial councils to do the planning and also to have the powers to see that the plans are carried through. Otherwise in these parts of the country—and these are the places where the movement for radical local government reform was born—we shall find ourselves where we have been for these last 10 or 20 years: struggling with the eternal fight between the conurbations and the counties.
On another, less important, point, referring back to what I was saying about the Government's areas in some places not complying with their own criteria, even if you accept that the right boundaries of the conurbations are the bricks and mortar boundaries, the Government have not drawn such boundaries. For example it is nonsense to leave Bromsgrove out of the West Midlands, and 1126 more than nonsense when at the same time you put Coventry in. It is nonsense to leave Runcorn and Widnes out of Merseyside, or Warrington out of one or other of the North-Western conurbations. There are other parts of the country with problems of the same kind. It may be thought that these are minor instances; but all of them are examples of the failure of the Government, under political pressures, to carry out on their map the excellent criteria which they have set out in their White Paper.
But how does one get these areas broadly right? I do not think there are exact or precisely right areas; but we cart all recognise what are broadly the right areas within the Government criteria. My view is that there is no more hopeless way of trying to settle local government areas than for the Government to attach a map to a Bill, leaving both Houses of Parliament to have a good hack at it. As drawn now, such a Bill would go to the Houses of Parliament as something of a mess. What it would come out like, I shudder to think! It seems to me that the Government ought to use for these major areas the technique that they are proposing to use for the district boundaries—and that they would be well advised in their own interests to do so.
Accepting that they lay down the criteria; that they settle what conditions the areas are to comply with; that, if they must, they lay down that so far as possible the county boundaries are to be retained—wherever that can be done without violating their own criteria for what will make a sensible local government area; thereafter, the only sensible way to go about it, the only way that holds some promise for a stable future, is to have a small, totally objective Commission to say that, given these principles, these should be the areas. I am not suggesting that the resulting areas will be very different from what the Government have in their map. I think that they w ill be different at points; but I do not think that as a general view the map will look all that different. Moreover, I think that if this suggestion of a Commission were adopted, it would protect the Government from the pressures of their friends and would avert some of the odium that any Government, whatever areas they decide on, are going 1127 to incur. It would also give some confidence to all Parties in Parliament that, having had the arguments about principles, the areas were broadly in accordance with the principles they had approved. I think it would offer very much more prospect of stability.
The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said that he hoped that we were settling the local government system for fifty years ahead. I think that we should be doing so; but that we shall only do so if we resolve to find a way of drawing the areas so that they can command confidence both in local government (however much the local authorities may kick about them) and in Parliament. It may be said that this will not do because it will take too long. I am not persuaded myself that to do things in this way need take much longer. It seems to me that once the White Paper has been debated in both Houses there would emerge—as there seems to have emerged in this House—pretty general agreement on the kind of reorganisation to be proposed, on the principles which are to govern it, and, broadly, on the number and size of areas it is hoped to achieve. It seems to me that it would then be possible, almost right away, to start the process of an objective examination of what the answers should be. But even if, at the end of the day, it is said that by doing it this way, by having a Commission, it will take six months longer (and if one says six months, it may be that that means 12 months, because elections must be held in April) I would think that a price well worth paying. For I am convinced—and I think that somebody has already said this—that what we do on the main areas is at this stage the absolutely key thing. All the rest—the districts, the boundaries, the distribution of functions, the finance, the relation to central Government, the electoral arrangements and so on—can follow; they can be adjusted. But the main areas will settle the shape and determine the fate of local government for decades ahead.
While there may be a permanent Commission to amend the main areas, they will not make radical changes soon after the Bill is passed. Indeed, any major amendment of the main areas for possibly many years ahead is a major operation to be avoided unless some 1128 revolutionary change somewhere makes a change necessary. This is my main thesis.
There are however, one or two things about the district councils that I should like to mention. I believe that in relation to the district councils there ought to be great flexibility in the functions and responsibilities taken on by different sorts of district councils. I am not here thinking simply in terms of size. I do not think that size is the most important issue. I think that the most important issue is the character of the area. It seems to me that if you think of Bath or Brighton, Leamington Spa, Warwick or Scarborough—you will see the kind of town I am talking about—such towns should be allowed to exercise considerably more responsibility under the headings of planning, preservation, amenities, local traffic, development and so on, than is necessary in the case of other towns. I think it is also different in the case of a county with one great city—for example, Oxfordshire or Norfolk. The situation there, I think, is very different from that of a county which has two or three, or perhaps more, large towns of different characters. I would hope that the simplest structures (the Oxford-Oxfordshirle type) or the new county/county borough authority would, in time, decide that it was sensible to operate very nearly as a single authority; because the interests of the city and the county were much the same, and jealousies and hostilities, or just differing ambitions, were not very evident there. But you have a very different situation where there is a seaside town—Southend, for example, on the edge of Essex, or other towns in a similar situation; or in the case of the two-headed or three-headed kind of county area. There I think it would be right to contemplate a good deal more responsibility being exercised by the larger districts.
I am not talking about the major functions that will be the responsibility of the county councils in every case; but about all the functions which are in the sphere of planning and traffic, of amenities, of development, housing improvement, preservation and so forth. In relation to this kind of function we ought to be prepared to contemplate different patterns in different counties. Maybe this 1129 will be said to be a great confusion; but after all, my Lords, counties and towns are and will be different from each other.
Circumstances in the counties and towns will differ from each other, and I believe that that ought to be reflected in the distribution of functions between districts and counties, and in different counties. I think that what this points to ultimately is county schemes, and this would be right. I would start off by laying down the divisions of functions in the new legislation; but I believe it would make sense to contemplate county schemes for adopting these—with the inevitable corollary that the Secretary of State should settle disputes where the counties and their districts cannot agree. So the division of functions—take the division of planning functions in particular counties—could be tailored to suit the needs or circumstances of particular counties, and, one would even hope, the wishes of the various authorities.
The last point I want to make is to reinforce, if I can, what was said about housing by my noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud. I agree that if we have a second tier, district councils must be allowed to build houses, and should be allowed to manage them. Indeed, one of the advantages of a second tier is that you have a local authority, a truly local authority, which can take part in the management of houses. I know there is the problem that this will then be divorced from the welfare administration, and that will have to be got over by a real decentralisation of welfare administration by the counties. But the main point I want to make—or, rather, the point has been made, and I want to reinforce it—is that the assessment of housing requirements, the decisions where and how housing needs are to be met, must be a county responsibility.
This is so for two reasons. One, as has been said, is that it is very closely linked with planning; with the location of employment; with traffic and transport considerations; with the land that is to be released for housing. The other, and equally important, reason is that people who need houses very seldom nowadays, in this age of personal mobility, need them in this, that or the other district. They need them within an area. This is just as true in metropolitan counties as in others. In London, for instance, many 1130 people do not have to find a house in this, that or the other borough; though, apart from what help they can get from the Greater London Council, that is how they are stuck. I think we must avoid that situation; it is a cruel one for people who need houses.
If we are to get anywhere near dealing with the housing problem we must have the assessment of housing requirements and decisions about how to meet them, made by the larger and wider-scale authorities; and, further, the county councils must also have concurrent building powers with the districts in order to see that the housing needs are met. Once again, provided that the Government observe their own criterion, we shall be home and dry. The Government say that the counties will need powers to deal with the housing problems that transcend the boundaries of districts; and wherever the housing problem is acute it does transcend the boundaries of districts. So I do not anticipate that there will be much difficulty about this.
There are other things which could be said about the division of functions betweeen counties and districts, but there is only one to which I will refer. I know that this runs counter to what the Maud Commission said—and at the time I agreed with them—but I believe that in the metropolitan counties education should be the responsibility of the county council. I am certain that this would be in the interests of education. I believe we made a mistake in London when we made the education arrangements that were there made. I believe that we should have clone better to follow the recommendations in the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Tangley—the Herbert Commission—in which it was suggested that responsibility for overall policy and finance should be with the Greater London Council, with responsibility for the management of the schools being with the borough councils.
The Department of Education and Science said then—and I do not doubt that they would say it to-day—that you cannot split education. But if you can split planning, you can split education; it is a lot easier. In any case, I think that the enormously important consideration is that in the great conurbations—Greater Manchester or Merseyside, or whatever it may be—it is very important 1131 that the standard of education in the poorer parts should be as high as in the wealthier parts; that the wealth of the wealthy parts should come to the help of the poorer parts; that the teacher service should be one for the whole conurbation. I believe that if one is thinking about the interests of education—and that is what one should be thinking of—one would be bound somehow to give overall responsibility for policy and financing to the county council.
My Lords, one could go on talking about local government for ever; I have been going on about it for the last twenty years, and perhaps to-day I should now conclude.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ LORD JACQUES
My Lords, the only interest I have to declare is that I am a member of the South-East Economic Planning Council. In a country in which we have, side by side, single-tier local government and two-tier local government it is inevitable that there should be conflict when we are considering reform. My ideas are much nearer to Maud than to the White Paper, but I believe that the time for this conflict has passed. I therefore looked at the White Paper in a positive way, trying to find out how far it satisfied certain principles. The two most important of those principles were, first, that the new areas of local government should be cohesive; and, secondly, that the new form of local government should foster rather than retard the democratic interests.
I was therefore delighted to read paragraphs 8 to 13. They are so important to my argument that I should like to quote from them. In paragraph 8 it states:Local authority areas should be related to areas within which people have a common interest—through living in a recognisable community, through the links of employment, shopping or social activities, or through history and tradition. Local boundaries, the allocation of responsibilities and the system as a whole should be understood and accepted as sensible by electors, by members and by officers. And, above all else, a genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken—and should be seen to be taken—as locally as possible.This is reinforced in paragraph 13:The Government obviously must seek efficiency, but where the arguments are evenly balanced their judgment will be given in favour 1132 of responsibility being exercised at the more local level.I was extremely disappointed when I looked at some of the proposals. In some of them it would appear that those principles have been almost entirely ignored.
I could give several examples of this, but I shall stick to the one of which I have detailed personal knowledge—that is, to the county of Hampshire. In the South of Hampshire we have the two largest county boroughs in the South-East outside the Greater London Council; namely, Portsmouth and Southampton. Each is the core of a cohesive area. In the case of Portsmouth, there is a population of 220,000 within very restricted boundaries, but the city is the core of a built-up area of 500,000 people. Similarly, Southampton is the core of an area of 400,000 people. In each of these areas there are links of employment, shopping and social activities. Yet each of these two local authorities, in terms of expenditure are going to lose 80 per cent. of their local government functions, which are going to be transferred to a small county town, Winchester, 30 miles away.
That means that the members of the most populous authorities will have to travel 30 miles for the day-to-day committee work of their authorities. That will not encourage interest in local government. Not only that, but it will gradually reduce the number of candidates available. Only retired people will be able to afford the time that is needed to be spent in committee and to travel 30 miles there and back. This affects not two or three representatives from isolated villages, but the representatives of large communities. I suggest that if we are going to apply the principles laid down in the introduction to this White Paper and are going to have two-level local government, then there will have to be much greater flexibility than is shown in the proposal. For example, if there is an urban area which is big enough in terms of population (and I accept the Government figure of 250,000 to one million), where the local authority has the experience and is competent to carry on the functions of a metropolitan borough without impairing the efficiency of the services of the rest of the county, why should it not do so? Surely we must have regard to the fact that cir 1133 cumstances throughout the country vary so much that at least that measure of flexibility is essential if we are going to get anything like the consensus of opinion favourable to the new proposals.
I should like, as a member of the South East Planning Council, to make a special plea for Hampshire. Hampshire has a population of 1.3 million, well above the 250,000 which has been set in the Government White Paper. It is developing fast. In the strategy of the South East Planning Council, it was priority No. 1 in development. It was proposed that this would be the fastest growing area in the South-East and it was estimated that Hampshire would have a population of 2 million by the year 2,000. And I should like to remind your Lordships that we are planning local government for the next fifty years. Following that strategy, the central Government, the South-East Planning Council and the Standing Conference of Planning Authorities joined together and appointed a joint study team, the Burns team. The team completed its work and more than confirmed the strategy for Hampshire visualised by the Planning Council. In the opinion of the joint study team, the development in South Hampshire should be even greater and faster than was proposed by the Planning Council.
It was in the light of that knowledge available that the Planning Council recommended to the last Administration that Hampshire should be a metropolitan area. That recommendation was accepted by the last Administration, but it has been rejected by this Administration. I would ask for reconsideration of that. I submit that there is a strong case. Within this metropolitan area, there would be four suitable metropolitan districts. The first would be the Isle of Wight. I think that everybody would agree that on geographical grounds there is a strong case for a good deal of independence in local government within an island of this size. The island has a population of 100,000 people and it would be a great step forward, because, if the Isle of Wight were a metropolitan district, it would mean only one local authority on the island, whereas there are seven local authorities there to-day. That would be a considerable advance with one step.
1134 On the mainland we have the greater Portsmouth with a population of 500,000, Southampton with a population of 400,000 and Winchester with 300,000. These three are well above the figure which the Government used in measuring the population required to get an adequate scale for efficiency. I would plead for reconsideration, because I believe that the proposals as they stand now will leave the people of Portsmouth and Southampton with a deep sense of grievance, of injustice. There are sixty-four members on Portsmouth City Council, four-fifths of whom belong to the Government Party. Regardless of Party, every individual member of the Portsmouth City Council rejects the present proposals. All experience shows, especially during the last 150 years, that a community which has a deep sense of injustice will continue to agitate until something is done. I plead that we should do this, not the long and grievous way, but the easier and more harmonious way.
This would not mean that the county boroughs in Southampton and Portsmouth would be getting their own way. They favoured Maud, which made them all-purpose authorities. I am pleading that there should be compromise, that in the county there should be metropolitan districts, in which the old county boroughs embraced have only sonic powers, only the powers of a metropolitan district, and that the powers which in other metropolitan areas go to the county should also go in their case to the county. That is the compromise. If we are going to settle this question with a consensus of opinion in favour of the proposals, I believe that we could do it in this way without sacrificing the principles of the two-tier and efficiency. I believe that with a little flexibility we can get that consensus, which will be necessary in the long run, because we must remember that it is people who count and that happy people do a far better job than those who have a sense of grievance.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, I think that at the outset I should re-declare an interest, inasmuch as I was for many years President of the Urban District Councils Association and since I gave up the presidency they have done me the honour of making me a life 1135 member. Though I do not speak on their behalf, in the few remarks I wish to make to your Lordships I do not think that I shall depart from the outlook they take on this matter. In my view, the White Paper is a basically sound framework for a strengthened two-tier system of local government, and therefore I welcome it. It is, I think, in accordance with our genius for adapting our institutions to meet the needs of changing times rather than tearing them up by the roots; and that genius has, by and large, given us through the ages steady progress without revolution.
My quarrel with the Redcliffe-Maud Report (I am sorry that both members of the Royal Commission who were here and have spoken have now left the Chamber, because I should have preferred to say this in their presence) was that I felt that it did not display that genius. It went in for tearing up rather than for adapting. It pleased me very much to-day that in their speeches they indicated that they now give a welcome to the proposals in the Government's White Paper as being a real step forward and an improvement in local government for the future. I am not cynic enough to say that their approval makes me look with suspicion at the Government's White Paper: I welcome their approval.
