§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Second Reading debate resumed.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his exposition of the Bill. Certainly it was a notable feat of compression to introduce a Bill of this character, with its 408 pages, 259 clauses and 30 Schedules in half an hour. I must say that his speech was notable for what it left out rather than for what it included, except for the fact that he has promised us a number of Amendments. We shall examine these very carefully when we come to the Committee stage. I must say that as a district council man I have some doubts about the threat of the noble Lord that he is going to reverse 33 the decision of the House of Commons in relation to refuse disposal. But, my Lords, we shall come to that on Committee.
I am glad that I shall be able to welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, this afternoon—a maiden speech from a man who has an almost unrivalled experience of local government in a large and thinly populated Welsh county, that of Brecon, now to become part of the new county of Powys. I wish him well, and very much look forward to his speech this afternoon and to his cooperation in the work that lies ahead on further stages of the Bill. I look forward also to the speech that we shall be hearing this afternoon from the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, whose father from time to time made welcome contributions to our debates and whose life as a Minister some of us who are of the older generation remember.
If to declare an interest is right in connection with this Bill—and I have my doubts about it, for there is no financial interest involved and I accept entirely that a noble Lord speaks for himself in this House and not for any outside body—I will follow the usual practice by stating that I am the President of the Urban District Councils' Association, an honour in which I follow my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale whose excellent appointment as the Chairman of the Staff Commission led to his resignation from that presidency. I was happy to be elevated from vice-president to president, but not so happy when I was pressed to take his place in leading for the Opposition on this Bill. I had hoped that I would be helping him a little and not that he would be helping me with whispers.
My Lords, today we have this Bill which started its Parliamentary life as far back as November of last year and now we are to consider this massive measure, not under the pressure of a formal Guillotine, but under the effective pressures of the end of the Session. These pressures are quite as effective and as considerable as would be a formal Guillotine. We shall be under this pressure. I do not like it when I come to examine a Bill of this size and this character, but I must admit that for the sake of local government I am certainly prepared, despite the difficulties, to facilitate the pas- 34 sage of the Bill, so far as it lies in my power, subject to a reasonable examination of its proposals, for I am strongly of the opinion that we must end the appalling uncertainty under which councillors and officials have laboured for so long and we must end it as soon as we can.
It is too late to go back now, but one must regret that this Bill dealing with local government up to the county council tier level is such an example of piecemeal legislation. A comprehensive measure dealing with all the functions which an overworked and, for most of the time, overstretched central Government ought to be devolving on the various levels between the centre and the parish council level, should have been before us. Clearly, there is a place between central Government and county councils for an authority to deal with many of the important aspects of the government of our country which are neither sufficiently localised to be dealt with locally nor so wholly national as to necessitate being dealt with by the centre. The metropolitan counties to some extent will meet this need for some areas, but not satisfactorily, and what is required is something in the shape of a province structure for England, and an elected national council for Wales, which, in the case of Wales, would meet the double need of an authority between the centre and the county councils and also satisfy to some extent understandable national aspirations.
Upon such bodies ought to be devolved some of the powers of central Government. Some of the functions that are regional in character and which, under this Bill, are to be undertaken by the county councils ought to be undertaken at province level. To mention only some of these functions, it seems to me that if we cannot have a national water grid we ought at least to have regional water grids. Certain aspects of planning and transport—and the noble Lord mentioned some of them—lend themselves to regional government rather than to local government and certainly this applies to those parts of planning which, so far as I can see, are in future to be divided between the county councils, district councils, new health authorities and water authorities. These are some of the things which clearly ought to have been in a Bill of this sort and dealt with in the sort of way that I am indicating.
35 So far as the police are concerned, I am bound to say that I am very much against splitting or altering the regional police areas pending what must come eventually; that is, police forces on a province basis. In the meantime, leave them alone and we shall undoubtedly return to this subject when we get to the Committee stage. There are considerable pressure about this matter, and I believe that those pressures are right. I believe that we ought not to interfere with what has been set up, merely in order to meet the boundaries in this Bill. As I say, we shall return to this subject in Committee. As a Party, we shall try to insert such. a tier as I have been discussing—I fear without very much hope of success, but in the confident expectation that when the government of this island is looked at as a whole at some time in the future, perhaps when we receive the Crowther Report, the seeds now sown will bear some fruit.
How long the House will take in its examination of the Bill will not depend so much on the Opposition, as in the case of the Industrial Relations Bill or the Housing Finance Bill, for this is not a Bill with a lot of Party considerations in it, except for what appear to me to be some gerrymandering aspects in the fixing of some boundaries and in the shape of some of the proposed local government areas. I believe that there is some gerrymandering in the Bill, and I sincerely hope that this House will tackle the matter and will make the necessary alterations and amendments when we come to that Part of the Bill. Of course, the length of time that we take on this subject in Committee cannot possibly wholly depend on the Opposition, because I am aware of the fact that so many of your Lordships are vastly knowledgeable about local government. If I had any doubts about that, a glance at the list of speakers today would have removed those doubts.
What I dislike about this Bill is the fact that too much is crammed into too small a space, despite its 408 pages. There ought to have been two Bills before us, one for England and one for Wales. And I am thinking here not so much of the fact that Welsh local government is to differ from the English version, but of the 36 fact that two separate Bills might have enabled us to have two Bills shorn of the difficulties of legislation by reference. This Bill is full of legislation by reference, despite the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said that in some respects it is a consolidating measure. In the early part of the Bill we do not find too much of that, but in Clause 164(5) we find this:In this section ' local authority ', levied' and 'rate' have the same meanings as in the Local Loans Act 1875.Why do we have to go to shelves laden with the dust of nearly 100 years to find the interpretation of these very simple terms? It surely is a nonsense, and it ought not to be before Parliament in that form.
Then when we come to Clause 175, with a marginal annotation of "Public health", and try to discover who does what, we are faced with references to the Local Government Act 1963, the Public Health Act 1936, the Public Health Acts 1875 to 1975, the Alkali, &c. Works Regulation Act 1906, the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953, the Clean Air Acts 1956 and 1968, the Noise Abatement Act 1960, the Public Health Act 1961, the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968, the Public Health (Recurring Nuisances) Act 1969, and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, he need not exaggerate a good case; there is no reference to the Public Health Act 1975. It is the 1925 Act.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I should have said 1925.
When we reach the water and sewerage, we have to find our way through 11 Acts. Under town and country planning we are luckier, for we have to turn to only two Acts, so far as I can see. At that point I gave up counting and cataloguing. But to follow through to see what the Bill does to various parts of our local government system one must be prepared for a maze, and if anyone wishes to put down an Amendment to change the authority for a specific function he will need the advice of a lawyer, with a shelf full of Acts dating back at least to 1875. How much longer Parliament will put up with 37 legislation by reference I do not know, but we certainly ought to continue to complain until Governments do something about it. I am not going to say that the Government of which I was a part did not do exactly the same sort of thing, but it is up to us to continue to complain about it until eventually we do not have this nonsense that we find in so many clauses of this Bill.
