HL Deb 12 December 1972 vol 337 cc521-49

5.9 p.m.

The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Lord Sandford) rose to move, That the English Non-Metropolitan Districts (Definition) Order 1972, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Order is a very important one; indeed, I might say that it marks the watershed in the reorganisation of local government in England. It completes the pattern of principal authorities charged with the main executive functions of local government. This pattern was in part laid down in the Act itself, which we were discussing in the last Session and which defined the counties in both England and Wales and also certain of the districts: the metropolitan districts in England and all the districts in Wales.

In the case of Wales the matter was simpler than in England—37 districts, as against 300 non-metropolitan districts in England—and in Wales they were off to a quicker start on proposals for reorganising local government on a two-tier system. Thus it was possible to get the pattern of Welsh districts into the Bill, while for England we had the counties and the metropolitan districts in the Bill but left the non-metropolitan districts to be dealt with separately. As it was, in this House alone we took some 21 hours of Parliamentary time discussing the boundaries of 45 counties. The mind boggles at the length of time we should have needed to discuss in detail the pattern of 300 non-metropolitan districts. The extent to which the pattern before us to-day has already been discussed and considered over the past months is something to which I shall return in a few moments.

First of all, I would make the point that this Order marks a watershed in that it also marks the beginning of the work of the new Local Government Boundary Commission for England. Now we have the Boundary Commission chaired by Sir Edmund Compton as a permanent body established under the new Local Government Act, and given a number of very important duties. First of all, there are those connected with the transition to the new system of local government: the names of the new non-metropolitan districts, the question of successor parishes, as well as the recommendations on which this Order is based. The Boundary Commission also has an important early task in reviewing the electoral arrangements for the new local authorities, and, secondly, it has a long-term task in keeping the areas and boundaries of local authorities—and also their electoral arrangements—up to date, so that they do not remain frozen in the pattern chosen in the light of to-day's circumstances.

To deal with the boundaries of the 300 or so districts in England outside the metropolitan counties, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State accordingly set up this Boundary Commission, composed of people of the necessary calibre to handle these matters. Having done so, and having now seen the first fruits of their labours, my right honourable friend is disposed to commend the Commission's first set of proposals to Parliament without modification and to invite Parliament to consider the proposals as one coherent whole, as indeed they are. This approach was the one foreshadowed when the Bill itself was in Parliament. In this respect the present operation is different from future reviews of local government boundaries by the Commission, which will take place under different provisions of the Act and are likely to be brought to Parliament in a succession of Orders to be considered individually, rather than in one Order for the country as a whole. What we have before us now is the culmination of an extensive process of consultation started back in July, 1971, when my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State invited the existing local authorities to put forward proposals for the new district pattern in the non-metropolitan areas.

By the time the Boundary Commission-designate came into existence in November, 1971, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State had already prepared and published, by circular, the guidelines which are now reprinted on pages 2 and 3 of the Report of the Commission. These dealt with the order of size which both the local authorities and the Commission should have in mind in proposing new districts, and the broad general considerations on which the Boundary Commission should base its recommendations. As I recall it, a number of noble Lords were concerned lest the guidelines as to the size range of districts should be interpreted too narrowly, and, both because matters expressed in figures can be so much more precisely expressed and because these appeared first in the document issued by my right honourable friend, there were fears that the Boundary Commission might place undue emphasis upon them. As a result, my right honourable friend drew the Commission's attention to the fears being expressed and the Commission replied that it certainly did not regard these criteria with regard to population as overriding other criteria in the guidelines.

Let me turn for a moment to some other criteria which were important. They included a provision that the identity of large towns should be maintained, and that the whole designated area of a new town, or the whole area denned as town development, should ordinarily fall within one district. The Commission also suggested that where possible the new authorities should be made up from groupings of complete existing local authorities. The Commission was also charged with weighing all relevant considerations in the light of the general objectives of the reorganisation of local government as set out in the Government's White Paper, and the wishes of the local inhabitants, the pattern of community life and the effective operation of local government services. As regards population, the Commission was asked to recommend a pattern of districts in which only very exceptionally should a district be proposed with a population of under 40,000. Moreover, except in sparsely populated areas, the aim should be to define dis- tricts with current populations generally within the range of 75,000 to 100,000. But it was made clear that these figures were in no sense absolute limits.

When the Boundary Commission came into existence in November, 1971, it had before it the many, and often conflicting, recommendations put forward i by the then existing local authorities. It studied these in the light of the guidelines given by the Secretary of State, and issued a report making draft proposals for a district pattern. These draft proposals were published in April, 1972, with an invitation to the local authorities to comment upon them. The Boundary Commission asked that comments should be in a positive form, either the acceptance of the proposals or a positive proposal for an alternative solution to a particular problem which could be given effect to without causing an impossible situation elsewhere in the county concerned. In responding to this invitation some three-quarters of the districts concerned accepted the first draft proposals of the Boundary Commission. The alternative proposals that were put forward by the remaining one-quarter of the district authorities fell roughly into three categories. First, there were proposals for dividing some very large districts which had been included by the Commission-designate in its draft proposals; secondly, there were proposals for the extension of large towns at the expense of their neighbours; and, thirdly, there were proposals for reshuffling a district so as to give a somewhat different pattern of linkages between authorities within a county.

The Boundary Commission considered all these representations, and came to the conclusion that in most of the instances it would be possible to reach firm conclusions—either to adhere to the draft proposals or to change them in the light of the response from the local authorities—on the basis of the written representations which the Commission already had before it. In 16 groups of cases, however, the Commission felt a need for further discussion of the matters with all the local authorities concerned. It therefore toured the country, meeting the local authorities concerned and looking at these 16 groups of cases on the ground.

