§ 2.28 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion for Second Reading introduced yesterday by the Lord Sandford, on behalf of the Lord Aberdare.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, may I intervene for just a moment on the subject of the Local Government Bill? I regret to say that it has been brought to my attention that, unfortunately, there are some mistakes and omissions in the present print of the Bill, especially in Part III of Schedule 1, and I understand it will be necessary for the Bill to be returned formally to another place. We shall be receiving a message to that effect during the course of the day. I understand that these mistakes are not of sufficient magnitude that they need affect the Second Reading debate on which we are involved. I have had this matter drawn to my attention only fairly recently, and I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is right to continue with this debate. I will make a further Statement during the course of the afternoon when I have had an opportunity of looking further at the position. I would emphasise that this represents no fault of your Lordships' House or of the printers, but I very much regret that it should have occurred.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I think it is quite right that he should tell us of this difficulty at the earliest opportunity. I must say, however, that if he says that it is not the fault of this House or of the printers, we wonder whose fault it is. Unquestionably it is the fault of the Government because the Government are always responsible and therefore always 163 ought to be blamed. But, in any case, if they rush the amount of legislation through Parliament that they are doing then mistakes are likely to occur. This says very much for the good temper and co-operation of this House, conscious as we are that we on this side of the House also had misfortunes when we were in Government. But we could never have hoped to achieve the heights of muddle in which this Government are supreme.
Obviously the opportunity to put this matter right raises interesting procedural questions. Despite the high quality of yesterday's debate, and the high quality that we hope from the debate to-day, I do not think that any noble Lord would wish all the speeches to be repeated again if by any chance the Bill has to start again, nor do we want a No. 2 Bill—an "Aberdare's Pie"—on this occasion. No doubt the noble Lord will inform us what is to be done. I am quite sure that the House will accept the noble Lord's assurance, which is no doubt a carefully considered one, that there is nothing in this particular Schedule which would significantly have a bearing on the noble Lord's speeches. I only hope that this is not happening to other Bills and I hope somebody is checking them in time.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving us this explanation. I understand that the Bill will require amending in this House and that therefore it will go back to another place in due course for the Amendments to be approved. If that is so, I take it that it will have no effect on the Parliamentary timetable if other Amendments are made to the Bill in this House.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for the very co-operative way in which he has received this piece of very bad news. So far as the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, are concerned, the fact is that the Bill, as printed, has to go back to the House of Commons for it to be put in proper order formally. It then comes back here again. This is a formal procedure; it does not have to be amended. The fault lies in the printing and not on the Parliamentary side of it.
My Lords, I wonder if the noble Lord can help us a 164 little on this matter. I happen to have noticed that in Part III of Schedule 1, there is the obvious error which reads as follows:The boundaries of the new local government areas shall be mered by ordnance survey.I do not think that we have gone back to any Anglo-Saxon parlance. I think that must be a typographical error. Are the errors in this Bill of that nature, or are they substantial? If they are substantial they might affect our speeches.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, this is not one of the errors. "Mereing" is a technical term. It is not a matter of misprints; certain Amendments that were made in another place to these Schedules have not been properly printed in the Bill.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, I noticed an error yesterday and I am sorry I did not mention it. Perhaps I had better mention it now in case it is not one that the noble Lord has in mind. On page 211 it says:… so much of the borough of Whitley Bay as lies south of the boundary referred to in paragraph 5 of Part III of this Schedule;If we turn to Part III of the Schedule we find that paragraph 5 has nothing whatever to do with Whitley Bay.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, the noble Baroness has probably put her finger on one of the things that has gone wrong.
My Lords, without wishing to prolong this discussion, and with great respect to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, may I suggest that if we have to have a No. 2 Bill it would be better called, "Morys's Mince" than "Aberdare's Pie"?
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ THE PAYMASTER GENERAL (VISCOUNT ECCLES)
My Lords, we must all regret that we have not had the usual Report of yesterday's proceedings. Many of the speeches were extremely interesting and will repay careful reading. The noble Lord, Lord Watkins, and my noble friend Lord Selborne gave us maiden samples of their wisdom and eloquence which we hope to hear repeated on many subjects in the future. The noble Earl, speaking with real authority, made me feel very old. His great-grandfather, as Warden of 165 Winchester College, was exceedingly kind to me when I was a boy in the school. I should like to mention the last two speakers in yesterday's debate, the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, and my noble friend Lord Gisborough. They spoke with great knowledge and it is most unfortunate that their excellent speeches are not available to those taking part to-day.
I wish to say a few words on Clauses 100, 142, 186 and 199 to 201. These clauses deal with education, libraries, museums and the arts. All four services are the responsibility of one Department, the Department of Education and Science. The way in which the Bill allocates the functions in relation to these services illustrates one of the major forces now at work in all advanced societies. This is a powerful movement pulling in opposite directions. On the one hand the accumulation of knowledge and the revolutionary progress of technology compel us to organise our affairs in larger and larger units. If we did not yield to this pressure we should deny ourselves great opportunities for raising the standard of life for everybody.
On the other hand, men and women are reacting against the concentration of decision-making in places remote from the people whom the decisions will affect. They are claiming a greater say in what happens to them at work and in the community where they live. This demand is manifest in industry and in the social services. We see it in the schools and universities. Parents are trying to have more influence on their children's education, students on the running of universities. We see it in the arts. Why should not the regions have as much attention and support as Central London? The spreading dissatisfaction with over-centralised authority offers local government a most serious challenge. The way it is met under the provisions of this Bill will be of the greatest significance to our future.
It follows that this Bill will succeed in the measure that it provides for the simultaneous movement towards both larger and smaller groupings in the distribution of power across the country. The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, was absolutely right to remind us yesterday that for this reason the future of parish councils is vital to local govern-
166 ment as a whole. Your Lordships could nowhere see better than in the clauses to which I am speaking how the drive for efficiency through larger units interacts with the search for humanity through the active participation in the life of their neighbourhood, of individuals, small groups, parishes and districts.
Looking at services like education and libraries, the advantages of the larger as against the smaller authorities have become plainer every year since the war. I mean by advantages the scope for the planning and provision of an ever-wider range of services within the limits of the available resources. Therefore a significant reduction in the number of these authorities is now overdue. I can hardly believe that anyone with any real experience of local government would dispute this necessity. But the reduction from 163 to 103 in local education authorities which will be the result, if the Bill is passed, might only satisfy one of the forces at work in society—the movement towards greater efficiency at the expense of greater humanity. How then at the same time do we open up the opportunities for many more men and women to participate in the task of governing themselves? This surely is the problem posed by local government reorganisation in the 'seventies.
We start with the obvious fact that the Bill concentrates large powers in the hands of the reduced number of first-level authorities. I can understand that some noble Lords—they said so yesterday—may think that Mr. Walker is paying too high a price for greater efficiency. Efficiency is very much my right honourable friend's individual style, and we could do with more of it in this country. But on looking at Clause 100 and taking account of my right honourable friend's statements in another place we find very important new initiatives in the other direction—that is, towards devolution in the management of the services.
Devolution in the services performed by local government has hitherto been written into Acts of Parliament. In education we have had divisional executives and excepted districts. In the library service powers were granted to many authorities too small to keep pace with present-day needs. The weakness of statutory devolution is that it may impose an obligation to provide a service 167 of a range and standard which is beyond the resources of the area. My right honourable friend's innovation, which deserves the closest attention from your Lordships, is first to give powers only to authorities which have the resources to exercise them fully—or nearly fully because there will always have to be some co-operation between education authorities—and then to substitute devolution by agreement for devolution by Statute.
May I for a moment look at what is implied by this concept of devolution by agreement? Your Lordships know from your own experience that devolution by Statute sets up awkward boundaries between one authority and another operating the same service. These boundaries are defended tooth and nail by councillors and clerks, and much time and energy are consumed in these miniature Whitehall battles. By getting rid of statutory devolution my right honourable friend ensures that where there are new boundaries they will be established by consent of both parties. The new counties will have the responsibility for making schemes of devolution. It will be very much in their interest to see that the services for which they are responsible are understood and genuinely popular in all parts of their area. For this agency agreements will be very important. This is the purpose of Clause 100 and of the new clause which the Government will move, detailing the provisions relating to these agency agreements.
It may be that the old hands in local government will tell us that devolution by agreement is unlikely to be effective because it is taking altogether too optimistic a view of the characters whom we know so well in local government, but on further consideration I hope your Lordships will see how by one means or another this kind of devolution is a modern necessity. The distribution of local government powers is usually discussed in too narrow and too professional a context. To-day we do not need devolution from one set of officials to another set of officials so urgently as more co-operation between those charged with responsibility for the service and the users of the service.
Local government's relations with the public are becoming more important than 168 the relations between different levels of authority. Why is this so? Why is it the heart of the matter? Because, my Lords, we cannot educate every boy and girl as we are educating them to-day and expect them to remain passive all the rest of their lives. Young people in increasing numbers would be prepared to give something to the development of their community if whoever is in power asked them to give it. If nothing is asked of them they will either become apathetic or, worse still, irresponsible, and it will be our fault.
How can we arrange to bring them in and give them more influence on the public services? It is no answer to say that everyone over 18 has a vote at local elections and that that is a good enough form of participation. Look at the figures. What proportion of the electorate bothers to vote, and how many of those who vote do so more because they are thinking of national politics than of local affairs? Why do more not vote? Because they do not think their vote will make any difference to the conduct of their local authority, whichever party is in power. This apathy is dangerous. Can it be converted into a genuine interest? Devolution of powers from one authority to another would not by itself be a satisfactory answer.
The powers of the smaller authorities might be, and sometimes are, equally insensitively exercised. Satisfaction with local government will grow provided that, if you have something to say about a local service, you are listened to and at all times are given the fullest possible information on which to frame your views. Here I believe that local radio and television could be of the greatest importance if the authorities will give them a full chance to play their part. Again when you feel you could take some practical part in making your community a better place you must not be fobbed off but given every possible chance to be of use. These are the needs of to-day and to-morrow, and they point, for example, to many more strong advisory committees on many subjects, particularly I think, in the education service where there are not going to be any agency agreements.
It stands to reason that there must be an infinite variety of ways in which individuals, groups and parishes can be 169 informed, consulted and invited to participate in local government services. Sharing power by agreement is, therefore, the only method by which each situation can be assessed and the appropriate arrangements made. Of course there is a risk—perhaps a very great risk—that the new large authorities will dislike this kind of devolution. They will be committing suicide if they do. Make no mistake about that.
I turn now to Clause 186, which deals with local education authorities. Here my right honourable friend has sought to achieve a balance between efficiency and the size of an authority most likely to manage the education service in the best interests of the users. Divisional executives and excepted districts are abolished. That is a welcome move in the direction of a more economic and comprehensive provision of the full range of services which are now looked for in public education. But some people (among them the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and some well-respected mandarins in the education service) think that the Secretary of State has not gone far enough in reducing the number of L.E.A.s. They would like the metropolitan counties, rather than the metropolitan districts, to be the education authorities.
One must remember that the population of the six metropolitan counties ranges from 1¼ million to nearly 3 million, and three of them are over 2 million. All those conurbations differ and the educational structure which would best suit each one is a matter of judgment. We had an eloquent plea from the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, on behalf of West Riding, and no doubt we shall return to that on Committee. But the Government think, and so did Redcliffe-Maud, that 1 million is about the upper limit for the new L.E.A.s. Therefore, to create at one stroke six new L.E.A.s all larger than 1¼ million seems to us definitely wrong.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, would the noble Viscount allow me to ask whether he is overlooking the fact that some of the non-metropolitan counties number nearly 1½, million—for example, Hampshire—which is greater than some of the metropolitan counties?
§ VISCOUNT ECCLES
My Lords, I quite agree with the noble Baroness. Hampshire is a great exception, to which the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and others, including I think the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, referred yesterday. We have to recognise the fact that there is no single population statistic which is good for all parts of the country. It is very difficult, as we all know so well, when introducing the framework of the local government services to suit very widely differing areas in different parts of the country. So I would agree that Hampshire, if it grows to 2 million, which it is said to be going to do, will be a difficult authority to run. That is likely. Naturally, the metropolitan districts will not always be able to provide the full range of the further and special education services. But, my Lords, that is no argument. Many of the non-metropolitan counties will be even smaller and they will not be able to provide them, either. Co-operation among education authorities, as many of us in this House know, is a permanent feature of the education service. On these Benches we believe that it would be wrong to create any more giant education authorities in these metropolitan areas. I hope that the House will leave this Part of the Bill as it stands.
Coming now to libraries, the public library service in England and Wales is about 120 years old. It is the best of its kind in the world. Certainly that is the opinion of the experts at UNESCO. In the last twenty years the issues of books from our public libraries have risen from 300 million to 700 million a year. We can take comfort from the fact that all the counter-attractions to reading have failed to stem this tremendous expansion. The rise in the size, cost and diversity of the service now makes it urgent to reform the structure, so that with the resources available expansion can continue in the directions that are most useful to the public, and at an economic cost. On what principles should we plan this expansion? One thing should be clear. The planning and execution of all these library developments should take place in the closest co-operation with the education system.
We are in the middle—I rather hope we are only at the beginning—of a period of great growth in adult education; and 171 for that development libraries are a basic tool. We see already how the books borrowed are gradually changing in character, from fiction to biographies, history, science, reference books and books on do-it-yourself activities. We must also note the admirable way in which libraries are extending their activities to music and other forms of adult education and entertainment. And so, my Lords, the library which serves a comparatively small population is progressively challenged by social and educational changes occurring in the world beyond its boundaries. Therefore, the administrative problem is how to find a satisfactory balance between the acquisition and distribution of total stocks in a large enough area and the best service at the points at which the books are issued. We believe that the solution is to make the county councils and metropolitan districts the library authorities, and then, to quote the words of the Library Association:to make arrangements between counties and districts to preserve the best aspects of local involvement in the serviceThat is exactly what the agency agreements will be about; and all the expert opinion is in favour of reform of this kind.
Who are against it? Naturally, some of the independent library authorities who, under the Bill, will lose their powers to the county councils. We have here the old argument between the independent shop and the chain store. Undoubtedly, there are benefits on both sides, and the question is how we can secure the best of both worlds in our library service. We propose that the only authorities enjoying library powers shall be those which also enjoy education powers. This is the indispensable framework. We shall then expect the new authorities to negotiate schemes of devolution with the libraries that are going to lose their independence.
We shall issue guidelines for these schemes, and there will be a once-for-all appeal from the district to the Secretary of State against a scheme of devolution on the ground that, within the guidelines that will have been established, it does not go far enough. There will not, of course, be any question of full library powers being devolved on to a district. I should perhaps add that the reasons 172 for granting separate status to a few libraries in Wales do not exist in England. In Wales, the language differential, and the difficulties of communication from one area to another, justify exceptional treatment—and, from what he said last night, I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Heycock, cares very much that the treatment should be exceptional.
The library service is a statutory service. Museums and galleries are rightly treated differently: first, because, as my noble friend Lord Cranbrook said yesterday, they were so often established by private benefaction and there is no national pattern; and, secondly, it would he impossible to define what should be the minimum number of institutions and standard of service. In this way, museums are like theatres and concert halls; the decision to establish and maintain them must be a local decision. Under the Bill, no one will be required to hand his museum over to a larger authority. King's Lynn, for example, were afraid that their fine new museum might have to go to the Norfolk County Council. It will not. On the other hand, if the two levels of authorities want to make a voluntary rearrangement of responsibilities for museums in their area, they will have power to do so. No doubt they will take into account local enactments and trusts.
One defect in the present law is that a district may be excused the county rate for museums and galleries if it maintains a museum of its own. I am advised that, provided a district has a room with one or two old relics in it and calls it a museum, it can escape a contribution to county museum services, however much it might benefit from them. The Government will move an Amendment to put this matter right.
If the Bill becomes law the majority of new districts will inherit one or more museums maintained by existing authorities and will be faced with the problem of how to administer them. This problem could not be solved without a local review of what to do about all the museums in each area. We expect that each new county and the districts in its area will come together to review the museum services for which they are responsible. When agreement on the structure is reached, local decisions will 173 be taken on who shall own and maintain the premises, appoint the staffs and on how the costs shall be shared. The principle will apply that everyone pays for the services that he gets. If it is decided that districts shall continue to maintain local museums, then the county is empowered to make grants to those districts and vice versa. The concurrent powers about which my noble friend Lord Cranbrook spoke last night will, I believe, work very well in this field.
I come finally to the Arts. Under the existing law the powers of local authorities to support the Arts are concealed in clauses which deal with entertainments in a general sort of way; they contain references to dance halls, pleasure grounds, theatres, concert halls, orchestras and so on. The Arts as such are not mentioned. When considering in a comprehensive way the quality of life in any community, I do not think that the Arts should be put in a separate category from all the other forms of culture and entertainment. Nevertheless, I see great presentational advantages in giving local authorities specific powers to support the Arts, directly or through the regional arts associations. The Government therefore propose to amend Clause 142 to give local authorities, from parishes to county councils, specific power to support the Arts; and to define the Arts as including the crafts. This will be the first time that artist-craftsmen are recognised alongside other artists. The parish or community council will not have the power to run a museum or gallery. None do now. However, they will have power to establish and run a centre for the Arts which might well include exhibitions of objects of local interest. I am particularly anxious to see the records of local history collected and well looked after not too far from the places to which they relate.
I know that some people think that we ought to make a contribution from local authorities to the Arts mandatory rather than permissive. In my view this would be wrong and a counsel of despair. Your Lordships may agree that art provided by Statute is something of a contradiction in terms and that, in any event, there would be no guarantee that the money was well spent. We could not define the minimum provision of theatres, concert halls and so on. The whole of this area 174 is one of rapid growth and no definition of what constitutes enough would be helpful at this stage. Further, I do not think we need despair of local authorities as supporters of the Arts. On the contrary, there is a very welcome movement in the right direction. Many authorities are being successfully wooed by the regional arts associations and I am persuaded that we should continue to rely on support by agreement. After all, art depends on enthusiasm and one cannot create enthusiasm by law.
I will briefly sum up the case for the Bill in the areas for which I have some responsibility. The Bill provides a framework of authorities endowed with large resources within whose areas there will be schemes of devolution to the districts and a great opportunity to multiply the participation of the public in local government. I think the latter the more important. It will not happen of its own accord and greater concern will have to be felt and shown towards the users of local government services. It is this gradual involvement of the public in the operations of local government which will prove to be an indispensable step in the evolution of a better society. We must learn how to bridge the gap between those who govern and those who are governed, and for learning this lesson the Bill provides us with many and fascinating opportunities.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ BARONESS WHITE
My Lords, I echo the remarks of the Paymaster General about the quality of our debate yesterday. I also wish at the outset to add my congratulations to the many already received by the two maiden speakers. We look forward with great interest to further maiden speeches today, and I am sure that noble Lords in all parts of the House will agree that we look for ward with particular interest to the contribution we shall be having from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who is unrivalled in this House for her experience in this field.