For the sake of those who will have to apply the Bill, when it becomes an Act, I hope that, as happened two years after the Act of 1929, there will be a consolidating Act—and one even more comprehensive than the Act of 1933. I am not going to rehearse now the Amendments that we shall move in Committee, but I must mention the fact that I have been told that the failure to settle the question of the attendance and financial-loss allowance for councillors is already having an adverse effect on the selection of candidates for the 1973 elections. Men who see that in the future, with the creation of the larger authorities, greater distances will have to be travelled in many instances, are not willing to take the risk of being elected and then finding that they would be unable to afford the loss of necessary time from work if the council happened to fix the rate at too low a figure. The sooner this matter is settled, the better for the local government of the future. And it ought to be done free from any inhibitions councillors may have about fixing their own rates of remuneration. It ought to be done by the Secretary of State, in order to achieve both uniformity and adequacy. I believe those two things are essential in this connection.
By the time of the appointment of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission it was quite clear to most of us that local government was becoming seriously hampered by unnecessary and outdated restrictions. Hampering restrictions are disliked by most of us; and we tend to feel like Sarah Bernhardt, who my noble friend Lord Soper told us some time ago, when confronted with the Ten Commandments, said she agreed with them in principle but thought there were too many of them. There are too many of the restrictions that have been hampering local government. Now some 40 years on from the Act of 1929, we are once again legislating for local government. I must say 38 that I cannot go along with the statement and the claim of the Government that they are bringing vastly greater freedom to local government. Some restrictions are being removed, of course, but they are offset by clamping down on major units of local authorities the provisions of the Housing Finance Act, which only recently completed its passage through this House.
There is always implicit in the sort of democracy that has grown up over many centuries in this island the idea that government of the people must be divided between the centre and the localities. Inevitably the claims of the centre and the claims of the localities pull in different directions, especially when reform is in the air. Indeed, there is also something of a tug-of-war between those who propound the claims of very large units of local government, on the ground that only they can ensure the optimum use of modern management techniques, of computer and other expensive equipment, and, on the other side, the very important claims of interested people to be able to see the process of local government in operation, even if this means that some of the dreams of the technocrats are thwarted. Between these competing claims, compromise is essential, and I must admit, speaking as one who supported the Labour Government's first proposals for the whole of Wales, which were for two-tier local government, that I think this Bill is just about right for both England and Wales in the framework it creates up to the county council level. It goes just about as far as it is possible to take those engaged in local government and their associations along the path of reform.
But that does not mean that I support every boundary that has been drawn, or every allocation of function between the tiers; and to those aspects of the Bill we shall be devoting some attention when we get to Committee—a Committee stage which may prove somewhat easier than I once feared because of some of the changes and concessions made by the Government, both on Report and in Committee, in the other place. This Bill is a start. I think that in many ways it is a start in the right direction. I am looking forward to the Local Government Finance Bill which the 39 noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has told us we can expect during the next Session. I hope that it will be part of the whole process of reform. I am not going to talk about that aspect now for obvious reasons.
I end what I have to say on this Bill, without going into a Committee speech or a speech on Amendments, by paying tribute to the local government officers and councillors who have done so well under the old legislation, and I am sure will do well under this legislation. I certainly wish them well in the task they will have of putting these reforms into operation.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ LORD FOOT
My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Champion, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on the manner in which he presented this massive Bill to the House, and to thank him for not endeavouring to do what is sometimes done on Second Reading—to take us through each clause of the Bill and to tell us what it is about. My purpose this afternoon is, first of all, to be very brief, and, secondly, to confine myself not to any discussion of the merits of this Bill but simply to consider and ponder on what this House can usefully do about it and what our functions ought to be.
Before I embark on that may I say a word or two about something that fell from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Champion. He was expressing a view, with which I sympathise, that in one sense it is illogical for us to try to be carrying through this vast reform of local government before we have decided what we are going to have, if anything, at the provincial level. I speak as a member of the Commission on the Constitution—the Commission which we are still proud to call the "Crowther Commission". However, I am merely expressing my own view. But, as is recorded in the White Paper, the Commission, and Lord Crowther in particular, was approached by the Secretary of State for the Environment before the Bill was drafted to ask whether it was likely that the Commission on the Constitution might have anything to say when they eventually reported which would preclude the Government from carrying 40 on with the reform of local government at the lower level, as they have done in this Bill. The answer that was given by Lord Crowther to that inquiry was that he did not envisage that there would be any difficulty on that account.
Perhaps I might explain to the noble Lord, if he does not already know, why we came to that conclusion. We did so because one of the things that this Bill does is to draw the new map of local government. We did not foresee that whatever we might recommend, whatever we might favour at provincial level, would necessarily make any difference to the map. Then we came to consider, "Supposing we do recommend some kind of administrative authority at the regional or provincial level what difference will it make to the functions that are now being devolved, under this Bill, to local government?"
Lord Crowther came to the conclusion, I think rightly, that if it was later considered that some kind of provincial assembly was necessary and desirable—whether it be the sort of assembly that the noble Lord was speaking about for England or the sort of assembly that he is in favour of for Wales—there would not be any basic difficulty in taking away some of the functions from the top tier local government unit, particularly things like land use and planning, and carrying them on to higher level. If I may say with great respect, I think that the Government were right to carry on with this Bill because I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said, and what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, that it is of the utmost importance that we should terminate as soon as possible the uncertainty under which so many people in local government have been living.
May I come back to what I had intended to do: simply to consider how this House can best deal with this Bill. When one tries to see what the Bill is basically about I think one can identify three main themes: first, what is to be the form of the structure of the whole system of local government; secondly, what may be perhaps compendiously described as the map, the actual geographical delimitation of the areas; and. thirdly, the allocation of functions. That sub-divides into two parts: first of all, what functions are we going to devolve 41 upon local government as a whole, and what is to be the division of those functions between the different levels of local government.
On the matter of structure—I am glad that we have at last terminated the controversy between the two-tier and the unitary authority scheme. I anticipate—and I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said about this—that nobody at this stage is going to come forward in debate, or by Amendment, to challenge the basic principle of the two-tier system. Whether we like it or not, that at any rate has now been settled; the die has been cast and the decision has received the endorsement of the other Chamber. I hope that we are not going to waste time in this House by dealing with Amendments which strike at the very basis of the whole structure.