As a result of the changes made at the end of its initial consideration of the representations, and as a result of this pattern of discussions with the local authorities, the Commission made changes, ranging from minor to very substantia], in the district pattern in half the non-metropolitan counties in England. I should add that this relates only to the changes which the Commission itself made within the internal district pattern. All through this period, as your Lordships will remember, the Bill was in Parliament—for the greater part of the time in this House—and the boundaries of some of the non-metropolitan districts were being changed, with consequential effects on the pattern of districts in the counties.

There were, I know, fears in particular that in the more sparsely populated areas it would be possible to produce districts of over 40.000 only by bringing together towns and villages which were far too far apart to have any real unity of interest. I think everybody appreciates that this is a problem to which there is no ideal solution, but the Boundary Commission considered—and I think rightly—that for their first initial draft proposals they should ensure that all their districts reached the minimum figure of 40,000 inhabitants. It would then be possible, in their view, to investigate whether the most extensive of these districts really were the right solution, or whether they should be divided or otherwise adjusted. This was, as I say, a very wise approach because, with the range of functions which local authorities have and the growing complexity of the exercise of individual functions, there is much to be said for districts being well above this limit if at all practicable, so as to have a sufficient work load to justify the appointment of the large range of specialists that are needed in to-day's conditions. Where it is proposed to I depart from these criteria it is important to be satisfied that the circumstances really do necessitate smaller districts.

In the event, following further representations, the Boundary Commission were satisfied that there were 14 districts that could be below the figure of 40,000, and have so recommended. These were all in very sparsely populated areas, except the special case of Christchurch (which all of your Lordships will remember), where the Boundary Commission had no time for further local consulta- tions after the later changes which were made in the county boundary in your Lordships' House. In heavily populated areas, however—for instance in a ring adjoining London—circumstances are very different, and the Commission have, rightly in my view, gone for really populous districts. This is one straightforward example of their application of their remit to a wide range of circumstances. And in this as in other respects these final recommendations demonstrate a broad and flexible approach by the Commission to the problems before them.

I am glad to say that the exceptional cases of small districts have, in general, been well received, although it is an indication of the difficulty of pleasing everybody that in the hilly and sparsely populated areas of Northumberland, where a draft district incorporating the whole Northern part of the county has now been divided into two, while authorities such as Alnwick and Berwick-on-Tweed on the coast have been well satisfied with the decision, the rural districts of Rothbury and Glendale high up in the hills have been perturbed and concerned lest these very small districts should not have sufficient resources to provide proper services. This shows once again the difficulty of weighing up and balancing rightly the various considerations.

Similarly in the treatment of large towns. The general approach of the Commission has been to leave the large towns within their existing boundaries, only uniting them with adjoining areas where there was some reason for this in the district pattern as a whole. They have taken the view that this is not the right stage for extending the boundaries of these large towns simply to take in adjoining suburbs. This decision has, I know, disappointed a number of the large towns, and equally has delighted their suburbs. But whatever may be the long term arguments on this matter, it was simply not practicable in the time available to produce a host of entirely new boundaries, each of which would have needed careful investigation and hearing of local objections.

I sum up by stressing the measure of agreement that the Boundary Commission have secured: their draft proposals were accepted by 707 of the county boroughs, boroughs and districts affected. The many amendments they made to these proposals in their final Report have been designed to meet the wishes of a further 108, making 817 out of 975, or a degree of satisfaction of 84 per cent. The reactions since publication of the Report show that most of the remaining authorities are now accepting this proposed pattern, and going ahead with their preparations on the basis of it.

I trust that your Lordships will have been impressed, as I have been, by the sensitivity, the thoroughness and expedition with which the Commission have tackled their work, and by the way in which they have set about reaching their final proposals. My right honourable friend received this Report on November 2 and was soon able to decide that it deserved to be commended to Parliament in its entirety, and this I now do in your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the English Non-Metropolitan Districts (Definition) Order 1972, be approved.—(Lord Sandford.)

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by thanking the Minister for his very careful and full explanation of what the Order is about. As he said, it follows the passing of the Local Government Reorganisation Act and represents the most important step towards its implementation. I should have liked to be able to give the Order an unreserved welcome, but it would be unwise this evening to close our eyes to the fact that there is a considerable sense of grievance felt by many local authorities who, it may be, have not fully understood, or perhaps not fully appreciated, what has been going on. Certainly many of them feel that insufficient attention has been paid to local boundaries, and too little notice taken of the representations that they have made.

I ought not to generalise in a criticism of that nature without giving particular instances. The Banstead Urban District Council feel, rightly or wrongly—and this is not a personal point of view that I am expressing; it is their point of view—that they have been treated somewhat shabbily. I rather think that in your Lordships' House this afternoon the point of view of another local authority will be expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Piatt. I would have touched on it, but I understand that the noble Lord will deal with that. They feel that there has been no real consultation in regard to the district which will be determined as a result of this Order. If the Government feel that they can withdraw this Order, they would do a great deal to satisfy those who, at present, feel aggrieved, and are likely to feel aggrieved if it is pursued.

I can appreciate that there is considerable urgency in this situation. All I can say in connection with that, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said about the time that we gave to it in Committee, is that it seems to me that overall the Government did not allocate a sufficient amount of time to a matter of such vast concern and consequence as this Order makes clear the Act is. I have no wish at all to re-hash the arguments that engaged our attention when the Bill was before us, particularly in Committee and Report stage, although I have the feeling that had we been able to give more time and take the Bill a little more leisurely, perhaps some of the decisions that were taken by your Lordships—such as, for instance, the situation as between Avon and Somerset—might have been resolved differently.

