§ 11.49 a.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SECURITY (LORD ABERDARE)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Aberdare.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ Schedule 1 [Counties and Metropolitan Districts in England]:
LORD MIDDLETON moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 214, line 16, leave out ("North") and insert ("East").
§ The noble Lord said: I wonder if it would be convenient to the Committee to take also Amendment No. 38 and Amendments Nos. 41 to 47 inclusive.
§ LORD MIDDLETON
I seem to be opening the batting for Yorkshire to-day, having had my pads on as it were during the last part of what I think can be described as only a fair day for the county on Wednesday. I am asking the Government to look more carefully than they so far seem to have done at a much wider area than the parish and district boundaries which we were discussing on the first day. In brief, what these Amendments seek to do is to divide none metropolitan England between Tees-side and the Wash into four new counties and not into three as in the Bill, for the reasons which I outlined in the debate on Second Reading.
Humberside on the North bank would be drawn nearer to the port and associated industries, though giving Hull enough room for expansion. On the South bank the boundary would remain as in the Bill. The rest of Yorkshire, except for Cleveland, would be divided into a smaller North Yorkshire, much larger than the present North Riding and still the largest county in England of 1¾ million acres, and a new East Yorkshire. The boundary between the two would run from the sea just below Scarborough and roughly along the River Derwent as far as York, which would go to East Yorkshire, and then across to West Yorkshire, thereby eliminating the Selby-Osgoldcross "appendix", which would be very inconvenient to manage from North Yorkshire and which would go to East Yorkshire.
I do not propose to repeat the argument in favour of this Amendment in detail—I spoke fairly fully on Second Reading—but I wish to put as concisely as possible my case. It was that the Government made several serious errors when drawing the boundaries for non-metropolitan Yorkshire. First, their North Yorkshire was much too big for good administration of services. Secondly, whatever we think about North Yorkshire, the Selby-Osgoldcross appendix should never be in it. Thirdly, while a Humberside local authority astride the Humber is a very sound strategic concept, the northern boundaries were drawn much 1453 too far to the North. Lastly, historic York was left without a role.
I suggested that the answer was to insert a new and viable county, which for convenience we might call East Yorkshire, between the geographical Humberside and North Yorkshire, with York as its chief town. One of the many benefits arising from this solution would be that we would not cut out a police force that has only just settled down after a two-year-old reorganisation. This would satisfy both the deep public concern in the present East Riding about a forced marriage to a—to them—irrelevant maritime-oriented Hull, and also the dismay felt in York at the fate handed out to them in the Bill. One can overdo the cricketing metaphor, but I should like to deal with the series of "no balls" and "wides" delivered by the Government.
There is strong local feeling that the Government case for their Humberside boundaries is founded on certain misconceptions and that these were apparent when a similar Amendment was moved in another place, although in the case of that Amendment Humberside had only Hull and Haltemprice on the North bank. The purpose of this was to perpetuate the East Riding. If there were not strong local government reasons I would not be taking up your Lordships' time in arguing about boundaries and indeed asking the Government to give birth to a new county. The intention was to recommend a different demarcation of boundaries in order to achieve a better administration of local government services. This Amendment would create a quite new county based on York. If by so doing we were to perpetuate, or at any rate to reap the benefits of good administration of services in the present East Riding, particularly in the field of education, that cannot be a bad thing.
The next argument was that the Amendment would make a shambles of the Humberside county proposed in the Bill by cutting off Hull and Haltemprice from their area of influence to the North and industrial development to the East. There was some force in this argument, had it not been based on the false premise that Hull has an area of influence to the North. This concept seems to be firmly fixed in the Minister's mind. It is most important that we should get things right. There is no such area of influence 1454 or development North of Hull and Haltemprice. Hull's areas of influence stretch westward and eastward across the Humber.
The effect of my Amendment would be to put the whole of the industry and associated residential areas and also a considerable area of undeveloped land and open countryside both on the East and West of Hull into the Humberside county. I would ask the Government to take note of the difference between my Amendment and that which was moved in another place. I believe that this one goes the whole way towards meeting the Government's wish to include Hull's area of influence in a Humberside county.
The next argument of the Government was that Humberside was not a metropolitan county and should be combined with different rural areas. Neither is Cleveland a metropolitan area, and any rural hinterland in the Bill's proposals for Cleveland are virtually non-existent. Indeed, the Government have cut off the the large rural area of Whitby—nearly equal in size to the present Cleveland county—taken it away from Cleveland and put it back in North Yorkshire. If Cleveland in the Bill is right then so must be my proposal for North Humberside. The Government really cannot quote Radcliffe-Maud on town and country in connection with Humberside and expect me not to say, "How about Redcliffe-Maud in connection with Cleveland?" I am fully in agreement with the Redcliffe-Maud philosophy about town and country, but it must be the right mixture of town and country and not the wrong one if we are to get happy and good local government.
The next argument was that there was a great flow of workers into Hull from the East Riding and a great flow of population out of Hull into the East Riding. This was not an accurate statement. Even under the Amendments proposed in another place, about 8 per cent. of the total work force of East Riding move in and out of Hull. This is based on the 1966 Census figures. I do not know of any more recent figures that would help us. Under these Amendments all areas with any volume of movement in or out of Hull are now included in the Humberside county. The fact is that the pull of Hull operates to a very limited extent beyond its immediate boundaries and this 1455 was commented upon in the Central Unit for Environmental Planning 1969 Report.
The next argument was that because of the geographical links between Hull and East Yorkshire they should go together and there should be no physical barriers. This is perfectly correct, but the biggest geographical barrier of all is the Humber Estuary. At Hull it is two miles wide. If the geographical argument were to be applied then the Bill's Humberside would be a nonsense. In fact there are very good reasons for having an authority astride the Humber.
The next argument was that Hull and Haltemprice were an enormously powerful economic magnet on the rest of the East Riding. That argument might have applied to an area which would be included with Hull in this Amendment, but there was no basis for saying that Hull was a powerful magnet for the whole of the East Riding. Although I played a minor part in drafting the recent strategy document issued by the Regional Economic and Industrial Council which the Government accepted, I know what we said about Humberside and about East Riding and we certainly never said that. It is just not in accordance with the economic facts. Hull is a port and its trade and industries and fisheries have national significance. This also applies to all the North bank industries which I have now included, not one of which is related to the economy of the East Riding outside the areas which my Amendment would give to Humberside.
Then we were told that there would be future large-scale development centred on Hull. This argument is based on the Feasibility Study of Humberside which was made in 1969 by the Central Unit for Environmental Planning. The purpose of that study was to assess the feasibility of collecting large numbers of the nation's expanding population and settling them on Humberside. Even while the Report was being written, the Registrar General's estimates of future population were revised, and since then they have been revised downwards again more than once. So there may very well not be the surplus population in the country to put there. This Report concluded that, while this would be the biggest exercise of its kind that had ever been contemplated. it was 1456 physically feasible to settle 750,000 people and their natural increase on Humberside, over and above the existing population and their natural increase. But no conclusion was reached as to the economic feasibility of that scheme.
I need hardly remind your Lordships that it is proving extremely difficult to attract industry to employ the present population. Even though Hull has had intermediate status since April, 1970, the male unemployment rate last July was 7.9 per cent. In July of the previous year it was 7.1 per cent., so the problem is not getting any better. Bearing in mind the difficulty which recent Governments have had in getting industry to the North-East of England, and bearing in mind that the Yorkshire region desperately needs new industries in such areas as the South Yorkshire coalfield, I leave your Lordships to draw your own conclusions as to the economic feasibility of finding work for a Humberside population three times its present size. No Government could undertake the expense of artificially inducing labour-intensive industry on such an enormous scale. People flow towards industry, not vice versa. Should we really use this planner's pipe-dream as a sound basis for drawing local government boundaries?
Lastly, my Lords, we were told that public opinion, as measured by views expressed in letters to the Department, showed a nil reaction and that most local authorities were opposed to a new East Yorkshire. I know that the Government attach great weight to public opinion. There was a test carried out in the form of a public opinion poll, done at the behest of the East Riding County Council. Views were sought on a random basis not only in the East Riding but also in Hull. The result of the poll showed that 75 per cent. of those questioned believed that there should be a separate county of East Yorkshire. With regard to letters to the Department, perhaps the 29,000 received by the East Riding County Council should have been forwarded on, but I really do not think that the Department would have welcomed that avalanche. As for local authorities, the views of Hull City and North Riding County Council were predictable. They stand to divide the corpse of the old East Riding between them.
1457 Now, my Lords, the district councils. Time and again on Wednesday, we heard of Government decisions based on views of district councils; and certainly due weight must be given to these views. The Government have taken great pains to carry out consultation as deeply as they could have done in the time available, but I have a feeling that you can put too much emphasis on the views of the second-tier authorities. Often their members are divided, often their views are formed by considerations quite other than the administration of good county services. Of course, it is convenient to use these views to argue a case, but how often are these views based on matters quite irrelevant? We had a very good example on Wednesday from the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, in her eloquent plea for Rothwell. The district councils in the proposed Humberside were divided, so it is not easy to form a conclusion. I am not sure that a more reliable guide is not the opinion of the consumers of services as measured in some kind of independent poll, such as I have mentioned.
Your Lordships may attach some weight to the fact that York City Council endorsed wholeheartedly and unanimously the concept of a new East Yorkshire County based on York. This is surely understandable. No one with any sense of history can gladly see York relegated to the position of a peripheral district of an over-large North Yorkshire. Instead of becoming an archaeological curiosity, York would, under these Amendments, become the administrative capital of a thriving new county. That is what I should like to see and I ask the Government to look more critically at their Yorkshire boundaries which really are wrong, and accept these Amendments that would put them right. I beg to move.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ LORD JAMES OF RUSHOLME
I should like to support in the strongest possible way the Amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Middleton. I intend to do that in a very few sentences, because he has covered the ground so fully both in what he said to-day and in his admirable speech on Second Reading. But if my speech is very short, I hope your Lordships will believe me when I 1458 say that its length is in inverse proportion to the strength of my feeling and to the importance of the subject. On Wednesday we discussed at length the boundaries of places like Wardle and Windle—very important for their inhabitants, but perhaps more suited to a boundary commission than to a debate. But this morning we are not discussing something like that; we are discussing the extinction of the identity of a whole county borough and one which has, in a number of fields, a distinguished record.
I am not a Yorkshireman so that I cannot be accused of the sometimes excessive loyalty that comes from birth, particularly in that county. Though I have lived and worked for 11 years in what is now the East Riding, I can, I hope, view this Bill from a reasonably detached point of view, for I have no doubt that the University of York will enjoy the happiest relationships with North Yorkshire if North Yorkshire comes into existence. So that I do not have an axe to grind. Viewed with that degree of detachment, I regard the present proposals in the Bill as misguided, both socially and administratively. They are misguided in at least three important ways.
First, from my experience and from all the evidence, the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, was absolutely right to emphasise that the economic and cultural links of the East Riding are not in fact directed towards Humberside, except perhaps for a very small part in the extreme South-East of the county. There is in the greater part of the East Riding area a strong local feeling that has made it, for example, one of the best educational authorities in the country. We all know those articles that prove how much worse education is in the North of England than in the South; and, on the whole, there is a lot of truth in them. But there is one bright spot in any map you like to draw of educational provisions, and that bright spot is the East Riding of Yorkshire. That kind of situation can arise only from a genuine local feeling. In so far as there is an outside pull, then that pull is undoubtedly towards the City of York. But suppose we disregard what the inhabitants want, and let a reputable and good government go for nothing and dismantle its machinery, which is what the Bill seems to be wanting to do. What do we get in its place?