On the other hand, I hope that, within the framework of the structure as it has been laid down, we shall try to see that the best possible provision is made in the Bill to make that system work. The kind of thing I have in mind, which I think we can usefully discuss when talking about structure, is the method of election to district and county councils. It will not surprise Members of this House to learn that it is our intention from these Benches to raise the issue of proportional representation by way of the single transferable vote. I am not going to say anything about the merits of this now, but I hope that when we come to discuss that matter we will discuss it on its merits and in the light that, while there are many people who think there are strong objections to the system of proportional representation as applied to the Election of the national Government—reasons which I do not accept and which are not persuasive to me—many of those objections do not apply in the field of local government. I hope we shall debate that matter leaving aside Party objections to proportional representation at the national level.
My Lords, may I say one word about the other two themes of this Bill—the map and the allocation of function. When we come to those matters, I most earnestly hope that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the Government as 42 a whole will be prepared to listen to the argument, and if needs be bow to the argument if it is in favour of Amendments which are proposed. I say that for a variety of reasons. The first is that, as I see it, there are no Party politics in this Bill. This is not an occasion for Party dogma; this is an occasion when this House can perform its proper function and bring to bear the collective wisdom of the House to try to improve the Bill.
The second reason why I hope the Government will listen to the argument and be prepared to give way to it if it is convincing, is that we are embarked in this Bill on decisions of very great difficulty. In many of the matters we have to discuss the argument is very finely balanced. The third reason why I hope that this House is going to discuss this measure without provocation is, as has been said by both noble Lords, that we have in this House the most remarkable wealth of expertise and expert knowledge about Government, about local government, regional problems and local problems, and it would be the greatest pity if we did not draw upon and rely on that special knowledge which is available to us.
The last reason why we should give this matter the most careful consideration is that we are probably legislating not for the next ten years but for many decades ahead. It may well be that what we do in this Bill will still be the basis of local government in this country in one hundred years' time. In those circumstances, I suggest that this Bill is not an occasion for polemics or for Party feeling, but is overwhelmingly the occasion for trying to collect together the general wisdom and the assistance which this House can offer.
My Lords, there are only two matters that I wish to mention which are likely to arise during the Committee stage of this Bill, if not from these Benches from elsewhere. The first is the map. The Government have insisted that in cases apart from the metropolitan areas the areas of local government have to be made to fit into the Procustean bed of the two-tier system; there are to be no exceptions. This, it seems to me, fails to recognise that in some parts of the country you have the most peculiar, awkward 43 and unusual arrangements as regards distribution of population, geographical arrangement and so on. In the area which I know best, the area of Devon and Cornwall, you have very peculiar, indeed unique situations; in particular, the special problem of how to fit Plymouth into this two-tier structure. I do not think that it can be done in such a way as not to create something like a monstrosity. Where you have, as a geographical fact of life, the curious anomaly and exceptional situation of a great city stuck out at the end of the biggest administrative county in the country, I ask the Government not to put out of their minds, or to close their minds to, the possibility of having for that exceptional case a quite exceptional solution. I will not develop that matter any further to-day, but it is something to which we shall come back in Committee.
The last matter on which I wish to say a few words concerns the administration of the National Parks. If I remember aright, the last time we discussed this matter was when it was the subject of an Unstarred Question by my noble friend Lord Henley in February of this year. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, answered that Question on that occasion. He told us what has now been written into the Bill: the solution—if that is the right word—on which the Government have decided. He told us that except where there are already independent boards administering the Parks in the Lakes and the Peak District the administration is to be carried out by a Park Committee, which will be the creature and usually the servant of the county council. to which it belongs.
I must say that that is a solution which remains absolutely unacceptable to me—and I speak now as someone who has served, and does indeed serve, upon a National Park Committee. My belief is that if the Government are going to nail their colours to that mast it will be one of the most serious blows dealt at the conception of National Parks. It means, fundamentally, that where you have in the administration of a National Park a clash between local interests and the national interests, in the final crunch the local interests will prevail. That is what it means. To my mind that is inescapable. When we come to discuss 44 that matter I hope that many noble Lords on all sides of the House who take pride in the achievement of our National Parks and have a belief in their future will be here to be heard and be counted.
That is all I wish to say. As the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, we are faced with an almost unmanageable programme. We are going to be under great pressure; we are considering in these coming months matter of great import in all sorts of directions. It is my earnest thought that in that welter of business this Bill will not fail to receive the attention, the care and the careful study which it deserves and which it demands.
§ 4.30 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BATH AND WELLS
My Lords, I mean to confine my very few observations to one aspect, and one aspect only, of the Bill: the boundaries between the proposed new county of Avon and Somerset. I hope my observations will not be inappropriate on the Second Reading of the Bill. It must be very tempting to dismiss the urgent plea being made by a number of us in Somerset for a conciliation, for the rethinking of the Government's proposals for our county, as mere sentiment. With centuries of common tradition behind us some sentiment may perhaps be forgiven us and be allowed to weigh in our favour. However, it is not with an eye to the past that we protest but because of the future, because the present Government proposals, many of us believe, are detrimental to the welfare of our people. I think we feel that our protest ought to be heard in your Lordships' House.
The arguments which Somerset would use to retain, for the greater part, its present boundaries are the very same arguments as the Government use in presenting the case for the need to have a national reorganisation of local government. We accept the principles that the Government claim to underline in their proposals, but it can be held that these same principles are contradicted when they are applied to this county. It is said that many authorities are too small in area and resources to support the operation of services to the standard which nowadays people have the right to expect; also, that education and social 45 services require a substantial population base for effective organisation and future expansion. The Government stress the need to realise the interdependence of town and county, but then proceed to truncate, almost to decimate, Somerset in such a way as to remove 37 per cent. of its population.
Despite the image created by comedians, Somerset has in the past become a really progressive county, able to attract into its service men and women of the highest calibre. We very much doubt if the proposed little county, now to be almost the smallest in England, will remain as attractive; and, with its greatly reduced rateable value, it will be quite unable to continue the services and standards with which we are familiar. As for the interdependence of town and country, the idea has really become a nonsense. The new Somerset is a predominantly rural county, lacking any major centre or any major growth point.
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. The people of North Somerset are far from convinced that there are any advantages. A recent, properly conducted referendum drew 33.4 per cent of the electorate of the affected area to the polls, and 85 per cent of them—almost 100,000—said "No" to the proposals. Why, then, should this scheme be thrust on people who clearly do not want it, who believe that they will be better served by remaining with Somerset?
Nor will the new proposed county of Avon be much affected by the proposed amendments. Bristol would prefer to be a metropolitan county, and has made no attempt at all to woo its reluctant bride, so far as I know. Without any part of Somerset, it is large enough to create aviable authority. For future expansion, it looks northward along Severnside. where the M4 and the M5 now intercept, and has all the potential for becoming one of the largest authorities in the country. Does not the existence of virtually the largest and the smallest counties alongside each other demand some kind of rationalisation? Is it sensible to create alongside the truncated Somerset, a new county which on present figures 46 has three times its neighbours' population and three times its rateable value? Is it sensible to place within one authority all the potential for growth, while leaving the other static, mutilated and, in part, an actual population decline?