At Committee stage I drew attention to the border—and this was a particular case—between Sussex and Surrey, and in particular the undertakings given by Mr. Speed, the Under-Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, and Mr. Graham Page, the Minister for Local Government and Development. It would seem to me appropriate to raise the question of how those undertakings are to be implemented, in view of the Order that is now before your Lordships, for it was made clear that if the people of Horley chose to remain in Surrey, they could do so.

This Order provides in Part 38 that there shall be transferred to West Sussex: In the administrative county of Surrey, in the rural district of Dorking and Horiey, the parish of Charlwood, except the detached part, and so much of the parish of Horley as lies south of the boundary determined by the order to be made by the Secretary of State under paragraph 12 of Part III of Schedule 1 to the Act . On Saturday, October 28, the people of Horley held a parish poll and they decided by a three-to-one vote that they wished to remain in Surrey. I have no doubt at all that the Government intend to honour the pledges that were given by Mr. Speed and by Mr. Graham Page, but I want to address this question quite specifically to the noble Lord. I doubt whether it will take him unawares; indeed, I am quite sure that the Department are aware that there is a question on this matter. But may I ask him how the Government intend to implement the pledges given and—more than "how"—when, because it is clearly to everyone's benefit that the matter should be resolved as quickly as possible.

I think the noble Lord will be aware, as a result of a letter sent by Mr. Peter Lynch, the chairman of the local authority there, that they are very anxious that there should be introduced some speed—not that I am making a pun in that direction; they are hoping that the matter will be quickly resolved. At the moment there is a very grave danger of confusion and frustration if too many authorities are to be involved in this part of the county of Surrey. It would indeed be Gilbertian if the people of Horley were to be called upon next April to elect representatives to West Sussex County Council for a matter of a few months or for an indefinite period, or if those elected were not to serve. I have spoken of the need for urgency. There are a number of planning matters which arise in this district. I think the Department will be well aware that builders of national repute have plans for large-scale development North-East of Horley, and it will be extremely unfortunate if they have to deal with a number of authorities but never know which one will ultimately decide upon the local situation.

I should like to ask the noble Lord another question. To what extent does the decision here depend upon the Local Government Boundary Commission? Considerable tribute has been paid to them for the part they have played, and an indication has been given of the vast area of activity which they will be called upon to cover. If the Local Government Boundary Commission are to decide this issue, are they to decide it at once? Will it be among the first matters, if not the first matter, for their consideration. I want to emphasise (there is nothing personal about all of this, and this is the view of all the authorities involved about what I regard as one of the really serious problems arising from this Order, and one which is creating the most difficulty) that all the authorities are anxious that the matter should, if possible, be resolved before the elections which are due in April, 1973. But if that is impossible, when will the matter be decided?

I suppose that many of the same considerations apply to the position at Charl-wood. I shall be a little surprised if other representations are not made here this evening. I imagine we shall be told that there is no possibility of the Order being withdrawn. If, however, there is any possibility of further consideration begin given to it, I am sure that a very great deal of pleasure will be given outside this House. In the meantime, I look forward to quite definite replies to the questions which I have had the privilege of addressing to your Lordships this evening.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend for the clarity and patience with which he has explained this Order. I should also like to thank the Local Government Boundary Commission, for they have had a terribly hard task which they have discharged with unfailing expedition. Some of us may think that if there had had to be slightly less speed they might have had time to reach, in certain cases, wiser recommendations. But we all realise that, owing to the timetable, there was very little time to spare.

I should also express my own personal view that, having received this set of recommendations for England, the Government were right in accepting them as a whole. I do not really see that a Government could do other than that, especially as the Boundary Commission will remain in existence and will be able to address themselves further, if they so wish, to the matters upon which, locally, there is pain and grief at the present time. Moreover, we all know that there are a number of boundary adjustments which in any case have to be considered. That was avowed by Government spokesmen during the passage of the Bill.

I am grateful for the reassurance which I have been given, and which was implicit in my noble friend's speech, on the question of the relative importance of the population guideline. Some of your Lordships may recollect that on the Committee stage of the Bill 1 moved an Amendment on which I was able to hang, like a coat on a peg, the argument that it appeared to me that, in the directive given to the Boundary Commission designate, population was to be right at the top and other considerations, such as local feeling and community of interest, were to be a long way down. It had seemed to me that, inevitably, from that the Commission would gain the impression that they must produce results in accord with the directives on population, and should take the other considerations into account if they could. I am grateful to the then Secretary of State for having taken note of what was said, not only by me but by a number of noble Lords in that debate.

I know—and, indeed, my noble friend hinted at it in his speech just now—that the Secretary of State brought what was said in that debate to the notice of the Boundary Commission. I was happy to learn, first, that that was done; and, secondly, that the Boundary Commission found themselves able to deny the suggestion which I had made that in their first report they had given excessive attention to the population considerations, and not sufficient to the others. I should like to say that I am entirely satisfied by what I have been told; that the Boundary Commission did not give priority to one consideration above another, but sought to take due account of every one. I fully accept these assurances.