I have always been an advocate of retaining the two-tier set-up, for two reasons. One is to keep the maximum amount of local government really local and as near to the people as possible. "Bigger, and therefore better", has never been a slogan that I have embraced. The other point, which I think is equally important and is one of the humanities, is to give as many people as possible in all walks of life—not only those who have the time to do the job if they are retired—a chance to take part in the affairs which govern the day-to-day life of their community. They cannot do it if they have to travel great distances and cannot attend evening meetings in their own localities. I am prepared to sacrifice something of efficiency to preserve the humanities, which I think are most important in this field. But this does not mean that one is not prepared to strike a balance. By and large, I think the White Paper strikes that balance. But there are some functions that it is pro 1136 posed to withhold from the district level which need looking at again for the two reasons that I have given, and also to help to attract members and officers of the highest quality to serve at the district level.
Let me give one or two examples which illustrate my point. Take, first, building regulations—and this has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale. In the White Paper control is allocated to county councils. In Wales and Scotland this function is allocated to the new district councils. Indeed, in paragraph 35 of the Scottish White Paper it says:Building control goes naturally with local planning.Why is that not done in England? Surely it is not defensible for an applicant for an alteration to be made to his house, or to a factory, or something of that nature, which requires both building and planning regulations, to have to apply to two separate authorities, both dealing, as the Scottish White Paper itself says, with practically the same thing. It certainly is not an exercise in good public relations so far as local authorities are concerned, and that is a consideration which should have some weight.
As another example, take roads. I appreciate that my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said that the Government's mind was made up about roads and that they had come to a decision which was unalterable. Nevertheless, I propose to put a point which I hope can be considered again. While motorways and trunk roads should be the function of county councils, surely the district tier should look after the side streets, bridle paths, local lighting, how one-way street planning is to be done in a small town, for instance, and even where pedestrian crossings are to go. These are all matters of intensely local interest. Despite what my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said, I hope that there may be some devolution here in order that matters of that kind can come under, and be seen to come under, the control of the district council.
There are other instances which will be brought up in discussions which the Government are to have with the associations, but I think that the two illustrations I have given suffice to make the point that I wish to make. Here let me quote 1137 what is said in paragraph 13 of the White Paper. It says:In the Government's view, there will always be conflicts between those who argue for large-scale organisation on grounds of efficiency and those, on the other hand, who argue for control by a body close to the people for whom the service is designed.This is the important point:The Government obviously must seek efficiency, but where the arguments are evenly balanced their judgment will be given in favour of responsibility being exercised at the more local level.I hope that in the discussions which are to take place before legislation is framed Her Majesty's Government will bear that excellent intention very much in mind. It is, I think, one of the most important matters that as much local government as possible should be brought as close to the people as possible. The Government's own intention expressed there is, I think, excellent.
I do not want to detain your Lordships any longer—there are many more speeches to come, and many other points will be raised—so I conclude as I began by welcoming the White Paper as giving the guidelines of a sound two-tier system for the future of local government which I hope will last for many years. I also welcome the intention of the Government to keep the transition period as short as possible, though not, I hope, at the expense of undertaking real consultations in order to alter, perhaps, some of the functions as between the district and the county level.
§ 6.8 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to welcome the White Paper, but I must confess that I am not entirely clear what it is that I am welcoming. I say that because there is a great deal that remains to be worked out. I will not mention any of the details, but we have heard a good deal about them to-day, particularly in relation to finance and so on. Nevertheless, I think that two principles emerge from this White Paper which certainly make me feel (I would not dream of being dogmatic about this) that it is a better solution than that proposed by my noble, friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud. The first thing is that, instead of reducing the number of effective elected representatives from 30,000 to 6,000, the change is much less dramatic in reducing them from 1138 30,000 to perhaps 16,000 or 17,000—more or less half the number.
I know that my noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud said that local councils did not understand his proposals. Well, I do not think we did. I do not know whether many people in local government thought that they would have a very effective form of elected councils. The great point about the Government's present suggestion is that the 17,000, or whatever it may be, will all have definite jobs and allocated functions. That would be a very good thing. I believe, like my noble friend Lord Grimston of Westbury, that it is the strength of the country to have quite a number of people who are engaged in some responsible work for the institutions of government. When the Redcliffe-Maud Paper was discussed, we in local government received rather a "bashing" from some of the senior civil servants—not from my noble friends Lord Redcliffe-Maud or Lady Sharp, but from others. We were told that we were trying to protect our petty kingdoms and only wanted to use a little petty authority. I thought at the time that that was rather a foolish generalisation which might be applied to people who attend this House, or stand for the House of Commons. It was something which was quite freely said. We no doubt have mixed motives, but as we in this country have a tradition dating back to Saxon times, there must be some merit in having a comparatively large number of people who bear some direct responsibility for local government.
The second major improvement I see is that the Government are going to try to put in definite terms the relationship between Whitehall and local authorities. I never have believed in the theory that is banded about, that local government is on its last legs because of the domination of Whitehall. I have thought that in many ways directions from Whitehall were inevitable, particularly having regard to the financial position of the country. In some cases more direction was desirable—particularly in major matters such as planning. Also, the kinds of controls that we all agreed were quite ridiculous could have been taken away without any legislation at all.
Now it seems that the intention of the Government is to define on what matters Whitehall will come in, and on what 1139 matters the local authority will have the final decision. That is an admirable intention. I do not think it will be particularly easy until the regional scheme is worked out, because until then we shall have to get our directions from the Departments. I only hope that, armed with the different strategies, such as the Strategy for the South-East, which is now being produced by the London Standing Conference, over which my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford presides with such ability, that that advice and direction will be at least predictable.
My Lords, I have no more to say at this stage, because I am trying to confine my remarks to principles. This is a great step forward, but there is one question arising out of it to which I should like to know the answer. All the local authority associations have accepted this White Paper in principle, but until a short time ago there was one exception—the A.M.C. I do not know whether they have been encouraged by some remarks which Mr. Anthony Crosland made at one time. I thought he was talking in terms of making a great Party campaign about this. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, did not talk in those terms at all. I think my noble friend Lord Ilford indicated that he thought that the A.M.C. had accepted the principle.
I am only interested to this extent. In my county we have to negotiate with three county boroughs. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Amory said, and with what my noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud said. It is important now to start this reorganisation off with a proper, good relationship. I am hoping that we shall be able to establish that. But I should not like to approach our three county boroughs and then be told to mind my own business because they were hoping to get big changes in the Bill. I do not know where we stand. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will be able to give us any further information on this matter. These negotiations have been intensely difficult, and it would be wonderful if we could start with a certain enthusiasm. I hope that noble Lords who are able to influence thinking will do their best to secure that position.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ LORD PARGITER
My Lords. I have been connected with the County Councils Association for some 25 years. During most of that time I have been concerned, either directly or indirectly, with local government reorganisation. We started off by calling it local government reform. We then became rather sensitive about the title "reform". We said there was nothing much wrong with local government, but that it wanted some reorganising. At the end of 25 years I am of the conclusion that local government reform or reorganisation—whichever title you like to apply to it—will have to be largely imposed.
My experience over those years is that, while we had all sorts of compromises, none was really satisfactory to everybody, and most were unsatisfactory, as compromises often are. Therefore any approach to this which comes down to the form of, "This is the pattern" frankly has my approval. Whether I approve of the pattern or not is another matter. The principle of a pattern has to be established and it will have to be imposed. It can be imposed with or without co-operation, but it will have to be followed. We have to look at these proposals to see how they will fit into the needs of local government.
One matter rather worries me and that is with regard to the boundaries of the counties, and the metropolitan counties. It seems to me that these are going to be enshrined in the Bill itself. To do this is very bold, because it is obvious that they will not be altered easily, and not for a very long time. It may be that some minor alterations may prove to be necessary and desirable. I hope, therefore, that there will be an escape clause by which some minor alteration—not dealing with the general principles—can be made, either between the metropolitan districts themselves, or between the counties, as may emerge when the matter of the organisation of the district councils is considered. I hope that there will be some provision by which the Minister will reserve to himself the right, either by Order in Council or some other means, to make some alteration without necessarily having to go for an amending Act. It would be unfortunate if things were so rigid that alterations could not be made without an amending Act. That 1141 is with regard to the boundaries of counties.
It was rather unfortunate that a particular population of 40,000 was mentioned with regard to district councils, when the obvious intention of the Government, if the numbers are to be anything like those proposed, is that the district councils shall be very much larger indeed. It should have been made quite clear that in the main they would be very much larger and, while there might be 40,000 or even, on some occasions, something a little less, by and large they would have to be a good deal larger. Because I know that even at the present time authorities which are just below the 40,000 mark are considering how they can adjust themselves to reach the figure of 40,000. This is going to be a fatal approach to this matter, and the Government should give a clear indication to the local authorities that for a population of 40,000 to stand up by itself there must be a very good case indeed.
I am not so much concerned with the size of an area; what I am concerned about is the deployment of the services. This is far more important to the public than the question of how many councillors they have to represent them. It is the service they want; and the service is to be provided, very largely, as a result of policy directions from the centre as it may be deployed by officials. Quite frankly, I find that the less interference there is by councillors in the deployment of service themselves, the better it is. I have a recollection of the old public assistance committee in Middlesex when we changed from a system using committees to using officers. We gave the officers a direction and they had fairly broad discretion, and while everybody complained about how difficult it was going to be, we found that we had far fewer complaints from the public when officials were dealing with the work than when members were dealing with it.
So I have no particular desire to see councillors there merely for the sake, particularly, of overlooking administration all the time. What is important is that councillors should govern an area from the point of view of provision of policy and it is their duty to ensure that policy is carried out. But, beyond that, the less they interfere the better. Therefore, this question of 40,000 population, 1142 or whatever the size is, is not to my mind a most important feature. The important factors are that the area ought to be viable, and that people ought to be able to obtain the services they need—they should not necessarily have to go to the town hall to get them, but should be able to get the services they want and in their own locality. This depends upon administration much more than upon the size of the area.
Again the question arises of dealing with services. It is unfortunate that a decision has been taken to take the health services away from local government. I recognise the difficulty that doctors have an implacable opposition to working under local authorities, and any Government would have to take note of that. They could not force doctors to work under local government. But this decision is a pity because the dividing lines between health services and welfare services are very narrowly drawn; in fact, in certain circumstances, they are almost indistinguishable. It seems to me a pity that one has to move over from one service to another.
Another disadvantage in this system, of course, is going to be in the school medical services. There there will be a health authority, and obviously the school medical services must be under the authority of the education authority. You cannot possibly take those services away from them; they will have the responsibility for the health of the children in their care. They will provide a contract, presumably, with the health service. It would be infinitely better if a measure of control were exercised by a single body, rather than by two separate bodies. However, this is a matter which can be made to work. In local government we can make anything work if we have to; we have done it in the past, and I suppose it will be possible to do it again, but I would draw attention to this.
Another factor that I note in the White Paper is the question of planning. I quite agree that local planning ought to be done at local level provided that it fits into an overall plan. It is obviously necessary and desirable that people living in a locality shall have some say in their purely local distribution of planning and the arrangement of 1143 it. But I am a little concerned about the question of the dual function of officers. I recollect this happening (and I am drawing on past experience again) in connection with the health services when they were all placed under the care of the counties and we established area health authorities within the county. We came up against the question of medical officers who had a local function and a county function. Quite frankly, we made it quite clear, and had it accepted, that the officer, although he had a local function, was mainly a county officer. We did this by insisting that 51 per cent. of his time should be devoted to the county, at all events on paper. We did not worry about what happened in detail, but on paper 51 per cent. had to be devoted to the county in order that the paying authority was the county. The important factor is the person who pays. This is who one looks to for one's instructions, and no man can serve two masters. We ought to establish clearly what the relationship is going to be.
I accept the idea that good planning officers who look 10 or 20 years ahead are very scarce indeed, and in so far as they can be used by the district council for its planning purposes and in the overall preparation of the plan for county purposes generally, this is probably desirable. But at any rate it will need some very careful working out, and it will be difficult to avoid some friction, at least in the early stages. A good deal of co-operation and of tact will be needed, if I may say so, on the part of the officers concerned for them to be able to satisfy both sets of people, but it is important that they shall be in the employment of only one authority.
Another point I want to discuss on the question of authority is the matter of education. It would have been desirable for the metropolitan counties to have become the education authorities. But it is difficult to go to a city such as Leeds and say that they are going to be only second tier so far as education is concerned. It is a question of politics and whether one could do it. Frankly, I should not want to be the first person to go along to Leeds, or many of the other 1144 large county boroughs who have had this responsibility for so long, and say, "You are going to be a second-class authority for education."
§ LORD PARGITER
Well, my Lords, judging by the pleas which have been made they may not necessarily do it there, because after all there is time for something to be done before the Bill is published. But with regard to these cases, it still seems to me that by and large a single pattern of education with the counties as the authorities responsible would have been highly desirable.
That brings me to a secondary point. I hope we shall not make the mistake we made in the 1944 Act, by reestablishing the Part III authorities in some other form, say in the form of divisional executives. I hope that at least the authority is going to be exercised directly by the county through its school governors and school managers. Under the 1944 Act school governors and managers were responsible to the county authority, and there was a cause of some friction between the divisional executives and the counties on this question of responsibility of school managers. I hope, therefore, that the Government will make it perfectly clear that this is going to be a direct responsibility between the county and the area within the school area. I am not saying that the district council shall not have some say in regard to the management of their schools; obviously, in my view, they ought to nominate the majority of the members who will form the school managers and school governors. But at least the question of responsibility ought to be clear and absolutely undivided. We have suffered too much in the past from a division of responsibility.
I have detained your Lordships long enough. There are many other noble Lords to speak. By and large, I accept the White Paper. Contrary to other expressions, I think it is as well for the metropolitan counties to be fairly tightly drawn. Here again I draw on my experience in Middlesex. Had the Green Belt around Middlesex been the responsibility of the councils within the County 1145 of Middlesex a great deal of green belt would not be there now. It is the fact that the county were able to hold the green belt which was important, and this may be the important factor why the boundaries need to be reasonably drawn with regard to the metropolitan areas. We must face the fact that the establishment of new centres of population is absolutely essential and desirable, and that it will have to be done; and it will have to be done within the framework of the counties. If the counties are to be given this responsibility, they must accept the responsibility so far as major housing is concerned, because if they do not, whether they like it or not, they will be faced with some provincial authority which will have to do the job for them. I hope the counties will do it for themselves.
My Lords, I believe that by and large these proposals will be broadly acceptable. I think there will be, and there ought to be, some adjustments and amendments. I hope that when the Boundary Commission get busy with regard to the districts they will think in terms of wide areas of responsibility. I hope also that room will be found for many of the purely local community matters that are not important in the general structure but are very important in the community to be dealt with. They may be undertaken by some body such as the parish councils—probably not as they exist to-day because they may need to be larger. But at least there is room for some local matters to be dealt with on the ground, and I hope that they will be taken care of, too.