I should have liked very much to comment on many of the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in his extremely interesting speech. I shall certainly hope to touch on some of them, but the exigencies of the timetable will make it difficult for us to do justice to the 175 noble Viscount's remarks. I propose to comment later on Clause 100, and I was delighted to hear what the Paymaster General said about the proposed Amendment to Clause 142. I am only surprised that such a provision was not included in the original draft of the Bill. Meanwhile, I congratulate the noble Viscount on following in the steps of the late Aneurin Bevan in encouraging expenditure by local authorities on the Arts in all directions.
We really are constrained by the timetable today. We have an important debate coming later on industrial relations and already 19 names are on the list. We are being asked to deal with a Bill of this magnitude and importance in a very difficult situation and, although I am a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House, I must ask why we could not have started this Bill in this House. We have great expertise here. The differences on this subject, with one or two exceptions, do not run along Party lines. We could have done a pre-digestion job on the Bill earlier in the year when we were kicking our heels with nothing much to do. It is a pity that we were not given that opportunity and that we do not have adequate time now to deal with this important Bill. As I say, we in this House have great resources for dealing with a matter of this kind.
If my suggestion had been followed, we should not have had the hustle of the final stages of the measure in the other place, with the Third Reading of this momentous document going through in four minutes flat, and we should not be under the kind of pressures which have been acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare—pressures which have led to a defective Bill being laid before your Lordships' House. I therefore hope that the remarks made earlier in our deliberations by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, about trying to find a better balance of work between the two Houses, may be extended to Bills of this nature.
We feel it imperative, on this side of the House at least, that we should have one speech from this Box from the point of view of the Principality of Wales. My noble friend Lord Champion is, if I might say so, a Welshman by adoption but he took a more general view yesterday and 176 I have been asked to comment more particularly from the Welsh point of view. I might say that as former Minister of State of the Welsh Office, with my then Ministerial colleagues, I consulted every single local authority in Wales on the proposals that have been put before us. We are in some real difficulty because this is a combined Bill for England and Wales, and yet the history of local government reform in Wales is quite different from the history of local government reform in England.
Yesterday, very rightly, reference was made to the period of uncertainty which had been endured by the elected members and staffs of English local authorities since the setting up of the Commission under the very distinguished chairmanship of Lord Redcliffe-Maud in 1966. But, my Lords, we in Wales started years earlier. We had our first draft proposals in 1961. We had revised proposals in 1963. We had another White Paper in 1967. There were modifications to that in 1968. We were then told that we must wait for the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, which reported in June, 1969. We had a further White Paper issued by the Labour Government in 1970. We then had a consultative document issued by the present Administration in 1971. And, finally, we have this Bill. So I am sure your Lordships will sympathise with those of us who are concerned with Welsh affairs about the difficulty of discussing them adequately in a Bill which is concerned also with our larger neighbour, but where our interests are somewhat different.
Of course, I can very well understand why the present Government were perhaps a little hesitant about introducing a separate Bill for Wales, considering their rather tenuous footing in the Principality. Both the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of State represent English constituencies. If the Bill had been left to the Welsh Members of Parliament in another place I have very little doubt, if it had been on the lines of the Bill now before us, that it would have been thrown out for one reason, and perhaps for one reason only; that is, the proposals concerning the City of Cardiff. I shall have to return to the subject. It is a distasteful one. This City is exempted and excepted from every principle laid down for every other 177 comparable authority in either England or Wales.
I know that in many parts of both countries there are sincerely held differences of view and very genuine clashes of interest into which, no doubt, some Party political considerations may enter here and there. But I do not think there is anywhere in the United Kingdom where one can say that all other considerations, apart from political ones, seem to have been cast to the winds regardless of consistency or principle. I do not like saying this, and I shall explain and justify my comments later, but I feel I must say it because this is something which, as a Welsh person, makes me feel sad and rather ashamed.
But, meanwhile, I should like to turn to some other aspects of the Bill. We have been discussing this Bill in terms of a two-tier system. We in Wales had come to the conclusion, certainly by 1967, that on balance the two-tier system was the best pattern for us. I can see the very great attractions of unitary authorities, as argued in the Redcliffe-Maud Report, but in a country with very wide areas as thinly populated as those in most parts of Wales such authorities would not work, except possibly in parts of the industrial South. But I believe that we should really be thinking in terms not so much of a two-tier system, as of a four-tier system.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, very rightly stressed the importance of the grass roots organisation in communities or parishes, and we entirely concur in that. In Wales we set the pace in this. Such councils, whether you call them community councils, as in Wales, or parish councils or whatever else they wish to call them in the other parts of the Kingdom, will provide a focal point for local discussion and expression of views, as well as carrying out some minor but locally very important functions. But at the higher end of the scale we in Wales are also very much concerned about what in England would be called "regional" or "provincial" administration. We very much regret that we have to consider this Bill without the benefit of the advice of the Crowther Commission on the Constitution. I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said yesterday. He is a most distinguished member of that Commission. 178 I know, of course, that the late Lord Crowther was consulted in this matter. It still seems to me a pity that we could not be discussing as a whole the structure of all administration below central Government level.
We in Wales have a number of matters which might well be dealt with on an all-Wales basis, and I think we shall wish to discuss them at Committee stage. Meanwhile, as we are all aware, the Government are, bit by bit, hiving off various functions—for example, the Health Service proposals for water supply, possibly for teacher training, and devolving the administration of the Department of the Environment itself. They are all being discussed or organised on a regional basis, which may or may not coincide with what is ultimately to be proposed. I was very much concerned yesterday with what seemed to me to be the rather unduly light-hearted way in which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, suggested that in due course certain powers might be abstracted from the higher tier of local authorities, as well as from central government, in favour of administration at regional level.
I took the trouble to read the Xeroxed copy of his speech in our Library. The noble Lord said:…if it was later considered that some kind of provincial assembly was necessary and desirable—whether for England or Wales—there would not be any basic difficulty in taking away some of the functions from the top tier local government unit, particularly things like land use and planning, and carrying them on to the higher level.I am not necessarily against such a move, but I should hope we would all realise that it could upset the balance of responsibility between the various tiers of local authorities as proposed in the Bill. I think that if any such thought is in the mind of the Crowther-Kilbrandon Commission, we really should know about it. It is very difficult for us to discuss some of these matters without that knowledge, because they deal with the division of functions. Even if this division raises slightly less emotion than boundaries, it is surely the core of local government reform. As the noble Viscount so clearly put it to us, it is here in this matter of functions that we have the almost insoluble problem of how to make one system fit such a divergence of local 179 demographic, economic and social conditions as are found in different parts of both our countries. The Government have adopted the concept of metropolitan counties and districts on the one hand, and non-metropolitan counties and districts on the other, to allow for some of these divergencies and differencies. But I do not think anyone can pretend that if one goes in for a tier system there is any perfect way to divide the functions. What we have to ask ourselves is: do we have the best possible in the circumstances?
We have had a very fair description from the noble Viscount of the way in which—if I might use a colloquialism—the cookie may be expected to crumble in the field for which he is responsible; and, in particular, he drew attention to the highly debatable Clause 100. We in Wales are proposing a somewhat different system with responsibility for deciding which districts, if any, may exercise certain functions laid squarely upon the Secretary of State for Wales. This applies particularly to library services, to the functions concerned with weights and measures and with food and drugs, and to one or two other matters. There is, of course, an obligation on the Secretary of State for Wales to consult the county authority, but he is not an umpire or arbiter, as I understand it, in the sense proposed in another place by Mr. Peter Walker.
We shall, of course, have to consider the Government's proposed Amendment or new clause concerning arbitration when we come to it. But all the representations I have received go against this notion, and it was mentioned several times in our debate yesterday in different parts of your Lordships' House. It seems to us that it is better either to leave the matter to be settled by agreement or else to make the Secretary of State fully responsible. The middle course seems to make the worst of both worlds, with the particular disadvantage that, if appeals have to be lodged by April, 1974, there will be a period of bickering between authorities who will have many other problems of adjustment on their minds. Therefore, we must look very critically at this proposed Amendment or new clause when it is placed before us.
180 I must also say that I have grave doubts about the whole concept of an agency relationship as envisaged in Clause 100. I appreciate the points made by the noble Viscount—I wish we had more time to discuss them this afternoon—but I would just put this: to whom is the agent to be responsible? Presumably to his principal, the other authority. But the agency authority was elected by electors to carry out certain functions, not to hand them over or to receive them from some other body. One of the aims of local government reform, surely, is to make it plain to the citizen which authority is responsible for what functions, and it appears to me that the agency relationship completely bedevils this.
But in a much more important field than the functions likely to be affected by agency arrangements—because, of course, some of the major functions are excluded from such arrangements—it seems to me there is also an element of confusion. I would refer particularly to planning, which was mentioned yesterday by a number of noble Lords. The very large increase in the number of planning authorities contemplated in this Bill is, in my view, hound to diminish the quality of planning control in this country. The problem of staff was emphasised yesterday by several noble Lords who spoke with very great experience. More staff will be required if you are going considerably to enlarge the number of planning authorities.
The smaller authorities cannot have the expertise at their command which the larger authorities can provide, and they are far more subject to local pressures which by no means always lead to sound planning policy. I am all for notification and consultation right down to parish or community council level hut, quite frankly, I do not believe decisions arrived at too locally are necessarily the best. I hope very much that in his concluding speech Lord Aberdare will say something about responsibilities for planning which were modified in several particulars in another place from those originally suggested in the Bill, and done in a way which is not entirely clear, at least to some of us. I feel that this whole area of planning is one of what I might call "the spongier areas" of what my right honourable friend John Silkin 181 called in another place "a large sponge of a Bill".
The noble Viscount mentioned education, and he quite rightly said that we on this side are clear in our preference for the responsibility being placed with the higher authority. We believe, as he said, that education should have been a function of the metropolitan counties rather than the districts, possibly on the model of I.L.E.A., for reasons put very cogently yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. I would wish to pursue this matter but time really forbids. But I would suggest that we should ask ourselves whether, beyond a point, if the object in this massive reform is to set up strong major authorities one ought then to proceed bit by bit to hand over responsibilities to the lesser authorities in what seems to some of us to be a rather piecemeal, unco-ordinated way. These are some of the matters to which we must return in more detail at later stages, though, quite frankly, having regard to what has been decided in another place I am not very sanguine as to how far we can improve matters in your Lordships' House.
There are various other things to which I should like to refer. May I just add my plea to those made by several noble Lords yesterday regarding the fixing of the scale of allowances. This should be done in good time so that people in all parts of the country can decide whether or not they feel able to put themselves forward as candidates. At the moment they are in the dark; they just do not know what their personal circumstances would be. I would say that I am delighted that allowances on the basis proposed have been included in the Bill, if only because I think this will help women very much, women who would not be in a position to claim loss of earnings but who nevertheless might be put to considerable expense in carrying out public duties. I should like to pay my small tribute to the Government for what they have done in this regard.
I said that I would have to revert to the matter which I mentioned earlier and which is of such special concern to us in Wales, because this is one way in which we could improve this Bill. This is what I can only call "the surrender in Cardiff". I am sorry I have to say a word or two to make the position clear 182 to English colleagues and any Scottish ones who may happen to be present. I should point out that at present Cardiff is a county borough geographically placed in the county of Glamorgan, and it is also, of course, the capital of Wales.
The county of Glamorgan, with Swansea at the West and Cardiff at the East. contains nearly one half of the total population of the Principality. It is so much larger in population and resources and so much more powerful than any other unit in Wales that it does, of course, present a special problem. But after years of discussion a rational solution was fully spelled out in the Consultative Document on The Reform of Local Government in Wales, which was published by the present Government as recently as last year, 1971. It provided for the division of Glamorgan into a western county including Swansea, and an eastern county including Cardiff. This was the same division as was proposed in 1970 by the Labour Government, except that, consonant with the general policy adopted by the respective Ministries, the 1970 proposals were for two unitary authorities, the 1971 proposals were for a two-tier system. I am not arguing that point, as for good or ill I think we must take the main philosophy as settled.
All the arguments for two counties were put with perfect clarity by the present Secretary of State for Wales on pages 9 and 10 of his paper on The Reform of Local Government in Wales. There is no dispute about Swansea in the West; I think we are all content with that, as my noble friend Lord Heycock made plain yesterday. But on the East, the Secretary of State for Wales said just over a year ago, and rightly, that the mining valleys and the eastern part of the Glamorgan plain naturally focused on Cardiff, and he went on:The arguments clearly point in favour of recognising the effective line of division between east and west Glamorgan in creating two powerful administrative bodies which will rank with any in the United Kingdom.Those were very fair words.
The Secretary of State, in this same document, just over a year ago put up. only to knock down, the alternative suggestion of dividing Glamorgan into three parts, the proposal which to everybody's 183 amazement appeared without notice or warning in the Bill we have before us today. This is what he had to say only a year ago about the division into three parts:There are strong objections to this. To divide the proposed county of East Glamorgan would inevitably mean a separation of areas which ought to be administered together for the purposes of town and country planning and transportation. To separate Cardiff from either mid-Glamorgan or the north-eastern valleys or from both would mean the creation of at least one authority which was comparatively weak in terms of rateable resources, was handicapped by lack of resources and lack of suitable land in seeking a solution to its problems.What could be more cogent criticism, out of his own mouth, of what the Secretary of State has now done? He did it in a matter of a few months, under pressure, not, I am sure, from his official advisers, but from a small Conservative caucus in Cardiff.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, would the noble Baroness give way? It may be that the Secretary of State for Wales changed his mind because he was influenced by a speech I made in your Lordships' House about 18 months ago, when I most strongly commended what has now been incorporated in the new plan put forward.
§ BARONESS WHITE
My Lords, I can only say that I should of course be glad in some matters to defer to what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, might say, but in this particular matter concerning Wales I think I am at least as knowledgeable as the noble Lord.
§ BARONESS WHITE
My Lords, Cardiff City Council ran a costly, irrelevant, misleading but, in the short term, effective public relations campaign based on Cardiff's status as the capital city of Wales. But, my Lords, this has never been in question. Edinburgh—a national capital when Cardiff was still a village—accepted its position without any diminution of dignity. Cardiff could have done the same without what, quite frankly, and with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, I can only call a squalid bargain. Cardiff can now cock a snook at Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton and the rest because, 184 effectively, it will be the only unitary authority in Britain. The so-called proposed county of South Glamorgan consists of Cardiff and a little fringe of commuter country with the city completely predominant. Meanwhile, the poorest parts of South Wales, the valleys and parts of the plain, are cut off in mid-Glamorgan without resources, with no centre, and without any organic link for planning, transport or anything else with their natural focus of Cardiff.
Exactly what the Secretary of State said a year ago should not be done, is now proposed. My Lords, what a travesty! I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will try to defend the complete volte face of his ministerial colleagues as best he may, but nothing that he can say will overcome the arguments put forward last year by his right honourable friend. I am sorry to have to end on this note, but we in Wales, including many members of the Party opposite, have been much distressed by what has happened. It makes one feel rather sick and rather ashamed because, on the whole in this country, we try to avoid this kind of "politicking", although it may be accepted in other parts of the world. I dislike very much saying when in Opposition that when we return to office we shall reverse something, because that is a gambit which, if employed too often, cheapens political life. But I am afraid that this is an occasion when one must say it, and I say it with authority; unless of course the Government can be persuaded to mend matters in this Bill.
Apart from that, I hope we shall proceed in generally harmonious fashion to the later stages of the Bill, assisted by the very considerable knowledge and expertise to be found in all quarters of your Lordships' House. In most respects, so far as my own country of Wales is concerned, the Government have followed the proposals which have been discussed over many years in the Principality and, except for certain relatively minor matters which we might deal with later, we are content.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ BARONESS SHARP
My Lords, after the long years of debate and discussion of local government reorganisation I must confess I find this Bill disappointing. There are several things in it which 185 I wish were to be done differently; but I am not going to take up the time of your Lordships with a long recital of criticisms. I wish to speak mainly about what is my chief trouble as regards the Bill.
To my mind the most urgent problem that faces local government to-day is the condition of the towns. Just as 80 years ago when local government took its present shape the then proposals and the urgency for reform evolved primarily out of the insanitary conditions of the towns, to-day I think our consideration of local government reform should be evolving primarily out of the social condition of towns: the noise, the crowding, the bad and inadequate housing, the poverty and all the troubles associated with it, the lack of recreational facilities, and the general ugliness in which so many urban townspeople have to live—and from which so many of those who can afford to are escaping. This seems to me to be the big problem of local government and, above all, the problem with which only local government can deal because conditions and needs in every town are different. It seems to me that the Government's proposals in this Bill show all too little recognition of the urgency of the urban problem. Municipal government is the main casualty of the Bill.
It is true that in the metropolitan areas the Government are creating metropolitan authorities with powers over future planning and development; that is very much to be welcomed. But the powers that will be given to metropolitan authorities are not sufficiently comprehensive to enable the authorities to tackle effectively the root causes of their social ills. I shall not talk at length about the powers; but one particular power which I think has not been mentioned in the debate and about which I am concerned relates to housing. I agree that the district councils should be the principal municipal builders and the managers of municipal housing. But the county councils—and this applies equally outside the metropolitan areas as inside them—ought to be made responsible for determining the strategy of housing throughout their areas; for assessing housing needs, not just in terms of numbers but also of the kinds of houses required, the kinds of income groups that need them, and the different forms of tenure that will 186 best meet the needs. The county councils, the major planning authorities, should be responsible also for seeing that these needs are met whether by municipal building, private building, building by housing associations, building by any agencies. I am not meaning to suggest that the county councils should be major builders of houses; I do not think so. But they should be responsible for the overall planning of housing and for seeing that their plans are carried out. I am perfectly certain that until this is done the housing problem will never he resolved in the big conurbations, or indeed anywhere in the country.
My Lords, this is something which simply cannot be done by a district council in our present age of mobility. I think this is one thing which the Maud Commission got right when they looked at how, in their opinion, the housing responsibility should be divided in the metropolitan areas. I would hope that even at this late stage the Government may be induced to think of giving some responsibility for what I would call housing strategy to the county councils, instead of leaving them as they have done in the Bill only with certain reserve powers.