We are told of the importance of community of interests in the development of local government. Of course there is commuting by part of the population between North Somerset and Bristol; but whereas the interests of Bristol are commercial and industrial, the principal interests of Somerset are agriculture and tourism. The community of interests of places like Weston-super-Mare and Ax-bridge district most certainly lie with their traditional county, rather than with the proposed new authority. This year we have been interested in Tutankhamun's Egypt. Perhaps the Government could learn from yet another Pharaoh who was given a vision of thin kine swallowing fat kine and yet becoming no fatter. The destruction of a prosperous Somerset in an attempt to inflate Bristol into a plumper Avon offers nothing of advantage to the areas concerned, creating as it will a much weaker county of Somerset without bringing any real benefit to Bristol.
I hope a personal plea will not be out of place, but I deplore the enforced divorce and wrenching apart county-wise of my two See cities, Bath and Wells—a happy marriage for over 700 years. I urge the Government to conciliation. To leave, for their greater part, Somerset's traditional boundaries as they are will, we believe, be in the best interests of future local government for the area, and in accordance with the will of the vast majority of the people involved. Perhaps I may say how much I regret that I shall not be able to be at the winding up of this debate.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I rather wish that fortune had placed me two lower on the list of speakers this afternoon so that I could have been among those paying a tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Lord. Lord Watkins. I say that more particularly because I feel sure that he is going to say some things with which I shall agree.
I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Sandforth for his very lucid and 47 comprehensive appraisal of the object and scope of this Bill. It is an historic Bill, because it is the instrument for reforms of the very first importance in the evolution of our local government. I sometimes think that because local government deals essentially with practical and perhaps rather humdrum affairs there is a risk that its importance to the national welfare may be underestimated. There is also a risk, as a big part of its financial resources are provided by central taxation, that it may be regarded purely as the agency of central Government. I think that most of us who are concerned with local government will agree that the changes in our society which have occurred over the past century, and will occur in the future, make a major measure of reform very timely indeed.
The object of this Bill, as I see it, is to provide a structure under which local democracy and responsibility may have the best chance to flourish and develop a stronger sense of vitality and initiative. In passing, it seems a pity this Bill has come so late in the Session. It is difficult to feel sure that in the time at our disposal, with the best will in the world, we shall be able to do justice in Committee to the detailed provisions of such a long and comprehensive Bill.
My aim in my speech this afternoon is to deal with 20 clauses a minute. I feel that it is right on this occasion, as in the debate on the White Paper, to put on record our appreciation of the work of the Royal Commission, which, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, presented, after deep study, such a valuable and cogently argued Report. Although the Bill departs from the unitary authorities recommended by the Royal Commission in favour of a two-tier system, or a three-tier system, many of the concepts that have influenced the present Bill could hardly have been formulated without the benefit of that deep and comprehensive study. The main problem, it seems, is how to reconcile the preservation, indeed the strengthening, of local democracy with the technical and social requirements of modern society and, in particular, those new problems that are postulated by greater mobility, increasing population and modern techniques of organisation and operation. In my own humble opinion, the two-tier 48 system or three-tier system is the most appropriate and the most likely to work, and the general balance in the Bill over areas and functions is probably as good a compromise as could be asked for—indeed, perhaps better than we might have hoped. I do not personally favour the general purpose provincial councils advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I agree that there are certain matters which should be dealt with, as it were,ad hoc on a provincial basis, but to introduce another series of councils in this already complicated system would be counter-productive.
My Lords, before expressing any other opinion or voicing any criticism, I think I ought to declare my interest. Like the noble Lord, Lord Champion, I have entered the presidential era, an era in which one is not trusted with any executive responsibility but is still allowed certain very agreeable ones. I have the honour to be the President of the County Councils Association which represents the views of 58 counties in England and Wales and, I think, something like two-thirds of the population of the country outside the Greater London area. I was a member of a local authority for a number of years in my prime; but for some reason that I cannot explain my prime lasted a very short time. The noble Lord, Lord Platt, is not here, but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, will explain to me why that should regrettably have been so. So, in the very few remarks that I propose to make I shall try to model myself on the Irish judge who steered a careful course between partiality, on the one hand, and impartiality, on the other.
First a word about areas. It would have been a superhuman task to satisfy all local opinions and loyalties. Great efforts have been made to work out a pattern of areas which on the average seem about right in size and population—and here again I think that the evidence presented by the Royal Commission must have been extremely valuable to the Government in carrying out this task. Some county boroughs and cities one can understand are feeling rather sad, at any rate at first sight; and one new county, South Glamorgan, with only two districts, one of which contains about 80 per cent of the population, looks a little ill-balanced. It is possible that we 49 may hear more about that at a later stage. On the whole, however, it seems to me that a wide measure of justice has been achieved.
Then, my Lords, a word about functions. There are three important principles here which surely must be borne in mind. First is the one that I have just mentioned: that the authorities at each level should be of the best size to discharge their responsibilities efficiently—"size" not only in geographical terms but population and other considerations. Secondly, there should be a clear definition of the functions resting on each authority, county and district, so that there is likely to be a minimum of friction.
Thirdly, the maximum responsibilities possible should be laid on the new local government authorities—more responsibilities than under the present system. On the whole, the allocation of the functions outlined in the White Paper seems rather clearer than that outlined in the Bill. During the passage of the Bill through another place, the county functions were somewhat whittled away in favour of the districts. I can understand the dilemma of the Secretary of State. On the one hand, he wanted to give the districts worthwhile responsibilities in their own right (and I think that that was correct), and on the other hand he was bound to recognise that a certain size is today a prerequisite for the efficient exercise of many responsibilities. The result is that the present balance in the Bill is a delicate and precarious one. Any further withdrawal of responsibilities from counties would, I think, be a serious mistake, and I hope that my noble friend, when winding up, will be able to assure us that the Government would regard with deep concern any substantial alteration in the balance of the Bill as regards functions.
I turn now to one or two particular criticisms; and I shall be very brief. The first concerns planning. Here the definition of responsibilities seems clearer in the White Paper, under which the counties would have been the plan-making authorities and the districts would have been the development control authorities. During the Bill's passage through another place, I think as the result of Government Amendments, its provisions were improved; but there still seems to be some risk of confusion, particularly in 50 the making of local plans. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some assurance on this aspect when we come to the committee stage. Next, a word about the metropolitan areas. Would it not have been better to place education with the higher tier? Furthermore, there seems a serious risk that these important new metropolitan authorities may be left with rather too few worthwhile responsibilities.