At the same time I have a feeling that that debate may have done a bit of good, because certainly there have been, in the final recommendations, some marked departures from strict adherence to the original population figures suggested by the Secretary of State. In the draft recommendations there were only 36 districts with a population of under 65,000: in the final recommendations that number has gone up from 36 to 66. Moreover, as my noble friend mentioned, although there were no districts with under 40,000 population in the draft recommendations, there are no fewer than 14 in the final recommendations. This marks several steps in the right direction from my point of view: and I am quite sure that the Boundary Commission has to the very best of its ability weighed all the relevant considerations in arriving at these proposals.

I still wonder why the Boundary Commission did not leave alone some substantial authorities which simply wanted to be left alone. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has just mentioned Banstead. Banstead has a population of 45,000 and a rateable value of £2½ million. It is a substantial authority now, and I should have thought that it had a strong claim to remain independent under the new régime. There is also the question of Esher, to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Piatt, is to refer later. I will not dwell on that because he knows much more about it, no doubt, than I do. But, as I see it, the problem there is that there are four existing authorities—Staines, Sunbury-on-Thames, Walton and Weybridge and Esher—with a combined population of 211,000, and the Boundary Commission have recommended that those four should be grouped into two new districts in a manner which pleases none of the local authorities concerned. There is an alternative plan under which they would be grouped, not in two but in three districts, with Slough and Esher remaining as they are, as independent districts, and Walton and Weybridge joining with Sunbury, which I gather both are quite willing to do.


Staines, my Lords, not Slough.


I beg your Lordships' pardon; the noble Lord is absolutely correct. Slough does not come into this at all; it is Staines which is the fourth of these authorities.

Now, my Lords, it seems to me a pity that in this case the recommendations which have come forward, whatever grounds there may be for them, entirely flout the wishes of the existing local authorities, when there was an alternative scheme which would have been broadly acceptable to all of them. I understand the feeling of such authorities when the guidelines which the Government had given to the Commission included the sentence that the draft proposals, should be published as a basis for the fullest practicable consultation with the existing authorities". Certainly, had I been a member of one of the local authorities concerned I would have said that the "fullest practicable consultation" really meant the fullest practicable consultation. What in fact in this case it has meant is that opportunity was given to the local authorities concerned to comment on the draft proposals, but their request for a meeting with the Commission was rejected. They have therefore not had the opportunity, which they thought had been offered to them, of stating their case, face to face, to the members of the Commission, and of making absolutely certain that the Commission understood their point of view. Of course, I can well realise the pressure that there was on the Commission, which rendered it impossible to hold more than about 16 of these local conferences. That is something we have suffered due to the pressure of time; but all of us who have any knowledge of politics realise that it is always better to meet people and let them talk to you even if, in the end, you find that you cannot accede to their requests. Then, at any rate, they fee] that they have had the fullest opportunity to ensure that those at the top understand their point of view.

My most serious criticism of this local government reorganisation plan as a whole remains that there are too many very large districts. I am sure that any district with a geographical spread of more than 300 square miles is going to be remote to the ordinary people who live there. It is going to be as remote as we know county councils are now remote to people in the small towns and villages. In the final recommendations I am glad to see that the number of districts of over 300 square miles, which was 53 in the draft recommendations, has gone down to 48. I wish it could have gone down a great deal lower than that. I realise, of course, that earlier in this year a good many people in the local authority associations and elsewhere were not keen to fight for the principle of somewhat smaller districts, because during the crucial months their main anxiety was to persuade the Government to grant more functions to the districts. In fact, they failed in that; and they thereby lost the opportunity to urge the Government to reconsider its population guidance of 75,000 to 100,000. My impression is that some of the existing local authorities in country areas which at an earlier stage had pressed the Local Government Boundary Commission designate in favour of districts of 40,000 or 50,000 instead of 75,000 to 100,000, gave up the attempt after the draft recommendations were published. When they saw that there were no districts under 40,000 population in these draft recommendations, they felt it was no good continuing the fight. In fact, it can now be seen that it might have done some good if they had gone on fighting, because the Commission have now accepted and recommended no fewer than 14 districts of under 40,000.

My Lords, there is nothing sacred about these figures. My concern remains that where unnecessarily large districts are being created it will inevitably lead to the loss of good councillors. Good councillors in existing small boroughs and districts are very often the busiest people in the neighbourhood, but they know how to make the best use of their time. These are the people who will not be able to afford time to serve on the councils for very large new districts, considering the amount of travelling which will be involved—and what a lot of travelling there will be if you have to be responsible for 300 square miles and have to travel for every meeting to a place many miles from your home! I well recognise now that I am to blame in not having protested as vigorously as I should have done 18 months ago, when the Government were nudging their population criterion upwards. The Government, your Lordships will remember, started with "about 40,000" as the size for a new district. The next time they gave an estimate they said that the new districts should be "upwards of 40,000"; and finally they came, in this directive from which I have quoted, to the range of 75,000 to 100,000 population, except in special cases. I think 75,000 to 100,000 is ideal in a built-up area, but it is far too large in a scattered area. My personal view is that we should have got a better result had the Government said from the start, and stuck to it, that the reasonable size for a new district in a country area, as distinct from an urban area, was 40.000 to 50,000. I believe that with a population in that range, and a more reasonable geographical size than is suggested in some of these recommendations, you could get really good local government and you could get all the best people to find the time to serve. I regret my failure in not having uttered any sort of protest, when the figure was first put up to 75,000, and I bear my share of the blame.