Outside the metropolitan areas the organisation proposed by the Government leaves the future of the towns in the hands of the new county councils, though still they have no housing responsibility. And, incidentally, what a hopeless start the Government are giving to their scheme by calling "county councils" the authorities which are to be responsible for both town and country! I know it is difficult to think of a good new name, but I am blessed if I would have been stuck with the old one, giving the impression that it is a takeover by the county councils, an impression that some county councils have not been slow to adopt. I agree of course with the concept of putting town and country together—here again I think the Maud Commission was entirely right—because their interests are interrelated.
I recognise that the proposal to put town and country together always carried the risk that the interests of the town would be subordinated to the interests of the country, and that perhaps there would be an unwillingness of people in the country, including many who have 187 retreated from the towns, to pay for the improvement of the towns. But provided that the county area makes sense in terms of town and country, and that they really are related, I think it is fair to hope that a single authority will in time come to form a united body with the interests of both town and country at heart. I think that this should be the result whether, at the start, there are more people living in the country area than the town area, or more people living in the town area than in the country area. Given that the area is a social entity, I think that a single local authority can weld it into an area with common interests. I believe indeed that in some of the areas now proposed this will be the result. The trouble with the Government's scheme is that too many of the areas are not social entities. By sticking more or less to the old county boundaries, and so going for too big areas, the Government are, in too many cases, giving the impression that they are submerging the towns in the country.
During the Committee stage I hope that we shall look at the proposals in the Bill, both for areas and for functions, particularly from this point of view: what will they mean for the local government of the great cities? Your Lordships know that I have taken up the case particularly of Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton. I do not want to discuss it now. It is a matter for Committee. I only want to say that I hold no brief for these particular cities. I do not think that they have problems greater than those of many other cities. I do not think that their local government, good as it has been, is necessarily better than the local government of many other big cities. My only concern in referring to these three is that I believe that the two counties of Devon and Hampshire, partly by reason of their extensive size and population, and partly by reason of the very great mixture of other sorts of problems that they have on their hands, will not be able to provide effective local government for these cities—in the case of Plymouth right off centre—in the case of Portsmouth and Southampton, fairly off centre. The cities have problems of their own, in all three cases very different from the problems, which are no less urgent, that confront the counties. I do not believe that in these cases there will 188 under the Bill's proposals, be a local government system as effective for the cities as would be provided by some form of local government more centred on the cities.
Now functions. Whether or not anything is done to alter any of the areas, I think we must look very carefully at the functions of the districts from this point of view. I do not believe that you can construct a satisfactory scheme for local government on the basis that all districts, small or large, urban or rural, an integral part of their counties or not, should all have the same set of responsibilities. The Government recognise this because they have talked about flexibility. But their remedy seems to be this very strange proposal for "agency". I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady White, that this proposal is something that needs looking at. What is the intention? Is the district council acting as agent for the county council responsible to the county council or responsible to its electors? If it is to be, as one must presume it is as an independent local authority, responsible to its electors for the discharge of responsibilities in relationship to whatever function is being devolved, then surely what we are really talking about is the transfer of responsibility from one authority to another. This may be subject to conditions, and always there will be the question of finance to be resolved. But this agency proposal seems to me to be quite alien to the nature of local government. We certainly must have it clarified in Committee, and, I should have thought, amended.
There is further the idea that, whatever be the system as between counties and districts for some transfer of functions to enable particular districts to provide local government in certain matters more satisfactory than can be done by the county, this should be left to agreement between counties and districts. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said, and said very truly, as any Minister who has ever been connected with local government is bound to say, that relying on agreement between counties and districts is a fairly unreliable business. Nevertheless, I have great sympathy with the notion that, if possible, it should be done by agreement. There should not be Government intervention unless the Government are really satisfied, not merely that there is dis- 189 agreement, but that the result of the disagreement is so bad for local government in the area that they must intervene. However, I believe that that last sanction ought to be there if we really are to get a satisfactory pattern for local government. I am quite sure that the Government cannot settle what should be the exact relationship between counties and districts, where there is disagreement, before 1974. With great respect, I think that that is an idiotic idea. There will be far too much to do between now and 1974. In any case, this is something which is going to change and develop as time goes on. We think that we are constructing a local government system to last for 50 years; we have to have this flexibility which the Government have talked about available, and finally in the very exceptional case with the Government sanction behind it, available at any time as the Government of the day sees how local government is developing.
There is a great deal more that I could say about this Bill, but there are many people who will say a lot more, too. I cannot exactly welcome it, but we have got it. I believe that it could be much improved by, perhaps, not very major Amendments in Committee.
Loam CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her whether she is supporting the increased allocation of functions to the City of Plymouth only, or if she is going to support Plymouth taking over large rural areas of South and West Devon?
§ BARONESS SHARP
My Lords, I really think that Plymouth taking over large rural areas of South and West Devon has nothing to do with it. County borough extensions have been going on these last 30 years, not as a rule, though sometimes, in advance of development. Plymouth has spread into Devon and, for that matter, into Cornwall. You may not like it, but it has happened. If you are going to have a sensible local government for the City of Plymouth, you have got to recognise this fact. I think myself that Devon is too large a county and too spread a county, and I believe the right solution would have been to have made a separate county of Plymouth. I think 190 that this happens to be the exact reverse of Cardiff, where this would have been the right thing to do, but, I think for much the same sort of reasons, the Government decided not to do it. I am not pressing this. It is probably too late. This has been hacked about in another place and no doubt settled. I am saying that as a second best, so that Plymouth can continue to look after the essential interests of the city, let there be provision to enable it to exercise, and exercise in its own right, the responsibilities which it needs in order to look after the prosperity and welfare of its citizens.
§ 3.49 p.m.
THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON
My Lords, when I was a very young man, I, with some friends on a certain occasion, sang a parody on a well known Coward song. It went like this:The backwoods Peers of England, how dutiful they stand!They help the Upper Chamber to maintain the upper hand;The fact that they hardly, if at all,Ever see Whitehall, matters not the least.I will not repeat the rest of that song. It was a long time ago and I have forgotten it, but it was extremely ribald and quite unsuited to the dignity of your Lordships' House.
I stand before your Lordships' to-day, a Backwoods Peer. I have seen Whitehall; in fact I have spent quite a lot of time in Whitehall in the last decade. I have passed through Whitehall, and have arrived at Westminster; and I am presumably expected to make a speech on a suitably rural subject—perhaps to do with the agricultural economy, or something of that sort. I recall that many years ago a forebear of mine argued most forcibly before your Lordships that the rabbit warrens of England should be maintained to supply meat for the population, and should not be ploughed up to provide grass for better known meat-producing animals, such as bullocks and sheep.
Well, my Lords, I fear that I cannot produce a suitably rural subject of that sort. I can speak in your Lordships' House only about this Bill and the way it has exercised the hearts and minds of the rural population, and indeed others, up and down the shires of England during these last three years. I have spent many hours in my own county council listening to the emotions and fears of those who 191 thought that they were to be transferred to some outer land. However, after these three years of wrangling and discussion I feel, and I am quite sure my fellow county councillors in Hampshire feel, that the Government have produced a good answer, a good framework on which to build a sound local government of the future. Nevertheless, I should like to make three observations, to two of which I may wish to return at a later stage.
The first observation concerns the principle of integration of town and country within the councils, county and district. I regard this as one of the most important principles contained in this Bill: It is fundamental to this Bill. I should like to draw an example from my own county of Hampshire. Hampshire of old was known for many things: the excellence of its agriculture, the beauty of its countryside and rivers, the great port of Southampton; for the New Forest, for the Solent and for many things of that nature. Today the picture is very different indeed. We have retained, I hope, the best of the past, and we have as well great expanding towns, new industries, one of the most important container ports in the country, vast new populations from London and elsewhere. And, what is more, this is not the end; the trend will continue. We have the South Hampshire Plan coming along. We have discussions going on at the moment about Area 8 in so far as it affects Hampshire within the South-East Study. The trend will continue. How are we to integrate these new populations, these new skills, these new intelligences within our councils if we do not have full integration between town and country? The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has argued most eloquently that Southampton, among other towns and boroughs, should have a status quo of a different sort. I say that we need Southampton in Hampshire; we need the skills and intelligence and experience of Southampton in the county council of the future.
My second observation concerns planning, and on this I confess that I find myself somewhat confused. Clause 178 seeks to define the responsibilities for planning as between county and district. It delegates to counties structure planning and to district councils a measure of development planning. That is how I 192 understand it. I must be frank and say that, as a member of a planning committee, and having had the views of other members to whom I have spoken, we find ourselves a little hazy about this clause. We do not find it definitive enough. What, for instance, is to happen about the white areas? I need hardly tell your Lordships that the white areas in a county plan are those areas in which development is not permitted without the permission of the county planning authority. As I understand it, responsibility for white areas passes to district councils. I am somewhat dubious about this; indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady White, has referred to pressures on districts. I believe that this is a factor which we should take into account.
My second planning observation refers to Schedule 16, paragraphs 23 and 36, which deal with listed buildings and conservation areas. About this point I am quite unequivocal. These functions will in the future be delegated to district councils. I am not happy that this should happen. I refer again to pressures such as I have mentioned and to which the noble Baroness, Lady White, referred. Take, for example, a listed building of great architectural or historic importance in a street of a town which is the headquarters of a district. That district will be subjected to great pressures of development; there are considerations of rateable values and so on. I believe that these responsibilities should remain in the hands of counties, and I propose at a later date to revert to that point.
My third observation, my Lords, refers to the question of boundaries, and I do not wish to become parochial. Perhaps I have a licence on this occasion, but I do not wish to be too parochial. In paragraph 62 of the Government White Paper of February of last year theGovernment stated that they would pay due consideration to local loyalties and historic associations. I commend the Secretary of State and the Government most warmly for listening to, and for being so considerate of, the many representations on this subject that have been made to them by such bodies as the County Councils Associations and others. I was therefore more than sorry to see that the very ancient Borough of Lymington, long associated with Hampshire, long 193 associated with the New Forest, has been thrust into Dorset—and I wish no disrespect to that great county—against its will and against the unanimous decision of the Hampshire County Council. Not only is Hampshire to lose Lymington; it is to lose one of the last unspoiled pieces of coastline in Hampshire. Lymington is a Forest town, associated with the other Forest town; that coastline is part of an inland waterway, the Solent, which now finds itself under two administrative authorities. Not only do I consider this unjust; I consider it administratively unsound.
In spite of my reservations, my Lords, I support this Bill. After three years of contention, argument, discussion and worry, let us get on with it. Let us make no mistake: there will be a great deal of concern when this Bill is passed—and I hope it will be passed—among the new bodies. There must be good will; there must be give and take; there must be a real desire to understand the other person's point of view. Town and country must understand each other: town must understand that country is not there just as a playground, and country must understand that town has very strong interests in the country, and absolutely recognisable and worthy ones. We have got to get together. Given good will, I am quite sure that this Bill will work. My Lords, it has got to work.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, to me falls the privilege of congratulating the noble Duke on his maiden speech, which he has just delivered to us with such authority and eloquence and in which he has made such a notable contribution to our debate. It was all the more welcome to me in that I found so many of my own views agreed with his. In his reference to the cities of South Hampshire, I foresaw an interesting Committee stage, when the noble Duke crosses swords with the noble Baroness on this particular topic; and in his reference to history I recalled that he will undoubtedly make a most distinguished contribution to the espirit de corps of this noble House—though not perhaps in quite the same way as that to which his great forebear was referring when, on a warm day in the summer, he was reviewing troops with Queen Victoria. 194 After Queen Victoria had inspected the troops, she remarked to the great Duke, "Very smart, the troops are, very smart—but what is this strange smell? "The great Duke replied, "That, Ma'am, is espirit de corps." My Lords, I have no doubt that our noble friend will make many valuable contributions to our debates.
Before I come to my remarks on the Bill I must apologise for my absence yesterday: I had to make a quick visit to Scotland to look at a defence training area. But I have had the good fortune to read Hansard, which was so thoughtfully provided in the Library. I read it with great pleasure, and should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, and to my noble friend Lord Selborne on their maiden speeches.
Inevitably, in the case of a Bill of this kind, there is a great deal of criticism, but it is perhaps comforting to my noble friends on the Front Bench that it is not of quite the same warmth as the criticism on the reform of London local government some years ago—criticism on functions, particularly from the local government associations; and criticisms on boundaries from local interests. But I feel that my noble friend may have taken some comfort from the degree of support which he has received from noble Lords, I think all round the House, at any rate on the general principles of the Bill; and I would suspect that, taken over the country as a whole, the silent majority regards this broad measure of reform as right and proper, and done at the right time. There is a general recognition that the existing structure has now become so out of date that it needs to be completely reformed; and I congratulate my noble friend here, and my right honourable friend Mr. Walker in another place, on their courage in grasping this nettle, which is most unrewarding in terms of Parliamentary effort, and indeed of electoral feeling: for it seems to produce nothing but criticism.
I also congratulate them on their courage in proposing a two-tier structure, despite the very cogent arguments adduced by the Royal Commission under the distinguished leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud. The arguments in that document—quite one of the best 195 Reports, I think, that I have ever read—were most cogent in favour of the single tier, unitary authorities, and I should be the first to acknowledge that a unitary authority structure would be a very efficient structure of local government and would be attractive to recruit competent officers and a high calibre of member—and that is all very important. But, of course, this is only half the story. The other half is that the authority should come nearer to the lives of the average citizens, so that they feel involved in it. In my judgment, the principal justification for local government is that it provides our people with the opportunity to take part in the local control of the public services which affect their daily lives and circumstances. And it follows that the control must be local enough to give the people a sense of involvement in the quality and standard of their local environment. In my judgment, local government in this sense is an esssential part of a free sovereign democracy, and it is the basic argument justifying the constitution of elected local government at all. I shall develop that further in a minute.
Inevitably, my Lords, this leads us on to a two-tier system. The parish council concept is in my judgment a good one, but it is primarily consultative and it just is not enough. The arguments for the two-tier structure need to be strong, because there is a price to pay—and the price is an aspect which has been discussed in many speeches both to-day and yesterday. The price is a loss of clarity in the responsibility for the respective local government functions as between county authorities and district authorities. There will inevitably be some duplication of effort and some overlapping, and there will be some conflicts as well. In the Bill, as a number of noble Lords have said, including the noble Duke, by far the most vulnerable disposition is planning. My noble friend Lord Amory, who is President of the County Councils Association, told your Lordships yesterday that the county councils are willing to try to work the Bill's provisions as they stand provided that the county council functions are not further reduced. Let me say to my noble friend that I regard this as an uncommonly generous gesture to which the Government had better say "Snap" quickly.
196 For myself—and I am not a county councillor now, or a member of any of these bodies—I regard the structure of planning in the Bill as something which probably will not stand the test of time. Apart from the danger of the reference to Ministers of an excessive number of conflicts, the time element may be so long that the vital structure plans may not be confirmed in time to be an effective guide to development in the country. Even now, the county councils and county borough councils are obliged to proceed by informal methods because of the many years needed to get new development plans confirmed. I would also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady White, that dividing the planning functions between the two tiers will undoubtedly make even more acute the shortage of high-grade planning officers, on which the whole system absolutely depends. I fear that this split in the present distribution will make worse the already bad problem of planning. However, I welcome the County Councils' Association's willingness to work the Bill, but I would put my noble friend and Her Majesty's Government on notice to watch the working of planning closely in the years ahead and to be prepared to take action if it appears to be breaking down.
My Lords, in the interests of economy of time I will not comment on other functions save to welcome my noble friend's intention to restore refuse disposal to the county councils. I think that is right. I agree with the noble Duke and others that the conservation of historic buildings should go to county councils also. Despite these and other criticisms which may be made regarding the allocation of functions I still come down firmly in favour of the two-tier system. I think they are endemic, if you are to have two tiers. You are bound to have these difficult problems in the allocation between two different levels. In my opinion this is the price of effective local government.
On the second aspect, reform of boundaries, I would observe only that the major changes of combining county boroughs with county councils in order to form new counties, thus reducing some 1,300 county district councils to about 350, plus movement of population over the years, makes inevitable a number of further changes. This again is the 197 price of reform. Naturally, in the localities traditional loyalties are warm, and we have heard a number of them expressed most eloquently during this debate. I know there are some fifteen to twenty different territorial issues which my noble friend Lord Sandford may be dealing with and on this I would comment only that it looks as if the Committee stage will be very interesting.
Finally, my Lords, may I say a word on the third aspect of reform which I think has not received much attention in this debate; I refer to the distribution of power and functions between central Government and local government. I would think that a hundred years ago, when this local government structure was being set up, it was probably physically necessary to have a certain measure of autonomous local government. Transport and communications were not adequate to run all services from the centre. But to-day that is not so. Physically it is not necessary to have any autonomous local government at all. In our small, compact island with excellent transport and communications, it would be quite possible to run all the public services of the country from the centre here, with an effective structure of regional offices. And there are very persuasive technological arguments for doing so. I emphasise the word "persuasive" because from time to time Government is persuaded. Twenty-five years ago the hospital services were concerned, now a further chunk of the medical service is involved. Also, running parallel with this Bill, and indeed to some extent implied in it, there is the major transfer of the whole of water management: management of rivers, the distribution of water, the management of sewage services. The whole of this is to be transferred, on the Government proposals, to a new regional water structure which will of course come directly under central Government and be appointed by them.
My Lords, there are very persuasive technological arguments for combining under one management the whole hydrological cycle. I am very familiar with all of them, as I am sure are other noble Lords. Once again the Government have been persuaded. But let us not blind ourselves to the fact that in doing this, central Government have further 198 narrowed the broad range of local government services which have been in the hands of local people. To my mind, this is a very heavy price to pay even for a measure of improved technology. I make the point to my noble friends. I accept the decision they have made, and, with regard to water, I will do my best, so far as I am able, to help them through the difficult transition. But in this debate about local government those of us who really believe in it as an essential part of a free democracy must raise our voices and declare that it will be dangerous if we see a further reduction of the total scope of local government services. Eventually we shall not be left with enough to make it worth while to operate two tiers of local government services in the hands of worthwhile people. This is the danger that Governments may get into from very good technological arguments coming from the centre. Finally, let me say that I support my noble friends with their Bill. I think it is courageous and I recognise that the distribution of functions, and indeed the boundaries, is not a matter of science but a work of art, and is so easy to criticise. But it must be looked at as a whole, and in that fashion it will have my support.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on his maiden speech. I am minded to think of the evidence in our parish church of our forebears who were with his distinguished ancestor through the Peninsular and the Continental Wars, and in the regiment that bore his name, so distinguished was it in World Wars 1 and 2. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, related the joke about what happened with the Duke and Queen Victoria. The answer was "esprit de corps" and may I say that that regiment had a lot to do with esprit de corps, and with pride and loyalty in our district throughout 160 years. I am certain that the House will listen to the noble Duke with great interest when he makes further contributions.
Yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, asked what it would be like for a Yorkshireman suddenly to wake up to the fact that he was now in Lancashire or in Manchester or in Oldham or Ashton-under-Lyne. What sort of a shock 199 would it be? I would say to the noble Baroness that the shock that I had when I knew that my district was going over the border was nothing to the shock that Lancashire had when I was made its Lord-Lieutenant. But it seems that poetic justice has caught up with me and I am included in this transfer—what to, we do not quite know. Until recently Greater Manchester was known as Selnec—South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire. And there were district J and district F. I will say at the outset, in the interest of economy of time, that if one of the tenets enunciated by the noble Viscount had only been adopted by the Government earlier—that is, that those in local government should be listened to by Government—this speech would not have been made at all. It is because my district has not been listened to that I am making this speech.
The district has seven villages and has been part of Yorkshire from time immemorial. It is an urban district of the West Riding. We have always been associated ecclesiastically—I notice that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester has disappeared—with a diocese to the South: since 1847 with Manchester, before that with Chester, and before that with Lichfield. The district has had most of its public services—transport, gas, electricity, water, hospitals, telephones and most higher education—on the Lancashire side of the border. But overall local government responsibility has, of course, rested with the West Riding of Yorkshire. We feel that under the change we are losing the involvement about which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, was talking. Our small authority will be attached to a much larger one which will suffer from the handicap he was talking about.
In June, 1969, the Redcliffe-Maud Report recommended that Saddleworth should be split into two, the major part going to the Ashton grouping (district 12J), with the remainder going to the Oldham grouping (district 12F). They could not have done anything worse, because we are a very close-knit community—a good community, a powerful community, a community which can do things for itself. These are the very matters which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was talking about. We have not 200 waited for a museum to be provided for us it was created privately. We have not waited for grants for the arts to come ad lib from national Government; we have set about it locally, backed by our local council, and Saddleworth Festival is well known throughout the country.
The Government were left in no doubt about our resentment over the split. At about that time we had a meeting in what used to be known as the Old Mechanics, now the Civic Hall, and a very fine one. For my sins I was asked to be chairman. The number of people who attended was 500 and the young people of Saddleworth, who have asked me to speak to-day, rolled up and put down a motion to test the feeling of Saddleworth people. The motion was:That this district should be identified with Selnecas it was known at that time. It was defeated by a narrow majority, and after the meeting an old employee of mine was going down the steps when I asked him how he had voted. He said, How does tha think? "I said "Against." He said "Th'art reet. I would have minded going in with Oldham or Ashton or even Lancashire East. I will be damned if I want to go in with a lot of bloody initials."
There is a moral there. People want to be associated with something which has a focus for loyalty. One wants to be associated with something in which one can carry on old traditions and improve on them. However, the local council protested against the split and pressed for a united Saddleworth in any new local government structure. That was as long ago as September, 1969. Then we had the Election of 1970, followed by a change of Government and a change of policy. As a result the Local Government Bill was issued in November last year, confirming a Government intention to include the whole of Saddleworth in district 12F (the Oldham side). Despite the fierce propaganda of a section of our community to remain in Yorkshire, the inevitability of our joining an authority on the Lancashire side was accepted by the majority of Saddleworth people, whereupon a resolution was passed by Saddleworth Council expressing preference for 12J. The council's case for seeking to join 12J group was sent to the Government on May 11, 1971.
201 The Government is at fault here. It has chosen to be very cool about representations from districts like ours. On July 19 an effort was made by David Clark, M.P. for Colne Valley, to state a case for Saddleworth going into district 12J. It was replied to by an Under-Secretary of the Department of the Environment on the 20th. The reply said:Moreover, Saddleworth has so far accepted the proposals for them to be in district 12F so that it seems that they accept—what we believe to be so—that their natural affinities lie in that direction rather than with Ashton and Hyde.That is entirely untrue. At no time has Saddleworth Council passed a resolution to that effect. The decision was evidently made in the Department of the Environment on a false premise. But David Clark, M.P., wrote also to the Minister at the same time and received a reply dated July 24. I quote:So far as Saddleworth is concerned I do recollect their wish to join the Ashton/ Hyde district.Here we have an Under-Secretary saying one thing and the Minister saying another. There is a conflict between them.
I promise to be brief. I do not want to labour the argument as to the relative merits of district 12J or 12F. I want to say, without any preference for one district or the other, that we wish to be heard as a district. These are fine people and they must be listened to. After August 10 we want to be in a position to approach the Minister. On that day there is to be a referendum, organised by the district council, to establish where our people want to go. Out of such a hearing we would hope for assurances about green belts and things like parish councils and representation on the new authority. After all, they are committee questions, and I hope to return to the subjects then.
I commend to the Minister what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said about the difficulties of bringing together different types of authority and the difficulties which can be created with ill-assorted partners. Careful consideration must be given to this matter. On the whole, local government needs reforming. but at a time when the whole country is in a state of flux we do not want to do too much grinding of the animosities 202 between authorities. If, through argument, persuasion and reason, a district like Saddleworth can be influenced to accept a certain destiny, so be it. After that they must act wholeheartedly to make a success of it.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ LORD MIDDLETON
My Lords, when I said to one of my friends that I hoped to have the privilege of speaking to your Lordships to-day for the first time I was asked, rather accusingly, whether I was going to attempt to perpetuate my own county, the East Riding of Yorkshire. I should be most reluctant to stand up for the first time in your Lordships' House were it merely to utter the last protests of an English county which is to be extinguished under this Bill, or to perpetuate anything that had outlived its usefulness.
I support the Government in the broad intentions of this Bill. But my concern is for a redrawing of the boundaries of Yorkshire that will provide a basis for good administration after 1974. One hopes that service on the Yorkshire and Humberside Economic Planning Council, work of various kinds in the City of Hull, as well as local government work in the East Riding can give sufficient breadth of view to look objectively at the Yorkshire scene.
That the West Riding should become two metropolitan districts seems right, though I still share some of the fears expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, about education. It also seems right to plan to create a new county astride the Humber—and here I agree fully with the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud. Where I part company with the noble Lord is in suggesting that the present East Riding, minus the slice which is to go to North Yorkshire, should be part of that new Humberside county. That provision, and the provision that the whole of the rest of Yorkshire should become one huge new county of North Yorkshire, are so wrong that I am compelled to speak against this part of the Bill and all the more so, having heard the Government's arguments in defence of the boundaries of the new Humberside county when that was argued so briefly in another place on July 6. I know it was 8.30 in the morning, but those arguments were very thin.
What the Bill seeks to do for York- 203 shire is to divide the non-metropolitan part into three new counties. It is my firm belief that four new counties should be formed and not three. First, a Teesside (or as the Bill now calls it a Cleveland) county, with its boundary drawn tightly around the Tees-side industrial complex. Secondly, a Humberside county astride the Humber; and here we must throw a local government bridge across the river, as well as the Humber Bridge. No doubt this would be in face of the serried ranks of the Lincolnshire yeoman, but with another contest in Iceland very much in our minds one is driven to fear that their Bishop might be taken in the first move. This is not to say that I did not listen with great respect and with a great deal of sympathy to the arguments put forward by the right reverend Prelate yesterday. Thirdly, a new East Yorkshire focused on York. Fourthly, a reduced North Yorkshire, which under the Bill is far too large an area for good administration.
This is not the appropriate time to go into any close detail, but these last three amended counties would be fully viable according to the Government's own criteria that the new local authorities should be large enough in size, in population and in resources to meet administrative needs. Not only must a new county be large enough in population and wealth but it should not be too large an area for good administration. The new North Yorkshire as proposed in the Bill would comprise over 2 million acres—far larger than any of the proposed new counties—stretching from Flamboro' Head nearly to the Lakes and from the Tees down to Doncaster. This would be an administrative monstrosity not only by reason of pure size, but also—and this, I think, is more important—because of the pattern of communications.
Another of the Government's criteria is thatLocal boundaries should be understood and accepted as sensible locally.The proposals in the Bill for Humberside would lead to an unhappy marriage between the East Riding and the City of Hull and between North Yorkshire and the ancient City of York. It would be a great pity if strong local feelings were overridden, but, more important still, it 204 would make the new county administration slower to get off the mark. One cannot disagree with the declaration in the 1971 White Paper, thatboundaries should be drawn to take account of patterns of development and travel, and to areas within which people have a common interest through links of employment, shopping or social activities, or through history or tradition.I know that I risk being accused of trying to do what the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, calls "clawing bits away" from the Government's new Humberside county. But in spite of what the noble Lord said, anyone who knows Yorkshire well will tell you that, while there is no animosity whatever—there is none of what the noble Lord calls the "cold war"—there is very little common interest between Hull and Haltemprice on the one hand, and the remainder of the East Riding on the other. There is no great volume of travel to work into Hull from the East Riding. and the whole development of Hull throughout history has been that of a seaport looking outwards.
The Humberside that I envisage would comprise an area that would take into account patterns of development and travel; all the more so on the completion of the Humber Bridge, which is the key to this new Humberside concept. The people in this area would have as a common interest the very exciting prospect of the development of the port and industrial complex on both banks. pointing directly towards Europe, fed from the new roads and motorways which the Government have so rightly done everything possible to expedite, an open door to the Continent for industrial Midlands and North, and invigorated, as we hope, by new prospects in the enlarged European Community.
A new East Yorkshire, with its age-old ties with York, would retain the common interest of its people in agriculture, in light industry and in providing recreation at the seaside. North Yorkshire, already swollen by the addition of Whitby. would retain roughly its present eastward boundary. It would lose York and the area South between York and Selby, which has never had any connection whatever with North Yorkshire. This would be a manageable area still larger than, but similar in nature to, a new East Yorkshire, and enriched by the fat slices (to 205 which the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, objected) of the West Riding that have been given to it by the Bill.
Other advantages would spring from this better arrangement of the Yorkshire counties. First, a strong community of interest between the East Riding and the City of York would do much to ensure a spirit of good will within a new county, which would be of vital importance in creating strong and democratic local government. I cannot say that the same would happen where there is so little community of spirit between the East Riding and Hull. Secondly, the constituent parts of four new counties—and I think this is important where large acreages are concerned—would enjoy better representation on the county councils. So far as York is concerned, location of county headquarters at York would almost certainly result in a wider range of candidates being available for election to the county council. Many York candidates might well be deterred from travelling to Northallerton.
Thirdly, an amended Humberside would be relieved of a totally irrelevant and very extensive agricultural area, and would be better able to concentrate on the industrial and commercial prosperity the Humber area. There would still be enough rural hinterland in Lincolnshire. On the North Bank, there is no reason why the boundary should be drawn so tightly as to form a noose; and I do not think it necessarily should be drawn so tightly as was envisaged in Amendments put forward in another place. Of course Hull must be given elbow room for development. Finally—and this is to me very important, having been involved in the recent reorganisation of police areas—the proposal in the Bill would call for a second major upheaval within the space of a very short time. Under my proposal the minimum of reorganisation of police areas would be necessary, and I share the fears that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and others on the opposite Benches have expressed about this aspect of the Bill. I believe that the Government's design for the new county areas of Yorkshire is so nearly excellent that it would be a great pity if the opportunity to make it excellent were missed.
Considering the changes that are involved, it is a measure of the care that 206 has been put into the Bill that in the country as a whole there has been no great volume of serious opposition. Nevertheless, strong feelings entertained with regard to the details that will be of such vital importance to many thousands of Yorkshire people for the next 100 years. In view of the daunting task that the Government have set themselves to get through this and other legislation, it is understandable, I think, that too little attention has been paid to the proper demarcation of boundaries in their county. Circumstances have made it virtually impossible to have these matters of detail properly debated in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has said that the Government wish to respect traditional loyalties. I hope that they will be sympathetic when I deal with the question of Yorkshire local government reorganisation in greater detail on the Committee stage of the Bill. Having regard to that intention, I would not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time.
§ 4.42 p.m.
My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken on his maiden speech. He comes from what I believe to be a very distinguished Yorkshire family and he has had a very distinguished military career in what I know to be a very good regiment, because I was in it myself. I would have thought—and as a Southerner I speak without dogmatism about Yorkshire—in view of his connection with the county council and the Humberside Commission that he really should be regarded as speaking with authority on these matters. I am sure we shall always listen to what he has to say about these and other cognate matters.
I shall be brief in my remarks. Reference has been made to the attitude of the County Councils Association. In particular, Lord Maybray-King yesterday suggested that they ought to come into line with other authorities. It might be helpful, if not necessarily popular, if I said what I believe to be their attitude. This has already been touched upon by my noble friends Lord Amory and Lord Nugent. Speaking now in the main for the negotiating members of the County Councils Association, I think they feel they have little hope of getting all that 207 they need. They think that the present balance of powers is workable and therefore they are prepared to support it. My noble friend Lord Amory may have one or two Amendments to move in Committee, possibly on the lines suggested by the noble Duke, on conservation areas, historic buildings and one or two smaller points. That will be all.
I think much the same line of argument applies to boundaries. The County Councils Association feel that a great deal of thought has been devoted to these boundaries, as proposed by Her Majesty's Government. Although a number of us have had many documents from various authorities, some of which have shown signs of professional adaptation, and although we have heard many speeches and we shall hear many more, the County Councils Association would not wish to support any of them—but possibly they might like to have another look at Cardiff. The feeling, I think, among our principal negotiators is that for many months, if not years, there has been so much argument, so much to-ing and fro-ing, that the time has come to stop all that and "get on with the war", as the noble Duke suggested. So far as boundaries and powers are concerned, I personally agree. I am concerned with internal boundaries and the number and size of constituencies, both of the first tier and the second tier elected representatives. I am particularly concerned with the position of elected representatives in the rural areas, again both of the first and second tiers. I think the representatives of the boroughs will adapt themselves fairly quickly to the new conditions, but the full impact of this Bill will be felt principally in the more rural areas.
Consider, my Lords, the position of a member of a district council, even of a present day county council, who wants to carry on. First he has to get adopted; and under the new dispensation this will almost certainly mean adoption by one of the Party organisations—because Party politics in local government are very common in towns; and I think that in the North of England but in many areas of rural England they have not played a great part. However, I suppose that this is a form of progress which comes to us all. Let us suppose that this old member of a local authority does 208 find himself adopted. The next thing he will find himself up against is an awful lot of work. He will probably have a greatly enlarged constituency; he will have new powers. I think that the work will be extremely detailed, because I personally have found that local government electors, particularly in rural areas, do not concern themselves very much about big principles (although some do, of course); for the main part they are concerned with the effect of local government on themselves in their local areas. Let us then suppose that this representative might feel inclined to go in for some special aspect of policy; many of them have a special interest in policy. Such a representative will find that, since key sector expediture is likely to go on for some time—key sector expenditure being expenditure which is sanctioned by Whitehall—his discretion will be very limited. I do not know whether this argument about financial stringency will ever end. While this key sector policy remains, it seems that a great deal of discretion is taken away from local authorities.
The elected representative may be prepared to continue his efforts to affect policy, but he will have to do an enormous amount of reading. It may be imagination on my part, but I find that the amount of paper involved in local government is increasing all the time, so that sometimes I feel I cannot even carry the agenda in to council meetings. Nevertheless, they are the people who aspire to affect policy and have to read this. At the end of his four years he may find himself ousted, not because of anything that he has done but because of a swing in national policy. Now that aldermen are being abolished, and the four-year principle is being adopted for all except the metropolitan boroughs and counties, there may be nobody to preserve continuity except the same officials, who will no doubt read all the documents and, because of their superior knowledge, create such policies as there are.
I believe in democracy in local government. That is why I prefer the Government's scheme, which reduces the number of elected representatives from 30,000 to some 17,000. to the Redcliffe-Maud proposals, which reduced the number from 30,000 to 6,000. I hope that these 17,000 local representatives will be able to behave in the way they are expected 209 to behave. All this will be of no avail if they find themselves becoming the thin veil of bureaucracy. That is what I fear may happen unless the elected representatives are given a fair chance. There seems to be machinery in the Bill for enabling the boundary commission to review the number and size of constituencies within the county area. As so much of this Bill is conjectural guesswork, I hope that the local authority associations, the Ministry and Parliament will encourage the boundary commission to see that the job of the representatives—particularly in rural areas—is made as smooth as possible and that they will make recommendations accordingly. My Lords, that is all I have to say at the moment.
§ 4.53 p.m.
My Lords, I find that this is a particularly difficult Bill for noble Lords to debate on Second Reading. Although the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, was obviously right in scolding The Times newspaper for referring to this Bill as a "boundaries Bill (it is far, far, more than that), nevertheless the proposed boundaries of the new authorities aroused deep feelings—one might almost say passions—which cannot be lightly brushed aside as mere sentiment. On the other hand, the detail of the boundaries proposed in the Bill are not Second Reading matters but Committee matters. Noble Lords will not overlook the fact that the new county boundaries are written into the Bill in Schedule 1, as also are the boundaries of the metropolitan districts. The proposals for non-metropolitan county districts are at this stage in draft and are subject to Affirmative Resolution. There is perhaps more hope there for marginal amendment in Committee.
The second difficulty that confronts noble Lords is that, although we do not have constituencies or national constituents, we have local territorial bases. We derive our titles from some place in the country. In a way, noble Lords represent a locality and if, as many of them are, or were in the past, elected local government representatives (as I was for some twenty years) in this matter of local government they feel much more like the representatives that Members in another place, quite rightly, regard them- 210 selves. Nevertheless, we must try to resist the temptation to speak in this debate as local members.
One matter makes this Bill easier for us all: there is very little Party politics in it. I regret that I must disagree rather strongly with one noble Lord, who I am sorry to see is not in his place at this moment: I do not like criticising somebody who is not present in the Chamber. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who opened the debate for the Opposition yesterday. He alleged that he found evidence of gerrymandering in this Bill. Personally I am profoundly thankful that the Government appear to have resisted any temptation to this. It must be a very strong temptation for a Government to try to obtain political advantage—
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Champion has left the Chamber for the moment. He has sat very patiently through the debate for a very considerable period of time. The noble Earl will appreciate the necessity at times to withdraw from the Chamber for a period. The point my noble friend was dealing with concerned Cardiff, about which my noble friend Lady White spoke at some length this afternoon. If objection was taken to the use of the word "gerrymandering" it is a pity it was not raised when my noble friend was speaking yesterday, or when my noble friend Lady White was speaking this afternoon.