§ 6.30 p.m.
My Lords, in rising to lend my support to the White Paper I do not think I have to divulge an interest, for I am not a member of any of the local government associations; and although I was a member of the Somerset County Council for rather more than 20 years I am not a member now. I have lived all my life in Somerset and though of course I am not speaking this afternoon for Somerset (none of us is a delegate here) I confess that I am not speaking wholly without advice from those on whom the burden of local goverment in that county now falls.
1146 I know that this debate is concerned with general broad principles and that we should not go too much into the details. I greatly welcome the introductory speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and I very much liked what the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, called the steady and robust determination with which he told us that we were now going to get down to a reform of local government and that the time for talking had ended. But I hope there can still be some flexibility in those firm conclusions that the noble Earl told us he had reached, because I confess that I was deeply impressed by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and also by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud. I feel that in those two areas—that is to say, housing and education—it may be that not ail the wisdom has yet been wholly distilled into the White Paper.
In the short time that I wish to speak this evening I do not propose to get on to those points, because much bigger guns than I have already tired and are to fire later. But I should like to concentrate for a moment on one sentence in the White Paper, which comes at paragraph 59, in Chapter V, "Conclusion". It says just this:The boundaries must be accepted as sensible by people on the spot.That conclusion, of course, refers back to paragraph 8, at page 6 of the White Paper, which says:Local boundaries, the allocation of responsibilities and the system as a whole should be understood and accepted as sensible by electors, by members and by officers. And, above all else, a genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken—and should be seen to be taken—as locally as possible.This is no doubt why, in the fourth paragraph of Circular 8/71—the circular which set such a tight timetable that I suppose everybody has noticed long before I did this afternoon that we are asked to give in our answers by May, 1970. That really is a tight timetable, and I have no doubt that even the most loyal county councils would find themselves hard put to it to fall in with the wishes of the Government on that. It says:First among the matters on which consultations are needed is the new pattern of areas.This is not just one of the things that can be taken in our stride. In the White 1147 Paper the instruction is that it is first among the matters on which consultation is needed. Therefore I do not apologise for the fact that this is the matter about which I should like to speak to-night in relation to the South-West of England.
My Lords, one of the principal objectives of the proposed reform is to establish local authorities which are—and I quote:large enough in size, population and resources to meet administrative needs, including the maintenance and development of a trained and expert local government service.Despite this wholly admirable objective, the Government's proposals with regard to the County of Somerset (Area 25, as it is called) are to reduce the area of the present county from a million acres to 770,000 acres by detaching from it the whole of the great growing area, which is really the area indicated by a line from Weston-Super-Mare, on the Bristol Channel, right through to Frome—that is to say the whole of the region of, and North of, the Mendips.
I know that this was very much the boundary that was in the previous "holy writ" of the Redclitfe-Maud Report, as the noble Lord has himself reminded us to-day. But the effect of this loss of territory will be to leave the new Somerset (I suppose we have to talk about new pence and new counties), Area 25, with a population of less than 350,000. Its present population, as the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, told us, is 585,000, and the change will leave the county with a rateable value of £13 million, whereas the present figure is £22 million. In contrast, the new county based on Bristol and Bath (Area 26) will have a population of 933,000 and a rateable value of £42 million. On population figures at the moment, the present County of Somerset is the eighteenth largest major authority in England. The new county (No. 25) will be relegated to forty-second place out of forty-four. At the same time it will become the smallest instead of the largest county in the South-West.
I understand that the Somerset County Council do not disagree with the basic pattern of the new local authorities proposed in the White Paper, nor do they contest the establishment of a new county 1148 based on Bristol and Bath. However, they do maintain that an unnecessarily large part of the present County of Somerset is being incorporated into the new Area No. 26. They maintain that the Government's proposals in relation to Areas Nos. 25 and 26 create a state of (I think one could say) gross imbalance between two adjoining authorities. Also they say that an area with a population of only 349,000 and a rateable value as low as £13 million will have difficulty in maintaining in its area services of a standard to which the present ratepayers of Somerset are accustomed.
In Somerset we have just amalgamated our police force with the force for the City of Bath. Now it will be even smaller than it was before in our area. I find myself very much in agreement with the county council on this matter, and I feel that these legitimate and understandable apprehensions are worthy of serious consideration by the Minister. But, my Lords, I am informed that it has so far proved quite impossible to ascertain from the Department of the Environment any of the reasons that lie behind the decision to incorporate such a large part of the present county in a new area. Indeed when these proposals were put forward by the last Government, who proposed an area very much the same, the county council protested and asked questions of the Department on the extent of the territory to the North that they were to lose. That protest has been either ignored or overlooked in formulating the present proposals.
This is the point I wish to make. The Somerset County Council believe that they have a strong case for seeking a substantial amendment to the proposed boundary between Areas Nos. 25 and 26, but they are in some difficulty in developing such a case as the Government refuse to give reasons for the boundary they are proposing. That is precisely the point the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, made in his speech, and as he is President of the County Councils Association I was very glad to find him an ally on this point. I am very surprised that the Department are not being more cooperative. I should have thought that the Minister would be falling over backwards to avoid letting new Somerset, or Area No. 25 or whatever you like to call 1149 it, get the impression right from the start that it was going to be so small and unimportant that it was not even Worth answering its letters or consulting with it. That impression is just what one wants to avoid. The facts are pretty—I must be moderate; I was going to say "staggering", but they are pretty strong. The population is well under 400,000, with not a single old county borough in it. Yet the sort of rule of thumb is that the county authorities should have about 400,000 to 600,000 and at least one county borough.
We shall be sandwiched in between (with the noble Viscount sitting in front of me I hardly like to say "a swollen New Devon") Area No. 24, this great Devon, to the West, which will have a population of 896,000 and the great conurbation of Torbay as well as Exeter and Plymouth as urban centres within its territory, and, to the East, the new Bristol authority, with a population of 933,000 and the cities of Bristol and Bath, a cathedral, two universities, the lot. I beg the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, when he comes to reply, not to think that we are being jealous or small-minded here. I really think there is a case that the Minister should consider.
I fully see the difficulties. I am in no way saying that there should not be a great, strong Bristol area to the North. I have many interests in that area, and I am delighted to see that that is going to be a big, strong authority. But I do not know how we shall manage. We have, at the moment, on the proposals, old Somerset, too small and too weak, and we must have an immediate and fill explanation as to why this surprising suggestion is absolutely fixed in the Government's mind and there is to be no argument about it. Because they do not answer our letters. There is nothing so sad or so tiresome as a poor relation. Do not let us go and create a poor relation here. We in the West are getting a bit sensitive, They have taken the judges and the railway lines from Wells; they take away our developing territories and our Abbey, and we shall soon be left with very little. The balance sheet does not seem to balance: the loss of a quarter of a million acres, 136,000 people and £9 million of rateable value take a lot of swallowing. We are going to lose 1150 all that. So I beg the Minister at least to tell us why.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT (LORD SANDFORD)
My Lords, perhaps I could intervene immediately and say that Somerset will have us nearly all in tears if they go on any longer. All they have to do is to read the circular and act in accordance with paragraph 9. They can put all the noble Earl's points. They will have to do it in 10 conies and with three sets of maps. I can assure the noble Earl that if they do that, their views will be taken fully into account.
My Lords, they have read the circular and were particularly interested in paragraph 9, and they wondered whether there was any catch in sub-paragraph (i), which says that they must get their views in by 1970. They find it difficult to formulate their views when they have not got the reasons why this peculiar thing is to happen.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I rise to support Her Majesty's Government's White Paper of which I fully approve, because I think it is a great improvement on the Royal Commission's very good Report. It carries out the most important recommendation of the Royal Commission, that town and country should get together. If there is to be any reform at all, I think town and country must get together. That is why I was a little surprised when the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, with her very great experience, pleaded that Plymouth should be another metropolitan area. If you do that, I think you will break away entirely from the idea of town and country getting together. We already have many protests, from the County Borough of Southend and, I understand, the City of Norwich and so on.
Where do you draw the line? The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, said that town and country must get together. County boroughs will go; counties as we know them will go, and the new authorities will be formed. I think we have to be very careful not to start fragmenting more areas than we have done already. It is right that these great metropolitan areas should be arranged as they are, but if you go further I think 1151 it defeats the whole objective of getting town and country together.
I welcome the Government's introduction in the White Paper of the two-tier system. I have always strongly believed that housing is a very important local service and should be as near as possible to the people; and I did not like the idea in the Redcliffe-Maud proposals that housing should remain with the first tier authority, or the conurbations, as they were called. I welcome, too, the fact that local planning is to remain with the second tier. If that is so, I am sure that building controls, local roads and clean air should go with them. Previous speakers with much greater experience than I have—the noble Lords, Lord Greenwood and Lord Grimston—have said that they all go together; and they have recognised that in Scotland and Wales. If you have local planning, surely that has to deal with building controls, housing, local roads for new housing estates and so on. Strategic planning will always remain with the new counties, and if necessary they have powers over housing in their area; that is, if the local authority cannot deal with it or if a very big project goes to the area. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give further consideration to these ideas (as have Scotland and Wales, which I am sure is right) for building controls, local roads and clean air.
If I may, I want to talk for a moment or two on two other subjects; first, this vital question of finance. We debated this subject on March 9 last year (col. 651), and I do not want to repeat what I said then. I was disappointed then, and I am disappointed today, that we have not the Green Paper before us when discussing these White Papers. When the previous Government's White Paper came out we were told that a Green Paper would follow in two or three months' time. Then came the General Election, so nothing was done about it. Now we have this amended White Paper, which I like very much, but again we are told by the noble Earl the Leader of the House that the Green Paper will come out in two or three months' time.
If we are to have, as my noble Leader said, vigorous and healthy local government, 1152 and fewer and stronger units of local government, they must be more self-sufficient. Although I know that rates will remain the main source of income, if direction from Whitehall is to be controlled, the authorities must have some other form of local finance. Nobody has yet been able to find any other form of local finance to supplement the rating system. I reminded your Lordships last year that central Government paid 55 per cent. of the total cost of running local government, which amounted to £5,359 million. That is 30 per cent. of the total public expenditure of the country of £19,595 million which is, of course, a very large sum of money. If the authorities are to be more self-sufficient—and we are told by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maude, that they must be—I think they must have some other local taxation. If they do not, then however big they are (whether they are the size of Essex to-day with over 1 million population, or my own county, West Suffolk, with 150,000), there will still be a great deal of interference, and rightly so, from the centre, because if central Government are putting up 55 per cent. of the total cost of local government they must interfere. We are told that they hope not to have to interfere too much in the future. Therefore, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will speed up this Green Paper and let us see what can be done, if anything—although I am a little dubious.
We might have had local motor taxation, which is now all paid over to the central Government. Although local authorities are agents and collect the money, this will not be possible because a centralised system of collection is being set up at Swansea and the Government are going to do all that work themselves. So that is out. If there is any other form of local taxation that can be collected to make the local authorities more self-sufficient, I should very much like to hear of it.
We are not told in the White Paper—there are just two paragraphs on finance—who is to be the collector of the rates in the future. As your Lordships well know, the counties precept on the urbans and boroughs and rurals for their part, and then the urbans and rurals and boroughs have to add on their part. But they are the rate collectors, and they 1153 issue the rate demands. In future, are these new districts to demand the rates, and the proposed new counties to precept on them? Or is it that the new counties will settle the rate themselves and they will be the rating authority? I do not know whether we can be told about that. I cannot find it anywhere in the White Paper at all, and I should like to know.
I must declare an interest—I should have declared it earlier—in that I am vice-president of the Urban District Councils Association, and I am a past member of nine years' experience of West Suffolk County Council. But I am not on the council now. West Suffolk, and I think East Suffolk, feel very strongly on this point, and I must put it forward to Her Majesty's Government. It will be in area No. 32 that the two Suffolks will get together. I believe that they have had preliminary talks and are fairly happy about getting together, and also the county borough of Ipswich. However, under the scheme they are to have large parts of their county chopped off. The whole of the Lowestoft and Beccles area is to go into Norfolk; and New-market, where I live, and Haverhill and parts of the rural district of Clare are to be chopped off and will go into the new proposed county of Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely, Huntingdon and Peterborough, which is area No. 30. They feel that they will not be a very big unit anyway, with perhaps half a million or 550,000 people, and if they have quite substantial parts of their area chopped off, they will no longer be a viable unit.
If it is thought that those areas must be chopped off, they feel that they should be given an area the other side of the haven ports, the area of Harwich and Colchester. I believe that some people in that area are not disinclined to go in with the new Suffolk. However, this was hotly opposed when the Royal Commission's Report came out. The Royal Commission's Report said that both sides of the haven ports were to go into Suffolk, but that was hotly opposed by Essex who would lose part of their area, and who said that the river was a natural boundary. Therefore, in the new proposals of Her Majesty's Government that has not taken place. We are rather like Somerset. As the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, has just told us, we are 1154 going to have large bits chopped off and we shall not be a viable unit, which we should like to be. Therefore, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give this 'very serious consideration before any finality is arrived at.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ LORD FISKE
My Lords, I feel I owe an apology to the House in that I was unable to be here to hear the speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. Unfortunately, I had to attend a meeting on a certain new currency system which delayed me that long. I have only the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, that it was robust, which I should have expected it to be. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, had perhaps the last word in what I have heard in this debate when he said that the best should not drive out the good. I think that previous schemes put forward for the reform of local government have been better, but nevertheless I would give a welcome to this one because I feel that it comes early in the life of the Parliament and that it can be implemented during the lifetime of this Parliament, and that it will go a long way to meet most people's ideas and demands in a reform that is now very many years overdue.
If one reads this White Paper carefully it really is a Magna Carta for local government. I would refer particularly to paragraphs 5, 8 and 46, where all the emphasis is en the power to be given to local councils really to decide and to take the initiative (paragraph 5), without being subject to unnecessary regulations by central Government controls, financial or other (paragraph 8) and finally, in paragraph 46:Reorganisation offers the occasion for a searching review of existing constraints.What more can local government ask than that? I think all those of your Lordships who have been engaged in local government will agree that in the past the frustrations and difficulties have usually come at Whitehall level, and usually through financial reasons, and to see some loosening up of this situation is indeed encouraging.
Quite clearly, a local authority must work within the financial boundaries set for local government by the nation as a whole. It would be impossible for the Government of the day, any Government, 1155 to allow local expenditure to run away with a larger share of the economy than appeared to be wise or desirable. There was a danger of this happening at one time when local authorities first started lending money in a big way to owner-occupiers for house purchase. This was so popular a scheme and it escalated so fast that it tended to upset the whole balance of budgeting, and so restraint had to be applied. Now local government is sensible about that sort of thing.
I know, too, that local government will always be aware that it must be publicly accountable. But I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate: when the Government talk about removing all possible constraints, what are their ideas about district audit?—one of the most repressive and negative controls that exists anywhere in the State. I think local government would welcome a scheme of audit that was positive in its approach, that helped, that encouraged and that showed the way ahead, but not in the entirely repressive and negative nature of district audit as it now exists. So what steps do the Government propose to take, in order to try to drag district audit screaming into the last years of the twentieth century?