My Lords, I turn from education to refuse collection and disposal—rather suddenly; I feel that I ought to give a pause of 30 seconds here. It was a pity that as a result of an Amendment—carried against the Government's wishes in another place, as I think my noble friend has said—disposal is to go to the districts, whereas all the technical advice is that disposal, as against collection, requires wider areas. But perhaps that matter may be corrected later. Then there are the agency agreements. I am rather sorry that the Secretary of State said he would introduce an Amendment in this House to provide that where two authorities fail to agree about an agency agreement one may, prior to April, 1974, appeal to the Secretary of State. At first sight this looks reasonable and unobjectionable, but I believe that in practice it may aggravate friction and run counter to the production of satisfactory agency agreements. This kind of thing depends essentially on spontaneous co-operation. If a party which cannot get its way has the right to appeal to the Secretary of State, matters may not work out right. I have heard of one case where the Secretary of State's declaration, so I understand, caused negotiations which seemed on the brink of agreement to be brought to an abrupt halt.
The last point I want to mention concerns historic buildings and conservation areas. Under the Bill all these provisions, I understand, go to districts. I wonder whether that is not a mistake. Historic buildings and conservation areas are often of much wider concern and interest than to a particular district; in fact, they may be more valuable, and valued, outside a district than inside. Often they are at least of county concern, and not infrequently wider than that. Where financial grants are needed the country can most usefully contribute and may often be willing to do so. Also the 51 county is the only authority that will be able to employ the specialist staff required for really qualified advice on some of these questions. This sort of control, if it is to be done at all, must be done really well, or it can produce rather ludicrous results. It seems to me that here the best answer may well be some kind of concurrent powers. One does not like concurrent powers very much, but I believe that in this case they would work, and I hope that the Government may be ready to give sympathetic consideration to an Amendment with that object.
Finally, my Lords, I was delighted with what my noble friend had to say about the preservation of the title of "Mayor" in respect of ancient boroughs which in future will become parishes. I think that that will give enormous satisfaction locally, if it can be arranged.
The real test of success with these reforms is whether they will in practice call forth a more vigorous interest in local government. If this is to happen, responsibilities must be real and worth while enough to justify men and women of ability giving up their time and energies to this work. And without any question it is going to mean more and heavier work loads. I think it essential that some functions at present carried out by central Government should be transferred to the new authorities, and I hope that the Minister will underline that point again when he winds un the debate.
If responsibilities are transferred to the new authorities we must not expect to find absolute uniformity throughout the country. The two things conflict. In my opinion, it is far more important that there should be real local responsibility than that there should be absolute uniformity. But we must get into the habit of not complaining if one part of the country seems to be doing something different from, and perhaps in our opinion not so well as, another part of the country; that is the price one has to pay. A vast amount of thought and discussion with the bodies concerned has taken place, and I should like to pay tribute to the Government for the trouble they have taken in this matter. None of us in a matter like this can expect to find everything we should like. This Bill represents a substantial measure of agreement—perhaps more than we were 52 entitled to hope for. I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that it will set the pattern for local government for the next half century, and if it is successful I would hope for longer. No doubt amendments will be required as the population grows. I hope that the House will give the Bill a warm welcome.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ LORD WATKINS
My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House for participating in this debate, but it affords me great pleasure to address you for the first time. May I thank my noble friend Lord Champion for his references to me in connection with local government? I have to declare an interest as one of the vice-presidents of the County Councils Association and as chairman of the Welsh Committee of County Councils. For 32 years I have served as an alderman on the Breconshire County Council and I was chairman three years ago. It appears that I shall be helping to legislate myself out of the service. Furthermore, my Lords, I had the honour of representing the two county councils of Brecon and Radnor in another place for 25 years. In those county councils there are 19 local authorities, and thus one gained experience of urban and rural areas. With this experience, I have no hesitation in coming down in favour of an urgent reform of local government everywhere, provided that it is for the betterment of services to the people and not with the ultimate idea of furthering political interests.
No one can justify having a council where the product of a 1p rate is only £119, which means that a ½p rate is spent on buying a new typewriter. Little wonder why part-time officers are employed by the Llanwrtyd Wells Urban District Council: The parish of LlanddewiAbergwesyn in Breconshire, with an area of 10,537 acres, has a rural district councillor but only six electors. The Bill would change all this. As a Welshman, I say it is a pity that this comprehensive Bill combines England and Wales. I take it that it is now too late to ask for a separate Bill for the Principality.
My Lords, it came as a surprise to me, when reading the Bill, to see how the Government intend to implement the differences between the two countries. In 53 England, libraries, weights and measures and food and drugs come under the counties, whereas in Wales the counties lose these. I note that the Minister can specify, if desired, that a district council can exercise these functions. I have not found any reason for this, but I hope that the Minister concerned will be flexible. I hope that your Lordships will not agree with the change suggested regarding Sunday opening polls in Wales. The Government have tried to improve the original idea about planning functions. May I say how much I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, about planning? Like the noble Viscount, I am not satisfied with what is before us as the confusion with regard to the making of local plans is not resolved. Plan-making cannot, in practice, be divided into two parts; it is a single continuous process. I look forward to hearing what is said about the administration of National Parks, especially after having been in the company of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on his journeys through the country.
With 82 parishes in Breconshire, one is bound to live with their administration. I can see that, with the enlargement of the district authorities, the provision of the legal powers and rights in the planning field will be a challenge to the new parishes and community councils. I ask your Lordships to support my plea that some effort be made to allay the uncertainty that has arisen among local government staff about their future. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to this point and I was glad to hear what he had to say. Young married couples with children are concerned about the future. As is likely to happen in Brecon-shire, local authority staff may have to travel 50 miles to a new centre.
In areas where there is to be an amalgamation, apprehension exists because the centres for the new administrations have not been decided. One wonders whether the joint committees could proceed with this matter, although authority lies with the shadow councils to make recommendations to the new councils. I say this because of the question of housing which has recently cropped up all over the country. I look forward to a new era of local government, but there is a danger of bureaucracy on the horizon. I want a contented staff with visions of worthwhile service as a career, and inspira- 54 tion to young people to carry on with the fine tradition of service is essential. We are an example to the whole world in this respect.
While discussing this Bill, may your Lordships see to it that the provisions are simple to understand so that there will be no need for voluminous Ministry circulars and sheets of advice notes from officers. Perhaps some of us may re-read the county mottoes dealing with service to mankind. I commend the one of my own county—"Undeb, Hedd, Llwyddiant", which means "Unity, peace, success"—as one of inspiration. For my part, I shall strive to see that our new counties in Wales will not be treated as second-class county councils. They should have as many functions and responsibilities as their sister counties in England. I hope that I have not been controversial. But do not be frightened my Lords; I will be, if needs be, when we come to the Committee stage and look at the boundaries. I hope that I shall then have the same support in the hearing as I have had to-day.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ LORD REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, I am very lucky to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, on his maiden speech. I know that we should all like to do that, and it is with particular pleasure that I salute an eventually outgoing alderman of so many years' standing from Breconshire. I know he will forgive me if I do not risk following him into the great Principality but confine myself to that part of the Bill which deals with England. Here I should like to join with others in congratulating the Minister on the brief and masterly way in which he introduced the Second Reading of this Bill. I should also like to say how much I, from the Cross Benches, admired the way in which the Opposition today, as on previous occasions when we have been debating local government, have brought a reasonable, though critical, attitude to bear on this highly controversial subject. For my part, it seems a great achievement that there should be before us, although perhaps a little late in the season, this great Bill which has come from another place after hours of highly reasonable discussion, not without controversy, in Committee as well as on the Floor of the House. We have been given a splendid lead in the way in 55 which this debate was opened from both sides.