1459 I would really ask your Lordships to consider again the human and administrative problems raised by the new North Yorkshire. What unity, what community of interests can one hope to find in an authority that will extend from the Fells of Swaledale to the Plain of Selby: and what kind of administrative headache must inevitably, I think, be introduced by that scattered and immense area of over two million people? This is supposed to be a Bill about good local government, and it is, I think, in general conception, probably a good Bill; but in my part of the world it is in danger of creating something that is certainly not local and in my view perhaps will not be very good government either.
Lastly, there is the position of York itself. I have no desire to be sentimental about the glorious past—it seems to be unfashionable to be that, even in your Lordships' House—but actually the Romans who chose York were rather good at local government themselves and Wentworth's Earl of Stratford, who did the same, was at any rate efficient whatever his other failings may have been. But if one considers the matter quite dispassionately—and I wish we could consider it that way; if this is not the place, where can it be considered dispassionately?—how many towns are better fitted not only by history, not simply by amenity, but on practical grounds, ease of communications, to be a county town, the natural area of which it would be the centre, as in fact it aready is the centre in the minds of the people who live there, is the new authority of East Yorkshire?
These Amendments are not suggesting a new kind of authority. They are not messing up any fundamental principle of the Bill. They are not suggesting any new principle. They are not seeking to perpetuate even the present East Riding of Yorkshire. What they are proposing is that in a vast area of the North of this country there should be one more authority than the Bill envisages, and one which can naturally evolve on a firm and already existing base. It is a proposal that seems to me to be sensible and practical on all grounds—economic, social and administrative. Is it too much to hope that for once the Minister will permit himself the luxury of a wise man, by throwing away the admirable brief 1460 that lies in front of him and saying, "No, for the following reasons," and admit that the Government have made a mistake and need to think again?
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
May I support this Amendment very briefly and draw your Lordships' attention, as one Member who is resident near Selby—and I want to make that point clear so that you can see that I talk from local knowledge—to the fact that in my belief this hangs on two points. The first one is that, very rightly, the South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire industrial areas have been hived off into new metropolitan counties; and the second important thing that should happen is Humberside to be created. I should like to dwell on Humberside for a moment. Up till recently, the West Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire have exported to the Commonwealth and to the world through Liverpool, Birkenhead, Manchester and so on. But we are about to enter the Common Market, and the M.62, the motorway from Liverpool to Hull, is just about to be pushed through to Hull. It has got as far as Huddersfield, and the M.18 is being pushed from Doncaster to join it and also go to Hull.
This will make Humberside the major port, after London, exporting to the Common Market. It lies opposite Rotterdam, that immense Europort at the mouth of the Rhine. Humberside was the correct creation as a port, and as an industrial area with the ancillaries to a port. Maybe it will have something to do with the expansion of natural gas and the oil industry, too. That is all that Humberside should be. What has now been created is a new area of Humberside, to give elbow room, they say, to Humberside, which is as big as if London had, as its Greater London area, an area from Reading, Luton and Chelmsford. The men of Hull are big chaps, but they do not need as much elbow room as that. It is unnecessary. And you are dragging this agricultural community living in the East Riding into administration from Hull, where they will not have the same interests, who are concerned with other industries, and other ways of life. This Amendment seeks to put these Northern areas of the East Riding in with the areas of the West Riding where I live—to put the Tadcaster District Council, 1461 Selby District Council and Osgoldcross District Council together into one agricultural community. My area, which is at the moment in the West Riding, is going to have to take its local government troubles to Northallerton, over 70 miles away.
I know that your Lordships are not interested in details because you are really losing sight of the kingdom at the moment, you are so confused with detail. This is not a detail matter; it is a vast and simple matter which your Lordships should consider very carefully. I do press that the Minister looks at this matter and gives us an answer.
I should like to support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, with which I wholeheartedly agree. I spent the first twenty years of my life in the East Riding of Yorkshire and my name is incorporated in Kingston-upon-Hull, so I know a little about the district. There is one thing that I should like to bring to the Government's attention; that is, that bringing the South Bank of the Humber into Humberside does not make sense. I lived for many years at North Thirkleby. Across the Humber is South Thirkleby, a place I have never been to. There is no interchange between Lincolnshire and Yorkshire people whatsoever. We are getting a new bridge at Hull, and I hope that that will help the development of industries besides shipping to come to Hull so that they will have easier access to the rest of the country. But that bridge is not going to make any difference to the population, and therefore I ask Her Majesty's Government to review the South Bank of what is known as Humberside.
My second point is this. I think it is a terrible thing to do away with East Yorkshire as a county. It has sentimental value. I do not mind including it with York, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, said in his Second Reading speech, all roads lead to York. Let us get it quite straight and have a North Riding, an East Riding, a Humberside and a West Riding.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
I should like, quite briefly, to support the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, as he has been supported from all sides of the Committee. I think his case is a strong one. My reason for supporting the noble 1462 Lord is that the rural districts in the area of which he has spoken are almost unanimously desirous of becoming part of a new county council of East Yorkshire. During all the talks leading up to the drafting of this Bill there has been a great deal of consideration about remoteness, and your Lordships may not be aware—because although I do not come from that part of the country, I visit it a great deal—that the distances involved are enormous. If we are to get good councillors to serve these new authorities, some consideration must be given to the remoteness of the centre of government. I think that is one of the points to which your Lordships should give careful consideration if the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, asks your Lordships to support him in the Lobby.
§ 12.21 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
At least I have the great advantage in this particular debate of being totally impartial on the question of Yorkshire. I am a Scot, and I confess that my personal knowledge of either side of the Humber is extremely limited. What I have done, therefore, is to try to ascertain all the facts, both geographic and otherwise, as fully as I can in order to try to answer this debate. So at least no one can say that there is any bias in anything I say from any personal background. As my noble friend Lord Middleton said when he opened this debate, he is not expressly trying to resurrect the county of East Yorkshire, though I think the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, did make that plea. The fact remains that this Amendment is the first one in this Committee stage whereby we are attempting to go in for a major refragmentation of the pattern of the Bill. It is therefore, I believe, an important Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, asks: "What is wrong with one more authority? "But if the noble Lord looks at the list of Amendments, he will see that it is not only one more authority that is being sought in the various proposals put before this Committee stage: there are a number of others. I am afraid one cannot take it altogether on the one swallow argument.
The other introductory thing that I should like to say is this—and perhaps I must chiefly direct my remarks to my noble friend Lord Beaumont, though it 1463 is something that seems to underline a good deal of the thinking on this subject. I believe that noble Lords and others who have considered this matter are hypnotised by the name, the label that has been given to this proposed new authority. "It is called Humberside ", they say. "Therefore it must be connected only with the Humber." This came out strongly, I think, in the debate in another place; it has come out strongly in a number of the speeches made on this Amendment to-day: and although we do not have down a specific Amendment relating to the Lincolnshire side of the river, I think the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, was on the same point as was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincolnshire when he spoke on Second Reading. Everybody seems to think that because one labels the authority "Humberside" it must be solely connected with the river; not in any circumstances beyond the banks of the river, the docks, shipping and matters of that sort. This seems to be an underlying misunderstanding. What does it matter what it is called?
Let us look at the reality of this and consider the situation as it really is. I hope that, even if there are to some extent different interests in the rural areas from those in the built-up areas on either side of the river, this Committee will remember that this is precisely one of the things in a non-metropolitan county that we are seeking to foster: that there should be an interchange between city and town, and we should no longer, unless we absolutely must, go in for that awful conflict which has gone on in the past for so long. Let us just consider what this Amendment means. My noble friend has fully described it. It takes the majority of the North part of the proposed new county of Humberside and turns it into what is very nearly a re-ceation of the East Riding—though I know that the areas are different. It reduces the North Yorkshire new county from 626,000 to 446,000 population.
I do not want to go over all the arguments that were put forward in another place, and to which my noble friend referred, but I should like to comment on some of them. We have, first of all, the arguments on economic links and 1464 geographical links. My noble friend confessed that the geographical links were there, and I think this is perfectly plain. One has only to look at the map and one sees the roads certainly leading East and West, but also leading very fully into the country areas into the North. The economic links have been hotly denied by noble Lords, but I think that I ought now to tell the Committee a little more about this. Hull and Haltemprice are an enormously powerful economic magnet on the rest of the area of the East Riding. The strength of the combined economic pulls of Hull and Haltemprice may be gauged from the fact that in 1966—because I have to work on the 10 per cent. census as well—16 per cent. of the resident employed population of the county districts round Hull which the Bill would include in Humberside found employment in Hull or Haltemprice. By contrast, York has nothing like the same influence on the area with which we are concerned: indeed, its pull is almost entirely concerned with a small area adjacent to it in the Pocklington rural district.
I know that your Lordships do not like statistics, but let us look at this. My noble friend's Amendment leaves the borough of Hedon in the Humberside complex. But if one looks at the other adjoining local authorities, we have a number which are outside my noble friend's proposed Humberside County. To the East we have Holderness, a rural district, with 37 per cent. of its employed population working in Hull or Haltemprice; at Withernsea, an urban district to the East, or North-East, 32 per cent.; the rural district of Beverley, to the North—while it is outside my noble friend's boundary—29 per cent.; Hornsea, an urban district to the North-East, 27 per cent.; the borough of Beverley, 14 per cent.; and then in the urban district of Driffield we are down to a much smaller figure. All these are North, North-East and East and well outside the area which my noble friend says is all that should be left, the rump on the North side of the Humber. Conversely, a considerable proportion of the working population in these adjoining areas live in Haltemprice or Hull. In the rural district of Beverley, 33 per cent. of the work force of the rural district comes from Hull and Haltemprice; in Holderness Rural District Coun 1465 cil there are 22 per cent., and in Beverley Borough even 20 per cent. come from the borough of Holderness.
So we have these cross economic links of a very significant nature between the two areas where noble Lords have denied that there are any links at all. There has been a considerable movement of population from the urban areas—this has been going on all over the country—into the rural areas during the last few years. Incidentally, this movement includes many of the younger families and these are no doubt the people who are partly contributing to these cross economic links between the areas. If there is no economic link between Hull and the North, why is it that even in these days, when buses are perhaps not the most popular form of transport, there are 70 buses daily from Hull to Beverley to the North and 31 daily to Withernsea, to the East?—the areas where my noble friend denies that there are economic links.
That is the present situation. We must then look to the future. My noble friend Lord Middleton sought to throw a certain amount of cold water on the plans put forward in 1969 for the addition of further population to this area. I know it was a very large figure and I know that these things are always somewhat hypothetical. I have seen a good deal of this in another part of the country, down on Avonside—another hotly disputed area—where there is a great deal of argument about whether the proposals will ever come about. But Humberside has been identified as a possible and, as we now know, a feasible area for growth. What does my noble friend's Amendment do about this? All the areas that were identified for this possible economic growth would, if this Amendment were passed, lie outside the area of the Humberside County, outside the area which was meant to be the place that attracted this growth, the nucleus round which it would grow, the driving force which would energise it, and indeed—and this is very important when you are grafting on population—the social centre round which the new communities could grow up.
But no, not under my noble friend's Amendment. It would be in the new East Riding County Council that all these possible places would be. First of all, we have the possibility that the 1466 East Riding County Council, if there were one, and if it hotly denied that there was any affinity, as my noble friend has suggested, between Hull and the hinterland, would have complete power of veto over this. What form of planning would it be for one authority—narrowly confined as this would be, though I grant that my noble friend has left a little room—to say "Attached to us there should be these new areas for growth ", only to find the newly preserved East Riding County Council saying, "But we do not want this in our area; it certainly should not be planned in conjunction with us, because we wish to have none of it."