I should now like to say a word about functions. If she were still here, I should have to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who said that if you could divide the functions of planning you could also divide the functions of education. I could not really agree that in an ideal world you could divide the functions of planning. We have had this division under the London Government Act for seven years, and what one must have if functions are to be divided is very close definition indeed. There are so many lawyers in this House that it might be thought that definition was easy, but I should like to show by way of an example how the lawyers failed in the London Government Act 1963, under which planning powers were split between the Greater London Council and the London boroughs.
I think I can illustrate this most easily by giving your Lordships an example of an area of London which you all know—the area of Euston Station. Euston Station, because it is a point that disgorges so many people into London 1156 every day, is a matter of planning control as defined for the Greater London Council. But as soon as you move out of the concourse of Euston Station on to the pavement outside, you are under the planning jurisdiction of the London Borough of Camden, and it will be their responsibility to see that the new hotel and the new office block which are proposed to go as they did before, more or less on each side of Euston Station, are built. So that you have moved from the area of the G.L.C. into the London Borough of Camden, and as you walk towards the Euston Road you stay within the jurisdiction of the London Borough of Camden until you get to within 130 ft. of the Euston Road. That is no very great distance, but the Euston Road is a Metropolitan route and that, again, becomes the responsibility of the Greater London Council.
Your Lordships can see that planning under those terms of definition, which can be repeated all over the county, is virtually impossible. It leads only to delay and frustration. I had personally to intervene in the affairs of Euston Station, together with the head of British Rail, to ensure that the station received the planning consent that it had to have so that the new electric line, which is of such an enormous advantage to our transport system, could be opened as early as it was. Proper definition is something that we really must have.
Most of the other points which I wanted to bring to your Lordships' notice have been covered, and at this time of the evening one wants to be mercifully short. But I wish to make one more point, which is that under the Government's proposals there will be a Staff Commission set up. Then I should like to underline very emphatically that in these reorganisations nobody suffers as much as the staff, particularly the top staff, of all the authorities involved. Some people will win out along the line and become the chief officers of the new enlarged authorities. Some people, probably at a very awkward age, will fall by the wayside. It is possible to meet this in terms of monetary compensation, and I would ask that that be done very generously. But monetary compensation is not the whole answer to a career that is brought to a sudden halt in what may be midstream, or three parts of the way through one's working life. I would ask the 1157 Government to look with very great care indeed at this aspect of the work of reorganisation of local government.
With those few words—I hope they were a few words—may I say that I should have thought we could welcome what is proposed as a solution to a long outstanding problem, and I hope that the new authorities can be arranged and established and got going. I was alarmed by one sentence at the beginning of the White Paper, which said that the reorganisation of government in London was completed. Of course the reorganisation of government in London is not completed. When the Act was passed in 1963, my own comment was that it would take 15 years before local government got back to its original state of efficiency, of co-operation, of working together, of understanding its powers and of getting to know all the people involved, not only in one's own authority, but in all those authorities with which one has to deal. Eight of those 15 years have gone and I am sure that, so far, I have not been proved wrong. So let us not think of this as a hurried operation in anything but the legislative sense. Working it out on the ground in all the areas is indeed a long-term job, which will require the devoted work of hundreds, maybe thousands, of men and women up and down the country.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, in rising to make a small contribution to the debate at this stage, the need for reform—or, in other words, bringing up to date the scheme of local government—needs no further emphasis. Times have changed and we must change with them; and, as we all know, time never forgives his absence from the counsels to which he is not called.
Perhaps I may begin by congratulating the Government on the courage and candour with which their proposals have been presented, on their willingness to listen to and discuss criticism on points of detail, as well as on their invitation to collaboration in making effective the principles which I think have universal acceptance. I personally share the general admiration of the thought and experience which has been condensed in these proposals; the desire for friendly discussion of some of the problems involved, and the absence of any dictatorial or omni- 1158 scient detachment which is rather the temptation of Government to adopt in a matter about which they feel strongly. My Lords, the overall intention comprises a general devolution of power from the central Government and the effective transfer of responsibility and power from central to local authorities. I will now offer a few instances of doubt about the efficacy of the proposals to achieve the stated objects.
The White Paper states that the district councils are intended to be genuine authorities with responsibilities and powers sufficient to make service with them a reality for members and officers. My Lords, outside the metropolitan areas, the distribution of powers seems inadequate for this purpose. The county boroughs and larger non-county boroughs are to give up all responsibility for education and the social services; for highways and traffic management; for building regulations—and, it would seem, much of their present consumer protection services—in return for a share (and in most cases a minority share) in the administration of areas larger than those proposed by the Royal Commission after three years of study and research.
Thus, to keep education as an Undivided whole, all primary and secondary schools will be administered at the level of the new county council, and libraries will be vested there, too. Traffic regulation orders will be made miles away from the place where they apply. The many voluntary organisations at present working in the towns and cities will have to forge new links, if they are prepared to do so, with a distant administration. Any independence of a city or borough council in development control could well be inhibited by its having to share, as is said may be the case, its planning staff with a distant administration. Moreover, as has been said several times this evening, until the Green Paper on finance is published there is apparently to be silence on the rating function and on the important matter of capital expenditure. In this uncertainty there must remain serious doubts about the statement that the Government do not see the relationship between the two forms of operational authorities as implying that some authorities are answerable to others. Current experience shows how much independence relies on resources, and on the power of 1159 the authorities to determine their own priorities. The new districts appear heavily vulnerable in both respects.
In relation to cities and boroughs, the Association of Municipal Corporations believes that there is a fundamental misconception. It is simply not the case that the division of functions proposed between the new county councils and the new district councils will leave the cities and towns in control of essentially local matters, and give them an effective share in the administration of other services over wider areas than at present. In the continuing uncertainty on finance there must be serious doubts as to the independence of the proposed district councils, and the present functions which county boroughs and boroughs are expected to lose will indeed represent a marked diminution in the strength of town government.
The willingness of city and county borough elected members to continue to serve in a local government pattern of this nature must be in jeopardy, and an extended use of divisional administration will provide no satisfactory solution. What is likely to result from placing responsibility for so many services with local and personal implications on county authorities of the size proposed in this paper is the substitution of bureaucracy for democracy; and the representation of the cities and towns on the new county councils will, except in a few instances, be inadequate unless the determination of county electoral divisions is fair to the urban population.
My Lords, responsibility for highways and traffic management, building control and the determination of broad planning policies, including the making of structure and local plans, will be exercised at county level everywhere, together with the administration of education, the provision of libraries and the deployment of social services (divorced from housing) outside the metropolitan areas. Strategic planning of these subjects at county level may in some cases be sensible; but (to take one example only) the determination at county headquarters, perhaps 20 or 30 miles away, of the one-way traffic systems of a large city does not seem to make sense.
1160 A proud feature of county borough and borough administration over the centuries has been the democratic oversight by elected representatives of the services provided for those communities. County administration, even of the present style, has led to decisions being taken by county councillors who are not well enough acquainted with the areas affected by their decisions. It is the fear of the Association of Municipal Corporations, for instance, that the present scheme, if not altered in some respects, would lead to a considerable worsening of that situation. The larger district councils should be entitled to continue to exercise as of right more of the functions that they have so successfully discharged over many years.
My Lords, I should like to add a few comments on the point of view of county councils, which is naturally somewhat different from that of municipal corporations. There are two forms of operational authorities—those administering services calling for wide areas of administration and those for services best dealt with by local authorities more closely in touch with local conditions. As the County Councils Association has put it:… the end product will be a reformed and strengthened local government system providing authorities of adequate size and at the same time sustaining local democracy.In practice this is exactly where differences of opinion arise. For instance, the Association of Rural and Urban District Councils regrets the intended transfer from local government of the personal health services, and the County Councils Association is concerned about the proposal to distribute the administration of the education services among the district councils in the areas of the metropolitan counties. Can it seriously be stated as a general truth that all such services as planning, education, highways and the social services ought to be dealt with by a main county authority on the plea that they are the best people to administer them over a wide area?
My Lords, we all want and talk about efficiency, but in the sphere of local government the distribution of real power is an essential ingredient of the responsible efficiency which can be achieved only by a suitable allocation of functions. One can appreciate how much 1161 more attractive to the metropolitan districts is the allocation of functions proposed for them than the allocation proposed for the districts outside of the metropolitan areas. The Government's proposals for the areas and boundaries of the new counties suggest that the cities and towns therein that will be district authorities of the future will not in fact be able to play a very influential role in the decisions of the county authorities of the future unless steps are taken to ensure that they are not overshadowed by rural interests. Representation on the new counties is the key issue in this respect, and the danger facing the urban areas is the rural weighting which has generally been applied since 1933. Changed methods of communication make weighting of this nature no longer necessary, and it must not be forgotten that the urgent problems of the moment, and the major continuing problems of the future, are urban problems, affecting, as they do, 80 per cent. of the population.
It is of importance that the legislation introducing the new structure of local government should at least provide for the establishment of the new authorities—that is to say, the new counties and metropolitan districts—on the basis of sound and sensible areas and boundaries. The allocation of functions can always be adjusted at a later date, but the areas and boundaries of the main authorities that are fixed at the start of a new system are likely to remain for a very long time. It appears that the Government contemplate settling those areas and boundaries in the legislation, and the new Local Government Boundary Commission which is proposed will confine its activities to the determination of the areas of the new district authorities within the new counties. It is a little odd that the formal machinery of such a body should be used to deal with a matter which, although of importance, will be secondary to the determination of the authorities which, outside the metropolitan areas, seem likely to have responsibility for the major local government functions.
A number of individual authorities will wish to propose the establishment of additional counties, or even of additional metropolitan areas. This possibility will not, however, be open to a number of 1162 cities and towns which have a long tradition of good, sound, all-purpose local government. By express intent they will retain their identities as districts, and they will be represented on the new county councils. While they themselves remain fearful of the extent of their representation at county level, they are extremely concerned that they should have an adequacy of functions as districts.
It has now been made clear by Ministers that the reference in the White Paper to a population of 40,000 for the districts is misleading, and that by amalgamations of existing authorities it is intended to produce new units with populations of 75,000 to 100,000. Such units, as well also as the bigger towns and cities which will continue to exist as districts, are quite capable of exercising more responsibility than is proposed for them in the Appendix to the White Paper. The possibility of their being allocated more functions and the means of involving them in the local application of other functions will also have to be exercised at county level, and this needs detailed examination before the present non-county borough and district councils are rushed by the county councils to agree a pattern of amalgamation for submission to a Boundary Commission which cannot be set up for several months.
The Association of Municipal Corporations fully accepts that in a number of services and functions the broad strategy must be a county responsibility, but local application of the broad strategy is essentially a matter for local accountability, and it is the district councils that will be locally accountable far more than the counties of the future. The separation of such a function as building control, for instance, from development control is hard to understand. The major services are bound to be administered on a divisionalised basis in divisions which more often than not will coincide with city or town districts. Again, therefore, the accountability argument applies, and a worthwhile function for the district councils should be worked out. Not only is this of importance if suitable people are to be persuaded to serve as members of the district councils of the future; it is also significant in terms of the staff that the districts will be able to employ 1163 in order to discharge other duties and responsibilities.
My Lords, I have sketched only some of the problems which have to be solved by a working amalgam of national interests, local interests, administrative and financial power, competent staff and all else that is comprised in the word "efficiency". With the constructive and sympathetic attitude of Government and all the associations connected with local government, there is no reason to despair of a generally acceptable solution to these problems. With a job worth doing, the means to do it and the right and authority to do it, we shall attract the men and women who want to be part of a team and not the mere servants of a system. So, my Lords, as a final reflection of the constructive spirit in which Government and all associations concerned approach their job, may I quote the lines:'Tis not in mortals to command successBut we'll do more, Sempronius,We'll deserve it.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, is not in your Lordships' House, I take it that I am in order to move up one in the list of speakers and take his place. I have two interests to declare. First of all, as with the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, and one or two other Members of your Lordships' House. I am a member of the County Councils Association. I am also a county alderman—likely, I gather, to be made extinct fairly soon, which I do not like at all.
My Lords, it is difficult not to be parochial in any discussion or debate on local government reorganisation. It was only last week that I heard it stated at a meeting of the C.C.A. that obviously each county knows what it needs and it should be left to them to fight their own battles on the proposed boundary changes, since many county councils are not at all pleased with the Boundary Commission proposals for their areas and themselves know best how to put their case to the Secretary of State. This does not imply that I do not welcome the proposals as a whole and accept the need for some local government reform, which is now somewhat overdue. The Secretary of State for the Environment has 1164 said, and the noble Earl the Leader of the House has confirmed, that he hoped that the new legislation would reach the Statute Book as soon as possible and that the new local authorities would be elected in 1973 and would take over their new functions in the spring of 1974, with invited comments from individual local authorities to be received by the end of May. I look upon that as most important; and it is also important that we have sound financial working units with fairly substantial rateable values and that any financial changes must be brought into effect at the same time as reorganisation.
However, my main concern is with Buckinghamshire and the proposed boundary changes so far as they affect that county. Under these changes, Buckinghamshire will lose the whole of the southern part of the county; that is to say, Slough and the two Etons, Eton urban and Eton rural districts, will go to Berkshire. Our population in Buckinghamshire would fall from 585,000 to 413,000. The new county of Berkshire is shown with a population of 719,000, and if it did not receive Slough and the two Etons it would be reduced to 547,000, comparing favourably with the new Buckinghamshire at 585,000. I have already said that we welcome and approve the main principle for local government reorganisation, but the Buckinghamshire County Council view with the utmost dismay the detailed boundary proposals tearing away from us the borough of Slough and the Eton urban and rural districts.
I am in no doubt that this proposal will seriously weaken the county as an administrative unit and completely destroy its unity and integrity. Her Majesty's Government have stated in the White Paper:Where possible existing county boundaries will be retained in order to keep the maximum existing loyalties and to minimise the administrative problems.How therefore, my Lords, can this severance be justified? With a stroke of the official pen, Buckinghamshire would be reduced to the fifth smallest county in the country, with a population of 413,000, whereas, if left alone, as it is to-day, the population would bear parity with the altered Berkshire which includes Reading. This indeed makes a nonsense 1165 of the attempt by the Secretary of State to keep the existing county boundaries. The Maud Report—and I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, earlier this afternoon; I had the pleasure of listening to him (he will not remember it) when he opened our college at Wheatley some years ago—made much of the alleged links between the South of Buckinghamshire and Berkshire/Reading. This Government seem to have accepted that these links exist; the Buckinghamshire County Council does not.
The Slough and Eton areas are affected by London since Buckinghamshire is one of the ring of Home Counties bordering on Greater London. There is no sense of looking towards Reading. Any links with East Berkshire that arise are largely because part of the East Berkshire population travel to work in Slough with relatively little movement in the opposite direction. If you get on a train in Slough and it is going to Reading, you may well have a compartment to yourself; but if you are going to London you can have your feet stepped on as you search for a seat. The Thames has been the logical, and excellent, boundary between Buckinghamshire and Berkshire for centuries. To substitute this for a boundary following the line of the London to Oxford A.40 through the middle of an urban area, splitting up roots and loyalties of people with common interests, is thoroughly clumsy legislation.