I shall be as brief as possible because of the large number of honourable and right honourable gentlemen who wish to speak. In receiving this re-printed Bill I share—perhaps we all do—a sigh of relief with all the local government officers and in particular the representatives and officers of the associations of local authorities who really have been through a terrible time over at least the past five years. I like to think also of those who have been particularly associated with the reform of local government. My mind goes back to Lord Silsoe, who I am afraid is not here to hear me say this because the Trustram Eve Report, although it was quickly pigeonholed, did blaze a trial.
How splendid it would have been if, in those early days after the war, we could have had a better structure and pattern, both of boundaries and of functions, in our local government system. But I think of Lord Tangley and his colleagues as those who have chiefly blazed the trail for this Bill. There is no doubt that the work done in the Royal Commission on London Government is what the Government have been following, for at any rate six parts of England, in what they have put before us for the metropolitan counties. To-day we should remember them and their colleagues with gratitude in all the work which has been put in in committees and commissions ever since the end of the war.
There is no doubt that in this Second Reading debate we are engaged in assisting at a holocaust of local authorities.The Times, which at any rate in its leading articles though not in its special local government reports, has not been as helpful over local government reform lately as it might have been, in the headline of one of its recent articles referred to this as the "Local Government Boundaries Bill". What could be more misleading? Indeed, the boundaries are what are least changed by the Bill. What are changed are the authorities. All the county councils, all the county borough councils, all the rural district councils and all the urban district councils are, as the porter in Macbeth might say, "Going the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire." All of us would greatly regret 56 it if the men and women who constitute those authorities were following them to the bonfire, but fortunately that is not the case. We all look forward greatly to the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, and other present aldermen and councillors, taking their places in the new authorities when they are elected in 1973.
The present authorities all go, with the sole and glorious exception of the parish councils. I was particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, picked out the parish councils in what he said and that the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, referred to this great new scheme as a three-tier scheme. Frankly, as I look at the new pattern which is emerging, I see it as a three-tier scheme. We in the Royal Commission thought, and I still think, that the parish provides some of the best examples of genuine British local self-government that one could find anywhere in this country, and as fine an example of local self-government as one would find anywhere in the world. In the parish community there are people who at least know each other by sight. It is that real grass-roots community which I think should continue to be the basis of the whole structure of local self-government.
This seems particularly important when we remember that we shall shortly be going into Europe. We are becoming part of a great new European Community which is not as democratic in our British way as some of us would like but which we hope we shall help to make increasingly democratic. We shall not succeed unless we look to our own business and see that we continue, and improve on, our traditional ways. The parish remains and is strengthened. This ludicrous one-fifth of an old penny is swept away, as I am glad to say the Royal Commission recommended. The one-fifth old penny rate is to go and, thank God, the Secretary of State, through the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has committed himself to as substantial increase (I am not putting these words into his mouth; he did not use them) as he can wring out of the Treasury, the Secretary of State for Education and Science and his other colleagues when, if the Bill is passed, it comes to increasing the half new penny rate by Order in Council.
57 Apart from the parish, we have two main tiers of executive local government. However little I repent about the recommendations of the Royal Commission—and I am totally unrepentant—we are now launching this second tier of districts into life, and no one wishes them better than I do. It is a case where the rural districts have fought a tremendous battle. "Themselves they cannot save"—but they have saved, at any rate, the concept of the second-tier district. All the present rural districts go, but the second-tier district in its new form—a combination now of town and country, of pretty good size; so that there will be only some 278 of them in England—will have a crucial job to perform. Not only will they be the main housing authority, they will also be a highly important planning authority: the district planning authority within the structure plans made by the county and, in general, the district environmental authority, with very wide powers and opportunity for doing things—which I hope the parishes tell them they want done—in collaboration with the parish councils within the districts. Of course you can laugh at the districts as being neither big enough for the major executive jobs nor small enough to have a sense of community in the sense that the parish has, nor having very much historical background, or indeed much common social or economic life. You can make all these criticisms of the district, and in my time I have made them. But this is not the time to do more than wish those new districts well. I believe that they have a job to do, provided always that they collaborate and regard themselves as good neighbours to the new county and the old parish.
The new county rises phoenix-like from the ashes of the old county and county borough. It is, in my view, to the county that we must look, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said, for those services which must have a pretty wide area of jurisdiction, as in the transportation field—planning and building highways, maintenance, traffic control, parking places, the lot. With the increasing number of vehicles coming on the roads, and the increasing population, the county must have undivided responsibility for transportation. I feel this most strongly. I am hopeful, from what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said, that he will not 58 allow the new county power to be whittled away by any plea that the new districts ought to have as of right new powers given to them. Let there by all means be maximum co-operation, but let it be clear to all of us where responsibility lies for transportation, for structure planning, for education in its entirety and for the personal social services which Parliament has recently unified under the scheme advocated by the Seebohm Committee. These things must not be further fragmented in the course of our discussions in Committee. That is my sincere hope. If this does go through, and the county and the district have their respective spheres of responsibility clarified rather than blurred, we may have what I like to think of as a three-tier system and something really worth while.
I still cannot understand why the metropolitan counties are defined geographically in the way that they are, but I think it is too late to go into that now, and certainly I do not propose to do so this afternoon. But why was Warrington left out of Greater Manchester? Why was Ellesmere Port left out of Merseyside? Why is Harrogate now left out of West Yorkshire? Why, for heaven's sake is Coventry included in the West Midlands and not in Warwickshire? These are questions which I cannot forbear to put, but I do not suggest that we can usefully debate them on Second Reading or indeed in the Committee stage. But what is perhaps still more grave, and which was touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, is that the metropolitan county is in danger of being starved not only of area but of power. We ought to insist at least on the reserve housing power which should reside in the metropolitan county counties. They will not have the momentum of the housing department of the London County Council to get them going, as happened in Greater London, and it will be much more difficult for them; but through their financial powers, and through other powers that I see in the Bill, they can, I believe, over the next ten years prove that there is a real partnership in housing and development that can be forged between the metropolitan districts and the metropolitan counties.