The whole argument relating to this new county is that its centre should be in York. This means that the vast majority of the population of this proposed new county would be in the Western half. What we should seek to do, if there was to be an expansion of Hull, would be to add a certain amount of new population in the Eastern half. We should have a totally split county; we should have all the existing population in the West with all their links apparently looking to York and not to the East. Then there would be a suggestion that the eastern half should suddenly take a large area of the population and of industry in connection with Hull. I cannot believe that this would be the right way to plan it, or indeed the right organisation to plan it.
Then we come to the question of what the people there think. My honourable friend, who was the then Parliamentary Secretary at the Department of the Environment, Mr. Heseltine, met the local authorities in the East Riding at Anlaby last November. My noble friend, Lord Middleton, tried to underrate the results of that meeting. He tried to say that there were perhaps divisions in the local authorities concerned and that they did not truly represent the views of the people. But let us just get the facts. The majority, 8 out of 13, of the present East Riding county districts who are concerned with the proposed Humberside County were in favour of Humberside as proposed in the Bill. For the sake of the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, let us now look at the rural districts in that area. The Howden Rural District with a population of 13,000 were prepared to accept and support the Humberside proposal. 1467 The Beverley Rural District Council, with a population of 32,000, said the same. The Holderness Rural District Council, with a population of 24,000, said the same. The three of them represent a rural district population of 68,000. It is true that there were three rural district councils—Bridlington, Driffield and Pocklington—who did not support the idea, but their total population is, if my arithmetic is right, 36,000. So we have more than twice the population in rural districts supporting Humberside in the Bill than there were opposing it. As for the urban district councils, as far away to the North as Bridlington they were in favour, and there is a very large proportion of the population as represented by the local authorities who are in favour of the Bill's Humberside as opposed to the retention of the East Riding.
Then I must say a word about the North Riding of Yorkshire. This has been criticised; it has been said that the North Riding, for obvious reasons, would not like this Amendment to pass. But noble Lords have gone further and have said that this is a poor county and it is far too big. Of course the district council system has not yet been altogether worked out, but, as I understand it, there are eight perfectly sensibly-based districts which could each be centred on a good sound geographically-placed central point. The size of the county is to some extent misleading because the Committee will know well that a good deal of the North-West part of it consists more of hills than of people, though I know there are small populations there. Indeed, the main East/West dimension is certainly not increased in any way by the Bill; it is the North/South area which is increased.
My noble friend Lord Beaumont said that he would have to go 70 miles to Northallerton. I know that at the moment there are reasons for people to think that Northallerton would be the centre, but I do not know that that is necessarily right. The question of Northallerton brings me on to the position of the County Borough of York, about which the noble Lord, Lord James, spoke so strongly. I have read with interest the speech in another place of the honourable Member for that City, and I noticed that he did not himself support the Amendment which was withdrawn 1468 by my honourable friend the Member for Howden, which is somewhat similar to this Amendment. The reason why the City of York appear to have supported a similar Amendment—I hope I am not being in any way defamatory—reading between the lines of their own M.P.'s speech, is simply because York has not itself been chosen as the capital of the North Riding and they were going to have to go to Northallerton. With a city as proud, as historic, and as fine as York, I have no reason to suppose that the city council could do anything else than come to such a conclusion—but it is not altogether conclusive if that is the reason upon which they did it.
I wonder whether this Amendment makes much sense from the point of view of York. At least my honourable friend the Member for Howden gave them a little bit of room round the North of the City. This Amendment is quite different. It cuts right down to the bone, round the county boundary to the North and it adds not an inch of the Flaxton Rural District in with it to provide a hinterland for York, just as there is not very much hinterland in this Amendment to provide for Hull. That is not the way to do it. What one must not do unless one is dealing with a metropolitan county (and we are not) is that one must not pare down too fine or restrict the large towns in the way this Amendment does. We must give them the hinterlands, the country areas, so as to stop this everlasting conflict between one and the other.
With regard to the future economic draw of Hull, the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, said that nobody from Lincolnshire ever went to Hull. I am not altogether surprised because at the moment the ferry is not the most attractive form of crossing the river, though no doubt it does a very fine job. If you want to go by road you have to go to Goole. I have driven along the South bank of the Humber and I remember being told by the people who live there that nobody bothered much about the roads; what they were interested in was land drainage. That is why there are four right-angled bends every two and a half miles, or rather less, and it is a very bad road.
But, on the other hand, as everybody knows, the Humber bridge will be open 1469 in, I think, 1976. One noble Lord, I think my noble friend, Lord Beaumont, mentioned the M62, and there is also the M18 from Doncaster. This is going to revolutionise the attractiveness of Hull; it is going to make it a very different kettle of fish for the people who might want to set up factories. This is where one would get the stimulus for growth, because communications are all important, particularly when one is dealing with a port so convenient for the Common Market as Hull will be. This is going to make an entirely different picture.
If any noble Lord wishes to consider this let him go down to Bristol or Monmouth and consider what is the change of situation in that part of the world from the situation before the Severn Bridge was opened. Who would deny now—certainly none of the local authorities in the area—that people flood to and fro from the Welsh side over to Bristol, that Bristol's area of attraction has increased enormously since the opening of the Severn Bridge simply because people can get there? That is going to make quite a different situation in Lincolnshire. This is going to make it much more sensible to have this county well spread out——
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
Surely, my noble friend ought to consider putting Mon-mouth into Avon if that is his view.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
There is something called "Wales" which one does not lightly tamper with. Whether Monmouth is part of Wales has always been a slightly dubious point. People refer to Wales and Monmouthshire. Probably the noble Lord, Lord Champion, would think I was a little rash if I tried to change that particular boundary.
Noble Lords have spoken glowingly about the present East Riding County Council services. Education was particularly highlighted. I am sure this is right, and I would not be surprised if, like all other great historic counties, they have built up a very fine service for their population in other fields as well. Everybody concerned with this Bill must feel pangs and agonies of regret in the loss of the old structure and any endangering of the services so provided.
The area of Humberside that we are creating comprehends a very large 1470 majority of the present East Riding. Why should these services be disbanded? Why should they be cut adrift or set aside altogether? Surely it must be recognised by the Committee that new county councils like Humberside, non-metropolitan county councils, will draw heavily upon the existing resources in terms of staff, experience, equipment, and in terms of method, of the counties they are superseding. Why should education in Humberside go steeply down hill merely because this area goes into a new county? I do not believe that this is the way it will work. I think people have more sense in the new reorganisation than to throw overboard everything that has been learned in the past, everything that has been built up, and say, "We will have none of this. We will start again from scratch in a totally different way." This is not the way the debate has been going previously on this subject.
I hope that I have demonstrated that this Amendment is wrong in principle and is probably based up a mistaken idea of what Humberside ought to contain. I hope that I have demolished the denial of economic links; I hope that I have dealt with the points about what the local authorities and the rural district council, in particular, do; I hope that I have shown that there is no real fear of a reduction in the quality of the services that will be offered. I hope that I have answered all the points and that your Lordships will think on balance, however much one may regret the passing of the East Riding, or the inability to resurrect it, that we have in Humberside a viable, sensible, proper new county entirely in accordance with all the principles in this Bill.
May I offer a compromise? Instead of calling Humberside, "Humberside", call it "East Riding".
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I think I am right in saying that the names are not absolutely final. I suspect that if the right reverened Prelate, the Bishop of Lincoln, were here we might even then have to find a compromise.
§ LORD MIDDLETON
I am grateful for the great care that my noble friend has taken to look at the case. In the very short time that I have attended your Lordships' House I have always been 1471 impressed by his advocacy on these most difficult cases. This is not a good case for my noble friend to speak on; I answered all the arguments that he produced when I moved my Amendment. It is most disappointing that the Government are being so inflexible in this way
§ 12.55 p.m.
THE EARL OF KINNOULL moved Amendment No. 21:
Corrigendum, page 1, line 14, after ("Sod-bury") insert ("except the parishes of Alderley, Hawkesbury, Badminton and Acton Turnville").
§ The noble Earl said: If it would be convenient for the Committee I should like to take Amendment No. 23 and this Amendment (No. 21) together. These Amendments stand in the name of my noble friend Earl Bathurst and myself. I should also like to speak about Amend 1472 and I am afraid that I have no option but to divide the Committee.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 20) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 36; Not-Contents, 65.1471
|Henderson, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Ardwick, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Royle, L.|
|Beaumont, L.||James of Rusholme, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Blake, L.||Lee of Asheridge, Bs.||Seear, Bs.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Maybray-King, L.||Stocks, Bs.|
|Camoys, L.||Mersey, V.||Sudeley, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Middleton, L. [Teller.]||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Falmouth, V.||Netherthorpe, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Nunburnholme, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Garnsworthy, L.||Oxford and Asquith, E.||Wakefield of Kendall, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L. [Teller.]||Pargiter, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Hale, L.||Platt, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Hawke, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Eccles, V.||Mottistone, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Effingham, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]|
|Balfour, E.||Elles, Bs.|
|Belstead, L.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Northchurch, Bs.|
|Brock, L.||Gage, V.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Goschen, V.||Onslow, E.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Gowrie, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Grenfell, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Colgrain, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Hodson, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Hylton, L.||Selborne, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Selkirk, E.|
|Cranbrook, E,||Kemsley, V.||Strang, E.|
|Daventry, V.||Kinnoull, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Limerick, E.||Thomas, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Lothian, M.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mancroft, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Digby, L.||Milverton, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Monck, V.||Young, Bs.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ ment No. 22 standing in the names of my noble friends Lady Berkeley and Lord Sandys. We turn now from Humberside to Gloucestershire. The Amendments concern some 12 parishes and 9,200 people. Under the present proposals all lie within the northern boundary of the new Avon area. The purpose of the Amendments is to seek to adjust the boundaries so that these 12 parishes would move within the southern boundary of Gloucestershire. The reason for this lies largely in community of interest.
§ During the course of the Committee stage of this Bill I have had a good deal of sympathy for my noble friends on 1473 the Front Bench who have been almost continuously harried with territorial matters not always familiar to them. In some cases these matters were clearly of major importance because they concerned an important principle of the Bill. The last Amendment which we discussed was one of those. There are other cases in which the Amendments would have a minimal effect because they would simply make small adjustments which would not present any danger or impair any principle of the Bill. I submit that both these Amendments come within that category. I have noted that my noble friend has shown a commendable flexibility in other such cases and I am hopeful that he will be persuaded to accept these Amendments at a later stage.
§ For the purposes of clarity, I should like briefly to discuss Amendment No. 21 separately from Amendment No. 23 because it has a quite different argument. Amendment No. 21 concerns four parishes and some 2,100 people. These parishes represent a very small part of the rural district council of Sodbury; the parishes concerned are Alderley, Hawkesbury, Badminton and Acton Turnville. The case which I should like to submit to my noble friend for his kind consideration is on geographical grounds. Unless the adjustment is made we shall all be guilty of geographical sacrilege under this Bill. These parishes comprise four small and beautiful unspoilt villages situated in one of the most famous and uniquely beautiful areas of Britain, the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. They lie in the dipped slope of the Cotswold scarp with the rolling countryside, the stone walls and the brash and stone soil. Having lived, trained and worked there for a number of years I can claim to know the area very well although I do not live there at the moment. Anyone who does not know the area would need to see it to appreciate its beauty. It is not surprising that one finds that the whole of the Cotswolds is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is no accident that it has survived, because Gloucester County Council has jealously guarded and protected this area—in fact, well before the 1968 Act; and they have striven to preserve its entity.