All the existing services in the county would be seriously affected by the proposed reduction in area and population. To mention only one, the excellent education service, with which I am very well acquainted, would be impoverished and partially disorganised. A population of over half a million is certainly advisable if adequate supporting services are to be maintained in the education field. Buckinghamshire is facing the future development of the new town of Milton Keynes, not to speak of the possible selection of Cublington as the site for an airport three or four times the size of Heathrow. The resources required to support the development of Milton Keynes alone are not only financial but include the kind of specialist staff which only a substantial county could support.
1166 I can foresee great difficulty in recruiting and keeping staff of the requisite calibre if the county is reduced in size. It may be argued that the growth of Milton Keynes would soon make up the deficiency in population and resources. It is, however, in the early years of planning and executing a project of this magnitude, especially when coupled with the continual expansion of the rest of the county, that there is the maximum need for resources of money and expertise. Buckinghamshire County Council, with the loss of the South of the county, will no longer form a viable unit or a viable system of local government.
I can only hope that the Department of the Environment will at the end of the consultations realise that local government can only be strengthened by amending their original proposals in the White Paper where they run contrary to all logic and reason. I only regret that the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, does not place much value on the traditional set up of the aldermanic bench. I have fought many local government elections and have served for many years as a municipal reformer on the L.C.C. under the brilliant leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, knowing the joys of victory and one pang of defeat, until I was elected as alderman some years ago in Buckinghamshire. Now, not having to worry about the continunity of my local authority work being broken up by an election every three years, I think that the six-year breathing space is more than welcome. Frankly, I cannot see the necessity for breaking down this local government tradition.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I follow the noble Earl. At this position in the "batting list" I shall try not to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, but I want to make two or three points. It has been such an excellent debate, one which I have enjoyed listening to, one participated in by so many who know so much, that it would be remiss of me to bore your Lordships by reiterating points that have already been made. Consequently, if my speech is short it is not because I did not do my homework. I am probably one of the few who have read all that has been written by Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and all the subsidiary 1167 literature. The walls of my study are hung with about 60 charts I have compiled. But all that work is now apparently useless.
I remember representatives of the local council knocking at my door and saying to me fraternally, "We are raising £40,000 to fight the change in local government, and behind us we have Lord Gainsborough, the president. Lord Gainsborough says that Whitehall has been planning to get rid of local councils for a long time and has made no bones about it. We are looked upon as a nuisance because we prevent the people in Whitehall from doing what they want to do. They cannot get their schemes done." I do not quite agree with what Lord Gainsborough says, for that would be unfair to Whitehall. But I should like to know what is to be done with the £40,000 that the rural district councils have collected.
The nub of the problem we are discussing to-day is brought out in an article in a New Society Pamphlet by Professor Bryan Keith-Lucas, Professor of Political Science, University of Kent at Canterbury. He writes:What matters most to the ordinary member of the public is not the exact pattern of the larger authorities, but whether the new system will allow him to have a say in the shape of his own environment—the planning of his town or village, the nature of the school to which his children go, and the working of local health and welfare services. So in many ways the most significant and important part of the Maud report is not what it recommends at the top of the pyramid of government, but what it proposes at the bottom.I think that that goes for this second White Paper. I will make no comparisons between the White Paper of 1970 or that of 1971: that would be invidious.
I sincerely believe that it is the wish of the Government to get the pattern of local government definitely changed because of the failure of local government to-day to match the patterns of life and work in modern England. It makes it impossible in some cases for further planning. Nevertheless, I find—and it does not always come from troglodytes like the Labour Party or the Labour councillors—that local patriotism transcends all political frontiers. If you had been with me in a village pub up in the Peak District, or in Staffordshire, talking 1168 about rural politics, when, like Tam o'Shanter's inn, the tobacco was reeking and the house shaking with pots of ale, you would have heard very cultured accents and the beautiful country accents, Labour supporters and Conservatives, joining together in denouncing the loss of the control which they had exercised over the area for many years. Sometimes I am surprised about this, and I have to smile, because many of the Conservatives who become rampant about anything which is being done regarding local government in their area have impressed on me the need for us to get into the Common Market. It does not matter that last week on the Continent people were clubbing each other with dead chickens; that 100,000 farmers walked in Brussels and someone cut someone else's throat.
My Lords, in local government there is a complete crossing of political frontiers because, traditionally, the Britisher knows that local government is older than the Parliamentary system; it is bred in the flesh, the blood and the bones of our people. Consequently, whatever changes we make we must not do what I think Maud does and what this White Paper does: it is shoving the local voter into a Procrustean bed. We are making him fit the bed. If he is too small he has got to stretch until he fits; if he is too big, we shall hunk a chunk off him. This "Procrustean policy" is found in much of these Reports.
In some cases we are getting too big altogether. I am a "Sudaten Welshman", having lived in North Staffordshire for several years, and if I may I shall say something about Wales and about the local government Report in respect of that country at the right time. The city of Stoke-on-Trent bewails the fact that it will disappear into an area designated as No. 14. Burton-upon-Trent and Stoke-on-Trent come in and now have a population of 925,000 and a rateable value of over £34 million. I worry because the Staffordshire Education Committee and the Stoke-on-Trent Education Committee have done a good job of work over the years. Before we smite down these metropolitan areas we should do what is promised in Circular 8/71. There it promises:In view of the comprehensive changes which will take effect in 1974, the Secretary 1169 of State will not be prepared, save in most exceptional circumstances, to consider further proposals under the Local Government Act 1933 for the modification of existing county, borough or district boundaries.The civil servant who signed that describes himself as, "I am, Sir, your obedient servant"—I like that euphemism which appears at the bottom of letters from Whitehall.
That is what we are told in the Circular. We are told that this White Paper is a consultative document, so we should have from the Minister some guarantee that consultation will be apparent; otherwise, this is not the way for a Conservative Government to win friends and influence people. I am afraid that there may well be a General Election before April Fool's Day, 1974. In case there is, I hope the Government will go ahead with this matter rapidly. But, cutting out all the jocularity, may I say that the pattern of life in modern society is not in keeping with the old system of local government.
My Lords, I have spoken for longer than five minutes for which I apologise, but this is pretty well my last sentence. Those who have studied anthropology will know that the physique of human beings is governed by the areas in which they live. The people who live in the mountainous areas have thick thighs and barrel chests; those who live in the plains have long legs. I was delighted to hear the noble Earl, Lord Howe, talk about the River Thames being a natural frontier. Anyone who goes over that must be damn silly; it has been a natural frontier for local government for centuries. Consequently, these things must be taken into account. A man is concerned with his home and environment. There is nothing wrong with local patriotism; in fact it is that which gives him his love for the nation. I hope that the Government will be successful and will make good the local government changes. But I sincerely hope that the Green Paper on Finance will come quickly. I had intended to say a lot about finance, but many people who have spoken have said most of what I could have said. I will leave it at that, my Lords, in the hope that we shall be given some assurance about the constructive purpose of the Government when discussions are held with the local authorities.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I am sure you will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, that on normal occasions it is against our custom to continue, in a long debate like this, to repeat arguments which have already been advanced on a number of occasions. But I think that this debate is an exception because if there is, as a result of this debate, a consensus of opinion and points of view expressed by those of your Lordships who have spoken from both sides of the House and from the Cross Benches, surely that is the most effective way to influence the ultimate decisions of the Government. I therefore follow the arguments which have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, and by my noble friend Lord Waldegrave, and those arguments put, if I may say so, mostly expertly and wisely by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. It seemed to me that, with her great experience of administration and of dealing with local authorities, she brought to the attention of your Lordships forcefully and eloquently the two major issues with which we, and in turn the Government, are faced: the problems of boundaries and powers.
Although I am not quoting the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I hope I have the sense of her remarks when I say that she argued that if we could get the boundaries right, so that the map of British local government for the next 50 years will, from the beginning, command the confidence of Parliament and the people, much of the rest will follow automatically. Secondly, the noble Baroness advised that we should be flexible and imaginative in the allocation of powers as between what I still call the unitary authorities—the counties—on the one hand, and the districts on the other. Then she suggested that we should not let finance rule unchallenged; that we should tailor the plan to meet the reasonable aspirations and known capacities of the various areas. That seems to me to sum up the approach that we and the Government should be making to this whole question of local government reform. I think this is the theme, the argument which has run like a thread through nearly all the speeches which we have heard in this debate.
1171 Like other Members of your Lordships' House I must declare an interest which, though small, is from my point of view proudly held. I hold the office of High Steward of Colchester, although in this debate I speak entirely for myself. In what I have to say, I am concerned with what many of us who live in that pleasant part of England between Denham Vale and the river Stour and the North Sea and, particularly, in the ancient town of Colchester, feel to be right for our future government. Others, as did the noble Earl, Lord Howe, must speak for their own part of the country. If a debate on local government cannot be concerned with local points of view surely it loses much of its impact.
I hope that I may put my case simply, because to us the issue is simple. In the normal way we should like to be a unitary authority on our own account, but we realise that geography prevents that from happening; and that we must choose between Chelmsford, the pleasant county capital of Essex, 22 miles to our West, or Ipswich, the capital of East Suffolk, 18 miles to our North
Before I address myself to arguments on that particular field of the Report, let me present the plea that any future pattern of local government may be sufficiently flexible as to allow the variations of character, resources and long descended traditions in various parts of England to be fully reflected. Good government, as so many of those who have taken part in this debate have stressed, is not simply a matter of finance or of population statistics and, least of all, of tidy administrative convenience. It is not a process of making small units into big units, of mergers, or takeovers, or amalgamation.
Even in the industrial organisations of to-day, I think, we are beginning to realise that size and access to financial resources are not a sure recipe for efficiency and commercial success. So, in public administration size and rateable value do not guarantee that the individual citizen will enjoy a fuller life or better amenities. What matters is that he should feel as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek said, part of a local authority area, feel a patriotism towards those who administer it, a confidence in their ability to look after and understand his interests 1172 so that he can feel a sense of identification with the area and possess easy access to those who make decisions affecting his interests and welfare.
The White Paper in various parts stresses all this. But it seems to me that in carrying out its principles in some respects it fails. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned Southend. It seems to me strange that the well-administered and powerful county borough of Southend should suddenly find itself shorn of its powers and administered from Chelmsford. Again, why should rural Essex and the vigorous town of Colchester—at any rate vigorous enough to raise more money to build a modern theatre than Bristol, and able to have a team to put Leeds out of the Cup—lose control of many functions which at present it exercises with a reasonable degree of efficiency and with regard to the interests of the inhabitants of the town? The list of these functions is a formidable one. We should lose to Chelmsford education, highways, transport, traffic control, libraries, control of new building, weights and measures, food and drugs, clean air, refuse disposal, welfare, personal health services and planning, for which the county council would have supervisory powers.
When I say "Chelmsford" I do not mean the county town, against which we have no animus, but the proposed county council dominated by the weight of population of the urban, industrialised South-West Essex—Dagenham, Thurrock and Grays.
The White Paper at page 6 says:The Government are equally determined to return power to those people who should exercise decisions locally.That is local government to be exercised by people locally. We feel, rightly or wrongly, that if the plan as outlined in the White Paper is carried out we shall have less chance of looking after our interests locally, of exercising the normal powers of a local democracy, than we have even at this time. We accept fully that local government in this country requires reform and that reform is overdue, but if we are going to reform let us make certain that however important haste and speed may be in carrying decisions into effect, enough time is given to understand and to take account of local ideas and susceptibilities.
1173 No doubt the idea of having a superior tier of government, a unitary authority, is one which is generally accepted, but such areas should be based on zones which have financial and administrative viability and some sense of historic and traditional cohesion. It seems to me a curious thing about the proposals which the Government have put forward, that whereas in the Redcliffe-Maud Report—although I should like to say that I have read it all from cover to cover, I can at any rate say that I have read those passages which concern my own part of the world—the number of unitary authorities proposed is 61, in the present White Paper, excluding the metropolitan areas, the number is just over half—38. One of the principal arguments used against the Redcliffe-Maud Report was that the number of unitary authorities was insufficient for the needs of the country as a whole.
If local government is to be local, then the centre and seat of government must be within a reasonable distance of the people who are being administered by it, and must be administered by people who understand the needs of every locality. From the impression I have on reading the documents that have been made available I think that, although these principles are accepted, the execution of them leaves, at present, much to be desired. We in Colchester realise that, while we hope that the division of powers will leave our own council with a reasonable authority over the people and a reasonable chance of serving them in various ways, of maintaining their welfare and their good administration, we are unlikely ourselves to be a unitary authority. But we feel we should have some say and consideration in deciding the area and centre from which we should be administered.
Although I have not read the whole of the Report I have, as I have said, studied parts of it where it pays special attention to our part of East Anglia. It says—and I quote from page 277:The boundary between Essex and Suffolk follows the River Stour. Most of the Stour valley is an area of great natural beauty. It includes the 'Constable country', lying in both Essex and Suffolk. Planning must reconcile preservation of the valley's beauty with the pressures on it as a site for residential development, as a source of water supply and a place for recreation.Downstream the Stour estuary joins the Orwell to form Orwell Haven, where the three Haven ports' of Harwich (now in Essex) 1174 Felixstowe and Ipswich are growing in importance. Allocation of land for new port development and new industries has to be co-ordinated with the improvement of road and rail access and with the use of the Haven for recreational purposes.There are, therefore, a number of important, related planning problems which should be considered as a whole by a single authority responsible for Ipswich, Felixstowe, Colchester, Harwich and the Stour valley; and we decided to include them all in the same local government unit.I know that there are differences of opinion with regard to that proposal. I also know that there is considerable weight of opinion in my own part of the world which would like to see established as one of the county authorities what we would call South East Anglia. We believe that there is affinity between all the areas that it would comprise. We believe that we could provide good administration for all the people that are contained in it, and we are quite certain that this part of England, given the opportunity of looking after its own interests in the coherent sphere of planning (which is outlined in that extract which I read from the Report), would be able to provide a progressive centre, not only for local government but also for the future of what is to us, at any rate, a most important part of the country.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CRANBROOK
My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships' House, I start by declaring an interest, in so far as I have been a member of the East Suffolk County Council for, I think, 37 years—it may well be 40. I had not intended to mention that, because I was not going to deal with the White Paper from the point of view of the relationships between the various authorities. However, having heard the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, I feel bound to draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, to Appendix B of Circular 871, where he will see that Area No. 31 has a population of 715,000, which is artificially boosted up by removing from the North-East part of East Suffolk, Lowestoft and a number of other local authorities, reducing Suffolk itself to a population of 423,000, whereas the noble Lord who has just sat down has said that Area No. 38 has a population of 1,300,000. To have those three populations cheek by jowl, when it would be perfectly easy to do what the noble Lord 1175 has suggested, seems to me to be fantastically stupid.