Now I should like to look for a moment at the areas. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells 59 touched me at a particularly sensitive point, because he pleaded, in I thought a rather unepiscopal spirit, for one new place on the new map, the new Somerset; and he did not seem to me to be in a particularly neighbourly or Christian frame of mind towards my birthplace in the new county of Avon. He rather argued, it seemed to me, as if the only criterion that the Government or this House should have was whether the people in Somerset at the moment voted this way or that in a referendum. Do they want change? Save Somerset—or do not save Somerset. If there were a wider consideration, and if you did save Somerset, what were you to do about the surrounding country and townside on the Severn? I will not go into detail, but I think this is a case where the Government have been absolutely right—I will not say again in following the advice of the Royal Commission, but that is in fact what they have done. They have created a brand new county based on what in the old days was called the city region principle, with the centre of Bristol as the centre of that: not a takeover by Bristol county borough, and least of all a takeover of Bath by Bristol, but a new concept of town and country based on the facts of life. Although Bath and Wells are immortalised together in the Bishopric, if you look at the facts of commuting and where people go and buy their double beds and so on, I think you will find there is a closer connection between Bath and Bristol than between Bath and Wells. Anyhow, we thought that a bit of Wiltshire ought to go into Avon County, and that is not being allowed. I hope very much that the Government will resist this not perhaps too Christian plea to save Somerset at the expense of her neighbours.
Then there is Humberside. Here I salute something which I think the Government have got more nearly right than the poor old Royal Commission. There was a plan for a great bridge, which was finalised just after we had taken our decisions. We were never happy about dividing North from South Humberside. The Government have incorporated the two, with a longer view of the future than we had. Good luck to them; and do not let them allow Lincolnshire or anyone else to claw bits back.
60 Then there is Cleveland. This is a good example of how difficult the two-tier system is to work, because you have only created Cleveland by dismembering the recently created county borough of Tees-side. However, the Tees-siders seem to have taken to it quite kindly; and again I say "good luck" to the new county of Cleveland. Then we come to Hereford and Worcester: in repayment for not being called "Malvern", I think they ought to accept this unhappy union because there is no doubt about it, considering what I might call the horrid facts of population, demography and economics, that Herefordshire is too small to carry the full weight of a new county. It has 140,000 population and not much possibility of growth in the population sense, though it has great prospects for the enhancement of the quality of life there, partly because of the absence of economic growth. But why not have a happy marriage, without the name of Malvern, between those two great counties?
I now come to Hampshire. There was an old rhyme which some of your Lordships may have sung:God who made thee mighty Make thee mightier yet.And when I look at the new Hampshire, and particularly at some of the knights of the shire there, I say to myselfGod who made thee Hampshire Make thee Hampshyer yetas being the motto which has been followed by the Government. There has been a great triumph for Hampshire in the map which has emerged. I do not say that it is wrong or that we got it right, but it is not altogether satisfactory. I do not think that the citizens either of Portsmouth or of Southampton can feel that it is going to be easy to create and forge that great new community of town and country between existing Hampshire and themselves. But good luck to them. I hope they will. However, I must confess that one of the things the Royal Commission recommended, with its usual consistency, that I never felt really happy about, was the inclusion of the Isle of Wight in any county or authority other than itself. I must say that I hope that perhaps with the last gasp of love's latest breath the Government may relent and find it possible to recognise the unique circumstances of the Island and allow the 61 Isle of Wight, although its population is less even than Herefordshire's—as long as they do not let this be an excuse for forcibly divorcing Hereford and Worcester—to be a county on its own. I have detained your Lordships long enough—
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord before he sits down? What view does he hold about Plymouth?
§ LORD REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, my views on Plymouth are remarkably similar to the views I have indicated about Portsmouth and Southampton. I do not think it would be right to give the Secretary of State the power of excepting Plymouth from the general drill and allowing it to become a metropolitan district in a non-metropolitan county. But I have searched my conscience to see whether I could support a plan for cutting the whole of Devonshire in two and having a South Devonshire based on Plymouth, and a North Devonshire. The present plan is really not at all satisfactory but I feel the water is over the dam, once you have decided to have two tiers you have decided in fact to accept doing something which would be most distasteful to Plymouth—particularly if you would not stand up to the Cornishmen.
Finally, I asked myself, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Amory: what is going to be the result of all this? Are we really going to have something that is worth all the turmoil?—because there is no doubt that the next five years are going to be continuing turmoil while we change horses. I believe it will be worth while, because I think there is a good chance of our children and grandchildren living to bless us for this great and drastic change in local government. I believe that the time is ripe for a renaissance of local democracy. This has not, in the first instance, anything to do directly with the Bill. It is because the people of this country in the last five years have become far more interested in things which local government can do something about, such as the quality of life and the environment, concern for the young, the elderly and the handicapped. But I also believe that this Bill makes it easier for candidates to come forward, particularly the younger people, from 62 all sections of the community. That is, of course, what we all want.
Those extra allowances, although they will be very welcome to many people, are not in themselves necessarily going to draw the people that I have in mind into local government. But the Bill gives local authorities more freedom over their internal arrangements and a great deal of work has lately been put into improving the internal organisation of local authorities and thereby saving the time of councillors so that they have a better chance of going home, after a hard day's work in the county or the town hall, feeling that they have really helped, whether with the environment or with the care of those who need it. That is something which I hope will emerge still more clearly from this excellent working group, which has been threshing out better means of organising the inside of a local authority—this working group of which we were told by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. And in the last analysis this new framework provided by the Bill is indeed going to give us a chance of greater collaboration between the different kinds of local government, and between them and the central Government. If you remember, Isaiah, I think it was, prophesied:They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.That, in all seriousness, is my prayer: that the counties and the county boroughs who go up in smoke on April 1, 1974, will indeed have forgotten their old "cold warfare" which has bedevilled local government for so long, and that the new local authorities will go to their work with a better chance of real collaboration and with a sense that what they are there for is to serve their people. I hope that Ministers in London and all Departments will do the same, and collaborate with them. Then indeed this labour we have been through will prove to have been worth while. As Saint Paul might have said to the Romans:The whole [local government] creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.Let the "now" be as short a time as possible; and let the Bill be passed with as few additional blemishes as Her Majesty's Government will allow.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, following, as I do, the noble Lord who has just sat down and, before him, the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, I am very conscious of the wealth of experience in local government affairs that is needed to contribute to this debate on the Second Reading of this Bill. I am also very conscious of the paucity of my own experience, which rests on a mere five years as a member of a county council—in fact as a member of that county council which I think the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, described as "knighted", or perhaps "benighted". However, I draw great comfort from the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and also from the reference to my grandfather, which are very much appreciated.