§ The proposal in the Bill, if the Amendment is not accepted, would mean that these parishes would be divorced from 1474 the County of Gloucestershire which for years has striven to protect them. It would mean that these towns would be divorced from the rest of the Cotswolds. It would mean the break-up of the Cotswolds as an entity. Such a policy, I would suggest to my noble friend, is fundamentally against the modern concept of good planning and indeed good local government. The Government have already shown a certain sympathetic approach to such a geographical argument as in the case of the Mendips. I hope that, equally, this case will be accepted by my noble friend as being a special case on geographical grounds. There are of course other grounds. There is the ground of community of interest and there are educational considerations, and both would be seriously disturbed. If it was argued that they would be only temporarily disturbed I personally would strongly disagree that the community of interest would be only temporarily disturbed; I believe it would be disturbed for a great length of time.
§ There is one further argument to which I would draw the attention of my noble friend in regard to these four parishes. It is an argument which carries great weight locally. Among these four parishes is the parish of Badminton. It has been the home for the past forty years—indeed, I hope it will be for the next forty years—of a distinguished and much loved Lord Lieutenant of the County, my noble friend the Duke of Beaufort. His home has, I believe, been the symbol of the county and I believe the inhabitants of Gloucestershire have been proud of it. Whereas one would not suggest to my noble friend that this consideration should be judged as a primary consideration in regard to this Amendment, nevertheless I would urge my noble friend and the Department to consider this point when he comes to reply.
§ It is, after all, poor reward to both the county and the Lord Lieutenant to find that under the present proposals Badminton will be taken out of Gloucestershire. Not only would it be poor reward; it could be said to be insensitive thinking, albeit unintentional, on the part of those who drew the boundary. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Dulverton could not be here to-day, as I know he would have expressed with great eloquence the local 1475 feelings of these four parishes. Again, I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Bathurst could not be here because he would know the situation and express a very powerful case. However, that is the case I should like to put to my noble friend in regard to Amendment No. 21.
§ I should like now to turn briefly to Amendment No. 23. This concerns eight parishes lying within the rural district council of Thornbury and concerns some 7,800 people. The Amendment is similar to that of my noble friend Lady Berkeley, save that it adds two additional parishes which in the view of the Gloucestershire County Council should be included. This Amendment raises no fundamental principle of the Bill but, again, seeks a simple adjustment. But their case is once more a special case and I should like to suggest three main arguments to try to persuade my noble friend. The first is community of interests, the second is economical considerations, and the third is the views of the residents and the parish councils there, and of the county council. Community of interest is an argument, as one has seen during the Committee stage of this Bill, to which the Government have shown great sympathy. I hope they will show sympathy here.
§ It has been accepted by the Gloucestershire County Council and the Somerset County Council that these eight parishes have a far more natural pull towards the North than to the South. There is undoubtedly a close affinity with Gloucestershire. One sees this in employment. If one looks at the figures one sees that some 700 inhabitants who live in Dursley, Gloucestershire, work in Berkeley, at the power station. One sees that some 660 inhabitants who live in Berkeley work in Dursley; whereas one sees that the interchange into the Avon area and vice versa is very much smaller. One sees it also in the social and leisure activities, in the youth clubs and social clubs.
§ Moreover, one sees it in the educational field—for instance in the case of the secondary modern school at Berkeley which has a catchment area of all the parishes named in this Amendment and co-ordinates their curriculum with Dursley's. Again, there are the youth 1476 employment services which operate at Dursley and at Sharpness. Here, if the Amendment is not accepted, these youth employment services would have to be based at Filton, I understand, some 17 miles away. One sees it from the Church point of view in that all the parishes are, I understand, linked ecclesiastically together at Dursley.
§ I should like to come to the economic considerations. The main consideration, which I think is generally taxing the Gloucestershire County Council, is the future of the Gloucester/Sharpness Docks. They feel strongly, and rightly, that the complex of the Gloucester/ Sharpness Canal, which links them, should be under one authority. I am sure my noble friend would not disagree with this view bearing in mind the Government's recent statement on inland waterways. The wishes of the inhabitants is the third issue I would draw to the attention of my noble friend. The views of the inhabitants, particularly those of Berkeley, have been demonstrated most effectively and with great skill by my noble friend Lady Berkeley when she produced her petition to the House last week. I am sure the inhabitants of Berkeley, and indeed the House, are grateful to her. In fairness, one should perhaps say that among certain of the other parishes and indeed the Thornbury District Council the views in support of these Amendments were not at all unanimous. Nevertheless, I would strongly suggest to my noble friend that the vast majority of the people would favour these Amendments.
§ Besides the local residents and the parish councils, the Gloucestershire County Council have already put up a strong case which I know my noble friend has; and the Somerset County Council has come down in favour of these Amendments. The grounds which they favour are those of community interest. As these Amendments deal only with parishes, I have noticed with interest my noble friend's warning on Wednesday that the Committee and indeed the Government could easily get into some difficulty if they had to discuss parish boundaries and their merits almost individually. I of course accept that argument in principle. My noble friend went on to say it would be much better if the parish boundaries were left to the Boundary 1477 Commission. I would accept that, particularly if we are discussing parishes which are eventually decided by taking a vote on whether or not the advocacy of those who have put the case has been sufficiently strong.
§ I would draw the attention of my noble friend to the deep concern felt by the Parish Councils' Association—here I must declare my interest—over the anticipated delay before the Boundary Commission get round to dealing with the boundaries of parish councils. It is estimated at the very best that it could be ten years. I do not know whether my noble friend has a counter-estimate on that. But it is also stated (and I think it is true) that the parish boundaries would be the very last in the queue which the Boundary Commission will deal with. Therefore I would urge my noble friend that where certain parishes have a good case he should consider changing them at this stage of the Bill rather than waiting for the Boundary Commission to report.
§ My final point, of which I have given notice to my noble friend, is that I have noticed on a number of occasions that his arguments have included a warning that any adjustment now might cause an imbalance between the urban and rural populations of the district we are discussing. I believe it would be of general interest if my noble friend could say what criteria are used in judging balance or imbalance in district areas as between urban and rural life. I submit that neither of my Amendments would cause such an imbalance. Both Amendments represent a simple adjustment of boundaries. On Amendment No. 21 I rest my plea to my noble friend on geographical grounds. On Amendment No. 22 I rest my case on the community of interests and the wishes of the local inhabitants. Despite my inadequate presentation I believe that both Amendments are worthy of being treated with great sympathy by my noble friend, and with the flexibility which he has so admirably shown in other cases. I beg to move Amendment No. 21.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ BARONESS BERKELEY
I wish to support my noble friend Lord Kinnoull in his Amendment No. 21 on the Sodbury area. This is an integral part of Gloucestershire; it is entirely rural and it would 1478 be better suited to be left in the county of Gloucestershire and better served by that county council than being transferred to Avon. It has historical associations with Gloucestershire and, above all, the inhabitants wish to remain in that county.
If I may now turn to Amendment No. 22, since the name of Berkeley is mentioned in this Amendment I think it is well to inform your Lordships that I have no territorial interest to declare, as for the last three generations my family and I have not lived in Gloucestershire. But before that my direct predecessors lived there for several centuries, so I have ties and feelings of great sympathy for the present people who inhabit the parishes named in the Amendment.
Last week, as your Lordships may recollect, I presented a petition on behalf of the councillors and people of Berkeley and the adjoining parishes, praying that this Local Government Bill may be amended to enable them to remain in Gloucestershire. If I may, I should like to say how grateful I am for the gracious way in which your Lordships received the petition and to thank you for the warm welcome that you gave it. The inhabitants of these parishes are almost unanimous in their wish to remain in Gloucestershire; their links, ties and affinities are all towards mid and North Gloucestershire, and not towards Bristol and the South.
For reasons of brevity, if I mention Berkeley, which is the largest unit of these parishes, it includes all the places mentioned in the Amendment. Their services, such as the magistrates who function to the North, the police, the postal, ambulance and fire services all operate from Dursley, Stroud or Gloucester. The local taxation office also administrates from that direction. The church, too, is linked to the North as the parishes are in the Gloucester diocese and also stand in the Dursley deanery.
As regards employment, apart from agriculture (for much of the Vale of Berkeley is farmland) there are various works and factories at Dursley and the atomic power station at Berkeley. Here there is a crossing of the populations, as many of those living in Dursley work in Berkeley, and vice versa. The docks at Sharpness, too, provide employment, so there is no need for the inhabitants of these parishes to go as far afield as Bristol 1479 to seek employment as there is a good variety of work to be had in their own vicinity. Other social services which are linked with mid-Gloucestershire are too numerous to relate. In fact, the only link with Bristol appears to be the hospital at Berkeley which is served by two consultants from Bristol; but that is balanced by having two consultants from Gloucester!
The reputation of the Gloucestershire County Council stands high as regards the education services it provides. A new school has recently been built at Wanswell close to Berkeley, with room for expansion if required. Dursley has schools for secondary education, so it is most unlikely that these parishes would receive any better services if they were attached to the Bristol Avon area. They wish to remain in Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire County Council wishes to keep them. The feeling is entirely mutual.
Bristol is a city of renown, an ancient port. It is great enough to stand on its own feet, as it has done for centuries, and beyond a certain area required for expansion it does not need to have rural areas tacked on to it. I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, in regard to the marriage of town and country. Large cities and rural areas are unlikely to march in harmony for long for their needs and their way of life are completely different and the city will probably dominate the country areas, to their detriment. The needs of these rural parishes are far better looked after and understood by their own Gloucestershire County Council.
As regards numbers, Circular 8471 gives the population of the Avon area, including Berkeley and the adjoining parishes, as 910,000. Gloucestershire would be left with 456,000. The population in the rural parishes is given as 7,200. So if left in Gloucestershire this would help to balance the numbers in that county, and Bristol would hardly feel the loss of that small number in its vast population.
I hope that I have been able to give some idea of the material and practical reasons why these rural parishes should remain in Gloucestershire. But there are other reasons of an intangible nature why this should be so: loyalty to your 1480 county, pride in its history and achievements, contentment with the services it provides and, above all, the feeling of belonging. Some families have their roots deeply entrenched as they are still living in houses occupied for generations by their forefathers. Are these things not to be taken into consideration? Feelings on the question of the boundary are very strong; the inhabitants of these parishes care passionately for their county.
In the Department of the Environment Circular 58/71 the Boundary Commission, when making boundary changes, is instructed to consider—and I quote:Amongst other things, they should have particular regard to the wishes of the local inhabitants, the pattern of community life and the effective operations of local government services.By leaving these parishes in Gloucestershire those directions would be entirely fulfilled as they coincide with the wishes of the petitioners who, living there, know best what suits them. I beg Her Majesty's Government to accept this Amendment.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ LORD SANDYS
I should first of all like to thank the Committee very much for agreeing to take these three Amendments together—Nos. 21, 22 and 23—and I rise to support Amendment No. 22. Having heard so eloquently from my noble friend Lady Berkeley, who presented the petition on behalf of one group of parishes, I think it would perhaps be for the convenience of your Lordships if I gave the views of Gloucestershire County Council, since I have only very recently received in my hands a letter from the clerk of that county council; and, with the permission of the Committee, perhaps I may be permitted to read a paragraph. It says:I can assure you that the county council feel as strongly about this matter as they did when they made their representations to the Department in 1971. Indeed, the more we have thought about it the more we are convinced that on physical, social and economic grounds the affinities and the future of these parishes lie properly with Gloucestershire, and not with Avon. Nothing said on behalf of the Government when the Bill was debated at the Committee and Report stages in the House of Commons has in the least changed the county council's views on this matter".Perhaps it would again be for the convenience of the Committee if I referred to what the county council's views were 1481 on May 25, 1971, when they replied to Circular 871 from the Department. I assure your Lordships that they are quite brief. I quote:In the opinion of the county council, the northern boundary of the Thornbury and the Sodbury Rural Districts is not the appropriate southern boundary for Area 27. Its acceptance would have the effect of excluding from the new county a number of parishes in those two rural districts whose populations have affinity with mid-Gloucestershire rather than with Area 26".My noble friend Lord Aberdare will know the full content of the Gloucestershire views expressed in this letter of May 25, 1971; and it is very interesting to note that their views precisely coincide with these three Amendments taken together. The map which they have provided with their evidence on this subject shows this at a glance; and I feel that the views put forward by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, combined with those of my noble friend Lady Berkeley, need not be added to in any way by myself other than to heartily support every word that they have said.