Having said that, may I congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandford on having reached the watershed in this major task of local government reorganisation, and may I ask one final question? Will it be possible for the Boundary Commission, not at once but over the years, to make recommendations which not merely adjust boundaries but actually break up existing districts because they have been found to be too large? I do not want to have future Governments using the argument that this exact pattern of districts has been approved by Parliament in detail, and that therefore there is a strong reason to believe that the Parliament of 1972 regarded this pattern as ideal. Your Lordships know as well as I that we are accepting this set of recommendations in the Order as a general plan for England. We are not giving fresh detailed consideration to every district and every boundary in it. We hope that the Local Government Boundary Commission will do that over the years and, if mistakes have been made, that it will be possible by that means to rectify them.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in the congratulations to the Local Government Boundary Commission. Anyone achieving an 84 per cent, customer satisfaction has done very well. On the other hand, we must think of the remaining 16 per cent, who are still not happy. I should be grateful to the noble Lord if, in his reply, he could indicate clearly, for the Record, exactly what steps can be taken for those areas contained in the 16 per cent, which are not happy with the proposals and how long they may have to wait. I apologise for not having given notice of the particular matter I wish to raise because I have obligations elsewhere and I was not sure that I should be able to be here. I may have to leave before the reply and for that I apologise in advance. I am usually a good stayer, but I have other preoccupations with which Lord Aberdare may be aware and therefore I apologise for not having mentioned the particular instance I have in mind.

I should be grateful if the noble Lord could say what people should do who, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, feel they were not entirely adequately consulted. One appreciates the difficulties of the Local Government Boundary Commission. They had a very tight timetable, they did a good job; but in the nature of things they were not able to go to all the small places or to listen to the people in the parishes.

I am concerned with four small villages contained in three small parishes in the County of Kent, in one of which, St. Nicholas-at-Wade, we have had a family home for 50 years. In the original proposals for Kent on page 24 of the Draft Order these villages were included in district No. 7 with which they were content. Now, in the revised version, they have been moved to district No. 8. With this the four villages, Acol, Monkton, St. Nicholas-at-Wade and Sarre, are definitely discontent. They held a local poll at which there was a 75 per cent, turnout and a 90 per cent, vote in favour of staying in the district in which they had been put originally and for not being moved into the district in which they now find themselves.

I do not wish to weary your Lordships by explaining why this is so; but as I know the area intimately and as my brother conducted part of the poll, I appreciate just why it is that they wanted to stay where they were with the rest of the Eastry rural district instead of being moved simply because one place Minster (which is a small town and not a village), would prefer to go in with district No. 8.

I do not wish to labour the point. I have made the main proposition. These are small communities, but they feel passionately and they have taken the troubles to express their feelings as best they can. There was a 90 per cent, vote in favour of staying where they were originally put. The Local Government Boundary Commission were not disposed to take this as conclusive evidence of local feelings. Despite their pleas, as I understand it, they were not able to make representations. All that I am asking the noble Lord is to give a message to these small villages. They are asking: What do we do now? How long may we have to wait? What hope is there of our being able to go to the district we prefer? We have expressed this view as best we can. What are we now to do? There must be other places where similar circumstances prevail. I think it would be helpful if practical advice could be given to those in the 16 per cent, who are still unhappy about where they have been placed.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for introducing this Order. I should like to raise a parochial point and to say that from the point of view of Cleveland County it is a highly unsatisfactory result. From the point of view of East Cleveland, it started well when we were going to be included with Whitby and Great Ayton in Cleveland County. This was guaranteed because the Minister said he would not make any changes in the boundary. This was shortly followed by an application by Whitby and Great Ayton to move back to North Yorkshire, which application was promptly granted. Now we have a collection of huge districts which are about the largest in the country. For example, we have districts with populations of 163,000, 157,000 and 147,000. The average rateable value is £7 million, which is much higher than any comparable district. In area 4, with which I am concerned particularly, there is a set of totally different towns with totally different interests. It is extremely difficult to visualise the central council finding it easy to administer such a "hodge-podge" of different places.

It is also interesting to look at the guidelines laid down. One sees that the ideal number is from 75,000 to 100,000 people. I have already given figures which indicate that we are almost double the lower limit of 75,000. In Section 3 of the guidelines it declares that the identity of large towns should be maintained; but Cleveland is cut right across because Teesside is divided into two. The fourth guideline says that account should be taken of large increases in population. There will be an enormous increase in East Cleveland. This will make for even larger populations. In Section 6 regard is to be had to the wishes of the local inhabitants; but 80 per cent. of the inhabitants of Guisborough voted in a snowstorm to stay in North Yorkshire. This vote was disregarded. I am sure that an equal number would now wish to have a very much smaller district than they have.

No. 4 district consists of part of Teesside with a population of 91,000 and a rateable value of £4.8 million. The remainder of these various towns (all viable by themselves) Loftus, Saltburn, Skelton and Guisborough have a rateable value of £1.6 million and a population of 56,000 which, as one thumbs through the pages, one sees is quite comparable with many of the other districts.

These districts will inevitably attract masses of "Chiefs" and comparatively few "Indians". There will be lots of chaps sitting at desks one above the other in authority, all more and more unapproachable; and when it comes to getting anything done it will be more and more difficult. It will be remote, impersonal and bureaucratic government—anything but local government. The rates will go up, just as they did when Teesside was formed into an enormous district, and the standard of service will come down just as happened in Teesside. I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and particularly his question whether it would be possible for the Boundary Commission to recommend that some of these large districts be divided up in future. I hope that the Government will consider withdrawing and reconsidering this Order.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords from both sides of the Chamber I should like to congratulate the Government on the work they have done so far. They have done a great deal in a short time. Also I should like to add my congratulations to the Boundary Commission and to the Civil Service. If the Government had allowed another year to go by before introducing these measures we could have threshed out a great deal locally without having to air our washing in public in Parliament.