I do not mean to deal with local government boundaries or anything like that. What to me is much more important is the services which they administer, and in particular the services which deal with the arts, sciences and the like. I want first to deal with museums, because the Government have given both the counties and the districts concurrent powers in museums. However, I think they should remember that a good museum is not just a collection of items to do with the arts and the sciences, but should be the cultural and intellectual centre of the area which it serves. For historical reasons museums have always been provided by urban authorities, because counties have not been museum authorities until recently. The best of these museums have gone well out into the hinterland governed by their county councils to deal with such things as archaeological investigations, contact with people who have pictures, books, silver, china and so on which can be shown in exhibitions, geological and natural history investigations and the like. Yet throughout the country museums are all isolated on their little islands in the municipalities within this great hinterland which the best of them serve. As long ago as 1960 the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries was asked to investigate these provincial museums and they suggested much closer integration between them. Now, ten years later, with local government reform we have the chance to carry out this integration.
In the discussions which followed the publication of the Maud Report the two bodies most vitally concerned with all museums in the country—provincial museums, municipal museums, central museums and university museums—the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries and the Museums Association both came down quite unequivocally in favour of the museum authority being the larger authority which was responsible for education. I agree that the Government have very sensibly given the recurrent powers to the districts, because even parish musuems have their place in the picture of museums, and they ought to be widely extended. However, that must not be allowed to fragment 1176 the main structure of the museum service, because it is essential that the major central museum in a county should be the responsibility of the county the whole of which it serves, and should be supported by the rate of the entire county.
Those museums will of course at present be the responsibility of a larger or a smaller town, many of which will be districts in their own right. I think we have heard too much this afternoon (the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and other noble Lords referred to it) about the fact that, having set up a second tier, we have to give them something to do. We have to look at the services and see how they can be best administered. Every one of us knows, I think, that the major museum in a county must be a county responsibility, and the Bill when it comes must provide for that.
Unless I misunderstood him, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, went so far as to suggest that libraries might become a second-tier authority function. I do not know whether he thought a great deal before he wrote that down in his notes of what he was going to say. If he was referring merely to lending libraries and bookstalls, it would of course be perfectly feasible. A good inter-library lending arrangement, provided it is efficiently managed, can deal with that quite adequately. But I very much doubt whether the noble Lord has ever had to use three small reference libraries within a relatively small area, each one of them covering the same area. It is absolutely clear that the reference library, if it is to be of any use, must be sufficiently large to have under one roof all that the student of that particular area is going to require. I do not see how you can divorce your reference library from your lending library, although we are going to do it in the National Library. If the Bill provided for that, I should not be dissatisfied. It is essential, however, that the reference library should be run by a body sufficiently large to be able to have, for instance, the catalogue of books of the British Museum, which you really cannot expect the smaller libraries to have.
When one goes on to other comparable services, like records, again some of us have had to go to three small record 1177 offices covering virtually the same geographical area, and a couple of ecclesiatical ones in the Bishoprics that happen to overlap it as well. Noble Lords who sit on the Front Bench may say, or noble Lords who sit on the Front Bench opposite had they been in power would have said: "We must give these chaps in the second-tier authorities something to do. Let them have museums, record offices and libraries." If that is done, those services will be ruined and the Government will incur the odium of every scholar in the country. I hope that they will look at this subject most seriously.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, I have listened with the greatest of interest to the speech that has just been delivered by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. I was particularly interested in what he said about museums, and for this reason: that one cannot travel about the country, spending an evening with local folk, without their almost immediately describing some local building which has an historical background. They are proud of it, and as one listens one becomes tremendously interested. I think it is very likely indeed, particularly as working days may grow shorter and opportunities for interests in leisure increase, especially if this can be linked with education in a locality, that there will grow up in that way a concern about local history, local contributions to developments, even local things which could so well be housed in the kind of museums to which the noble Earl has referred. I appreciate his speech because it was a speech which approached this subject from a new angle.
I propose to deal with a particular problem, but perhaps I may first make this comment. I find it difficult to think of a Report which has been so comprehensive, so constructive and so imaginative as the Redcliffe-Maud Report. Its scope is immense. I do not propose to discuss the principles which are in that Report, for that has already been done so fully in the debate. But I feel compelled to say one other thing; and it is a very unusual thing for me to say. I admire the courage with which Her Majesty's Government propose to legislate in this matter, because any re-drawing of the pattern of local government is almost bound to bring about resentments which could make the Government proposing 1178 them unpopular. I think it is only fair to this Government, as it was to the last, to say that in this respect.
In some ways this debate has reminded me of another place, in that so many of those who have been speaking have spoken almost for their own constituencies. They have spoken for county council areas in which they have a particular interest or experience. I am not sure that the debate has been any the worse for teat fact. We have had the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, speaking about Somerset; the noble Lord, Lord Alport, speaking about Colchester and South-East Essex, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, speaking about Buckinghamshire. In the long run it is only as a result of this kind of reaction, while legislation is still being considered, that it will be possible to come to a correct decision.
I want to follow the example of others who have spoken about areas of which they have a particular knowledge. In another place I represented the constituency of Eton and Slough—a rather contradictory partnership; Eton, with its college; Slough, with its great industrial estate. I had knowledge of it then, and I have tried to keen in touch with its affairs since. I want to follow the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in the plea that some reconsideration should be given to that area in the new boundaries which are to be drawn for Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. It is very significant that not only the great industrial town of Slough, but the Eton. Urban District Council, embracing the College and the High Street, and the Eton rural area, are absolutely united in opposing the proposal that that area should be transferred from Buckinghamshire to Berkshire.
The argument in favour of the proposal is not very clearly stated, but it appears to be that Slough and Eton look to the West, to Reading, and therefore to Berkshire. No one who knows that area would say that the population looks in that way. The exact opposite is the truth. The people of that area look East to London, rather than West to Reading. They look East to London because Heathrow is quite near, and the number of the staff at Heathrow who live in Slough is very considerable. They look East to London rather than West to 1179 Reading because they have two Greater London Council estates, the Langley Estate and the Britwell Estate. Even if one goes outside Slough to the Eton rural area one finds that the population is largely a commuter population to London. The whole attitude of that area is to look East rather than West. I suggest that when we are looking at the problem of Greater London, and of the Home Counties around Greater London, that kind of association is absolutely necessary if you are going to deal with problems of housing, communication and transport which are involved.
Under these proposals Buckinghamshire is almost the only Home County which would be reduced in its population resources; the others are nearly all either left intact or actually enlarged. I have no hesitation at all in saying that the population of that area would desire to remain in Buckinghamshire, rather than to be transferred to Berkshire. That is from the point of view of Slough and Eton, and the population there is now, I suppose, about 80,000 people—a very considerable population.
I also want to put the view of the county council. Slough and Eton are as necessary to Buckinghamshire County Council as the county is desired by the people of Eton and Slough. If the area of which I am speaking is transferred to Berkshire, the population of the Bucks. County Council will be reduced by 80.000; it will become the fifth smallest county area in the whole of our country. The argument put forward is that in the future it will have the New Town of Milton Keynes, with a population of 145,000. But that will not be until 1981. I want to emphasise as strongly as I can the argument which has been put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that the very fact that this large New Town is to be established in the County of Buckinghamshire requires—not in 1981 but now—financial resources, expert staff, specialists and the ability to maintain them, because the task of this great project of this New Town is going to demand those resources and the technical skill of a staff. Neither the resources nor the technical skill of the staff will be available if the Buckinghamshire County Council as it is now is cut down in size.
1180 The last point I am going to make, my Lords, is this. When I was the Member of Parliament for this area I was tremendously impressed by the educational services of the county council. I do not know any other town in this country which had such beautiful, well-planned new schools as Slough had, largely because it was a quickly developed area. The county has been giving incalculably fine service in the whole educational sphere. Many of us in that area would much regret to see that association ended. There is a good deal of tolerance in the way in which Her Majesty's Government have met this Report. I hope that they are still going to leave their mind open; I hope they are still going to consider these matters as questions of consultation. When they look at the boundaries of Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, I hope they will pay attention to the mind of the people of the area about which I have been speaking and to the interests for the development of that area as a whole.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, it is no part of my business to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in his observations about South Bucks or East Berks. I seem to recollect that Eton at least had no particular objection to being associated with Windsor across the River. But I must, on the other hand, associate myself warmly with him when he says how much he admires the courage of Her Majesty's Government in bringing in this Bill—courage I hope as well as firmness—because surely the time has come to put an end to the uncertainty which has reigned over local government for at least a generation, and to reach a state of affairs where the powers of obstruction, which are very considerable in local government matters, are no longer able to prevent the reform which is much overdue.
I am sorry that I was not able to be in the House at the start of this debate and to hear the high-level speeches of those who spoke early on the speakers' list. Now I am saying a word or two as one who has been a member of his own County Council of Shropshire for nearly twenty years. During that time I have been a member of most of the committees, study groups, working 1181 parties and what-not which during the whole of those twenty years have studied the reorganisation of the county and, as often as not, gone back to square one at the end. I am speaking for myself because our county council committee do not consider this matter until next week and therefore I cannot speak except personally. But Shropshire was almost the only county council to carry through the reorganisation of county districts under the 1958 Act. This makes me wonder a little why there is no reference in the present White Paper to the proposals which were put forward by a previous Conservative Government from 1956 to 1958. They were not nearly so far-reaching as the present proposals, but I am sure they were on sound lines—at any rate, we thought so in Shropshire—the sound lines being to make the smaller towns, not self-contained units but centres of areas which included the surrounding country. I will come back to that point in a moment.
Whether we should have done so much in Shropshire after the 1958 Act if we had known two things—first, that most of the other counties were going to funk the exercise; and, secondly, that the Labour Government were going to squash it—is a matter of question. But I myself am quite certain not only that we were right in doing what we did under the 1958 Act but also, though we did not know it, that it paved the way for the work we shall have to do under these proposals if they become law. The smaller towns were far too small to carry on as independent units. Their size was quite fortuitous. The towns on the hills depended for their boundaries on the needs of fortification; the towns in the plains depended on the size of the monkish domains. Now the smaller towns, as centres of their present rural districts, are, I am sure, finding that their importance is far greater, and of course the increased size of the districts warrants the employment of local government officers on reasonably attractive salaries. For this reason, if for no other, one should welcome any scheme such as this scheme which represents the extension of this thinking—the thinking of the county town, not a municipal borough or, worse still, a county borough within a ring fence, but as the centre in its 1182 county or, as it is going to be called, of its area. That I think is the line which the County Councils' Association take, now expressed by my noble friend Lord Amory.
At the same time, I am bound to say this about Shropshire, or Area 16, if that is what it has to be called. Since it has been virtually left alone; and since, as I say, we have already broken the back of the county district organisation; and since the danger of having a separate local government exist for Telford New Town is removed, like other traumatic experiences which we should have suffered had certain parts of the Maud Report been operated—with all those things, we have no reason to complain—we can hardly bite the hand that has fed us and other people must do the complaining. We in Shropshire are in a more fortunate position than my noble friend Lord Waldegrave in Somerset because, whereas I understand they have no New Towns in the area which will be the future Somerset, we have Telford New Town with its expansion factor which will give us a good deal bigger population than the one in the Appendix to the local government circular. So much for my own county.
May I now for a moment touch on one or two wider points. First of all, coming from the Welsh Border I must take my noble friends in front of me to task for their apparent failure, if not cowardice, in failing to tackle the age-old nonsenses along that Border. If my noble friends in front of me are prepared to stand up to the thunder from places such as Southend-on-Sea, surely they need not be deterred by the squawks they will hear from Aberystwyth and Bangor and other places which would not be concerned with the reorganisation of the Welsh Border. Let me take my noble friend Lord Jellicoe to Llanymynech and show him the pub with one door—
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
To Llanymynech, and show him the pub with one door in Wales and the other door in England—not that that matters so much since Montgomery went "wet" on Sundays. I make that point and perhaps I will come back to it at a later stage if the opportunity occurs, as I did on the 1958 Bill.
1183 May I now come to something which is even more important; that is, paragraph 6 of the White Paper, where it says:The division between counties and county boroughs has prolonged an artificial separation of big towns from their surrounding hinterlands for functions whose planning and administration need to embrace both town and country.A truer word was never spoken, because the passage I have just quoted, if one takes it at its face value, I think means that we can no longer continue to think of town and country as being properly organised in separate local government areas, and I hope very much that that is the intention behind the wording in the circular. If so, it is high time, because it will put an end to a great deal of folk lore and emotional handling of the subject of the country versus the town, much of which dates from before the First World War and the time when Mr. Lloyd George was talking about "Three acres and a cow" and stuff like that.
Certainly none of the proposals in the circular, if properly handled, will impede the efforts which are being made by people like the Council for the Protection of Rural England to protect the natural beauty of this country, or the efforts which were made last year, Conservation Year, to preserve our wild life. Personally, I think that all those efforts will be more easily carried on under these new proposals than they would be if we were to continue some of the present arrangements for the artificial separation of town and country. If you look at the 1909 Act which established the Development Commission, you will see this artificial separation of thinking between the town and the country of dividing the resources, and that certainly will make no sense if we have a pattern like the man which was circulated with the White Paper, showing the towns as centres of the countryside.
If in due course of time these proposals become law, as I hope they will, there will be a great deal to be done, not only by Her Majesty's Ministers and Government Departments and local government officers, but by all the voluntary societies who work with local government in various directions and whose boundaries, by and large, follow the boun- 1184 daries of local government as they are to-day.
There was an article last Friday in The Times by the County Clerk of Cheshire, who mentioned this point of the effect on the unofficial bodies of the alterations in county boundaries. Of course these cannot begin until the Bill becomes law, but I am quite sure that we shall never realise the full benefits of this reorganisation unless the voluntary bodies apply themselves to the task of settling into the new boundaries and the new conditions under which a great many of them will have to work. There are so many of them. County regiments are things of the past, but a great deal needs to be done to make sure that the organisation of the Territorial Army Voluntary Reserve is right in the metropolitan areas, which at the moment it is not. Then there are the Fire and the Police services. I am not suggesting for a moment that any of the police reorganisations which have recently been made should be broken up—certainly in our own case of West Mercia I think it should not—but I am suggesting that no more amalgamations should be planned, either of Police or Fire services, until this pattern has been worked out.
Last, but not least, I wonder whether the news of this White Paper will penetrate to the authorities who manage the affairs of the Church of England, because it will be very difficult for that Church to continue its ministry with the success with which that ministry should be continued unless some attempt is made to adapt the administrative boundaries of the Church to these new administrative boundaries, once they become law. I do not like to think of the effect in certain cathedral closes—there are no Bishops here tonight—and I like still less to think of the effect on various ecclesiastical lawyers who will be advising the ecclesiastical authorities. But, never mind, that will have to come, and I hope that the thinking in those quarters will start and will run on parallel lines to the thinking in Ministries in Whitehall and in local government circles.