My Lords, I will not continue with that point, especially in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I believe it was in fact the whole way through the debate yesterday and so far to-day the only time that the word "gerrymandering" has been used.
My Lords, I support this Bill. I consider it to be a most courageous act of the Government to introduce a measure of this kind which is bound to lead to controversy, and even doubts, not only in connection with boundaries, but also in connection with the reform and redistribution of functions—a point so trenchantly made by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford not many minutes ago. There can be no possible doubt 211 that after over 80 years—for the existing legislation dates from 1888 and 1894—local government has developed out of all recognition, and needs thoroughly modernising. As an example of the magnitude of the work of local government to-day, I understand that local authorities are now spending something like £10 per week for every family in the country, which is quite a remarkable figure.
I support the Government in having rejected the idea of unitary authorities. I hope that we can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Foot, who spoke on this point yesterday, that the die is now cast and we need not go over that ground again, especially as the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, who I know has to attend a Committee at this moment and is not in his place, in a brilliant speech yesterday seemed to be quite as pleased as the rest of us that his unitary authority was the victim of infant mortality. He stressed the importance of parish councils and welcomed the birth of the new three-tier system. Here may I say that I agree with him absolutely that there has been a holocaust. All the old units except the parishes are dead. Where misunderstanding exists, much of it is due to the fact that the new units have been given the same names as the old and totally dissimilar units, county and district.
If the unit now known as Somerset, which was known formerly as Somerset but which in the plans was area 25. had still been called area 25, I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells would have been so troubled as he was yesterday. Far be it from me to cross swords with my diocesan, especially in his absence and especially as he was fully answered by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, with many quotations from the Scriptures. I shall refer only to one point which the right reverend Prelate raised. He said that the new Somerset would lack potential of growth. The recent record price for building land just outside Yeovil seems to suggest that someone thinks that something other than cider apples is going to grow in that area.
I am sure that one of the most important planning considerations in the whole of the South-West peninsula is that the 212 area of North Somerset beyond the Mendips, with its lakes and lovely scenery, should remain inviolate as a Green Belt and a recreation area for the great industrial complex of Bristol which lies beyond it. This is what the proposals in the Bill will ensure. The new county of Avon will develop industrially to its North-East, on the Severn side, in what is now South-West Gloucester. North Somerset, with its lake district in the Chew Valley and the incomparably beautiful City of Bath and its environs, will form the rural area of this new composite county. I am sure that industrial development will not be allowed in that district; and, of course, it will not be needed. There will be no temptation for Avon to develop industrially in that area. But what if the area remained in Somerset? The right reverend Prelate himself and many of the "Save our Somerset!" campaigners have said, "You have taken away our development area. Where shall we get population and industrial and rateable growth now?" To that I can only answer. "Not in that beautiful district, thank God."
I should like to expand this point a little, my Lords, because I do not look upon Avon as a horrible ogre. I have always had a foot in both camps. In the past I did most of my public work in Somerset. I was a county alderman. a magistrate, and I do not know what else. I was chairman of the A.E.C. and a Vice-Lieutenant; I did the sort of thing that one does. Now much of my work is in Bristol. I am a member of the Council of the University, to my great honour; I am on the Water Authority and I do all the sort of things that one does in Bristol—as well as some things in Somerset, too. This new county could become a model of what we want to see in the future. Let us be quite modest about it; this area will become the centre of gravity of England—no less than that. You have only to think of its complex of motorways, its docks. its railways, its air connections and its geographical situation to substantiate that argument.
The conception of Avon as the unit of local government there is a sound one. It seems to have ideal balance. There are two ancient cities, both of them of great beauty. Let no one say that old Bristol is not a city of the greatest interest 213 and beauty. Everyone knows about the beauty of Bath. There are two universities, an Abbey and a cathedral, and an enormous industrial potential on Severn-side worthy of Bristol's great industrial past and present. Last but not least there are rural areas of outstanding beauty, interest and recreational value for this great complex of rural areas now part of Gloucester and Somerset. Do not let us whittle away this great conception through any misguided and rather old-fashioned loyalties and sentiment. You cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs. This has all the signs of being a very good omelette. Let us look upon it as a challenge and not try to niggle at it and get it into nothing at all.
I have broken my own rule and have fallen into the trap of talking about a local problem. I shall try to get back on to the lines of speaking for a moment on two major general points in the Bill which have no local significance. Refuse disposal (I have made the 30-second pause which the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, said was necessary before starting to use those words), of course, sounds a small point; it is not the sort of heroic subject about which the late Sir Winston Churchill would have made one of his great orations. But it is important. We are all talking about pollution, and the recycling—to use the modern jargon—of waste products is becoming absolutely vital in the battle against pollution. This can be done only in very large and expensive plants. The local rubbish dump, the open tip, is one of the 1888 concepts that must go, and go as quickly as possible.
Secondly, another point of general interest—a good Second Reading point: National Parks. These, by their very name, are national and not local. I share the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and that expressed by several other noble Lords to-day, that if these are controlled by the counties, which Clause 179 seems to imply, local interests will be allowed to dominate. Local interests must be taken into account, but must not prevail. These Parks should, in my view, be administered by independent authorities. The authorities named in the Bill are alleged to be independent, but they are not independent of counties. I believe that they should be independent of 214 every other form of institutional organisation of that kind. And by the same token, the noble Viscount, Lord Amory—chairman of the County Councils Association, and a very distinguished county councillor in former years—had, I thought, a good case for suggesting that the counties rather than the districts should be responsible for historic buildings and conservation. This I was very interested to see was a point supported by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in his very notable maiden speech.
My Lords, I have spoken longer than I wished to do or intended to do—I always do. I apologise for that, and now it only remains for me to pay my tributes to four very remarkable maiden speeches that we have heard in these two days of debate. The noble Lord, Lord Watkins, spoke with the wisdom of long experience of local government. He was followed by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who said that he had been a county councillor for only a few years. Well, he will be a very formidable speaker in 20 years, if he goes on like this, and a worthy grandson of that very professional politician Lord Wolmer, as he was known in the House of Commons, and Lord Selborne as he was known here; and I am proud to claim young Lord Selborne as a cousin. The noble Duke called himself a backwoodsman, but I do not quite know why he did that because he has come to this House, and very soon after his succession. With his strong plea for the integration of town and country, I thought he made an extremely able speech by all standards, and a very good maiden speech. Lastly, there was the noble Lord, Lord Middleton. With his obviously intimate knowledge of the problems of the North, he can clearly make a considerable contribution to your Lordships' debates in the future. My Lords, I hope that this Bill has soon, when I stop, an unopposed Second Reading and a fair wind and safe passage through Committee.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I am sure that the House was interested in listening to who has done this and done that in local government. I cannot claim that distinction, but what I can do is to say that it has been fascinating to hear this debate in this House because 215 there is vast experience on all sides and this question cuts across Party lines. I agree that had the constructive suggestion of my noble friend Lady White, who spoke for us from the Front Bench, been adopted it would have been a wise step, because the Bill would then have come to this House first and we should have had enough time to discuss it in depth. I listened fascinated to the noble Earl the Leader of the House speaking about the dynamic energy of this Government which does things sharply. There was no reply from our side but a pleasant acknowledgment of the ability of the Government from my noble friend Lord Shackleton. Then one minute afterwards we heard an apology because the Bill was misprinted and will have to be printed again. My noble friend Lady Bacon pointed this out to me yesterday and warned the House of it.
I want to have a little mercy on the House because we have an important subject to discuss, and consequently I intend—and I hope the Lord will be on my side—to be brief. No matter what kind of speech one makes in this House, if it is brief everyone is pleased.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
One noble Lord spoke about Bristol, of which I have many memories. The right reverend Prelate might like to know that when my mother took me as a small boy to Wells to look at the wonderful clock there, I was struck with awe; I was struck with more awe about the mystery of Creation and existence when I went into the cathedral itself, and probably that sense of wonder has remained with me ever since. Then, when I was a Minister I had the good luck to receive in Bristol Mansion House the hospitality of the Lord Mayor (I did not ask how the city made its money years ago) and I enjoyed that. I also remember that many years previously, having wanted to take off a little weight when I stopped smoking earlier, I spent a lot of money to feed on raspberry juice in Bristol. So I have many memories of Bristol, but what they have to do with the Second Reading of this Bill I do not know. The noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, is not here at the moment, but he was of course Speaker in the other place. Having been brought 216 up for many years in the other place, I must say that many of the speeches we have heard on this Bill have been Committee speeches rather than Second Reading speeches. So I have some notes on a postcard in my hand which I hope will keep me to a Second Reading speech.
The first thing I want to ask is this. Why the rush? Why are we being forced with all this legislation? Is it because of a sense of power on the part of the Government? Has the Prime Minister a sense of divine authority so that he descends upon both Houses of Parliament and says, This must be!" and forces it through? We had an absurd position with an excellent Amendment from this side of the House on the Gas Bill last week. It was of inestimable value to the country. We were told it could not go through. It would not have hurt the Whips and others to concede that Amendment to improve the Bill. But we have Bills come here like the Immaculate Conception, so the Government think. The Common Market Bill is a miracle—twelve clauses which have been untouched. It was a miracle. Three minutes—or was it four minutes?—were spent on the Third Reading. Untouched, unsoiled, unsullied it came here. I hope to Heaven that the many noble Lords here with local government knowledge. of whatever political colour they be, will insist that some constructive changes are made in the Committee stage of this Bill. For years I was so busy with national and international politics, always having hot feet and knocking around, that I did not take so very much interest in depth in local government. But I can claim to be an alderman of the City of Stoke-on-Trent. It was an honour that was conferred on me. I did not have to fight the electorate to get there, as I did not have to fight an electorate to come to your Lordships' House. At least I can claim to have been in close contact all my life with local government.
An important lesson for us to learn—and by "us" I mean the Members of both Houses of Parliament—is that local government is older than central Government. It is axiomatic that local government stemmed from the needs of the people locally. To the Anglo-Saxon in the countryside of Britain, London was as far as Buenos Aires is from Bristol. Local government was of vital impor 217 tance because of the remoteness of the country areas, but it is as important today. It was essential in those far off days for the King's, Messengers and others to let the people know what was happening at the centre. It is still important for people to feel that a certain amount of government remains in their own hands.
My first impression of the Bill is that it will take away a certain amount of local democracy and build up the remoteness that over the years we have tried to break down. That will be a shame in this world of ever higher high-rise buildings and computers. There is an excellent book costing 50p in the Fontana series referring in particular to those who desire change. Let us bear in mind that change for the sake of change does not always result in change for the better. The same applies to changing names. I have previously declared an interest in pharmaceuticals. I mention that because the drug industry particularly insists on changing names, not only of medicines but of diseases. If my old grandmother were alive she would not recognise some of the old ailments by the names by which they are known to-day. The same happens in politics. We introduce new concepts and names, often for no purpose.
I have the impression that we are not paying sufficient attention to the people and the need for them to have some control locally over their destinies. We must give them the means to use their dynamic energy so that some sparkling reality is brought into their lives. In this connection, noble Lords and Members of another place who complain about the small number of people who vote at local elections should accept that this tome, the Bill which we are debating—it must weigh a ton; I admit that I have not weighed it—will not persuade people to vote at local elections. How will changing the name of Somerset to Avon make people go to the polls? For generations people have known that Somerset is where cider apples grow. I know the area well. I suppose that I have been to almost every town in this country to speak on behalf of the Socialist Party. Representatives of the Conservative and Liberal Parties have done the same.
This desire for change leads me to think of the sorry state in which we 218 would find ourselves if, for example, we all spoke with a "varsity" accent. The tendency in local government is to establish an over-centralised atmosphere. About a year ago I was dining in the Palace of Westminster when a waitress whom I had known for many years said to me, "I am glad to see you are over your illness. It is good to see you back. "Then she commented, "You know, everybody is beginning to look alike in Parliament these days." How right she was! We are all being dressed in the same jackets, going to the same universities, taking the same honours degrees and not knowing what to do with them once we have got them. This pattern of sameness is resulting in a shoddy and superficial way of life. We are losing the freshness of the countryman and the sharp ability of the good craftsman, guildsman and townsman. This is happening because of the way in which we are dealing with local government.
It is all very well to talk about linking the interest of the town and the country. That is a nice phrase, but what does it mean? We have always linked the town and the country in Britain and the concept of local government has forged that link. It would not be Britain without it. The yeomen of England were countrymen. They built up the strength of the nation. They were our bowmen. In the Battle of Crecy we witnessed the strength of our bowmen. Anybody would think that by speaking of the need to link town and country the Government had discovered something new. It is not new. It is as old as Adam, except that there were no towns when he was on earth; perhaps that is why he and his decendants set about building some. The country was there at that time, and it is there to-day.
In the part of the country where I have lived for a long time, North Staffordshire, a city like Stoke-on-Trent is to lose its individuality, artistry and pottery industry. It will be governed from Staffordshire to the South. No account has been taken of the geography, topography and contour lines of the area. My noble friend Lady White spoke of South Wales, an area which I know well because I was born and bred there. It is in this area that we are driving country boundaries across narrow valleys. Some of these valleys are so narrow that the rivers must 219 run sideways through them. I can only describe the Government's present activities in this context as inhuman, because they will result in relationships that will not be human in the way that we have known them. These valleys have their own snug idiosyncracies, so to speak, and this Bill is cutting right across them.
I listened with interest to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who speaks with formidable expertise on this matter, and particularly on the subject of functions and areas. We must get down to expressing constructive criticisms on this topic. If we think that this Bill will create difficulties, consider the way in which the Government are dealing with the problem of water. In this connection, I urge your Lordships to note this quotation:Water belongs to contours and geography and therefore the organisation of its use, reuse and disposal should be decided by watersheds and river basins and not by man-made boundaries. Many experts take this view and it is embodied in the European Water Charter which the United Kingdom signed in 1968: 'The management of water resources should be based on their natural basins rather than on political and administrative boundaries.' In practice. this view can be supported by many examples of a careful local authority area suffering pollution from a mean authority upstream, or a dirty beach because of tides bringing refuse to an area which itself maintains scrupulous standards.I have quoted that passage in order to drive home the importance of the contours and inclination of the land. At one time I was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and took a great interest in these matters. Man is fashioned partly according to the ecology of his surroundings and partly because of his environment. He speaks and reads in a way that fits his surroundings.
I wish that I had time to go into this matter in depth. Broadly speaking, my criticism of the Bill is its neophiliac desire to produce something for local government rapidly. It may be a courageous attempt to do that, but it will not succeed. This cannot be done speedily. The Labour Government discovered this—I speak from experience because I was closely involved at the time—and both Conservatives and Liberals when in power have also discovered that the blue prints for change in spheres of this kind must be discussed thoroughly before being 220 implemented. The tendency to rush changes of this kind must be resisted. I hope that if we cannot slow down our entry into the Common Market, we will at least, by our constructive criticism of the Bill, ensure that the Government review this whole matter, if they will not withdraw the Bill and start again.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, may I add my own word of congratulations to my two noble friends who made maiden speeches in the Chamber and say how pleased I was to hear them speaking with such knowledge of their own parts of the world? Usually one expresses the conventional hope that we shall hear them again often on future occasions. There is no need to do that to-day because it is perfectly plain that we shall hear both of them on the Committee stage of this Bill, and I should like to wish them the best of luck.
If one happens to be a county alderman, as well as a Member of this House, I do not see how one can start to make a speech unless one begins like the Roman gladiators who saluted their audience as men about to die. I am not bringing up the question of aldermen to raise it again, because I consider that question to be a "dead duck". I mention it only because one of the reasons given for the abolition of aldermen was that they made it easier to carry on political machinations of various kinds. Anything we can do to avoid carrying on political intrigues in county councils is all to the good, but one would have to be rather green if one were to suppose that those people wanting to carry on such intrigues would be very much put off by the disappearance of the aldermen; they will find other ways to do it. That will be a great pity, because several speakers from different parts of the House this afternoon have pointed to the fact that so much local government business has no connection whatever with national Party politics. In fact, to my mind, when mention is made of comprehensive schools, in one direction, and the rents one should pay for houses, in the other, that really covers most of the work of local authorities which responds to national political alignments.
All the other things, like building welfare homes or fire stations, or any other form of mending the parish pump, are all matters of ordinary management and 221 common sense; and if they are treated otherwise it leads only to one Party manufacturing differences against the other in order to have rows with them at their meetings. That leads to the frustration of local government officers, to the absence of any long-term plan and to something which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Eccles, and also by another speaker; that is, the loss of the image which local government should have in the eyes of the public.
Now we come to a point to which, as different speakers have told us, we have not been for many hundreds of years. Here is a real chance to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. This is the moment when the new local authorities—new under Statute—will have the opportunity not only of keeping the good habits which their predecessors had but of leaving behind the bad habits. It is the chance of a century, and if we find enough people of the right calibre to join new local authorities and to take a hand in getting them started off in the right way, then we shall have that "sparkling reality" which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, mentioned just now.
On the Bill itself, I do not want to say very much because I said most of what I want to say in the course of the debate on the White Paper. I associate myself fully with what my noble friend Lord Gage said about the attitude of the County Councils Association. But beyond that, unless one wants to deal with Committee points in a Second Reading speech—which, like everybody else, I do not—I find that if we look at the probable Amendments as a whole they will divide themselves into two quite distinct groups.
The first group of course will be the county boundaries. As my noble friend Lord Waldegrave said, those county boundaries are written into the Bill, whereas the other ones fall to the lot of the boundary commission. Fortunately, my Lords, coming as I do from the county of Salop I am not myself concerned, because our boundaries are left alone; but I fully appreciate the problems which have been set to others who have spoken this afternoon, and therefore I appreciate the need on the Dart of the Government to reconcile the demand for a more or less uniform pattern and size of first-tier authorities throughout the 222 country, on the one hand, with the immense problems caused by the disruption of the centuries-old boundaries, customs and inevitably some of the pattern of local life on the other. Because, as I said just now this is the first major reorganisation which has been undertaken since local government took its present shape.