THE LORD BISHOP OF GLOUCESTER
I think everyone who lives in this part of Gloucestershire knows that these Amendments are thoroughly sensible, for the reasons which have already been explained to your Lordships. I do not know that they are any more sensible than some of the Amendments which were proposed on Wednesday, and the reception which those Amendments received did not, I think, much encourage the hope that Her Majesty's Government want to get this right at this particular stage. This refers, of course, to the whole question of South Gloucestershire. The most southerly parishes in the county accept the general principles of the Bill. I will not say that they are enthusiastic about going into Avon, because I think that would be an over-statement. They have been very happy in Gloucestershire. We have an exceedingly good county council; and, of course, as your Lordships will remember, God is said to reside in Gloucestershire, so they are not anxious to move into the new county of Avon. But they accept that this is reasonable, because they plainly have very close affinities with Bristol.
The case for these Amendments is that these few parishes to the North of this group patently have no such con 1482 nections with Bristol. They are part of the very heartland of Gloucestershire. You have only to think of Badminton, and all that that means, with its horse trials and the Duke, the Lord Lieutenant—and a much beloved Lord Lieutenant. It will seem honestly to Gloucestershire people an act of vandalism to separate Badminton (I was going to say, "almost of all places") from Gloucestershire. The same is true, to a large extent, of Berkeley. Berkeley Castle has always been a part, as I say, of the very heartland of Gloucestershire. Edward II was murdered there, and he is buried in Gloucester Cathedral. I know that these historical matters are not decisive: of course they cannot be if there are any compelling reasons why they should be overthrown.
As has been explained, there are no compelling reasons here at all. Everyone who knows the area is agreed. Our county council are perfectly sensible people: they are not trying to knock the Bill. They are simply saying, "If you are going to draw a line between Avon and Gloucestershire, let us get it right". Now as I understood Her Majesty's Government on Wednesday their argument is, "Do not bother to get it right now: make obvious mistakes now, because there may be an opportunity for the Boundary Commission to put it right later". This seems to me a very strange argument. It is like saying that you can sin to-day because you may be able to repent in 15 months' or 10 years' time. That is very bad moral theology; and I would suspect it is very bad politics, too. It is surely very much easier to avoid making mistakes than it is to rectify them when they have been made.
I cannot for the life of me see why Her Majesty's Government cannot accept this kind of simple, common sense Amendment. It is not going to make the slightest difference tot he viability of Avon, or indeed to the viability of Gloucestershire, whether these little parishes stay in one or go to the other. But it is going to mean a very great deal to the comparatively few people who live there. It is going to mean a very great deal, I believe, to the credibility of the proposers of this Bill, who have said some noble words about community of interest and about historical associations. Nobody is questioning the 1483 nobility of the words which have been used, but I really believe that this is the kind of opportunity when the Government can show whether their words really mean anything. These are all small Amendments. They could not conceivably do any harm to anybody. They would in fact do very great good; and I would beg Her Majesty's Government to think again about accepting them.
§ LORD SOMERS
I do not want to waste the time of the Committee too much, but I should like to support both these Amendments. I happen to know the Cotswolds quite well, because my first job was there and I have frequently visited them since. There is no doubt that, as a geographical unit, the Cotswolds are very much one; and their people do not, from my past experience, mix happily with people of other parts. There can be no doubt where lies the loyalty of the people in these parishes which have been named: it is in Gloucestershire, in the Cotswolds. It seems to me that the Government cannot ride roughshod over the local loyalties of people in any locality simply for the sake of a theoretical alteration. I think I can anticipate what the Government's answer is going to be. They want a rural hinterland for the very urban district of Bristol in order to make up the County of Avon. That may be so, but that rural hinterland should not be found on what I might term utterly foreign soil; namely, the Cotswolds. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord will consider these points.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
This being the last day of term, so to speak, I suppose one could not put down an Amendment to the Amendment: but might I suggest: "After Sodbury, insert the rural district council of Gomorrah."
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE
I think I can reply for the working class, because the feudal side has already been spoken about—Badminton and Berkeley. I was for six or seven years the elected Labour representative of Hawkesbury in the rural district of Chipping Sodbury. I was chairman of the housing committee there for a couple of years. It is the best training for chairmanship that anybody can have. Hawkesbury is very different from Badminton, 1484 but its claims are none the less important. Hawkesbury is a rural village and it is only there because it was brought in to help build the railway. The attitudes there are different from the feudal ones you may find in Badminton. It is a place which says "Thank you" to nobody—and least of all to Bristol. While I was there, we grumbled a good deal about the Gloucestershire County Council but we had learned to live with them. I think it is 15 years since I was there so I may he out of date.
The people of Hawkesbury live, be it not forgotten, at the top of the hill; Alderley is half-way down and Chipping Sodbury is at the bottom. In the country, these contours are very important. People at the top are very different from the people at the bottom. As the noble Lord, Lord Somers, said, the Cotswold inhabitants are in no sense like the Bristol inhabitants and they wish to maintain their independence. I think the right reverend Prelate was out of date in his Roman Catholic view of sin. Nowadays you do what you like and see a psychiatrist after a few years. But I think he made a powerful case. If ever the Government were going to give way on anything, this place so small in numbers and so obvious in value, and the sentiment is so great in Badminton and in Berkeley for historical reasons and in places like Hawkesbury for local and independent working-class reasons, that they should give way over this.
LORD DE CLIFFORD
I cannot match the eloquence of noble Lords who have spoken before, but I should like to add my plea to the Government to accept these Amendments. Gloucestershire, in which I lived for a number of years, is a very great county with a tremendous feeling of unity among its population. This unity was exhibited prior to the last war in their Yeomanry. You never needed to recruit into the Gloucestershire Hussars; there was a queue to join from all the farmers all over the southern part of Gloucestershire. They are a most closely knit community. They are totally foreign to the people who are South of them, as you come off the top of the hills and into the vales.
The same goes for the people of the Vale of Berkeley. They, too, are a totally close-knit community. They have no connection at all with those South of 1485 them. They speak a language which is almost foreign to some of the languages spoken to the South. If some visitor went into the neighbourhood of Badminton and asked what dialect they were speaking, I think it would appall them to have to say that they were speaking "Avon-shire". It would be unheard of. Should we ever be able to recruit another Gloucestershire regiment for the Territorials or the Volunteers, how do you think they would like to be called the Avon Yeomanry"? It would almost be like one of those ladies calling from the advertisemen on the television. There is great personal feeling involved, the feeling of human people. It is the people we must consider here. I am sure they would support this Amendment and I trust your Lordships will do so.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
It may surprise the Committee to find that I am probably the only friend Lord Aberdare has on this particular Amendment. On the last occasion I was "shot down" by the noble Viscount, with his great legal skill, over the district councils in Yorkshire. In this case, the Thornbury and Sodbury district councils both have resolved to accept the recommendations of the White Paper and the Bill and to go into Avon. They have already set up, as suggested by the Department, the necessary machinery to make the new county work. Like some other noble Lords and like the noble Baroness, Lady Berkeley, I have had family connections in Gloucestershire for over 400 years. I do not like to say anything against Gloucestershire. We should avoid this talk of "for" or "against" one county. We are looking forward to a new form of local government which is bound to make a difference to the people on these fringe areas.
For many reasons I have been carefully into this matter, and I am quite satisfied that the rural districts of Sodbury and Thornbury are firmly in favour of going into the new County of Avon. Since their members come from all parts of their districts they represent the views of the parishes—even of those which apparently must be a little out of touch with their representatives on the council because these representatives have voted to go into Avon. The only other point is that it has always been said by the 1486 Department that, where possible, districts would not be fragmented in the new local government map. For that reason, and for many other reasons, I think the Government should stand firm on this matter. Many of the arguments that were advanced in the case of Humberside apply to this area. If the Government are to be consistent they should resist this Amendment.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE
May I point out that by far the greater part of Chipping Sodbury Rural District Council area quite properly goes into Avon. It is the marginal bits that we are talking about. Of course, the vast majority of the representatives are from the South. I do not think that the fact that the council agree means a great deal.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
I accept that; but at the same time it is my duty to point out that these two rural district councils have supported the Government proposal to go into Avon.
§ LORD SUDELEY
Before the noble Earl finishes, would he accept that there is a difference between the opinion of the rural district council and of the county council?
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
Rural district councils do not always agree with county councils. I do not think it would be very useful to go into the reasons why they do not in this particular case.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ LORD ABERDARE
We have had a fascinating debate. I was happy to hear that I had one friend in the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough. There are a few more friends whom I could call into supporting the case put forward in the Bill. These are the sorts of difficulties we run into in creating new counties. They are the same sort of difficulties that we found in the case of Tyne-Wear and the same as those we met in connection with the boundaries of Humberside. I think that it would be generally agreed that the formation of the County of Avon is the correct decision and that this county should include parts of South Gloucestershire.
These certainly were the proposals which emerged from the Severnside study and I think that in general noble Lords 1487 who have spoken to-day accept that parts of South Gloucestershire should be included in the new County of Avon. It therefore seemed right to us, and it is not questioned in the Amendment—and it was repeated by the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough—that in our endeavour to keep rural and urban districts intact so far as possible, we should include the whole of Thornhury rural district and Sodbury rural district in Avon. I can confirm that both those rural districts are in favour of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Sandford has telegrams from both of them and this was the underlying reason why the boundary is drawn as it is at present.
I do not think that we would all agree that God lives in Gloucestershire. If I may say so to the right reverend Prelate, I think that, in this Committee, there would even be grave doubts as to whether God is a man. But I have carefully considered the case made. I have listened carefully to all the speeches. I do not think I need refer to all of them in detail. They have all made quite clear that there is strong feeling in these parishes. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, speaking as he said for the working classes—I think he said that—put very forcefully that Hawkesbury should go to Gloucestershire, as I understand his case. Well, I have another telegram which I think I should read to the noble Lord:At the annual Parish meeting the parishioners of Hawkesbury Upton have decided to remain in the Sodbury Rural District Council in the new Avon county.These are the difficulties we are in. There are all sorts of views on these matters.
§ LORD DONALDSON 0F KINGSBRIDGE
May I apologise to the Committee? I had not seen that telegram and I did not know until to-day that this matter was coming up. It was of 15 years ago that I was speaking.
§ LORD ABERDARE
I acknowledge that, and I think my information is rather more up to date. As I say, these are difficult matters and in this Committee it is very difficult to arrive at parish boundaries. In general, the line we have taken is that it is better to stick to the boundaries in the Bill and to invite the Boundary Commission to have a special 1488 look at them, as a matter of urgency immediately after 1974. This will not, as was suggested by my noble friend, Lord Kinnoull, mean a long delay. The Boundary Commission, we very much hope, will review all parish boundaries well before the ten-year period put on it by my noble friend. The fact is that these are not essentially parish boundaries. They are major county boundaries which affect parish boundaries and would be considered as a matter of priority by the Boundary Commission; therefore there would not be any delay.