I am quite sure that the plan which is now put forward is based on sound principles. Nobody can expect that everybody will be very pleased. Everybody will not be very pleased. But at least I am convinced that these pro 1185 posals will stand the test of time and that after so many years of uncertainty and frustration, people in local government will be able to go ahead with the feeling that they have at least a clear generation before them to attend to their own affairs, with success.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
My Lords, like everyone here I have been doing a lot of homework and looking up what we all said in the debate on this subject almost exactly a year ago. There are several important changes in the White Paper now before us from the proposals of the previous Government, and I should first like to say how very much I feel that these changes are moving in the right direction. I think we all welcome the timetable which has been put before the country and has been so well explained by the noble Earl the Leader of the House. I am quite certain that this timetable will be acceptable and possible, even if many detailed negotiations remain to be carried out. There can be no doubt that further delay and uncertainly would be disadvantageous to local government generally, and perhaps particularly to the staff who work in it, who have lived under the threat and uncertainty of reorganisation for so very long. Indeed, my Lords, on Tyneside, the area from which I come, as I said last year, we have had the threat of local government reorganisation since about 1928.
I have no complaint whatever with the timetable and I am delighted that the Government have decided to introduce it in this firm way. There is the possible but detailed exception that the date of November 1973 for the district council elections may be running things a little tight, giving not very long before those concerned are in a position to take over on the appointed day in April 1974. I accept that this is a detail.
One must be particularly gratified to note that the Government have taken my advice and that of many other people as well, in agreeing that there should be a two-tier system in local government throughout England. We have it in Scotland and in Wales, and I do not see why England should be left out. There is no doubt in my mind that this is generally desired and that the principle will be widely welcomed throughout the 1186 country as a result of this White Paper. There are, of course, quite a number of what Mr. Peter Walker has referred to as "Puddlecombes", who will object to anything we do, and I have no doubt that several of them will press their objections to the limit; but of the various possibilities which are open to us in England I am quite certain that the present structure is absolutely right in principle, and in every way it is the essential compromise for which we are looking between efficiency and democracy.
It would be wrong not to mention, however briefly, that this White Paper leaves the county of Northumberland (I am at the moment Chairman of the council) in a serious situation, because it would become much the smallest in population. The population will be 100,000 less than in Shropshire, to which the noble Viscount has just referred, and the county will be so much smaller than any other that I think the situation could be disastrous. In this matter I am delighted to find an ally in the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, even if his solutions are not acceptable to us, or even to his Socialist friends in the North of England. We have lost two New Towns in Tyneside. To go further into this matter at this time would not be right, but I have mentioned it only because by my silence I might be thought to agree in toto with the proposals, which I do not.
We have here the problem of the boundaries of the metropolitan areas. Briefly, the argument has been as to whether the boundary should be tightly drawn, as this Government wish, or loosely drawn (if that is the expression) as the previous Government wished. Wherever you draw a boundary, it is bound to be wrong for someone who will be left on the wrong side. I would say that, give or take a little, in drawing the metropolitan boundaries reasonably tightly the Government have done the right thing. We have to accept that all major planning is going to overlap these metropolitan boundaries. "Where there's a will, there's a way". and I believe planning will transcend these boundaries and will provide effective solutions to problems which cannot be solved within the boundaries of one area. I am impressed by how strongly people who live in green belts feel about the 1187 undesirability of entering a metropolitan area, and I hope (this is really what I want more than anything else to say) that the Government will listen. I believe the Government's stated willingness to listen to objections, to possible changes, as suggested in the White Paper, is something very valuable indeed. I do not think we had this from the last Government; I do not know why. I feel certain that this is extremely valuable and is something on which local authorities will be putting up their own objections, making reasonable cases with reasonable arguments. I hope that the Government will be prepared to be honest about this, and will change their minds about certain boundaries in order that certain things should be done, particularly where public opinion, even in the smaller authorities—who can feel as strongly as the larger ones—has a case to make. The Government must listen, and I am certain the White Paper indicates that they will.
We have already referred to the Green Paper on Finance; I am delighted to hear that this is likely to be ready in the next two or three months. I had thought that we might pass a Bill this year. This could be referred to as Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. Perhaps we can have this Paper published before legislation; I hope this will be done.
Another important distinction I wish briefly to refer to between this White Paper and that of the previous Government is that the new metropolitan areas, which are different in character and number from the other ones, should not have responsibility for education, but that this responsibility should go to the metropolitan district councils. We are all aware that the evidence submitted to Lord Redcliffe-Maud's Commission from the Department of Education and Science and from experts generally was that education authorities should not concern themselves with populations of less than 500,000 people. While it is the view of the educational experts, a view which is respected, I think it is going a little too far to say that education authorities below a certain figure, even far below the 500.000 mark, can never be as efficient as the larger ones. I do not think this argument holds water.
Again, this conflict between democracy and efficiency is evident, in that although 1188 a larger authority may be more efficient it by no means follows that it will cost less to administer, nor that it is in any sense more human. Indeed, such evidence as I possess leads me to suppose that an education authority can become too large and too remote, and can become too busy to see the problems of individual families. Such matters are very important in people's personal lives, as all of us in local government will have experienced.
The contrary argument, that the smaller authorities are unable to provide the special facilities and specialist services which are necessary in modern education, is, I realise, a very strong one. But I do not see why these special services and so forth cannot be provided over a much wider area by some sort of sharing or participating arrangement between neighbouring authorities. For example, in my own authority we employ a peripatetic ping-pong teacher, and I feel certain that his essential and valuable services could be made available to adjacent authorities, if they so desired, on a cost-sharing basis. And what we can do for ping-pong, I think we can do also for more essential services—as indeed we do for teaching-training at this moment.
To keep education authorities within reasonable bounds is therefore a good thing. I welcome the White Paper's decision on this matter, and I am certain that it will be much easier to effect a changeover in large cities within metropolitan areas if they are able to keep their own existing education authorities, which they have cherished for so long and looked after so well and managed to operate with what I believe to be, in most cases, real efficiency.
I want to refer to one final matter; that is, the question of aldermen. I am aware that there is a large body of opinion which feels that aldermen have had their day; that they are an anachronism and should be abolished. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, has referred to-day to this view. I am not quite sure whether in his distinguished career he has been a councillor, nor whether he has been an alderman; and in this he may be as prejudiced as I am. I believe that in local government we are very much in need of people of experience to provide continuity. Some of them—most of them—are very busy in other fields. A great many valuable people will not be able to 1189 afford the time and expense required to fight elections every three years, and they will leave local government just at the time when their experience could be most valuable. So to keep experienced people throughout the upheaval of reorganisation will be particularly valuable to local government and, I would add, to the country. A hard-working councillor can spend almost as much time on his constituents as a Member of Parliament does, but without the Member of Parliament's secretarial help, and without his salary or his very long Recesses. Therefore, again I think this is a case where, although people cannot undertake indefinitely to remain on the council, their services can be retained in an aldermanic system for a limited period of time in a limited way.
The difficulty is that aldermanic vacancies and elections have sometimes been used for political manœuvreing. There is no doubt that bolstering-up of majorities, and so forth, has gone on. But, my Lords, it would be a mistake to throw out the baby with the bathwater, even if in some cases the bathwater was particularly dirty. I suggest, however, that an alderman should have done, say, at least three years' service on the council, particularly the council of which he is made alderman, and furthermore that the proportion of aldermen on any one council should be greatly reduced: from, say, one to three, as it now is to one to four or five of the total number of councilors. I believe that this would be a valuable step, and I hope the Government will not decide too hastily, or without careful thought, on the abolition of the alder-manic system.
In closing, I wholeheartedly welcome this White Paper and the prospects of action. It is going to be a big upheaval—perhaps the biggest ever contemplated; but I think it will work. It will cost money and take time to implement, and will involve much hard work from all those concerned in it. But once this rebirth is completed, those of us who may still be concerned in it will ask only to be left alone to perfect the system and get on with the job. I hope that I am the last Back Bench Peer who ever has to speak on a White Paper on local government reform.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I beg the indulgence of your 1190 Lordships in intervening at this late hour, particularly since I have not put my name down. However, I do so encouraged as a number of noble Lords have not spoken, but more particularly following the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. I have no connection at all with local government, but I did not feel that I could allow this particular debate to pass without adding support to what the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, has said. As noble Lords will know, I have lived and spent most of my working life in Southampton, and I feel that here is a city—a town a few years ago, now having achieved city status—which does deserve the special consideration which the noble Lord outlined in his speech.
The city is self-supporting; it has a population of 214,000 people; it has an effect upon over 400,000 people; it is diverse in its work and its leisure, having, as it were, the New Forest as an amenity, the docks and the passenger port as a large part of its business, and having the University and the new medical school as a nucleus of its educational and training work. With these attributes, to my way of thinking, there is little doubt that the city should, and could, achieve metropolitan status within a county, as the noble Lord suggests. I should be encouraged if I could feel that Her Majesty's Government would give this matter further consideration, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, suggested, and I endorse his suggestion.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I never cease to wonder at the wealth of knowledge and experience that this House can command. We have had the charm and skill of the noble Earl the Leader of the House in opening this debate; the value of the lengthy Ministerial experience of my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale; the brilliance of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud; the wit and knowledge of the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, whom it is always a delight to hear. We have had the quite exceptional experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, whom we missed from our debate last year but are glad to see this afternoon.
My Lords, I could go on, did time permit. I cannot think of any single speech to-day that I have listened to that was not 1191 worth while. It is no wonder that the sale of our Hansard exceeds that of another place: for these outstanding contributions that are made in practically all debates that we have in this House are so well worth while and, I think, so much better than the debates in another place. I have, with other noble Lords, to declare that I am a vice-president of a local authority association, the Association of Urban District Councils. I often wonder why we bother to say this; there are so many of us who happen to hold this sort of office. However, we all speak for ourselves and not for any associations—at least this is what we should be doing.
If the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is to wind up, can find any real unanimity emerging from this debate, he is a better man than I am. Of course there has been agreement about what I may call the clinchds of seeking vigorous local government; the need for the maximum local democracy and democratic control; that local government should be, and be seen to be, local in character and in fact. The noble Lords, Lord Davies of Leek and Lord Alport, and others, have rightly reminded us that local government is for the people; and how right they are!
We have always to remember, it seems to me, that what we do here ought to be for the people. A predecessor of the present right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells was once visiting Glastonbury, the place where I was born. In a little church very near to Glastonbury he found that they were removing the old benches, the old pews. He remonstrated with the churchwarden and said, '"You ought not to be removing these benches bearing the marks of the adze, which have been hallowed by time in your little church". The churchwarden looked up at him and said, "That's all very well for you, sir; you haven't got to sit in them." We ought to remember all the time that local government is for the people who have to "sit in 'em"; in other words, who are to be affected.
Even though there has not been unanimity of view expressed, I feel bound to say that there appears to be a pretty general acceptance that two-tier local government is about right for this country. On the reform of local government as a whole, I started with a very strong prejudice for two-tier government. 1192 I was nearly weaned from it by the cogency of argument in the Royal Commission's Report and the brilliance of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, in last year's debate. However, on further reflection, I have come round to the firm opinion that it would be preferable for this country to cling to two-tier government. After all, we understand it, and the vast majority at present engaged in local government, no matter in what capacity, have worked it.
So far as I personally am concerned, I find it difficult to do other than to accept, in the main, the principal proposals contained in the White Paper. I have some reservations on the allocation of functions as between the county authorities and the districts, but I will say straight away that I very much welcome the statement in the White Paper to the effect that the functions to be allotted to the two main sorts of authorities are such that it will not be a question of some authorities being answerable to others. This statement I like very much. But I must say that I find it a little difficult to see how those words are to be matched up to the holding of what are called "concurrent powers" by county councils and district councils. Concurrent powers are allocated in such matters as environmental health; the acquisition of land for planning purposes, and development and redevelopment. I find this a little difficult. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will be able to tell us how the Government visualise that concurrent powers will work, without one authority being to some extent answerable to the other. If he can do this, I shall be very much obliged, but I cannot see that it can be done quite as the White Paper visualises, and that one authority will not to some extent be answerable to the other.
In this matter of the allocation of functions, I rather think that those noble Lords are right who have questioned the wisdom of taking building regulation administration out of the hands of the district councils. I think that this should definitely reside with the authority which is nearest to the ground, and this is where the district council happens to be. When making, say, an alteration to a house, people ought not to be asked to go to the district council in connection with 1193 the planning, as they will have to do, and then go to the county council offices (perhaps many miles away) for the building regulation approval. I hope that the Government will look at this point again.
Still on functions, I should have thought that, although there is some pressure being exerted to allocate food and drugs supervision to the district councils (and despite anything which my noble friend Lord Greenwood has said on this matter), it is right that this type of thing should be allocated to an authority which is big enough to employ the staff that will do the work of sampling and analysis which surely must be done by a large authority. In this connection we have to remember that although 40,000 population is suggested as the minimum for district councils, the number may well be smaller in thinly populated areas. I welcome the fact that the districts are to be genuine authorities, with responsibilities and powers sufficient to make service with them a reality for both members and officers.
I disliked very much the idea contained both in the White Paper of the Labour Government and in the Royal Commission's Report, of local councils having only a duty to represent the wishes of the inhabitants, a right to be consulted, and powers which are not in keeping with really purposeful local control of local affairs or satisfactory to the type of officer or councillor that we need in local government. I believe that in this respect the White Paper that we are discussing is far superior to that of the Government which I supported. I completely agree with the acceptance by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, of the Government's clear intention that the artificial separation of town and country for local government purposes should end.
Nevertheless, this is going to raise some difficulties, as some noble Lords who have spoken here this afternoon made clear. There is always the little fear existing that the country will attempt to dominate the town, or perhaps the greater fear that the town will dominate the country, in matters such as this. This is inevitable, but I hope that we shall overcome it, because I hate the thought of a nice urban area within a narrow boundary, and outside it the vast countryside which looks to that urban area 1194 for its services and yet is cut off for local government purposes. That is quite wrong. I cannot pretend to a detailed knowledge of the metropolitan areas, so I shall not comment except to say that I think that both my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, are right in saying that some of the proposals are much too tightly drawn. They deserve the serious consideration mentioned by those noble Lords and by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, to whom I listened, as I always do on local government matters, with very great attention, talked of the age-old nonsense of the Welsh/English Border. He scorned his Government for failing to tackle this matter. My Lords, I do not blame the Government. I would remind the noble Viscount that good Shropshire men have lost their lives in the past as a result of messing about with that Border, and I feel sure that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is the last one to embark upon something which would endanger his life. If it did not endanger his life, it would certainly cause him to find himself in very great difficulties. The noble Earl must be careful. He should not be pushed on by the noble Viscount who sits behind him.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, can I take it that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, does not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in attributing courage to the Government in dealing with this matter?
My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord is attributing discretion rather than valour to me personally. I must say that I entirely agree with him.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, that is exactly what I was doing. I happen to know the noble Earl and think that he has a great deal of good sense. In connection with the White Paper which we are discussing, we are of course to await a Green Paper which we are told will be published later this year, which will tell us the Government's views about 1195 finance. A year ago, when discussing the Labour Government's White Paper, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and others, told us, in effect, that it was nonsense to be discussing local government reform in the absence of proposals for a reconstruction of the financial system. But those noble Lords, or at least the Government, are expecting everyone to discuss this White Paper intelligently in advance of the Green Paper which we are told to expect later. This is only a gentle leg-pull, because 12 months ago I could not see why you could not decide certain major changes in the structure of local government, and having done so make the financing of local government fit that structure; in other words, make the finance fit the structure and not the structure fit the finance, important though finance undoubtedly is.