No one can win in this sort of contest, but it seems to me desperately important, if it can be arranged, that before matters of boundaries come on to the Floor of this House at the Committee stage of this Bill every effort should be made by the Government to make every concession that they fairly can, and for other people concerned to make the best of what will certainly seem to some people to be a very bad job. It seems to me—and I say this without any disrespect to this House, to which I have belonged for some time—that if matters can be handled, un to a point, behind the scenes, a sound solution is far more likely to be reached than it will be on the Floor of this House against the background of pressure groups, public relations stuff, Hereford bulls and the lot, and "noises off" generally. That is what we are going to have. I hope that, despite that situation. We shall be able to keen clear heads and exercise sound judgment. It will not be made any easier for us. In the end, these matters will have to come into the Chamber, and therefore many of us who are familiar with the general lines but not familiar with local conditions will have the duty of making un our minds whether to support the Government who, whatever else may be said, have clearly thought out the matter, or whether to go against them. If we find ourselves going against them let us hope that we shall be doing so on matters of principle and not on matters of a "hard-luck" story.
The same thinking applies to what I believe my noble friend Lord Sandford talked about yesterday, the mayors and the local customs. I am very sorry that I could not hear him, and equally sorry that I could not obtain Hansard to read his speech. Any concession which can be made and which does not affect the structure of the Government's plans, but does make local people happier, will be all to the good. It will be to the good again because of the image which local government will have in the eyes of the people. And not least, though rather 223 selfishly, none of us very much likes having to use his good will to put over something which he thinks could have been otherwise. I hope that we shall not have to do that on very many occasions.
But, my Lords, when we come to the second group of Amendments which we are going to have, these will be Amendments of principle. They have been talked about a great deal this afternoon and they mostly concern delegation in one form or another. I have had some experience on this sort of organisation in a fairly mis-spent life, and I have seen it in different directions. It has always seemed to me that you get delegation right by drawing a horizontal line, so that people above a certain line decide certain important things and people below that line apply those decisions to the local needs. Thus you get down from the first tier to the second tier, leaving the parish councils to deal with the things which affect their parish and which they understand. Therefore, if you get this horizontal division of delegation, so to speak, then it will be perfectly clear who does what. If, on the other hand, you go for what, for the sake of argument, I would call the "vertical concurrent rights" and all that sort of thing, we shall be making rods for our own backs.
Nothing causes more local rows and disputes than "Who does what?" and if those disputes break out because of bad work in this House in dealing with the matter of delegation then we shall be to blame. I believe that this point is immensely important. I very much hope that when the time comes we shall deal with these proposals about delegation on that principle, and that we shall not allow ourselves to be misled into mistaking what is called flexibility for what is really woolliness.
My Lords, that is all I have to say about this Bill, except to return to give thanks on one point, as an Englishman. At the time of the Local Government Bill in the 1950s I made attempts to get someone to put something into the Bill to make it possible to deal with the anomalies on the Welsh Border. I was completely unsuccessful, and therefore I can do no less than say how pleased I am to see the relevant clauses in this Bill.
§ BARONESS WHITE
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him: 224 is he by any chance proposing to give Oswestry to Wales?
§ 5.42 p.m.
LORD SAINT OSWALD
My Lords, in response to the coming emergency debate, in common with other noble Lords I am stripping my speech of much of its content, while expressing, as I feel bound to do, one besetting anxiety regarding this Bill. It is not connected with any particular boundary change or changes, not even the disappearance of the West Riding of Yorkshire or the truncating of Lincolnshire, with both of which counties my family has close associations going hack beyond 300 years. My great grandfather, as Disraeli's Chief Whip, was Member of Parliament for North Lincolnshire, and his constituency is about to be gulped into Humberside. I should like to say in passing that with both the maiden speakers to-day, who have won a justified mead of acclaim, I can claim to share some territorial attractions: the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in Andalucia, which has not been affected by this Bill, and the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, our common roots in Yorkshire, where his own East Riding is about to be devoured, of which he spoke with great dignity, force and lucidity.
That said, in my single theme, brevity requires me to omit a great deal of the fact and reasoning which underlies my anxiety. What I am proposing is that one simple but significant concession should be made by the Government, not to any one particular area beloved over all, but of potential value to many areas and to the country as a whole. The police are not happy as to the way they have been treated in this Bill. Although Gilbert and Sullivan recorded a mood of resigned discontent as being almost occupational, if a policeman's lot is made additionally, needlessly unhappy he becomes as resentful as any other citizen. This does not make for efficiency; it reduces and drains efficiency. In 1968 the new pattern of police areas was set up across the whole country. It was given the assent and encouragement of all Parties at that time. It has taken four years, six years since the scheme was first announced, for the police to settle 225 into their new forces and commands. They are not yet fully settled, but they are working well and coherently. At this point it is proposed to effect another shake-up, an upheaval, as it is often described, in order that police boundaries shall be rigidly coterminous with the new county boundaries, with here and there an amalgamation of two or more counties. There is a philosophy in the Bill and in Ministerial speeches that this is bound to be for the best, and any departure from this principle is bound to be a mistake. It is a philosophy that a police authority must conform acre for acre with the local government authority.
I submit that this belief has been disproved since 1968. The Combined Police Authority can be drawn, as in many cases it is to-day, from the police area itself, as such, from all parts of it, some lying in perhaps seven different local authority areas, as is the case to-day in West Yorkshire. Our Combined Police Authority has representatives from the West Riding, Huddersfield, Halifax, Dewsbury, Wakefield, Barnsley and Doncaster. It works. It has worked, after some initial mourning and complaint, since 1968. I well remember, again speaking of my own locality, the sadness occasioned by the disappearance of the office of chief constable from six out of the seven local authorities areas I have mentioned. We grew rapidly acclimatised to the new setup, because it was introduced for the sake of efficiency and proved itself by this criterion. And in case my noble friends in front of me should choose to seize upon this in order to claim that just as those changes became acceptable so, equally easily, will these, I must say that I think they are likely to be mistaken. Those were changes specifically aimed at improving police organisation. This is the counter-reformation and may prejudice efficiency. So it is seen, and so it will continue to be seen, by the police and those dependent upon their services unless some adjustment is made by a Government which has everything to gain by the smooth running of police services.
What is contained here is not simply a swerve in the policy generally approved by both sides of Parliament in 1968; it is a reversal. That policy was to amalgamate city and borough police forces into larger county police forces, to absorb 226 them into county forces. What will happen in 1974, if Clause 190 is left untouched, is that the county forces will be split up, the West Riding in seven directions and Lancashire, I believe, in 13 directions, to be centred on cities. I think it behoves us to consider the position of senior police officers who very lately, loyally and conscientiously, defended and justified those earlier changes to their subordinates. To-day they are being asked to justify a total contradiction of their arguments. They are being asked to stand on their heads. It may be that politicians adopt this posture more easily than policemen, and it seems a little unfair to make that demand.
If I cite my own area briefly by way of illustration, it is not to plead it as a special case. On the contrary, it may be that the forces in Lancashire, the West Midlands, Northumberland and Durham, among other areas, are faring worse than the West Yorkshire constabulary. I mention West Yorkshire specifically because that is where I use my eyes and cars. It may not typify, but at least it may exemplify, the havoc threatened in a number of large highly-populated, mainly industrial areas. My noble friend may argue, as did his colleague in another place, that most police areas will remain virtually as they are to-day. He could produce maps and tables to demonstrate this, but it requires more sophisticated maps and tables to show the truth: that the areas of dense population are drastically affected, and that is where the crime is.
It was my intention to provide at least some limited detail concerning West Yorkshire, a concentrate of what I have already sent in writing to my noble friends on the Front Bench. That would have served to illustrate the wider problem. As it is, I will simply say that under the Bill as it stands the present West Yorkshire force will be split in seven directions. No member of the present force knows to what force he will be sent in 1974. The present group insurance scheme run by the police may have to be wound up. In the technical field, the computerised signalling system for motorways and the motorways emergency telephone service will be adversely affected. Training facilities will be subdivided and probably duplicated.
227 The dispersal of criminal records will create problems and reduce their effectiveness. Most gravely, the family life and therefore the morale of individual police officers will be thrown into uncertainty. Anything that my noble friend Lord Aberdare can say about the protective Regulation 23 will doubtless be of comfort to police officers. Extra resentment is caused by the feeling that the police have hardly been consulted in decisions which so directly affect them: they have been dragged along behind other considerations. Changes are being imposed upon them which may critically hamper their work.
There was an exchange in another place on May 18, 1966. I am in the curious position, I think, under the Rules of Order, of being able to quote Mr. Roy Jenkins because he spoke from the Government Dispatch Box, and not to quote my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, since on that date he was speaking as Mr. Hogg, from the Opposition Front Bench. I am far from sure that this prohibition carries over from one Parliament to another, but I had better be on the safe side. Mr. Jenkins, in a statement which presaged the Police Bill and referred to the Report of a Royal Commission set up by the previous Conservative Government, said:I have examined each area and have sought to establish police forces of a size most likely to achieve full efficiency in the prevention and detection of crime and the control of traffic."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 20/7/72, col. 973].To which Mr. Hogg replied, on behalf of the Conservative Opposition, that the proposals (which eventually were the basis of the Police Act 1968) were in harmony with our own thinking and electoral programme and would be supported, as in the event they were.
What is of great concern to me, as an admirer and supporter of this Government, is that within the police forces the reforms of Mr. Roy Jenkins in 1968 were seen and accepted as designed for increased efficiency; but the considerable and disruptive changes flowing from Clause 190 of the present Bill appear to them to be imposed, almost parenthetically, as part of wider Government reform but without any reference to the interest, the well-being or the efficiency of the 228 police—in effect, though unintentionally working against their interests and efficiency. Even the context in which they are described is off-hand, to put it no more strongly. The heading is "Miscellaneous Functions". Law and order is not a miscellaneous function, my Lords. In the crunch—and there is some pretty continuous crunching these days—it is the guarantee that we can lead our orderly lives in an orderly way, protected from those who would, spasmodically or systematically, destroy the peace and order of our lives. In turn, and in fairness, the police must he permitted to conduct their own operations, to maintain the pattern and tenor of their own operations on our behalf, in an orderly way.
They think, and I can see why they think, that this orderly pattern is being artificially shaken by Parliament, by the source and repository of that rule of law which they are engaged to defend. Your Lordships may recall those lines of Rudyard Kipling, intended to convey the embittered feelings of the soldiers of an earlier period.It's 'Tommy this, and Tommy that,And Tommy, go away!'But it's Thank you, Mister Atkins,'When the band begins to play!A corresponding comment on this passage of this clause of this Bill might be:It's Bobby this and Bobby that,And Bobby, just keep quiet!'But it's 'You step forward constable',At the sniff of the tiniest riot.My Lords, there is a great deal more to say on this matter but all of it is known to Ministers. There is a further aspect of curiosity. The Crowther Report, which may or may not recommend a system of regional government. is due to come out possibly in the autumn. This could yet again call for a total reorganisation of police areas in a few years' time. In another place, the Minister, Mr. Mark Carlisle, whose attitude throughout has been most patient, was naturally questioned on this. and I confess myself wrong-footed and somewhat confused by his reply on that occasion. Replying specifically to the possible findings of Crowther, he said (column 973 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 229 another place for July 20) that tile Home Secretary,… could not accept the argument for a regional police force, and that we were retaining the police as a local authority function.Although it would be precocious, to put it kindly, for me to anticipate the recommendations of the Crowther Report before they are known, and to applaud them on guessing what they may be, it seems to me equally surprising, perhaps more surprising, for a Minister to dismiss those recommendations before they are known, in so far as they may refer to the police. Even if the Crowther Committee do not report in favour of a type of regional government, even if, they having so recommended, these views are not reflected in legislation, at least their deliberations, based on the great volume of evidence they will have taken, may give rise to new thinking on police areas, and that thinking could be contradictory to what is at present in the Bill. To imply that the police are everywhere and in all circumstances a local authority function is, of course, somewhat misleading. The largest force of all, the London Metropolitan Police, is entirely outside local government.
What I should like the Government to do—and I am certain they would look back in satisfaction on the decision—is to make wider use of the Combined Police Authority than they are permitting themselves to do as the Bill stands now. The method of achieving this I would happily leave to them.
For what little my opinion may weigh, the Amendment moved in another place by Mr. Gordon Oakes, the honourable Member for Widnes, seems a very sensible and ingenious basis. That Amendment, when voted upon in the Standing Committee, resulted in a tie at 19–19, and was lost only by the casting vote of the Chairman, cast by tradition in favour of leaving the Bill unaltered. Stout believer though I am in tradition, it gave a curious result in this instance, because the Chairman in question was voting against his conviction, and later put his name down to support the same Amendment at the Report stage, where it was lost. When submitted to intensive scrutiny, in the Standing Committee, the Amendment was morally carried; a number of Government supporters spoke 230 and some voted in its favour. At a period when criminals are becoming better organised and more confident, Her Majesty's Government, however inadvertently, seem to have taken a decision to disorganise and undermine the police: order, counter-order, disorder, dismay, dislocation, disillusionment. That course is the antithesis of what this Government embody in their other actions. It would be an historic irony if within this bold and epoch-making Act there were to remain a flaw to taint and debilitate its operation.
My Lords, I appeal to the Government to make this key concession not on behalf of any single area but applying to the Bill as a whole and therefore applicable to any part of the country where it may prove advisable or beneficial. In private exchanges on this matter my noble friends and right honourable friends have said that they see difficulties. It is no part of my purpose to make the legitimate task of the Government, this or any other, more difficult. What I am trying to do is to give the Government more scope than they have given themselves—an entirely benevolent purpose. I have no wish to move an Amendment during Committee. The Government would do it many times better than I could essay. In doing so, they would assist and win the gratitude not only of the police but of all the law-abiding citizens of this land.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I come from a county which in recent years has endured two major reorganisations of police forces, so my heart beats in unison with the noble Lord—probably for the first time—when he drew attention to the perils and possible injustice of unnecessary interference with police authorities. I have been interested at various stages during the debate on this Bill—and my speech will be short because we are up against a seven o'clock timetable—to find that some noble Lords have used the expression "local government reform." The word "reform" seems to me to connote that local government is something in the nature of a malefactor which has to be reformed. I differ from that attitude. I prefer the word "reorganisation"
The Minister used the word "reorganisation" when he introduced the 231 Bill. Over the years there have been many criticisms of local government, both of officers and members but, apart from a few exceptions, I believe that they have been manifestly unfair and have often prevented these people from giving their best in the interests of the community. I do not think that the good work of our existing local government ought to be overlooked. It has educated up to increasing standards many millions of children. It has provided homes for 5½ million families, and through its maternity and child welfare service it has brought millions of children happily into the world, with very little danger indeed to their mothers. It has gradually increased the provision we make for our old people. It has increased the efficiency of the fire service, the police service, and the ambulance service.
Nevertheless, some changes really are needed. It is a fact that local government has, in the years past, lost many of the services for which it was responsible. It has lost gas; in some ways it has lost water; it has lost electricity; it has lost public assistance. There are very visible signs that in the near future it will lose still further of its services—some of its water powers, its sewage disposal powers, some of its health powers, which will be transferred to another authority, and recently its powers over housing finance. Therefore, some reorganisation is obviously needed.
One feature of this Bill seems to me to be that it uses more words than have ever been used before in local government legislation, but it provides us with fewer elected councillors. It has 408 pages; the famous 1933 Act had only 280, yet the elected councillors are to come down from 38,000 to somewhere about 22,000, a reduction of 16,000. I do not regard this as a move in the direction of local democracy. I fear that it will lead to an increasing use of the bureaucracy. More decisions will inevitably be left to be taken by officials. Lest it be thought that I have an antipathy to local government officials, I would merely mention that a few years ago it was my pleasant duty to write 60,000 or 70,000 words for certain publishers, praising the work and the efficiency of local government officials.
I think it is generally accepted that one good point about this Bill is the 232 adoption of the two-tier system. It will bring the very localised services very near to the people, while it will distribute those services which require a wider area and a larger amount of resources over the county councils. Obviously fire, police, education, and strategic planning have to come in that category. But it is essential that if the two tiers are to work harmoniously together there must be a clear, definite demarcation of functions. I understand that here the Government will introduce an Amendment which is likely to stimulate quarrels between the districts and the county councils. It concerns the agency system; a system whereby the county councils will sub-let some of their work to the districts, and the districts, on the other hand, can ask the counties to take over some functions which they hardly think they can perform to the best advantage. I feel that these agency arrangements should be as few as possible. But to work satisfactorily, there must be a spirit of real agreement between the upper and the lower authority. It is within the memory of many of us that the Local Government Act 1958 led to quarrels which, in some cases, lasted for two years between the top-tier authority and the other, when education and health services had to be delegated. In some cases there has been continued friction.
I understand that the Minister intends to suggest in the form of an Amendment that the Minister shall arbitrate between the two tiers when there are differences between two authorities. The district may want to take over a service and the county may say, "No, we want to keep it". There is a difference, and the Minister will be called in to arbitrate. I feel that this will stimulate ill-feeling still more. It will tend to make the two tiers enemies rather than friends. It will make the preparation of budgets very difficult. It will make the engagement and disposition of staffs very difficult indeed. So I plead with the Government to leave this particular clause as it is, and not call in the Minister as an arbitrator, but leave the two authorities, where they can, to agree between themselves. Let us have less interference from the Ministry than is suggested by the forthcoming Amendment.
In regard to planning, there appears to be a kind of dichotomy. I have some 233 slight doubts as to whether it will work well. Those doubts do not seem to be so well-founded as they were a few months ago. If the county is to be responsible for all strategic planning, and the district for local development, it could work, but the demarcation lines of the functions must be very clearly drawn. I have one very serious doubt about the Bill, and it has already been mentioned in that fine maiden speech by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. It concerns the question of conservation and historic buildings. These are to be given to districts, but the districts, from our experience in the past, have often found themselves opposed to the counties in this matter. They have often wanted outside developers to go ahead in certain of their districts. They naturally have their eyes on increasing their rateable value. I feel that the counties are now doing this job very well indeed.
There will be a technical difficulty, too. The amount of expert staff, skilled in dealing with these questions, is very small indeed. I can foresee that the districts will not be able to get all the necessary qualified staff, and, in the meantime, those who are already constituting the teams of the counties will have their future so upset that those teams might be dispersed and the men go into academic, architectural, or other professional occupations. The Bill states that development control in conservation areas is to be the responsibility of the district, but these conservation areas do not concern the district alone; they concern the whole county. Indeed, they sometimes concern the whole country. I feel that the authority which is responsible for handling historic buildings and conservation areas should be absolutely free of local pressures; otherwise, we might get repetitions of some of the vandalism which we have already seen in recent years.