He also asked about the criterion for a balanced county. This is a question which I cannot answer, in general. It depends so much on the specific geographical make-up of any individual county. Another point he made which explains some of the difficulty—and it was made also by the right reverend Prelate—was contained in his powerful plea for Badminton, and particularly for the fact that the Duke of Beaufort is the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire. But I believe I am right in saying that the Duke is also the Lord Lieutenant of Bristol, so I am not sure that that is a particularly convincing argument.
I have listened very carefuly to the arguments and I have been impressed. I think that there are real difficulties in this area, and a lot of these parishes look North perhaps more often than they look South. I very much regret the rather scornful words of my noble friend Lord de Clifford on the subject of Avon. I think we ought not to decry a new county. I would take the line that we should refer this matter to the Boundary Commission 1974, but as there has been strong feeling in the Committee, and because I do not wish to be more rigid than is necessary, if my noble friend would consider withdrawing the Amendment and if my noble friend Lady Berkeley would consider not moving her Amendment. I will have another look at this matter between now and Report. I cannot commit myself to any acceptance of them but I will certainly have a thorough look at the matter again.
LORD DE CLIFFORD
I was not trying to be scornful about the County of Avon. I was merely saying that for a Gloucester man who had served in a Gloucester unit, suddenly to find himself 1489 being called a member of Avonshire Yeomanry would be a rather peculiar experience.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I am very glad that my noble friend, Lord Aberdare, has promised that he will look at this matter again, if the Amendments are not pressed now. It seems to me that there is a strong case for thinking that the Bill has not got the boundary correct on the North side of Avon and the South side of Gloucestershire. If the Bill goes through unatnended the likelihood is that certain parishes will be transferred from Gloucestershire to Avon and when the Bound-any Commission after 1974 comes to re-examine the line it may well recommend that some, at any rate, of those parishes should go back from Avon into Gloucestershire. That would be to have the worst of all worlds. It is bad enough for an area to be transferred from one county to another, but for an area to be transferred from an old county to a new one, and then shortly afterwards to be transferred back again into the old county, would do immeasurable harm to local government.
I would have found it impossible to support the Government if my noble friend Lord Aberdare had not made the reassuring statement that he did, because I do not believe we should settle county boundaries by reason of existing rural district council boundaries. That is not a good enough argument. In these questions, where there is a suggestion that certain parishes ought to be moved from one county to another, the case in respect of each parish must be looked at on its merits, and the question must not be settled by considering where the existing boundary of the rural district has gone. I very much hope the words my noble friend has used will produce a useful end to this short debate to which I have listened throughout and that on Report stage a more detailed recommendation which will get the line more correct may come forward.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have supported the Amendment. It received almost unanimous support except from one "Gloucestershire rebel". I am particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for his eloquent 1490 and powerful support, and to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor who has spoken very wise words into the ear of my noble friend Lord Aberdare. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Aberdare for feeling able—after, I think, being persuaded by the support of the Committee—to take these Amendments away and to look at the matter again. Perhaps I may correct my noble friend on one point. My noble friend the Duke of Beaufort is in fact the High Steward of Bristol and not the Lord Lieutenant. I am very happy to accept my noble friend's undertaking to look at this matter again. I do not know what my noble friend Lady Berkeley intends to do but I should like to see the Amendments withdrawn, to remind my noble friend of the feeling of this Committee and to reserve my position until the next stage in the progress of the Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
BARONESS BERKELEY had given Notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 22:
Corrigendum, page 1, line 14, after ("Thorn-bury") insert ("except the parishes of Alkington, Berkeley, Hamfallow, Ham and Stone, and Hinton").
§ The noble Baroness said: I should like to thank those who have spoken on this Amendment, especially my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, whose words will carry great weight, because he probably knows more about this subject than many of us. I most gratefully accept the offer of my noble friend Lord Aberdare to consider this matter.
§ 1.51 p.m.
LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE moved Amendment No. 24:
Corrigendum, page 1, leave out line 17.
§ The noble Lord said: Fifteen Amendments are required to give effect to the proposals which I hope to explain; namely, Amendments Nos. 24 to 28 inclusive, 57, 60, 61, 63, 64, 65, 67, 68, 70 and 71. My noble friend Lord Aberdare has kindly suggested that since these Amendments are all related they should be discussed together, though they may have to be moved separately. I hope that that will be for the convenience of the Committee.
§ At the outset, I should say that these Amendments, taken together, do not conflict with the broad principles of the 1491 Bill, nor, in my submission, do they militate in any way against the implementation of these principles in the area concerned, which is part of North Somerset. My argument will be more material and factual than sentimental, not because I underrate sentiment. On the contrary, I regard it as a very important consideration, particularly in these boundary matters, but it cannot always be a dominant consideration. In proof of that, if proof were needed, I. might inform your Lordships that I, a Scot, have lived in Somerset for over half a century in the same place, the village of Cleeve.
§ Under the proposals of the Government, the village of Cleeve is and will remain in Avon, so I am not influenced by sentiment to that extent. My noble friend Lord Harding, whose name is associated with this Amendment and who was here throughout Wednesday but unfortunately cannot be here to-day, was born and bred in Somerset, and he has asked me to say that he most strongly supports the Amendment; that he knows entirely the lines on which my argument is going to develop and that he supports it.
§ Under the Bill's proposals, consequent upon the creation of a new county of Avon, the area left to the county of Somerset is some 850,000 acres, a reduction of 150,000 acres. But area is not the most important criterion in this context. The population of the county will be 390,000 against the present 600,000, a reduction of 33 per cent.; and its rateable value will be £14 million against the present £23 million. It would become one of the smallest counties, measured by population and rateable value; and I understand that on the basis of its reduced population it might not be a separate police authority, might lose its functions as fire authority, and would no longer be the base of a separate Probation and After-Care Service. It would be virtually non-viable and there would almost inevitably be some waste of existing administrative resources, which are of course geared to the needs of the county at present.
§ Not unnaturally these proposals have aroused considerable protest in the county. No doubt many of your Lordships are aware, in connection with the "Save Our Somerset" campaign, which 1492 sought to keep the boundaries of the county inviolate, that a referendum was held in North Somerset. There was a poll of 73 per cent. and 85 per cent. of those who took part voted against the proposals. I mention this only to show how strong was the feeling of the people immediately concerned. I think it is clear that the creation of a new county of Avon is essential if the general principles of the reform proposed in the Bill are to be applied to that part of the country. It is not clear, however, that thereby Somerset as a county must be reduced to a state of virtual non-viability.
§ Under the Amendments that we are now considering, which seek to retain within Somerset 40.000 acres and 73,000 population, the population of the county would become 460,000 as compared with the 390,000 proposed, and the rateable value slightly over £17 million as compared with the £14 million proposed. Those are still considerable reductions and by any standards it would still be a small non-metropolitan county. As I understand it, the average population of such counties, as proposed in the Bill, is around 699,000. But in fairness I ought to mention that the borough of Weston-super-Mare, to which I will refer later, accounts for 50,000 of the 73,000 population and for £2,287,000 of the £3,130,000 rateable value, the rest coming from the Northern part of Exbridge and Clutton rural districts.
§ These proposals are not only vital to Somerset in the material sense; they also have the very great merit of making it possible to avoid dividing no less than seven parishes which, under the boundaries as at present proposed, would be divided. The parish still means something in the structure of local government, and I was delighted to hear the support, from that point of view, expressed in your Lordships' House two days ago by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, among others.
§ May I mention here the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, one-time Member for Taunton, who had hoped to speak in favour of these Amendments and who has asked me to apologise for his not being here to-day and to say that he 1493 strongly supports the proposals enshrined in these Amendments. As regards the neighbouring authority, the city and county of Bristol are of course vitally concerned and would also support the Amendments. In a material sense the effects on the viability of the new county of Avon would be relatively very slight. Its population, even if these Amendments were approved, would still be 830,000 and the rateable value would be £40 million. If, later on, with the realisation of the sort of growth now envisaged in the area lying immediately to the North of the city of Bristol, it were considered right to give the county of Avon metropolitan status, the argument for that could not be said to be prejudiced by acceptance of these Amendments.
§ In so far as South Gloucestershire is concerned and in so far as it is a part of Avon, I believe they would not raise any objections to these proposals. Somerset County Council would strongly favour them. The borough council of Weston-super-Mare has voted in favour of their being in Avon, despite the fact that it is clear from the referendum to which I have referred that the people of that borough prefer to be in Somerset. May here make an observation of a general character? Not infrequently in such cases the views of those immediately concerned are influenced largely by the current local political situation. I am not suggesting that this is wrong—indeed it is very natural—but I do suggest that it should not be a dominant consideration. Political situations are subject to change and here we are looking at the problem from the point of view of what is right in the long term. I am in no doubt that, leaving other considerations aside, on a factual basis the good to Somerset of Weston-super-Mare being in that county outweighs the consequent disadvantage to Avon.
§ Your Lordships have in these Amendments a proposal which, without invalidating the purpose of the proposals for the new county of Avon, would ensure that what remains of the county of Somerset would have a chance of being viable and the integrity of the parishes in Somerset would be preserved. I therefore warmly commend the Amendments to your Lordships. I beg to move.1494
§ 2.0 p.m.
This group of Amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleve—like the group of Amendments moved earlier this morning so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, on behalf of a variation in the boundaries of Humberside—is extremely important and rises above the local detail of boundary adjustment. These matters are fundamentally important because they concern the formation of a new county and must therefore be looked at with great care.
On Second Reading I spoke strongly in favour of the creation of the new County of Avon and the principles involved in the creation of the new county. Much water has passed under the bridge—perhaps I should say many feet have passed through the Division Lobby—since I made that speech, but I have heard nothing, either in our deliberations or in the many discussions I have been having privately all this week on this subject, to give me reason to alter my view. This is an important Bill and after eighty years it is absolutely essential that we reform the structure of local government. This reform is long overdue and I am glad that all the way through there will be a radical break with the past, because we do not want to be reforming local government too often. While we are doing it we must do it thoroughly.
Some noble Lords have spoken, and understandably so, with great feeling about local patriotisms, but perhaps they do not altogether realise the differences that will be brought about in local government. For example, there will be no hierarchy. The districts will in no sense he like the old district councils; they will not even be called district councils. The district will not be subordinate or answerable to the county. We must learn to understand this fundamental change and appreciate that we are to have two independent tiers which must co-operate and work together as equals. For all these reasons I support the concept of a new non-metropolitan county to be called Avon. This will be a composite county, if one may use that phrase, with an urban and rural balance. It is the intention to have a county which will be the pattern of future counties.
I must take issue with my own Diocesan the right reverend Prelate the 1495 Bishop of Bath and Wells who spoke on Second Reading. I did not quote his words in my Second Reading speech because OFFICIAL REPORT had not been printed and he was not present; I did not want to misrepresent him. At long last Hansard has been printed, presumably at double time, and I will quote a sentence from his speech because it underlines very much of the feeling that is generated by this matter. He said:The only ground the present proposals could have for being acceptable is that there are advantages for the people of North Somerset, who are being taken into the new county of Avon which, despite its name, is only an enlarged. Bristol."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31/7/72; col. 45.]At present Bristol is not a balanced, rural and urban, county. It is urban, and the country people say, "We are country people and we do not want to go in under a city government". But they do not have to do that because the new county will be balanced. To create such a new balanced county we must take territory from the old existing counties. This is the breaking of the eggs to make the omelette and, as I said on Second Reading, all the evidence available to me shows that it loks like being a very good omelette.