With my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, I welcome the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has traversed the Road to Damascus. He has seen the blinding light, although it is not so blinding as all that. Incidentally, the same noble Lords seemed to think that it was nonsense to discuss local government reform without Crowther, but to-day they have no objection to proceeding, as we proposed to do, while awaiting the Crowther Report. Still, my Lords, I suppose that what I am doing now is merely playing the game of the "ins" and the "outs", to which Parliament is very much addicted; this game in which those who are "out" talk this way about the "ins", and the "ins" talk as they so often do about the "outs".
The next point to which I want to make some reference is the payment of councillors. I want to mention the enhanced duties of many of the councils, and the greater power they will have to wield if the Government find it possible in the words of the White Paper,…to return power to those people who should exercise decisions locally, and to ensure that local government is given every opportunity to take that initiative and responsibility effectively, speedily and with vigour.At county level, county councillors are to-day doing practically a full-time job and it will be even more a full-time job if the ideas in the White Paper are carried 1196 out in their entirety. If the Government decide that a salary ought not to be paid—and of course there is more than one view about this—there should be a payment for daily expenses which would cover travelling expenses, a subsistence allowance and a sum for loss of earnings. There ought also to be an allowance sufficiently generous to compensate for loss of promotion opportunities, which comparatively young men suffer when they give up much of their time to local government work. Without something of that sort, fewer and fewer ordinary working class men of the standard local government ought to have for its efficient running will be willing to stand for election. Something has to be devised in this connection. As the noble Viscount, Lord Amory said, we need councillors of the highest quality, and only in this way can we hope to get them.
My Lords, the last point to which I wish to make reference is that of the timetable. I very much agree with the White Paper where it says that the present momentum towards reform must not be lost. I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, when he welcomed that sentence. I must say that the timetable is tight, but not too tight when regard is had to the fact that the Report of the Royal Commission was dated June, 1969, that the Royal Commission sat from 1966 onwards, and that there had been intensive discussion by the associations of local authorities and others before 1969 in readiness for the presentations of submissions to the Commission. Added to that there were, and there have been over the last year, discussions arising out of the White Paper on local government.
What I would say about this proposal to reform local government is, "Reform it and leave it alone for as long as you can"; in other words, stop messing it about. The difficulties and frustrations created by the feeling that change is hanging over their heads is, for officers and councillors, enormous. That is why I strongly support the decision evidenced in the White Paper of setting a target date for the settling of boundaries of new districts. I also welcome the assurance in Circular 8/71 that the Commission will be set up while the Bill is before Parliament; in other words, that the preparations will go on and not wait until the 1197 Bill becomes an Act and some appointed day is set. My Lords, if the Boundary Commission looks like having difficulty in meeting the target date, split it up and let it conduct its examination in parts over the whole country, so that the target date will in fact be met.
Just how difficult the question of boundaries and sizes of new authorities is has been made glaringly obvious by the speeches of my noble friend, Lord Jacques, the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, and others. There are bound to be difficulties, but the Government must face those difficulties, and I think they have to push their legislation through. Look to see whether it is possible to make some adjustments, but in the main stick to the White Paper: that is the advice I tender to them. Whatever the pattern of the districts eventually proposed by the Boundary Commission, there is bound to be opposition which will go on up to the time of the Parliamentary debate on the Orders, when they are laid. Councillors and officials tend to cling to bits of territory and to powers with very great tenacity.
My Lords, the note upon which I wish to end is a note of praise for the officers and councillors who have carried local government in this country for so many years. A magnificent job has been done by them and the country owes them a very great debt. I feel it especially for those councillors who, as a result of this reform, will not longer find themselves councillors. Being a councillor is something which becomes part of one's life, and to be cut off, as some of them will be, will create a tremendous void in their lives—the sort of void I felt when I lost my seat in the other place in 1959. For a period I was absolutely lost, but fortunately I came here. They cannot all hope to get back on other councils and I can only say that this House should feel with those councillors and should do what I am doing now—thank them sincerely for the magnificent work they have done and hope that they will not be too frustrated in their lives after this White Paper becomes a reality.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I should like to start by first of all thanking all those noble Lords who have given Her Majesty's Government their comments 1198 and advice and have posed us their questions during this debate, but I think the House will appreciate it if I am somewhat selective in those remarks to which I respond at this particular moment. I should next like especially to register my tribute and my applause to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and to all their colleagues for the Report on which all this is based and without which none of it could be happening; and also especially for the very generous welcome for our plans which both of them expressed, despite their reservations, and for the strong encouragement they gave to our determination to "get on with it".
I should also like to acknowledge the warm response that we have received from the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and from almost all their colleagues on that side of the House, for our particular choice, which is, of course, not their choice. We welcome particularly the powerful note of encouragement that we have received to press on, though, of course, not to press on into Wales—that is a useful caution. I should like, if I may, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, on being made President of the Urban District Councils Association, and to express our regret at not having with us today the President of the Rural District Councils Association, the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, who sent me a telegram to express his regrets at not being here.
Finally in my expression of gratitude on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I should like to thank the local authority associations (which I can do very conveniently through their presidents, ex-presidents and vice-presidents, who have in so many respects and from so many quarters adorned the whole of this debate) for the work that they have already done, for the work that they are doing now and for the work that they have undertaken to do to help us set the pace we have set and to keep it up. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said, there is indeed a very great deal still to be done.
My Lords, I should like to turn, in sequence, to the various sizes of authority with which this whole programme deals, and first of all to the regions and the Provinces, and particularly to the criticism which has been voiced by several 1199 noble Lords and Baronesses about the fact that the metropolitan county boundaries have been drawn too tightly. Our view (and surely, my Lords, this is the experience so far with Greater London) is that all the big issues of the big conurbations the green belt, overspill housing, commuter travel, planning and building of strategic highways and problems of employment—affect really big areas far beyond any boundary that would suit other functions of any single local government authority. The conurbations act upon the whole of a very wide region around them, and the counter-action needs to be worked out on a regional and provincial basis.
Of course, we are not unmindful of this problem, but we recognise that for the time being it is to the appointed economic planning councils and the standing conferences of elected local authority members that we must look for the answers to these problems. The South-East Joint Planning Study, on which the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, served and to which he referred, has shown what can be done. It has shown how that worm to which the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, referred can be defeated. Later on, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, reminded us, we shall have the benefit of the views of the Royal Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther; but we do not believe that in the meantime any of these problems can be dealt with or mitigated or reduced by extending the boundaries of the metropolitan counties in an attempt to embrace them. Indeed, they fall more readily to those who can cope with them if the boundaries are drawn closely: and this, therefore, is what we have done.
We think that it is this change of outlook, as compared with Maud, which leads us to find conditions in which six, rather than three, metropolitan counties will serve well. But in that process we have also become quite clear, as did the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe-Maud, and his colleagues, that those conditions do not exist anywhere else—either in Hampshire, where the previous Government thought they did and where the noble Lords, Lord Jacques and Lord Lucas, still think they do, or in Central Lancashire, where the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, thought they did, but his Party did not.
1200 My Lords, if I may, I will turn to the next level, counties and districts and their boundaries. As my noble friend the Leader of the House has said, the introduction by us of a second tier in the non-metropolitan counties has obscured the very wide measure of agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the Royal Commission on almost everything else. In fact, the debate has revealed some fresh agreements that we had not up till now been expecting, both in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and in those of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. For instance, we are at one with them in agreeing, as Labour did not, that education was a service which could be handled adequately by the metropolitan districts. The huge majority of our counties lie within the population range they established and followed; and it has to be remembered that in practice every service for which the Maud unitary authorities would have been responsible and every service for which the new counties will be responsible is certain to be decentralised for one reason or another and in one way or another. For example, local authority personal social services would have worked, and still will work, following the Seebohm Report, in area teams covering a population of roughly 50,000 to 100,000. The difference is that what would have been decentralised by an administrative or managerial decision in every case will now in some cases be allocated to district councils by Statute with areas defined by order.
It is for that reason that it does not by any means follow, as Lord Greenwood feared, that physical planning and social planning might be divorced. Nevertheless, there is clearly a very great deal to be said for using the same boundaries both for the area into which local authority functions are decentralised by management for administrative reasons and also for those areas in which other local authority functions are exercised by district authorities under Statute. I am glad to confirm that the Boundaries Commission will have this consideration in mind, as they will also have in mind the fact of which the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, reminded us, that the reorganisation of the National Health Service is 1201 to come into being simultaneously with the reform of local government and is to share boundaries, as closely as is practicable.
To the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, all I would say further is that the Boundary Commission will be a permanent, independent body capable of keeping local authority boundaries under review. My noble friend the Leader of the House referred to our desire to establish a structure of local government that would last for a hundred years. All of us would say "Hear, hear "to that; but no one expects that the boundaries within that structure will remain permanent for that length of time; and the full intention of Her Majesty's Government is to establish a strong, independent Boundary Commission to keep the boundaries under adjustment.
A certain amount has been said today in this House, and a good deal more outside it, to the effect that the county boroughs will disappear under this plan; and so they will. But, my Lords, so will every other authority which is now on the face of the map. All authorities now involved in local government will disappear, and all will be making an entirely fresh start.
Perhaps I may turn for a moment, before I go on to the next level, to the question of housing, on which I think Her Majesty's Government and members of the Royal Commission are still not in agreement. The Government believe that housing is a function which should be operated as close to the citizen as possible. Accordingly, district councils are proposed as the main housing authorities everywhere. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and with many others, that county councils will need powers to deal with housing problems which transcend district boundaries. Proposals are now being considered in detail, and they will include provision to make sure that there need be no gap between the satisfying of housing needs and the tackling of other personal and social problems.
I should like to turn to, not the least but the smallest of the authorities to be considered; namely, the parishes, the 1202 most local of the local councils—and I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, referred to them in particular. The noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe-Maud, said in his Report there can be little doubt in anybody's mind that there is a level well below the 200,000 mark where people feel at home and where they may say, "This is where I belong". As the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, reminded us, it is often at this level that the spirit of local service is first kindled. It should be possible at this level for people to say what they want to say, and to be heard; to pay for what they want to have and get it done. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who said much the same thing during his lively speech.
My Lords, we neglect this element in the whole pattern of local government very much at our peril. Perhaps it may wait while the larger areas and the bigger functions are discussed, and the financial side must wait for our Green Paper. But while the main structure of local government is being re-forged, the pattern of the parishes must be pondered with the very greatest care. There are, of course, the existing rural parishes—7,000 of them; and some combination or reorganisation of these might be helpful. There will be more scope in future for councils of the parish council mould in the smaller towns; and there is scope, too, for councils (of a rather different kind) to focus the views and desires of whole neighbourhoods in the larger towns. These last may be of two kinds, either statutory or voluntary—or even both—working in parallel. But these are matters to be looked at later on.
What is also important now, at this level in particular, is that voluntary bodies and the Churches (here I particularly welcome what the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said) and all other bodies who work closely with the local authority services should make their views known and say how they think the pattern of the new services at the more local levels should be re-fashioned. Incidentally, I would say to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, that so far as the Church is concerned, the dioceses are already much closer to the pattern to which local government is moving than is local government itself, and they may well have a contribution to make. The 1203 Church has never divided town and country in the way it has been divided, up to now, by local government.
Then, my Lords, when, in due course, the new boundaries are settled, I entirely agree that voluntary bodies and the Churches should be quick to adjust themselves to fit in and build up new Church/State voluntary statutory partnerships at the local level under the new conditions.
May I turn briefly to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, and others, about the sanctions and controls exercised by central Government over local government? In his Royal Commission Report the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, agreed that the controls that central Government exercise over local government should be reviewed once local government is reorganised. We very much agree upon the need for this. But we have already started the process, and we hope that the main legislation for the reform of local government, the Bill that is to be introduced in the next Session, will itself contain the first fruits of that review. Beyond that, the review will be a continuing and searching process.
I come now finally (I apologise for speaking at some length, but this is a wide topic) to the programme for putting into effect the proposals in this White Paper. Of all the wide support that these proposals have had, I think perhaps the widest is for the Government's intention now to act with all despatch. We have heard Lord Redcliffe-Maud's encouragement to press on with "this robust, vigorous and ambitious programme" and we are grateful to him for these words. We have also heard—and this in a way is even more welcome—from the General Secretary of NALGO, speaking for those who are, with a vengeance, on the receiving end of all this, these words:NALGO welcomes the end of uncertainty and welcomes the speed of the timetable which the Government have laid down.While talking of staff, I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, for recognising the value of the Staff Commission which we propose to set up and for acknowledging, as did the noble Lords, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, Lord Champion and others, the weight that the local authority officers will be bearing, and 1204 bearing not just for the next three years but for many years thereafter, as they seek to perfect the new system which we, by legislation, are introducing.
The fact is that in this week in three years' time, on April 1, 1974, all the new councillors will be elected, officers will be in their new posts in all the new authorities and all will be set to go. Perhaps I may briefly re-state the programme between now and then. It is this. Early next Session the main Bill will be introduced. Meanwhile the Government have asked for comments about areas. And I would urge the counties of Essex, Buckinghamshire, Somerset, Suffolk and other counties whose case has been urged so eloquently this afternoon in the House to urge their case to us—in 10 copies, with three supporting, maps, and, if possible, emulating the eloquence of noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. I can assure them that their comments will certainly he heeded. But I hold out no prospect whatever of any extension of the date, the end of May. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for his endorsement of our determination to stick firmly to that.
The Government are now having consultations with the local authority associations about functions—and these, of course, include building controls, clean air, museums, concurrent powers, food and drugs, and all those things about which many noble Lords have spoken and made such hopeful comments on today. The Government will come to conclusions on both areas and functions in time for those conclusions to be incorporated in the Bill. This preparation, the drafting and the introduction of the Bill, will occupy most of the rest of this year, 1971.
In the course of this period our Green Paper on local government finance will be issued, and I can assure the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that that will be done before the Bill is introduced. At the same time, and in the same period, the Report of the Central Advisory Water Committee will be published. The consultation document on the reorganised National Health Service will also be published, and discussions on all these will continue.
When, in 1972, the Bill has been given a Second Reading, the Boundaries Corn-mission will be brought into being and 1205 will start work on the district boundaries outside the metropolitan areas. Their proposals will be debated in Parliament and will be given effect by Order at the end of 1972. In this period our Bill on housing finance will be before Parliament. During 1973 the members of the new authorities will be elected: those of the counties and the metropolitan districts in the spring; those of the other districts in the late autumn. If thought fit, there will be an opportunity in this period to legislate on local authority finance. In 1974, on April 1, the new authorities, and also the new authorities that will run the reorganised National Health Service, are to take over.
Our predecessors were planning to legislate in 1971–72. Nothing has changed to make the need for reform less urgent—in fact, everything conspires to make an early change important. There will therefore be no delay in drafting and introducing legislation. Nor is there any virtue in any extension of the period of transition. I am glad therefore for to-day's firm endorsement, from virtually all of your Lordships, that the broad conclusions that have now been reached should now be implemented, and with all despatch.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.