There is room for debate about the allocation of some other functions. There is housing. The counties are to be left with a sort of residual minor power. I should like to see the counties more responsible for the strategic planning of all the housing requirements in their area. There is the question of refuse disposal, where we have had a difference of opinion. This reminds me that over 50 years ago I was the chief cost accountant in the refuse disposal department of 234 the Birmingham Corporation. I have forgotten most of the things I learned then, but I think I shall probably be looking at this afresh when the matter is reached on Committee stage. I can see the point of view of those who want to centralise refuse disposal over large areas in highly modern plants, but I must suggest to your Lordships that the long runs which would be necessary to cart the refuse from the point of collection to the point of disposal would be very expensive indeed. Transportation is one of the big items that enters into the cost of dealing with refuse. Then in the metropolitan counties cannot we give education to the top tier? These metropolitan counties consist of continuous built-up areas; there is one community so far as employment is concerned, and in any case some of the metropolitan districts are too small to man a proper education system.
There are two more points that I can leave until later. One of them concerns those clauses which deal with the admission of the public and the Press to committee meetings of local authorities. I was for 22 years a county alderman and once served in other capacities in local government, and I want to see more publicity for the activities of councils. I fear that in this mandatory provision the Bill has probably gone too far. I should like to see the Government discuss this matter with the associations of local authorities, so that they can probably arrive at some kind of compromise which would satisfy both sides. When you admit the public—I am not talking about the Press—to a committee meeting of a local authority you must, first of all, look at the geography and geometry. Your committee room will not be big enough to accommodate them. Sometimes we get people organising demonstrations at meetings of a local authority. Think how terrible it would be if the finance committee of a county council, sitting in the committee room, were invaded by 20 members of Women's Lib who felt they had some grievance. Imagine, my Lords, if the Women's Lib started doing their stuff in accordance with recent custom, how that would upset the work of the committee, especially if the members of Women's Lib went further and adopted the kind of demonstration some of them made outside No. 10 Downing Street last week. 235 I just want to say that the primary object of having a council committee is so that it can get on with its work without undue interference.
The other point, which I should like to speak about later, concerns an item which is completely missing from the Bill; that is, the question of finance. I heard the Minister say that we would have financial provisions in due course, but I think we ought to have had them side by side with this Bill so that we could see the complete picture. We have been settling the shape of the machine. There is not a word about the speed at which the machine should work. That depends on the fuel, and the fuel is money, and we cannot judge the effect that this Bill will have upon the people for whose benefit it is intended until we know what money is available. I have views upon the proper position of rates in the financial system, the proper position of local income tax and so on. This is not the time to develop them, but I suggest to your Lordships that the Government will do well—if they want to carry the whole House and all spheres of local government with them—if during the Committee stage they give careful consideration to Amendments that will be moved, and not merely reject them out of hand on the grounds that there is not time to consider them properly.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Government on the initiative they have taken in bringing this Bill before Parliament in this Session and also to support its main principles. Its effects are going to be far-reaching and will touch on everybody's lives for many years to come. We all recognise the great problems which arise when county boundaries are altered. Naturally not everybody is pleased—but it is not the Government's task to please everyone but to get on with government, while giving a lead. If people's lives are going to be affected by boundary changes they should understand why the changes have been proposed; they should have an opportunity to comment on them and to make representations about them. Certainly they have the right to expect that the majority views of the inhabitants should be taken into consideration before final decisions are reached.
236 Over the past two years I have been convinced that the Government have listened diligently to local views, and that where possible traditional boundaries have been kept. I believe that there is one serious exception. I apologise for being rather parochial, but I take comfort in the fact that this matter was raised yesterday by my noble friend Lord Maybray-King, and this afternoon in the excellent maiden speech of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. With great respect, therefore, I feel that the Government have not been altogether fair and reasonable in regard to the treatment of West Hampshire and particularly Lymington borough. Living nearby, but having no other connection, I am only too well aware, and I think it is my duty to ensure that the Government are well aware, of the intense distaste and anger which the people of Lymington feel in having their centuries-old ties with Hampshire and the New Forest severed against their expressed will and that of the county council and being transferred to Dorset, a county with which they have no links whatsoever and whose county town is some 60 miles away. This is in spite of the Boundary Commission's recommendation that Lymington should stay in Hampshire.
Naturally the people of Lymington looked for reasons and expected a fair explanation. They received instead three weeks warning of their impending fate. with little or no time to mount any democratic response. They saw a last minute Amendment to a Bill in another place, passed at seven o'clock in the morning in a sparsely attended Chamber. They are told that the decision to allow Lymington to go to Dorset was to compensate Dorset for the loss of Ringwood. which won its fight to stay in Hampshire although that town is much closer to Dorset and to the West. I have every sympathy with the fact that Ringwood should stay in Hampshire, but it is unsatisfactory to people in Lymington that the decision was taken after powerful lobbying by a Minister who previously had close personal ties with that area and its administration. To be fair to that Minister, he has suggested in another place a compromise for Lymington; but this means splitting the borough and the suggestion was made, I feel, on a divide and conquer principle.
237 I do not wish to go into further detail—it is not correct on Second Reading—but I must give notice that unless some solution can be found to satisfy the people of Lymington I will, together with other Members of your Lordships House, try to persuade your Lordships in Committee to accept an Amendment to keep Lymington in Hampshire. I am sure that the Government are anxious to be fair and just, but they must also be seen to be fair and just. Lymington, I think, is justified in feeling that it has been treated in a rather high-minded manner and subjected to horse trading of a rather doubtful character. The Government should at some stage give an explanation of this last minute decision and, more important, recognise that- the people of Lymington are trying to use lawful democratic means of persuasion. They should be listened to. They are not resorting to methods used by other members of the community in recent times to get their way.
§ 6.18 p.m.
My Lords, I will be as brief as I can, and if I am rather abrupt in style I apologise. It will be done in the interests of saving time. I should like to speak about the quality of local government rather than about any particular functions or any statistics. First, I would say that while we are all agreed that many of our authorities are too small to operate efficiently, the bigger is not necessarily the better, and I hope that the Boundary Commission will bear this in mind when they come to consider second tier authorities. Nor is uniformity necessarily a virtue, although for obvious reasons it is often favoured by the bureaucracy. I was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, appeared to put a great deal of emphasis on the need for flexibility in this Bill rather than too rigid uniformity.
From the Government Front Bench I was extremely glad to hear that we can expect Government Amendments at a later stage, making it possible—here I will speak as I think I understood my noble friend—that every borough with a charter and mayor will be allowed to carry some part of its ancient history into the years to come. The standing of boroughs dates back to the time of King Alfred, and boroughs and mayors are 238 not just modern status symbols. To-day, although the purpose of boroughs may have changed, the quality of life in some of the smaller ancient boroughs must be as high as anywhere in this country. And there is very great local loyalty, which is something that we should encourage. People in these boroughs, I am sure, mind much less about losing their responsibility for refuse collection than losing some of their ancient traditions and occasional picturesque ceremonial. Yet a Conservative Government has presented a Bill which, in its original draft, went some way towards doing this. I find it hard to understand. I can only suppose that it was pandering to the envy of certain new communities; and I am very glad that the Ministers appear now to be converted. If I am wrong about the rights that all and every one of these ancient boroughs will be able, to a greater or lesser extent, to carry with them into the future, I hope the Minister will correct me in his winding up speech. I am sure that there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to how much they will be able to salvage.
Now, my Lords, from the old to the new—ancient boroughs to National Parks. The proposals for the administration of National Parks as set out in the Bill are admittedly a compromise. In the course of time the administration of all the Parks is likely to come nearer to that of the Peak and the Lake Districts. I have searched in the Bill to see whether there is any way that we can move a step or two in that direction, whether by order or regulation, if the Government should want to do so or if local people should want them to do so, without our having to wait a very long time for new legislation; but I cannot find any reference in the Bill. Again, will the Minister please make this clear, if not at this stage at least at a later stage, because it seems a mistake to freeze the present position, which, as I have said, is simply a compromise and cannot possibly he accepted as a final solution.
Now I should like to quote a sentence by Lord Redcliffe-Maud from his speech yesterday. He spoke of,new counties rising out of the ashes of old counties and county boroughs, and a new concept of town and country based on the facts of life".In too many areas what is happening now is looked on as a take-over by the biggest 239 authority concerned. It is not too late for us to combat that point of view, which is all too widely held. In order that the truth may be apparent to all, I would ask Ministers to impress on all provisional county joint committees or similar bodies which are now sitting and making advance plans, to ensure that they are in fact meetings of equals and not meetings of large authorities which representatives of smaller ones are graciously invited to attend. The chairmanship might well circulate, as I believe in some cases it does between representatives of the different counties and county boroughs—but not in all cases. And I think it would be a pity if the chairman and secretary should both come from the same authority, especially if it happens to be the biggest one in the group. I am sorry to say that Cumberland, the county in which I live, long looked upon by their neighbours as empire builders—not always, I think, entirely fairly, but they have given some grounds—have done this very thing, which one hoped they would not.
As to Lord Redcliffe-Maud's concept of town and country, it is very good on paper, but since the voting power in the new authorities will rest with the urban population—that is, the towns—I hope that they will appreciate that, even if the rural areas may have only, say, one-sixth of the electorate in a particular authority, that one-sixth may very well have the responsibility for one-third of the area or more; and in these days of new interest in the environment this is very significant.
Lastly, a point about the membership of the new councils, on whom, in my submission, everything will depend. The quality of local government, as always, is going to depend on the quality of the members whom we elect. I must admit that I have myself never served on a county council, but for nearly the whole of my married life my wife has been a county councillor, first as a member of the London County Council, when the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, was her leader, and latterly, for many years, in Cumberland. So I think I can say I know the demands made on county councillors serving on different types of authority. Indeed, these demands are big enough to-day already, especially when travelling is a serious factor; and 240 they are already too big on the chairmen of the large committees if the precious and proper balance between elected councillors and the officials is to be maintained. I believe that to be something which is very precious. Councillors must not be asked to do the impossible. The new constituencies will be very much larger than the existing constituencies; and, of course, allowances, even though they will be welcome, do not provide the answer to all this.
As I see it, the relations between councillors and officials will have to change. I am not saying that this is a bad thing at all, but I would wish that the Government would tell us how they see it happening, because we should know before we part with this Bill exactly what we are doing. Weak chairmen have often been the flaw of our present system, and we do not want to see their numbers increased under the new system. I do not want to see committee chairmen having to play, as it were, second fiddle to their chief officers simply because they are unable to give enough time to what may well become a near full-time job—and this could be a real danger. As in the case of the noble Lord who has just spoken, I do not speak in any spirit of antipathy against officials, but it is a point I wanted to make and your Lordships will understand that as we are pressed for time I have made it without any embroidery. In the past, perhaps, we have not recognised what we owe to our councillors. In the future, under this Bill, we are going to be even more in their debt, and T think we must ensure that we are not giving them an impossible task to perform.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, whatever else time compels me to cut from my speech, I am not going to cut my expression of gratitude to the four speakers who made maiden speeches. If I can mention only one of them by name—my noble friend Lord Selborne—it is because he is the youngest of them. I was so deeply impressed by the sensitive understanding with which he developed his case for what he calledputting into the right perspective the relationship between central and local government.All those of us who really care for local government will welcome two major 241 changes of structure which this Bill makes. It should end the tedious, bitter war between counties and county boroughs, and it should break down the barrier between county towns, whether they are municipal boroughs or urban districts, and the surrounding rural areas. Far too much energy was being diverted into boundary wars. This Bill solves that problem and provides the right solution for it.
Up to about ten years ago that solution would not have been acceptable; public opinion was not ripe for it. I believe that opinion within local government has changed now, largely I think because of increased mobility due to the car and a fresh realisation of the interdependence of town and country. Full credit, therefore, to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and his Royal Commission for recognising that; full credit also to the Government for endorsing it and for accepting, too, that the Commission's unitary authorities would have been too remote from the citizen if there were no district councils in between. Frankly, my Lords, my anxiety now is whether those district councils themselves are going to be too remote.
Unhappily, a new war has now broken out over the allocation of functions between counties and districts, and this has had one effect already which is going to do grave injury to the new life of local government. Districts were originally planned, according to Government spokesmen, to have populations of about 40,000. The next phrase was "upwards of 40,000", in the White Paper; and now the criterion has been pushed up to something between 75,000 and 100,000, thus undermining one of the wisest statements in the White Paper of February, 1971. If I may quote that, it said:Local authority areas should be related to areas within which people have a common interest—through living in a recognisable community, through links of employment, shopping or social activities or through history and tradition.I believe that almost every Member of your Lordships' House will endorse those words and say that they are one of the primary principles for vigorous, democratic local government.
Now counties have history and tradition. The phrase "areas within which people have a common interest" points 242 directly towards new districts which would comprise a country town and all the villages surrounding it—the villages from which people come into the town to work or to do their shopping. With the original population basis of 40,000 one could successfully have produced districts of this sort which had a real unity. Alas! the Government then pushed the standard size of districts up from 75,000 to 100,000 and gave that direction to the Boundary Commission.
My Lords, I thoroughly agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, when he said yesterday that in the criterion given to the Boundary Commission far too much importance had been attached to population and much less importance had been given to the need to get cohesive communities within each local government area. As a result the Boundary Commission—it is no fault of theirs—have been forced by Government directive to recommend many districts comprising areas in which common interest is entirely absent. The reason is that they are much too large. Out of the 274 districts recommended no fewer than 42 stretch out over more than 350 square miles apiece, and include in a single district towns which have no common interest. Each of those towns separately is the focal point for the villages which surround it.
Of course, my Lords, it is convenient for a county council and for Government Departments to have a small number of district councils to deal with. One wonders why the local authority associations have not protested against the Government abandoning their own principle, their own criterion of common interest. I think the answer to that puzzle is: because of the chase after functions. The local authority associations have said to themselves, "If we protest that the Government are making districts too large, as in fact we know they are, that will weaken our case for giving the districts more functions." It is, of course, universally agreed that many present districts and non-county boroughs are too small. I suppose that Montgomery in Wales and Bishops Castle in Shropshire have been the outstanding cases. But I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Inglewood for stressing that the phrase," The bigger the better" is a fallacy. Sometimes it is indeed," The bigger the worse".
243 My Lords, with your permission I should like to read a sentence or two from one of the most interesting letters in a fairly large correspondence which I have been receiving since the Bill was published. It is from a retired clerk to a county council. He speaks ofmy dismay and anger, which I believe is shared by those who have a real knowledge and understanding of local government administration, at the utter failure to grasp the essential requirement that second tier local authorities should be local".He goes on to say:In my opinion, which was shared by many members of the county council and by others, the two authorities, among the 21 of various sizes in the county, which stood out for their far-sighted, efficient and economical administration were an urban council of 7.000 population and a rural council of 21,000.My Lords, this is not just an academic question. Democratic local government has no future at all unless it attracts active, intelligent men and women, as candidates for election. People say, lightly, that you will get more people like that if only they know that the council for which they are standing has as many important functions as possible. But people do not determine whether or not they will stand for the council by whether it has library powers or does its own refuse disposal. Do not believe that, my Lords. The questions which a man or woman poses when thinking whether to stand for local government is how much time it will take; how much travelling it will involve; whether the meetings will be in the day-time during working hours or in the evening, and whether they have a genuine interest in the whole area for which they will be responsible, if elected.
I am afraid that a great many people who are now giving good service on non-county borough councils and district councils will be debarred from standing for the new, huge district councils in the countryside that are proposed because of the travelling that will be involved; because of meetings being held during working hours and because the district is too extensive to engage their real interest. Service on the new district councils in the countryside—I stress that—is going to be an occupation for the leisured and the retired and I do not believe that this is how to face the challenge of the brave new world. The Government are deceiv- 244 ing themselves if they think that the payment of attendance allowances to local councillors—which I thoroughly support—will change the attitude of people towards service on local councils. I find it difficult to understand why some noble Lords suggested yesterday that this reorganisation of local government was likely to attract new young people into local authority membership. I gravely doubt that.
My Lords, for this and other reasons which I cannot enumerate now, I am less sanguine than some others about the effects of this reorganisation on the genuine life and vigour of local government in the countryside. Bear in mind that this will be the first time this century that districts will be so constituted that there will be many villages up and down England with no rural district councillor in their midst, no one in the village to whom people may go directly to raise any point about local government. Fortunately, we shall still have parish councils, which will have increased responsibilities. I particularly welcome the Government decision that all planning applications shall in future be notified by the district councils to the parish councils. It may be that we can build up from there. It may be we can make this third tier of local government the liveliest of all.
I think that not an impossible hope, but I beg the Government not to place too much reliance on this new look for local government improving the quality of local councillors. The request I would make of them, for there is still time for it and it involves no amendment to the Bill, is to make clear, by a second directive to the Boundary Commission or otherwise, that population is not to rank first in the criteria. What is to rank first in their consideration of the shape and size of the new districts should be the statement in the Government's own White Paper that local authority areas should be related to areas within which people have a common interest; population considerations must be subordinated to that.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, as the debate draws to a close I am reminded more and more of the clock in the council chamber at the County Hall at Kingston where I sit as a member of 245 the Surrey County Council. The clock has upon it a motto which, being translated, reads, "The hour is brief". We are under pressure for time and I have scrapped a great deal of what I intended and wanted to say. I hope that I shall not be disjointed as a consequence. I think it inevitable that I may touch on one or two points made by other noble Lords but I certainly will not speak at length upon them. I hope to touch on one or two matters which I think have not been referred to or perhaps touched upon only lightly.
At the outset I should like to align myself with my noble friend Lady White in what she said—that this is a Bill which could have been started in this House with great advantage. Those of us who feel under pressure, and that we do not have an opportunity because of pressure on time to develop the points we should like to make, will be feeling pretty strongly about this and hoping that the lesson will be learned by the Government and that next year this House will be treated rather differently from the way in which it has been treated this year. It is not only this Bill. The speed with which we are being asked to deal with legislation will, if it continues, make a travesty of our proceedings. During the two days of this debate we have listened to many notable speeches. I should have liked to mention the names of those who made a great many of them. I thought my noble friend Lord Jacques made an outstanding contribution, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Last evening the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, made a very moving, quietly delivered and thoughtful speech. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, said a good deal of which we ought to take note, and well deserved tributes were paid to those noble Lords who made their maiden speeches.