I have been asked to represent the views of the rural district of Strood. They held a referendum and there was 95 per cent, in favour of their proposals, but the Boundary Commission turned them down. I cannot understand that. The Boundary Commission had certain guidelines but they seem to have kicked over the traces good and proper in going contrary to local opinion. They propose to put Strood in with Chatham and Rochester, making a district of 132,000. I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, is against any figure over 100,000, and so am I. Other proposals were put forward by the Strood R.D.C. which would have given Strood the land West of the Medway in a semicircle, with the Strood part of Rochester on the West side of the Medway in the centre. That would have given the area of the R.D.C. a population of 42,000 and the town, I think, would have had 29,000—anyway, the total would be roughly 72,000, which is an ideal size. One has only to look at the map to see that it is a balanced area geographically and one with plenty of money. The Strood R.D.C. is very rich and includes the Isle of Grain. It has a good clerk, who organised the referendum, and I think that note should be taken of its proposals. Other noble Lords have asked when we may expect a revision for dissatisfied customers and I should like to add my request for this information.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry to be another contributor to this subject, but there are some serious matters here to discuss. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, spoke to us with sweet reason and praised the new Local Government Boundary Commission for their work. I have no doubt at all that a great deal of praise is due to them for doing a very difficult job with what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, referred to as unfailing expedition. I would suggest "indecent haste" as an alternative to his description. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, also referred to the Boundary Commission's Report as being the result of "extensive consultation". I want to bring to the notice of your Lordships a case in which there was no consultation of any kind. The facts have been briefly set out by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, who was going to refer to this matter but has left it to me to put in a little more detail.

The districts involved are Esher and Walton and Weybridge, which together are already one district, Staines and Sun- bury-on-Thames. The arrangement dictated by the Local Government Boundary Commission, on page 41 of the Order that we are discussing, is that Esher should join with Walton and Weybridge, and that Staines should join with Sunbury, but what three out of the four districts want is for Esher and Staines to remain independent while Walton and Weybridge join with Sunbury, which I understand would suit both those districts. I do not want to bore your Lordships with a special case. I know full well that it would be quite impossible for each case in respect of these non-metropolitan districts to be debated in Parliament, so I will not bore your Lordships with a lot of statistics. Suffice it to say that the arrangement proposed by these districts would fit very well within the numbers suggested. In the case of Esher the population alone is over 64,000. It has an extremely high rateable value, as I know to my cost because I live there. The rateable value is something approaching £4½ million.

It is not really to fight the local case of Esher that I am speaking, though I should like to urge it with as much force as I can; it is really to state the way in which this decision has been taken, and what I have now to relate is a very sorry and painful story. As long ago as last June the Clerk to the Esher Urban District Council sent a letter to the Commission designate, which had not yet been set up as a statutory body, with a copy to the Department of the Environment, making out a strong case for the preservation of the Urban District of Esher as a separate district. Letters had already been sent in 1971 to the Department of the Environment. All the arguments were fully set out. The Urban District had received circulars assuring them of the fullest practical consultations with local authorities. The Esher Urban District Council requested a meeting with the Commission designate at the end of their letter of June. The gravamen of what I am saying this evening is that no answer of any kind has been received by Esher except a printed postcard of acknowledgment. No letter of explanation of the Boundary Commission's decision has been received, and the case remains unanswered. No consultation of any kind took place. A further request to the Secretary of State at the end of October on behalf of Esher and Walton and Weybridge that the Secretary of State should receive a deputation was refused.

In conclusion, I ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether he will please give me straight answers to rather straight questions. First, was it the intention of Her Majesty's Government that evidence from local authorities to the Boundary Commission should be ignored and unanswered, and requests for interviews with the Boundary Commission and with the Department of the Environment should be ignored or rejected, and whether this fits in with his definition of "extensive consultation'"? Secondly, was it the Government's intention that the decisions of the Local Government Boundary Commission should be enforced without explanation or amendment? Finally, I should like to reiterate some words used by the noble Baroness, Lady White, in asking what steps we can take, whether the Government will please take the Order back for further consideration.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, the Commission had by no means a simple task, but it was a most important one, and by its very nature we could not possibly expect that the Commission would be able to please everyone. In fact, it is clear that in some cases they have found it impossible to reconcile all the aims they had before them: certainly not all their decisions have been received with approbation. I agree with my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor that some of the rural areas are rather terrifyingly big. I shudder to think what the travelling expenses will be for some of the members. I am sure that the noble Lords, Lord Piatt and Lord Garnsworthy, and my noble friend Lord Gisborough, are right in saying that some of the decisions have seemed inexplicable and are unpopular. On the other hand, I feel that the Commission are entitled to a tribute for having achieved 84 per cent, acceptance, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, said, is no mean achievement. The pressure due to the time in which this local government reform has been carried through has been extreme; and I think the Commission must have been really up against it: it must have been to some extent a rush job to get it done in the time available.