Nobody should under-estimate the anxiety that wells up in the bosoms of people in the territory when they hear of a move of this kind. They ask, "Have we proved inefficient in Somerset? What is wrong with us? Why do we have to be chopped up and made into a new county? "There is of course no question of inefficiency, and the real point which must be considered and the real problem to which an answer must be found when we are faced with Amendments of this kind—I hope that we will get some answers from the Government to-day—is whether the new County of Avon will be properly balanced and viable if a large chunk of it is taken back again.
My noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve spoke of this chunk involving 30,000 acres, 73,000 people, perhaps more, and £3 million of rateable value. That is what your Lordships are being asked to take back. Will the balance of the urban-rural area of Avon be affected or even destroyed if that amount is taken back? The next important question to 1496 ask is whether the new Somerset will be viable without that 30,000 acres, 73.000 people and £3 million of rateable value. In other words, is the boundary which the Government have drawn a sound one? I hope that we will get a straight answer from the Government to these important questions and not the type of answer in Greek that we have had on Second Reading. If we are to get that type of answer, perhaps this time we can have it in Latin.
I come to the question of non-viability. The anxiety is still here. It has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, most eloquently and most sincerely. I was full of this anxiety myself when this whole matter was first mooted. Your Lordships will remember that this matter was first debated in March, 1971 when the White Paper came out; and at that time I expressed as forcibly as I could to your Lordships my fears that Somerset was going to be made non-viable. I said that surely we should not be able to manage like that and I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, got up and said to me—and I read from column 1150 of Hansard:My Lords, perhaps I could intervene immediately and say that Somerset will have us nearly all in tears if they go on any longer.I thought it was rather a compliment that I had moved the noble Lord. Perhaps I can do so to-day. He then went on to say that there was all this process of consultation, and that we shall go through all these things and reports will have to be put in. That has all been done now; but still there are large numbers of people in North Somerset (as we heard there were also in Gloucestershire) who are not convinced with what the Government have done with consultations and who still feel that they are going to be grabbed into a great urban city, which they do not like or understand, and that the counties that remain will be non-viable.
If I may say so, I feel I must criticise the Government here and say that there has been a bad public relations exercise in this matter. It has not been got across to the people. I believe that people are unduly nervous that they are being left in non-viable units or gobbled up by great cities they do not like. I believe it is all right, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to so explain it to us to-day. I want to hear from the noble 1497 Lord who replies for the Government real assurances that Somerset is viable. We are going to be the smallest county; but somebody has to be the smallest just as somebody has to be the biggest, unless we are all going to be equal.
The noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, said to-day that it will not have a police force and it will not be a police authority. Does that make it non-viable? So far as I remember, Devon and Cornwall have shared a police force for some time and I think they are both viable. I would remind Somerset of the arguments they used to Bath recently when—I will not say gobbled up—Somerset Constabulary amalagamated with the Bath police force. It does not necessarily make them non-viable not to be a joint police authority, but we must have good reasons given to us to-day to make people understand that.
A very important matter, it is said, is that in a small county such as this we should not get the right type of staff or the right kind of councillor. Is that really so? There will be a great challenge in this small county of Somerset, which is a very interesting county. It is not without industry. It is not without points of development. It will not have a new town like some of the other small counties, such as Shropshire, which will have a great new town, Darley. It is not called Darley now, but it used to be Darley.
Yes, Telford. It does not have that. But, without wearying the Committee, do not think there are no towns at all in the new Somerset. Think of the towns of Bridgwater, Frame, Yeovil, Shepton Mallet, Street, Taunton,—all these towns may be small towns, but they have real industries in them. We have the cellophane industry and the printing industry. We make aeroplanes and helicopters at Yeovil. One must not advertise, but we do make some rather amusing new kinds of drinks in Shepton Mallet. We make shoes in the centre of Somerset. We make cider and have a great quarrying and tourist industry.
I could wish, when we come to the tourist industry, that Weston-super-Mare, which is really the crux of the whole matter, was 15, or even 10, miles further down the coast. Then there really would not be 1498 any argument at all because that would go into the new Somerset. There would be most of Lord Sinclair's rateable value, poulation, seaside town, and the whole business and even territory. But, unfortunately, Weston-super-Mare is not 15 miles further down the coast. We must now, therefore, apply our minds to what is the essential balance of this new county of Avon as compared with the truncated county of Somerset. Remember, in this new conception we are trying to end the old racial discrimination, this old tribal warfare between town and country. We should not lightly throw that aside, and I am surprised that we have had two right reverend Prelates—I see the Bishop of Gloucester is here—saying really that what has been right in the past must be right in the future. The right reverend Prelates recently decided that it would be right for us, the Anglicans—I am an Anglican—to join with the Methodists and when a certain number of laymen voted against that we were scolded week after week from the pulpit by the right reverend Prelates. We had obviously come to the wrong decision. Apparently the Bishops are always right. They were in no doubt at all that their Amendment must be right and it must be right to leave old Gloucestershire where it was and old Somerset where it was, and that it must be wrong to leave the old 1662 Liturgy where it was. But be that as it may, remember that we are trying to end this rivalry between the two factions and make new composite counties of which Avon can be a very good model.
There is one final very important point which I do not want to forget to mention. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said how disastrous it would be if a boundary commission quite soon after some hotly contested change had taken place, should reverse that decision; that there would be all the upheaval for nothing. That seemed to me to be a very wise and proper plea. I have heard it said—it was in one of the briefs that your Lordships will have seen—that there is more than a likelihood, in fact it was almost the Government's intention—that is what was said, and I want to know what is the truth of this—that if the developments which we all hope will come about on the Severn-side do come about, that area will increase enormously in importance, population and 1499 industrial strength, and that that area will then become a metropolitan county.
If Avon turns into a metropolitan county in ten, fifteen or twenty years we shall have to unscramble the omelette and try to recreate the eggs. This you never can do. We shall have to take some parishes back and put them into Gloucester. We shall have to take other parishes back and put them into Somerset. I hope most sincerely that this is not the intention of Government: that, if, for instance, there are great developments in South Hampshire, we shall have a South Hampshire metropolitan county; which would mean that all this heartbreak is for nothing and you would have to unscramble what has been decided in these last days in your Lordships' House. I hope this most sincerely, because we simply should not contemplate doing this. I hope that what we are trying to do here is to form a new type of local government unit when we have a chance to do so. The big urban towns, the big cities of the Midlands and the North, have grown up and exist and are there, and they must be metropolitan counties; you cannot inject countryside now into the middle of them. But with the newly developing areas. Avon and the Severn-side, we may be able (and I understand this is what the Bill intends to do) to create a new kind of animal, a really strong new county properly balanced between countryside and town, and end this division.
Nobody, though, can doubt the sincerity of the views or the strength of the arguments that have been put forward by my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve on this Amendment. This is a case where I very much hope that if we are not all convinced, or if the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who is to reply, cannot convince us all, we do not at this moment force this to a Division and try to settle it once for all with this rather thin attendance in the middle of August. I think this is a case where the Government should say there have been very strong feelings and cogent arguments put forward—I am not at all sure that I agree with the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, but they have been put forward sincerely and cogently. This is no less a case than that in regard to which the Minister has been 1500 so accommodating with the smaller matter of parishes in Gloucester. I say that with no disrespect, it is a slightly smaller matter than this, which deals with a whole new county. He has said he will take back those Amendments and reconsider them between now and Report stage. I hope that when he comes to reply he will be able to say he will do the same for these Amendments.
THE EARL OF BALFOUR
May I ask a very simple question. Looking at the map of Avon along the edge of the border there are the parishes of Bleadon, Loxton and Winscombe. I am wondering whether the children in those parishes would travel North or South to go to secondary schools; in other words, whether they would be crossing the border. Furthermore, if you look a little further West there are two other parishes, Burrington and Blagden, which have been divided through the middle; they are mentioned in Part III. Do those parishes, for example, have their own secondary school? Would it mean that the children from the North had to cross the border to go South? This is the sort of thing that can create administrative problems. At some time I would be very pleased to have a reply from the mover or the Minister, in order to be able to make up my mind which way to vote.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My excuse for intervening in this debate really is that I was born in Somerset and I am proud of my origins. When the proposals of the Government were made known I received approaches from many friends in my old county, and I thought it right and proper that I should take some interest in it, because it seemed to me that the Government's proposals in regard to that county involve a surgical operation of a very drastic nature.
I have listened with the greatest interest to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, and, quite frankly, at the end of his speech I was wondering whether he knew which side of the fence he was on. It seemed to me that the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, presented a very straightforward case, a very understandable case, and he put it forward in a very persuasive manner. Let me say that I am speaking, and I can only speak this afternoon, for myself. We on this 1501 side are neutral in our approach to these local problems, but I hope I may be excused for speaking from this position in regard to this matter. I doubt very much that anybody questions that if this Amendment is accepted or carried the new county of Avon will become nonviable.
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? I never suggested that for one moment. I said it might become unbalanced, which is a very different thing.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I am sure the noble Earl will appreciate that I am addressing the Committee as a whole and I was not taking him up personally on that matter. I doubt that anybody would question whether the new county will remain viable. What is concerning me, and I think should concern the Committee, is what the effect on Somerset will be; and the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, made it quite clear just how deep into the resources of the county of Somerset the proposals would cut.
My words will be few, but may I say—and here I speak directly to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave—that this Amendment would not leave Somerset where it is. It is not an Amendment intended to preserve the status quo. And it is little use telling us what the position would be if Weston-super-Mare was 10 to 15 miles down the coast. Weston-super-Mare stands where it has always stood and where it is likely to remain; and if we are going to take Weston-super-Mare into account—and it seemed to me that the noble Earl made it inevitable that we must consider the position of Weston-super-Mare in regard to Somerset—then we have to accept that Weston-super-Mare is precisely where it is. I think, therefore, if there is any point that he made in that connection, it is that Somerset deserves Weston-super-Mare.
May I just very briefly remind the Committee of facts which I thought the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, put with great clarity. If this Amendment is carried, the population of Avon will be reduced by only some 8 per cent., but it will increase the population of Somerset by nearly 20 per cent. At that level and with a rateable value of over £17 million the new Somerset County Council could 1502 expect to have responsibility for the provision of the full range of county services, and in consequence (and I think this is very important) it would be able to attract men and women to its service of the highest possible calibre. I think we ought to have regard to the status and resources of Somerset. We ought to be equally concerned with Somerset's future as with Avon's. I therefore support the Amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ BARONESS SEEAR
I wish to speak briefly and I think I have much less justification for speaking than the noble Lords who have spoken before me. I merely lived for ten years in Somerset, but that is nine years more than is necessary to learn it is no ordinary county. Surely this Amendment deals with a matter of a different order from the Amendments put forward in many other cases. It is not a question of whether a particular area should be linked with district A or district B. It turns on whether a great old county is or is not to be emasculated. Surely, the figures that the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, gave us make it overwhelmingly clear that a drop in the population from 600,000 to 390,000, and a drop in the rateable value from £23 million to £14 million, is emasculation. The burden of proof is overwhelmingly on the Government, first, to show that this is not so—it is hard to see how they could do it—and, if they are determined to emasculate Somerset, to show that there is an overwhelmingly strong reason why this should be done. Yet as the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair, told us, Avon has agreed that it is not necessary to go forward with this plan; that people of the district have voted overwhelmingly to stay in Somerset, and in order——
§ LORD ABERDARE
Did the noble Baroness say that Avon had agreed to something? I do not think there is an Avon.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
May I interrupt the noble Baroness at this point to say that I said Bristol, not Avon?