It has been said that, whether right or wrong, this Bill will settle local government for at least half a century, and that is something on which we all agree. It will therefore plainly be our duty to do all we can in Committee to get it as right as possible. As the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, said, many of the proposals in this Bill cut across Party lines. It is good at times that that should be so. If we recognise the situation, and if we have the courage to do what is needed, we may be able to ensure that the Bill 246 leaves this House in a much better condition than that in which it arrived. My noble friends Lord Champion and Lady White spoke with clarity and authority, and placed before the House a number of matters which we on this side shall pursue during the Committee stage.
Some reference has been made to the earlier Maud Report. Throughout this business I have had a predisposition in favour of the two-tier system. I suppose that is because it is the system which I know. Indeed, I have served at both levels for a good many years. The proposals in this Bill are not thought out as well as the earlier Maud proposals, even though I did not like many of the latter. I have a feeling that when we receive the Crowther Report, to which other noble Lords have referred, we may have reason to regret some of the commitments made under this Bill. Of course, that Report may well be shelved after its initial airing, but I still have a feeling that we shall have reason to consider that a number of matters which have been disposed of under this Bill would have been much better considered against the background of the Crowther Report.
I should like to touch on one or two specific matters which fall under the heading of functions. A number of noble Lords have said that planning is probably the most important of these, and I agree. I touch on this matter because I have a feeling that greater importance has been given to providing important functions for the second-tier authorities than to the best manner in which such an overwhelmingly important function as planning can be discharged. The County Councils Association has set out its views quite clearly and these can be summarised in one sentence. I quote from the memorandum which the Association has issued:The planning provisions in the Bill, even as amended, are, in the view of the Association, much inferior to the proposals in the White Paper".May I come now to historic buildings and conservation. Why the Government have departed from the very good precedent set when reorganisation was carried out in the Greater London area is beyond understanding. There are very strong reasons now—I should have thought the strongest—why the highly specialised functions involved should be 247 concentrated at county level. Clearly, this matter must be considered very seriously in Committee.
Resisting the temptation to refer to a full list of other functions deserving critical examination, I should like to mention a subject on which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, spoke at length when he opened the debate. I refer to the subject of education. I should have liked to pursue the noble Viscount's argument, but I will content myself by saying that, despite anything he said, further thought must be given during the Committee stage to the proposal to distribute the service of education among 34 metropolitan districts in the six metropolitan counties. The proliferation of education authorities is not designed to improve efficiency or to produce economy. I do not think anybody who has intimate experience of this matter can feel—and the noble Viscount does not—that there is anything wrong with large education authorities. The needs of the children are the same, and the scope of opportunity ought to be similar, regardless of where they live. Main principles ought to be covered throughout the land. I shall return presently to an aspect of this proposal in regard to another matter.
That part of the Bill which deals with areas will certainly be productive of Amendments in your Lordships' House, not only from this side. It has been established clearly by speaker after speaker that local loyalties are very dear to a very large number of people. As one who was horn in Somerset, who has lived in Surrey for a great many years, and who has friends in the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Plymouth, I shall follow very closely indeed what is going on. I speak in an individual capacity when I say that I have every intention of seeing that the problem of Surrey will be discussed much more fully than it has been during the Second Reading debate. I put the matter briefly now, because it can be dealt with more effectively during the Committee stage. Many people and many authorities are looking to this House to deal justly with their claims.
There is another matter which we would do well to bear in mind. When the Local Government Boundary Commission gets to work it will have a great deal to do in order to tidy up the rough 248 shapes which many of the districts will have as a result of this Bill. This legislation does not determine local government boundaries finally. I think we will see many proposals for change, and indeed many changes, as time goes on. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, spoke not only with unusual speed but in an unusually critical fashion. The Government would do well to note that one of their keenest and, in my experience, one of their greatest defenders has found himself, in connection with this Bill, as keen and as strong a critic—
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, to be quite correct, I was not criticising the Bill. I said that I wished for no amendment to the Bill. What I wanted was a change of directive given by the Government to the Boundary Commission.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, knowing the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I think I shall do well to wait until to-morrow to read what he said. For the moment I accept what he has just said. I was coming to a point on which the noble Lord touched, namely, the question of community councils. I have no doubt that their success depends entirely on the calibre of the persons they are able to attract. I am a little doubtful that in many areas of the country they will come off.
That part of the Bill which deals with disqualification for membership of a local authority is going to need much more careful scrutiny than has been given to it up to the present. One gets the impression that a large proportion of electors in some areas will be disbarred from standing as candidates. Some people are estimating that as many as 20 per cent. will be disbarred. If that is anywhere near correct, it is far too high. Here I should like to point out that in the metropolitan districts which comprise the metropolitan counties, if education is given to the districts teachers will be unable to contest elections for the district councils. That, I think, will be a very serious situation.
Reorganisation will certainly affect the staffs of many, if not all, of the second-tier authorities. It is sufficient to say now that the interests of the staffs must be a matter of concern as we go through 249 Committee. I should have liked to have touched on the agency agreements and on members' allowances and to have spoken on the subject of finance, because we still await an indication that local authorities are going to be able to levy any other than the most regressive taxes in the country. There is a great deal that has to be said on that subject, and I hope it will not be too long before we can come to it.
This massive piece of legislation almost certainly tries to do too much at once. We ought to have had at least two Bills, if not three. But that, as I said at the commencement of my remarks, seems to be the way it is these days. While we on this side of the House do not oppose the Second Reading we shall welcome the Committee stage with the opportunity that it provides to improve this far-reaching Bill.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill my noble friend Lord Sandford referred to the wealth of experience on local government matters in your Lordships' House and foresaw an interesting and useful debate. I am quite sure that no one who has listened to this debate for the two days that it has been in progress will have been disappointed. We have had so many excellent contributions from so many presidents, vice-presidents and members of local authority associations, and from so many experienced members of local authorities, that I feel quite daunted at the task of winding up this debate, particularly in view of the fact that an important debate on industrial relations is to follow, and the time is getting on. In the circumstances, I hope therefore that your Lordships will forgive me if I am unable to take up all the points that have been mentioned in the debate or to mention all the speeches that have been made. I assure all noble Lords who have spoken that their points will be carefully studied.
The noble Lord, Lord Champion, who is himself the President of the Urban District Councils Association, speaking at the start of the debate, set the tone, I thought, admirably, and I was grateful to him. He made it clear that there was no Party political controversy over the Bill, and that he was ready to facilitate 250 its passage on to the Statute Book. This theme of facing up to reorganisation in a spirit of co-operation was apparent right through the debate yesterday, notably I thought in a speech at the end by the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough. That theme has been carried through the debate to-day, and was echoed in the most reasonable speech to which we have just listened from the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy.
My Lords, we have been privileged to hear four maiden speeches. The first was made by the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, who spoke from long experience of Welsh local government, and achieved the difficult task, as I thought, especially for a Welshman, of doing so without being controversial. May I also say that I thought the noble Lord set an admirable example to many of us by staying so faithfully all through the debate yesterday to a very late hour. We also heard an admirable speech from this side from my noble friend Lord Selborne. I thought it was an indication of the high level of the debate that my noble friend seemed to think it necessary to apologise for the fact that he had been a county councillor for only five years. He certainly made a worthwhile contribution. Then today we have had two more most distinguished maiden speeches. One was from my noble friend the Duke of Wellington. I was glad to hear that, after all his experience of Whitehall on a horse, he is now here in Westminster on his two feet. I know that we shall hear a good deal from him on the Committee stage, and I hope that we shall do so on many other occasions. The same applies to my noble friend Lord Middleton, who spoke from such deep experience of local government and regional economic matters on the problems of Yorkshire.
A number of your Lordships have spoken on specific matters concerning the boundaries of various authorities. I think it would be quite wrong, even if I had the time, to go into any detail on these at the moment. They are all matters which we can and will look into thoroughly during the Committee stage. May I just make the point now that we are providing maps and notes on clauses which will be available in the Royal Gallery for the Committee stage, and 251 those on Part I and Schedule 1 will be available there from to-morrow.
May I say, in general, repeating what my noble friend said at the beginning of this debate, that we have given long and anxious consideration to the proposals as they stand at present in the Bill. We published our original proposals in February of last year, and followed them up with a substantial and continuous programme of consultation. First, we considered the written observations of each local authority. Then my right honourable friend and honourable friends visited those parts of the country where complex and interlocking issues were involved, to consult with the authorities face to face and to review the situation on the spot. As a result of this full process of consultation a total of 60 changes was made in the Government's original pattern of counties and metropolitan districts. But this was not the end. Amendments affecting a further 10 areas were made during the Committee stage in another place, and further Amendments affecting 16 areas were made on the Report stage. The noble Baroness, Lady White, mentioned the deep consultations that she herself carried out over the Welsh proposals, some of them reflected in the Bill: we also have carried on those consultations in Wales.
One matter that has been referred to throughout the debate was an undertaking given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government that we should be bringing forward proposals to meet the special problems of the Isle of Wight. A number of speakers in this debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and my noble friends Lord Harvey of Prestbury, Lord Kinnoull, Lord Somers and Lord Mottistone have drawn particular attention to the position of the Isle of Wight. I should like to assure your Lordships that we shall be tabling a Government Amendment to meet the special problems of the Isle of Wight at the Report stage in the House. It is impossible to satisfy everybody on these boundary matters, as indeed the debate has shown up.
Two right reverend Prelates, the Bishop of Bath and Wells and the Bishop of Lincoln, found themselves in direct conflict with the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, who turned the tables 252 most effectively on them, I thought, by quoting the Bible with great effect. May I say with what enjoyment we listened to the fascinating and statesmanlike speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud. I should like to say that I particularly appreciated his hopes for the renaissance of local democracy, and also the fact that he thought this would be assisted by this Bill. Equally, my Lords, no sooner had the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, made a case for Plymouth than it was attacked with great energy and vigour by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. We can never hope to satisfy everybody, but perhaps I might just remind your Lordships that there are two Boundary Commissions which will keep all these matters under continuous review after the Bill has become an Act.
Perhaps I may be forgiven if I say one word about Wales at this juncture, although again I think the questions of boundaries in Glamorgan are better left to the Committee stage and I will refrain from being drawn into an argument to-day with the noble Baroness, Lady White—
§ LORD ABERDARE
I shall hope to get the better of it when we come to that point. But I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Heycock—who has given me his apologies for not being able to be here to-day, for a very understandable reason—complain that the functions of the Welsh local authorities were to be slightly different from those in England. I thought that most of us agreed that Wales was different from England, that Wales should have slightly different provisions, and indeed that this was the whole point of our having a Secretary of State for Wales and a Welsh Office. However, we can take up those matters in Committee.
The other central point around which the debate has revolved has been the question of functions. What we have sought to achieve, as my noble friend explained, is a delicate balance between the powers at county level and those at district level. Like so many others who have spoken in this debate, we are anxious that these powers should be closely defined and that we should find adequate powers for each type of local 253 government in order to make a worth while career for its officers and a worth while job for its members. The importance of finding this balance has been emphasised in the debate. On the one hand, my noble friend Lord Amory, President of the County Councils Association, in one of his usual wise and witty speeches, told us of his deep concern that there should not be any substantial change in the balance of functions of the different authorities. He was ably supported by my noble friend Lord Gage. On the other hand, we have also heard other voices, among them the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King and my noble friend Lord Harvey, who were of the opinion that further powers should be given at district level. In fact, as I listened to the debate, it seemed to me that the only people who were satisfied were the parishes, who retain their identity and get an increase in their free money.
Several of your Lordships have suggested that cities of the size of Portsmouth and Southampton should have special treatment so far as functions are concerned and that they should remain responsible for education and the personal social services, so that in a sense they would be metropolitan districts in non-metropolitan counties. I must make it clear that this is not a proposal which we can accept. Not only would it be impossible to confine such an arrangement to these two cities, but what about other cities—Bristol, Nottingham, Hull, Leicester and Derby, for example? More importantly, it would mean that we should be on the way towards re-creating the present patchwork of counties and county boroughs which the Bill aims to abolish.
Several speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in a critical but interesting speech, and the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, have referred to Clause 100. More than one of your Lordships has expressed a fear that an undertaking given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in another place will lead to friction between local authorities. This was the undertaking that the Government would introduce a provision for an appeal to the appropriate Minister where, in the period up to April 1, 1974, under Clause 100 authorities cannot agree on agency 254 agreements between them. I know the fear is shared by the County Councils Association. It is, however, our view that the new provision will lessen the risk of friction by increasing the certainty of the operation of the clause in the admittedly difficult transition from the existing to the new system of local government. After consultation with the local authorities associations, including the County Councils Association, we shall issue guidance on the use of agency powers and on how we expect to use the appellate jurisdiction of Ministers.
My noble friend Lord Eccles in, if I may say so, a very distinguished speech in opening the debate this afternoon, has dealt with the subjects of education, museums, libraries and the Arts. Another function which has attracted a good deal of attention in the course of the debate has been that of planning. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has just referred to it; my noble friend Lord Nugent also mentioned it; and if I may say so, I thought the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, put his finger on the point; that we have to find the right delicate balance. It is right that the county council should prepare the basic structure plan, but at the same time the district council, with its more local responsibilities, should be responsible for the local plan. The problem is to co-ordinate the two. We believe this will be done by the concept of a development plan scheme which will provide a formal framework within which authorities can set out the plan, making arrangements that they have agreed among themselves. As a further safeguard, we have provided that a district planning authority which has prepared a local plan has to obtain a certificate that it conforms in general with the county's structure plan. These are intricate and complicated matters which we can go into in greater detail at the Committee stage.
I should like to have given a longer answer than has been possible to my noble friend Lord Saint Oswald on the subject of the police. I cannot agree with his harsh remarks on the treatment of the police. We did consult them. Certainly on two occasions there were meetings; and we fully understand and appreciate the police officers' concern for the efficiency of the service they provide and 255 their loyalty towards their present forces. But now that the pattern of local government is being changed, it is simply not possible to leave the police areas and organisation as they are. The present arrangements are that each police force is maintained by a police authority composed as to two-thirds of local authority representatives and as to one-third of magistrates. On any view there would have to be some, changes in those parts of the country where local government boundaries are being altered.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is convinced of the great value of the interest which local people take in the affairs of their police force, and it was for this reason that he decided that each county should have its own force except where an existing amalgamation should be continued In order to preserve an existing force or where a new county on its own would have insufficient resources for efficient policing on modern standards. The pattern which will result from reorganisation will be in the interests of long-term efficient policing. The Government have said time and time again that everything possible must and will be done to avoid any unnecessary hardship and inconvenience to individual officers and their families. Only this morning a meeting took place between Home Office officials and representatives of the Police Federation, at which there was a very full and helpful discussion of matters affecting the individual officer.
I should like to refer briefly—and I am sorry that I am being pushed for time—to the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor. I should like to assure him that we shall study what he said very carefully. He drew attention to the guidelines issued to the Local Government Boundary Commission. It is quite true that there is reference to population figures of 75,000 to 100,000 in those guidelines, but there is also a reference to the Boundary Commission recommending a pattern of districts ranging upwards in population from 40,000 and only very exceptionally under 40,000. I am sure he is well aware that there is also reference to the other things that they should have particular regard to, the wishes of the local inhabitants, the pattern of community life and the effective operation of local government services.
256 Several of your Lordships have mentioned staff in local government. I should like to reinforce wholeheartedly the tributes paid to them. They will certainly be facing a period of tremendous upheaval and they deserve the sympathy of every one of us. I can only say that the appointment of two staff Commissions is, I hope, some guarantee to them that we shall try to ensure that they are treated as kindly as possible.
Finally, I can assure your Lordships that we take due note of what was said early on in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and we shall most certainly consider on their merits all the Amendments that may be proposed to us in Committee. As I have tried to make plain, there is a clash of different interests on boundaries and there is a delicate balance to be preserved on functions. We shall listen carefully and be prepared to improve the Bill when we think this is right.
My Lords, at the beginning of the proceedings to-day on this Bill I announced to your Lordships that it had come to my notice that Parts II and III of Schedule 1 were incorrect as printed. A Message has reached this House from the other place requesting that the Bill be returned to that House for the necessary corrections to be made. In the circumstances, I am sure that the most appropriate course would be for me to propose now that the debate on Second Reading be adjourned until to-morrow. If this course is agreeable, the Message will be read after the adjournment of the Second Reading. I will then move that the Bill be returned to the Commons, as they request.
If this is agreed to, the Bill will go back to the other place, where they will make the necessary Amendments to the text, and I expect that it will be returned from them to us, with a further Message, to-night. That further Message will then be read at the end of proceedings this evening, and a corrigendum will be printed and circulated to-night and will be available to your Lordships to-morrow morning. This corrigendum will take the form of a reprint of Parts II and III of Schedule 1.
My Lords, I suggest that the adjourned debate on Second Reading of the Bill should be taken as first business 257 to-morrow, and I hope that, in view of the excellent debate that we have had over the past two days, your Lordships will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading without further debate. I therefore beg to move that the debate on Second Reading be adjourned until to-morrow.
§ Moved, That the debate on Second Reading be adjourned until to-morrow.—(Lord Aberdare.)
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, if I may advise my noble friend, we are now on a different Motion to which he will be able to speak.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I apologise. With regard to the corrections, under the Bill as it now stands no citizen of Eire can stand for a local council in England. Will that point be looked at?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, that is an interesting point, and perhaps we shall be able to pursue it at the Committee stage. It would be inappropriate for me to follow this up on a Motion to adjourn the debate. Perhaps my noble friend had hoped to speak before the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, actually sat down.
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for explaining what has to be done. There is an important debate to come, and because of the pressure on us, and the mess we are in, the House of Lords is having to let things go which it ought to debate. I am interested to hear that the corrigendum will be printed and circulated to-night. I congratulate the Government if they are able to get something printed and circulated to-night. I do not blame the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for this situation. As was made clear earlier, it is no fault of anyone connected with this House. There are precedents. The last one I have been able to find was when the House of Lords left something out. On that occasion the other place refused to take it; but we are more accommodating.
258 The only point I would ask the noble Lord to consider is that Part II of Schedule 1 is an important one, as is Part III. Would it be possible to indicate what changes have been made, because it may be that there are noble Lords today who have been pressing with all the eloquence at their command to alter something which they need not have done? It would be useful, if it is possible, to underline or sideline the changes. With that we have no option but to agree to the course proposed. It would be right—though it is entirely within the discretion of the House—that when we continue the adjourned debate on the Second Reading we should deal with it formally. Other noble Lords could come in—those who have not already exhausted their right to speak.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I will certainly see what can be done about the suggestion, if it is possible; I certainly take his point.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.