But, having said that, I believe that at this stage of the proceedings the Government, having allotted them this task, are right to accept the Commission's recommendations as they stand, and not to take the recommendations back for piecemeal consideration. We all know that the Chairman of the Commission, Sir Edmund Compton, has been about the fairest-minded man one could possibly think of. While reserving our criticisms in some cases, and perhaps feeling that some of the decisions were not those at which most people have arrived, I think we must congratulate the Commission on the degree of acceptance they have achieved and wish them well in their further deliberations.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, if, before the Minister replies, I might add a word, it would be this. I think we must recognise in this House that the Act could not be on the Statute Book as it is now, and we could not be about to elect new authorities in 1973 and pass to a new system in 1974, unless the Government had with perfect frankness declared from the outset what the programme was, and unless they had recognised that it was absolutely impossible to ask Parliament to draft and approve in detail the boundaries of the second tier, of the districts, as well as the main boundaries of the counties. They were therefore, I think, very wise to decide that there must be a Local Government Boundary Commission, to be appointed before the Act was passed and to get to work long before they were anything but designated. That means that we have, in effect, entrusted to them this exceedingly difficult task of getting a second tier drafted and in action at the same time as the main tier with nothing to go on except the status quo.

The Government had the Report of the Royal Commission, and an alternative in Mr. Senior's proposals for the broad outline of the main framework, but they did not have anything to guide them when they decided that there must be a second tier. Therefore I think we should congratulate the Government on having had the foresight to appoint the Boundary Commission, and on the extraordinary fairness, I would stress, rather than the speed, with which not only the Chairman but also the members of the Commission—and I think in particular of Sir Andrew Wheatley, a man of great experience in local government—have gone to work. I must confess that, having listened with fascination to the debates that we have had this year in this House on the main boundaries and having heard the interesting interventions this afternoon on particular parts of the second-tier system, I am more than ever convinced that the Government were right to leave the drafting of the second tier to a Boundary Commission and only to ask Parliament to approve what the Minister has put before us.

I therefore very much hope that the Government will not yield to the suggestion that they should withdraw this Order. What we need more than anything else in local government now is a degree of finality, so that these important decisions about the agency arrangements to be made between the county authorities and the district authorities can be made immediately in an atmosphere of certainly. Of course I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that we wish to know that the Local Government Boundary Commission can get on immediately with the work of doing some of the minor patching of this and that, which could be done without disturbing the main framework, and that in due course they will not regard as sacrosanct what goes into this approval of the Order (and I hope we shall approve it) before us to-day. The immediate thing, I suggest, is that everybody in local government who has been consulted over a long period of time must now shut up and not keep on asking to be consulted. We must make the best of what the Boundary Commission and the Government have put before the House, in the hope that we can now make a success of both the first and second tiers, when they are elected in 1973 and when they get into operation in 1974.

Finally, my Lords, I would remind the House that we have parishes, and parish councils with increased powers, which will do something to make up for the size of those districts which some of us think are too big, and that one of the main purposes of local government reform was to take account of the greater mobility of our society and therefore the possibility, as time goes on, of people being better able to cover distances.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I rather think I am the only speaker this afternoon who will welcome this Order almost wholeheartedly. I do not share the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and others, that the areas are too big. I come from a very rural area where the decisions of the Commissioners have made rather large districts; and when I look at the functions—which after all are the most important matters—which these local authorities will carry out for the people who live in their areas, I am quite satisfied that they are the right size for what are perhaps the two most important things they will have to do; namely, to provide housing over a sufficiently wide area to allow for the mobility of labour that to-day we find to be absolutely essential in rural areas, and also over a sufficiently wide area to deal adequately with development planning. I believe the size of the areas to be right. It is the functions which are important and I believe that the authorities will do a very much better service for the people they are looking after than would be possible if they were to be very small, as some noble Lords would wish to see them.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and particularly for the expressions of appreciation and tributes that have been paid to the Boundary Commission, which I am sure are fully deserved. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, who harked back to cur debate on the Government's White Paper of autumn 1970, in which debate the factor upon which there was the greatest unanimity was that we should "get on with it". This is what we have been attempting to do.

I refute the suggestion that this has been done with such expedition that the consultations have not been adequate. I will return to that matter in a moment. But the fact is that decisions have been reached after what I believe is an appropriate amount of consideration and con- sulfation, and we must now "get on". The Back Benchers can tell the districts to "shut up". In my position, whatever my feelings, I cannot do this; nevertheless I am grateful to them. A number of noble Lords expressed a sense of grievance on behalf of the 16 per cent. of the authorities. I would suggest to your Lordships that that is a very small number in an upheaval of this kind. It was said that there was a sense of grievance over a lack of consultation. I will not weary your Lordships' House by attempting to answer that allegation in detail: I will make the point that the raw material of the Boundary Commission's deliberations and the starting point of all their discussions was the proposals put to them at the request of the Secretary of State by the districts themselves. The whole exercise began with what the districts proposed. As the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, said, the Boundary Commission were not dealing with proposals made by somebody else. They were starting from scratch on the districts' own proposals. To that extent I think I can safely rebut any suggestion that there has been no consultation, because that was the starting point.

Coming down to particular details, there are certainly those districts adjacent to London who feel they have been thrown together in units which are larger than they would like them to be. Ban-stead, for example, does not relish being the junior partner to Reigate; but this was one of the guidelines—and I submit it was a correct guideline—that around a great metropolitan area like London there should be powerful units of local government at the district level. If you accept that guideline, then it was right for the Boundary Commission to stand firm over a number of places such as Esher, Banstead and others we have heard of. In that connection, and in connection with some of the smaller districts, I have been asked when these matters can be reconsidered. I would say, certainly not yet. The Boundary Commission now have to move immediately to deal with the question of the names of the districts, of choosing the successor parishes and of making the electoral arrangements for the new areas. After that, and after local government reform has taken effect from April 1, 1974, they have to address themselves to a number of minor boundary changes which were found to be necessary in the course of the debates in both Houses of Parliament. Thereafter it may be possible for them to look at a number of district boundaries which have not pleased the 16 per cent, of the districts involved in this exercise.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke for what he said, and I am pleased to know that he has been reassured by the outcome in respect of the smaller district areas. I do not believe, if he will forgive my saying so, that it is possible to say that the views of the districts have been in any sense entirely flouted. That surely cannot be the case if 84 per cent, of them are satisfied. I know that he feels—and I think others feel also—that some of the new districts are still too extensive in area. I quoted one example from Northumberland, where two of the existing districts concerned felt it was a mistake not to stick to the original larger area which the Boundary Commission proposed. I have just been travelling in the South-West for which some of the present proposals involve dividing up larger areas originally proposed by the Boundary Commission; and such "comment as I heard was confined to a sense of regret that that had been done.