§ BARONESS SEEAR
I stand corrected—Bristol. But the area due to gain from it has made it plain that it does not think it necessary that the plan should 1503 go forward as put forward by the draftsmen. So, the burden of proof is on the Government to show why they are determined to go forward with this plan and that, in doing so, they will not only be creating—which all of us want to see happen—a viable Avon, but they will also be saving and keeping a viable Somerset. In these debates noble Lords have tended to apologise for historical references; I do no such thing. I believe it is immensely important, and I am sorry that we have not said more about it, that the historical and mythological roots in our country should be respected. Somerset does enshrine quite exceptional mythology and history. It is, after all, the county of Joseph of Aramethea and the Glastonbury thorn that flowers on Christmas day; and it is the country of Arthur and the Vale of Avalon. So one can go on. I do not think these things are trivial. We do not live by mythology, but mythology and history are a very important ingredient of our daily bread.
In discussions on this Bill far too little attention has been paid to the importance of these deep-rooted traditions. But it is not only important to the past. We know from all modern studies that modern society suffers from rootlessness and modern man from rootlessness. Somerset is essentially a deep-rooted county in which there are many people from all sections of society who have a strong sense of belonging, a strong commitment to their county, and a strong willingness to serve it. This is something we ignore at our peril. I very much hope that, remembering what this county stands for, remembering its reputation of competent and devoted local government service in the past, the Government will support this Amendment.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, I would say that Saint Joseph of Aramethea may well have gone to Glastonbury but he could not have gone to Weston-super-Mare; and Glastonbury will remain in Somerset.
§ LORD HYLTON
I rise to support this Amendment moved in measured and balanced terms by my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve. I believe it is a constructive Amendment and one which is based on and relies on sound local government arguments and not merely on 1504 sentiment. If it were a wrecking Amendment it would seek to include Bristol in Somerset or in Gloucestershire. But it does none of these things. It strengthens what is left of the county of Somerset without seriously damaging or unbalancing the future county of Avon. It recognises, accepts and welcomes the future county of Avon. What may not, perhaps, be generally known is that the town of Weston-super-Marc is now the largest town in the old county of Somerset. Until 1935 it was the administrative headquarters of that county. For these reasons, I very strongly wish to support the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT FALMOUTH
I intervene very shortly, and perhaps with great temerity, to support the Amendment, I hope without impertinence. I do not come from Somerset; I hail from further afield in the West. I have always had a keen interest in the future of the South-Western peninsula. Many people are uneasy about the Northern boundary proposal for Somerset. I will not try to repeat all the arguments of my noble friend, which he made in such a balanced and well-ordered fashion. All I will say is that in this case I am convinced of the reasonableness of his arguments. The new child of Avon is taking too many people from one of its parents, Somerset, leaving an unbalanced Somerset, and by that way falling against the provisions of the Bill. The right reverend prelate the Bishop of Gloucester referred to the question of boundary revision. It may be argued that the English Commission will look into future anomalies on either side of this border either under routine or special direction. What we should like to know is, when? Anyway, I always think that in local government in particular it is always wrong just to chop and change. May I urge my noble friends on the Front Bench to try in this case to reduce the chop of this part of Somerset to save making changes in the future?
§ LORD ABERDARE
We are now considering the Southern boundary of Avon. and the Amendment, which, if I may say to my noble friend, has been moved so lucidy and clearly by him, is to exclude from the proposed new county, Weston-super-Mare, all but two parishes in Axbridge rural district and those parts of four parishes in Clutton rural 1505 district which in our proposals are divided between Avon and Somerset.
It seemed, as I listened to the debate, that my noble friend Lord Waldegrave had made my speech for me, because I agreed with so much of what he said. I hope that I can answer the few questions he particularly put to me and those put by other of your noble Lords during the course of this short debate. As I have said on the last Amendment, it is inevitable that in creating a new county of Avon, it will include some territory which is now part of Somerset as well as some now part of Gloucestershire. The question which has to be decided is where the boundary goes and how much of those counties are included in the new counties. I thought it fell rather poorly, if I may say so, from Lord Garnsworthy's lips when he talked about surgical action. I wonder if he remembers his own Government's White Paper on their proposals, which were far more drastic, from a surgical point of view, than anything which we are proposing at the moment.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
May I make the point that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has no reason for thinking that I would necessarily have approved that.
§ LORD ABERDARE
I am extremely glad to hear that. I hope, therefore, he will vote for the Government's proposals. We believe that the boundary line we have drawn in this area in the South of Avon is right, and we have given a great deal of thought to it. It runs from just East of Bath and joins up with the Men-dip massif, which forms a natural boundary to the sea just South of Weston-super-Mare. It is not for merely frivolous reasons—I would say particularly to my noble friend Lord Balfour—that the new boundary happens to divide existing boundaries. That is the last thing we would normally wish to do. The fact is that it is drawn very carefully, after a lot of consideration on the ground, because this happens to fit in with the geography of the country, and includes the crest of the Mendip Hills in Somerset. The boundary is chosen as near as possible to correspond with the area of influence exercised from Bristol. It is very important, in our view, that the area of influence of Bristol should be contained within the one new county, and that the 1506 boundary should reflect the pattern of life for the administration of services and, may I add, should also take into account, where possible, so far as we can see ahead, likely future developments.
The proposals in the Severn side study certainly suggest that Bristol should be in the same county as Bath, Weston-super-Mare, Clevedon, Portishead, and Norton Radstock, which all have strong links with it, and of these the Amendments would exclude Weston. But I would suggest that this contradicts the Severn side study, and also ignores the likely future when, with the completion of the M5, Weston is likely to be in even closer contact with Bristol. This has not yet been mentioned—and I think my noble friend Lord Sinclair did not contradict this—but the fact of the matter is that Weston-super-Mare Borough Council want to be in Avon. I would prefer to accept that view rather than any referendum or other type of public opinion poll, which, frankly, I think is always very difficult to accept.
My noble friend Lord Waldegrave essentially asked me two questions. He asked whether we have achieved the best possible balance in the new County of Avon between Bristol and the rest of the county. I would assure him that, in my opinion, we have reached that balance, but that to accept the Amendments and put Weston-super-Mare into Somerset would upset the balance. Bristol at the present moment has a 47 per cent. share, and I would feel it undesirable to increase that. If we accept the Amendments Bristol would have a share of over 50 per cent. in the new County of Avon. Some concessions have already been made to Somerset. Frome urban district and Frome rural district, and certain parishes in Axbridge and Clutton rural districts South of the crest of the Mendips are now included in Somerset, but I think it is important not to reduce Avon any further.
I can also give him the assurances he asked for about the future; there are no powers contained in the Bill for bringing into existence independent metropolitan districts as such. 'There are powers in the Bill, as I mentioned on Second Reading, in Clause 47(1)(d) for reviews to take place in the future, and who can say by the end of the century what developments might take place anywhere. These are proposals for the creation of 1507 new metropolitan counties, or of the reverse, new non-metropolitan counties, and there is certainly no intention of upsetting the present arrangements in Avon.
The second question he asked me, and which was repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, concerned viability—or I think the noble Baroness called it "emasculation". I do not accept that. I have every sympathy with Somerset. I think all your Lordships would feel that it is not a pleasant thing to be reduced in size, but on viability I certainly cannot agree. The new Somerset would have a population of 385,000, which is well above the minimum 250,000 which has been accepted as the minimum ever since the Redcliffe-Maud proposals, and which is the minimum necessary to sustain an efficient administration of the education and personal social services.
In fact, one can foresee that population rising by 1974 perhaps to some 400,000, and it would take only an increase of less than 2 per cent. a year to reach it. It is not the smallest county as I think my noble friend Lord Waldegrave said that it would be. There are three other counties that would be smaller: Cornwall, Salop, and Northumberland. If we look at the rateable value, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Sinclair in opening, I think it more realistic to consider rateable value per head, because there will be a reduction in population as well as a reduction in rateable value, and the new Somerset will be slightly better off than the present administrative county in terms of rateable value per head.
§ LORD MAYBRAY-KING
We have got the figure which the noble Lord has given for the new Somerset; will he give us the population for the new Avon?
§ LORD ABERDARE
I am not sure that I have that actually with me. It is about 900,000. I am not arguing in any way that this matter affects Avon to that extent; what I am arguing is that the new Somerset will be a viable county in terms of population and in terms of rateable value per head.
So far as the police authorities are concerned, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is still discussing matters regarding the new police forces. He has proposed an amalgamation of the 1508 Somerset and Avon police forces to build on the present Somerset-Bath force. This would be one of nine amalgamations which he proposes: seven of them to preserve existing amalgamated forces and two others to meet new situations arising from the creation of new counties. However, these matters are still under consideration. I know of no proposals with regard to fire authorities. The counties will remain, so far as I know, the fire authorities, and certainly there has been no intention of changing the arrangements about probation and after-care service without very careful consideration and a great deal of discussion with the new county. I would only say that the Government are very disappointed that Bristol City Council and Somerset County Council have decided to withdraw from working parties and preparatory committees. We feel that this sort of co-operation is essential if the transition to the new system is to proceed smoothly.
The burden of my speech really is that Weston-super-Mare wants to be in Avon; Weston-super-Mare is closer and more under the influence of Bristol and will continue to be more so in the future: that it would be wrong to separate Weston-super-Mare from Bristol. On the other matters that are raised by these Amendments on the parishes I should like to suggest again that the boundary is right because we have given it very careful consideration over a very long period. I should like to suggest that this is best considered by the Boundary Commission after 1974, as a priority task, being a county boundary. I cannot accept the Amendment about Weston, but as I have tried to be flexible over the parish boundaries in the North of Avon, and if it would help my noble friend, I am prepared to have another look at the parish boundaries on the Southern borders of Avon, if that appeals to your Lordships. But I very much hope that my noble friend will not press his Amendments. If he does, I would ask noble Lords not to agree to the Amendment concerning Weston.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
Had it been possible to vote on the proposal in the Bill, from the degree of support I have had from so many of your Lordships because of my strong conviction that my proposal is right, and having regard particularly to what I said about 1509 the other considerations that tend to fog the issue on many of these questions, I should certainly have wished to press this Amendment. Unfortunately, technically I cannot do that; each Amendment has to be taken separately. The first of these 15 Amendments is that which excludes Weston-super-Mare and, as my noble friend Lord Aberdare said and as indeed I said in my speech, Weston Borough Council has voted in favour of going into Avon and therefore against the proposal in the Amendment.
I feel some reluctance in asking the House to divide on this question when it is simply and solely a question of Weston-super-Mare itself and against the opposition of the borough council. Therefore I should prefer not to press that Amendment nor to press any of the others, on the undertaking—I hope that I am not putting words into the mouth of my noble friend, Lord Aberdare; I want to be as fair as possible—that between now and Report the Government will carefully consider the whole question. I recognise that they have given no indication of their being able to make an exception of Weston-super-Mare, but they will consider the whole question and in particular the practicability and desirability of putting the other Amendments into effect, or of making other amendments, subject to the review of the Boundary Commission, as one of those priority cases affecting county boundaries. On that basis I should be prepared not to press the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE had given notice to move Amendment No. 25:
Corrigendum, page 1, line 22, leave out ("Banwell, Bleadon.").
§ The noble Lord said: I was hoping for an assurance from the Government before giving an answer to the question of whether I move this Amendment.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My assurance still stands. I cannot accept the first Amendment, now withdrawn, but I will look at the other Amendments before Report stage.
§ LORD ABERDARE
I think it would be convenient if we resumed the House at this stage for a Statement.
§ House resumed.