My noble friend Lord Cranbrook also said that, so far as he was concerned in Suffolk and other rural areas, he is well content with these rather extensive areas, bearing in mind the functions that have to be exercised by the authorities. So here I think we have to face the fact that, although there is a conflict of judgment, the Boundary Commission have done their best. In due course the boundaries will certainly be reviewed in the light of experience, which of course we must gain, because we are now dealing with different bodies performing different functions and operating in a different way from anything we have hitherto experienced.

My noble friend Lord Gisborough raised the special case of Cleveland. That is a special case and, as your Lordships will see, on page 87 of this Report are printed the special guidelines which the Boundary Commission were given in this particular case. My noble friend did not make the charge which was made by some other noble Lords, that the conclusion arrived at, though locally unpopular, was not arrived at without thorough consideration. I am sure he will agree with that especially as I am able to remind the House that that was one of the cases where an additional local meeting was conducted by the Boundary Commission at Saltburn on September 25, when everybody had a chance to make his views known. There was no clear consensus of view as to what should be done, and the Boundary Commission had inevitably to discharge their responsibility and come forward with a decision. It is regrettable that this has not satisfied everybody, but I am sure my noble friend will agree with me that every attempt was made to reach an agreed solution in that particular case.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, asked me a question about undertakings given to Horley. Those were given in the hope and expectation that the residents concerned would express their opinion in time for it to be taken account of in the Bill; but in fact the Bill became law on October 26 and the residents voted on the 28th, so that it has not been practicable to do that. But what I was saying about the possibilities of the Boundary Commission securing a change by a later review of course applies in that case, because that was an assurance given during the passage of the Bill.

I hope I have dealt with the main points that were raised, and particularly the allegation made by the noble Lord, Lord Piatt, that Esher had not been consulted. Esher, like every other authority, was invited right at the beginning to submit their proposals and supporting arguments for the changes they would like. Those were considered fully by the Boundary Commission. Their further submissions added nothing to what they had originally said, and the Boundary Commission came firmly to the view that they have now incorporated in their recommendations.

This happened in a number of cases where a number of authorities reiterated the proposals they had first submitted, but the Boundary Commission in a number of those, fortunately not amounting in total to more than 16 per cent., equally firmly came to the view that those proposals could not be accepted. Nevertheless, I think we have reached a position where as much agreement and satisfaction as it would be humanly possible to expect in a situation such as this has been arrived at. So I think we can as a whole welcome the Report for being comprehensive, consistent and as fair as possible, and confirm the tribute to the Commission for being thorough and practical and getting on with the job with a despatch that, in the circumstances, was necessary. My Lords, I beg to commend the Order to your Lordships.


My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes his seat I would say that I did not want to interrupt him while he was in full song, but I asked him whether he could tell the House how the pledges given by Mr. Speed and Mr. Graham Page were going to be operated, and I asked him when they were likely to be put into effect. Furthermore, I asked him to what extent the decision depended on the Local Government Boundary Commission; and I asked him whether in point of fact consideration of the position at Horley would be one of their priorities. If the noble Lord does not know, I do not mind a bit if he says so; but a considerable body of opinion is waiting anxiously. I think my questions were clear. I do not at all mind if the noble Lord is unable to answer me—I realise it is a difficult question—but if he does not know he ought to say so.


My Lords, I am sorry because obviously my answers, which were meant to cover the noble Lord's questions, cannot have been clear. I confirmed that the undertaking had been given, but on the basis that it was hoped, if the residents had been able to express their opinion during the passage of the Bill through either House, that it would have been given effect to in the Bill. In fact, the Bill became an Act on October 26, and the residents voted on the 28th, so that ruled out that possibility. I explained earlier in my speech that there were a number of important processes in which the Boundary Commission were involved: notably the selection of successor parishes, the electoral arrangements for the new authorities, and so on—all of which would take priority over individual boundary reviews. I then went on to say that among the boundary reviews that would take place after April 1, 1974, when the Boundary Commission had finished those jobs, the particular boundaries that had been identified as requiring review by the Boundary Commission would take priority, and this particular one would be among them. I believe I said all that in my original answer.


My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Lord spoke in those very general terms. I do not think he has grasped the point that the position, so far as the local authorities are concerned at the moment, is that next April voters in the area will be called upon to elect representatives to the West Sussex County Council. At some unstated time they are going to be transferred to Surrey. I should have thought that it could be made clear whether the Boundary Commission are going to report, let us say, before June 1973. The noble Lord has not taken the point that, as things stand at the moment, there is little to persuade people to stand for the West Sussex County Council, there is a likelihood of considerable confusion, and the consequences in regard to matters such as planning, let alone the other services, are quite serious.


My Lords, I am sure that the House will not want us to continue for too long, but I did say that the very next thing that the Boundary Commission had to attend to were the electoral arrangements for the next elections.

On Question, Motion agreed to.