My Lords, those of us who have been representatives of local authorities have over the last three years been required by our electorates to interpret as best we can, and to comment upon, the successive proposals, first of the Royal Commission Report itself, and then on the two White Papers by two successive Governments, on relevant Government circulars. and finally on this Local Government Bill. The first and most fundamental question we have been asked is: how will these new proposals improve the local government service for us here? That seems, after all, a very reasonable viewpoint from which to look at this Bill as a whole.
Three main changes appear to be required, and it was explained in the Government's White Paper that it was hoped these changes would be achieved by this Bill. The first was that the boundaries of local government were to be made relevant to modern needs and local loyalties. We have already heard today of the difficulties that are caused in trying to decide just what are appropriate boundaries for local loyalties. The second great change—and perhaps I should say, in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, that it is perhaps the most important—is that the new authorities themselves are to be created and they will have to be given responsibilities which carefully balance the needs of administrative efficiency with the need to make decisions as locally as possible. But the third great change, which is as 64 fundamental as any, is that the relationship of central Government to local government will alter. We have had in the past, by almost the accident of the inadequacy of local government finance, a situation whereby the controls of central Government have insidiously encroached upon local government. The Government White Paper of February, 1971, suggests that it should be the aim of this Bill to establish a vigorous local democracy.
I should like briefly to see whether or not this Bill does what one might have hoped to establish this vigorous local democracy. There is the helpful suggestion that the new local authorities should be allowed to administer their own affairs to a greater extent than they have in the past; that there shall be freedom to establish their own committee structure, and so forth, as they would wish rather than have this imposed by the Bill. This is welcome. But thereafter possibly the Bill is disappointing The new era of local government, whereby it is to stand on its own feet as perhaps not an equal partner, but a more equal partner of central Government, does not materialise. My noble friend Lord Sandford has already quickly assured us that the rather miserable sum of a rate of a ½p in the pound to be allotted for provision of functions outside the statutory provisions is to be revised. That is a consolation. I find slightly disquieting the fact that that provision was there in the first place. A mere ½p in the pound did not seem to show very great confidence in the discretion of local government. This order is to be reviewed by the Secretary of State. The very fact that it has to be reviewed by the Secretary of State is another instance of central Government encroaching into local government affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and his colleagues on the Royal Commission, were very much more adventurous on this matter. They had a much more viable solution for their unitary authorities and for the local councils which they conceived below the main authorities. This was that once the new authorities had made the provision that they were bound to make by Statute, they should also have powers to provide those other services that were thought fit by the local authority. There should be no restriction on its cost, apart from those restrictions that the central Government 65 might have to impose on local government as a whole in the national interest. The other "extra services" which the local authorities were enjoined to provide, if they were so required, were only to be controlled as to their cost by the electorate. That surely would have been vigorous local government indeed. Sadly, this opportunity has been missed. We are grateful to hear that the ½-p in the pound is to be reviewed—and reviewed upwards, one gathers. But that is not quite so brave as the conception of the Royal Commission.
Perhaps it is unwise to expect that this Bill can by itself resolve the new relationship between central Government and local government that we are to look forward to in this new era of local government. We have heard that there is to be subsequent legislation on the finance of local government. Perhaps when that Bill comes before us it will be the fundamental key to resolving the dilemma of local government being beholden to the purse strings of the Treasury which has led to this subservient attitude by local government to national Government. There will be other legislation. We have already heard of new health authorities, new water authorities, and so forth. On each occasion the opportunity should be taken to see whether or not the Bill which will enact such legislation takes the opportunity to put into the right perspective the relationship between central Government and local government. One must accept that in the last resort the national interests must be the responsibility of central Government. On the other hand, there can no longer be any justification for local interests being supervised by anything but local government.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD FISKE
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure, speaking immediately following the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, to congratulate him on his maiden speech. I am sure that his lucidity has impressed us all. I know that I express everybody's wish when I say that I hope he will frequently be heard in this Chamber in the future. Coming to consider this massive tome that we have had to try to digest, I feel like the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who spoke earlier, because I was expecting to find on about 66 page five of the Bill, "Metropolitan districts will do the following…District councils will do the following",et cetera. There is nothing like that. You have to find your way around by reference to the Acts back to 1875. Therefore we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for the very clear exposition that he gave us in introducing the Bill.
My only reason for interfering in a debate of this sort is that I have been through the fire of this conflagration, and it may be that there are one or two small points that I can put before your Lordships which will help other authorities in the future who have to deal with the situations which we have already had to deal with in London. I was a member of the old London County Council for some 19 years and a member of the G.L.C. for three years. I was the G.L.C.'s leader for those three years until a certain electoral happening decided that I should have to stop. Therefore right from the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission in 1961, and until 1967, I was in the middle of the battle. It was a battle, and everybody who took part in it knew that it was a battle. Everybody who takes part in this Bill knows that it is a battle, because it is the way we do things in this country. We have a battle on principles which we do not want to accept; having fought the battle and lost or won it, we then all sit around cheerfully and enthusiastically to set about getting it to work in the best possible way.
I do not know whether any of your Lordships have thought of the situation that arises on the first morning after the election of councillors for your particular council under a reorganisation. You will have arranged to meet them within the course of two or three days after the election. If the election was on a Thursday, it may be that as the councillors are largely working people you will not be able to meet them until the Saturday afternoon and then they will comeen masse. In the case of London, there were representatives from two obliterated counties—London and Middlesex; from a great slab of metropolitan Essex; from large sections of Kent and Surrey and, last but by no means least, from the county boroughs of Croydon, East Ham and West Ham. This was the group of 67 people that were going to be the Greater London Council. They had met a few months before in working parties and committees of one kind and another, but they did not really know each other. They did not know how each group had governed its own area when it had its own administration. They were strangers in government.
It occurred to me very quickly on that Saturday afternoon, that the first job the leadership of the Greater London Council had to achieve was to turn this group of willing, enthusiastic, but very different people into a welded team. They were suspicious of each other—who was going to dominate? All questions of this kind become uppermost in the minds of people at a time such as this because local government consists, by and large, of powerful personalities. This is a first-class occasion for a clash unless they can he brought into a team. Many methods can be adopted and I think that on the whole we were not unsuccessful.
However, having got them there, almost before there was time to make them into a team one has to set about the even more difficult task of appointing all the chief officers of the new authority. This is very testing work because there may be five or six chief officers to choose from and one must be quite sure that, without fear or favour, one chooses the best man for the job that must be done in the future—not the job that was done in the past, or even the job being done now, but the job to be done in the future. This can lead to quite a number of headaches. But it can be done; and it must be done without fear or favour. These are jobs of personality. These are jobs for the membership of the council. They do not appear in the book, and there is little in the book that helps local authorities in this respect.
However, there are things in the book that can be made to help local authorities. I am going to refer to only one because it has been referred to elsewhere and, in my opinion, it is far and away the most significant, and that is planning. Both the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, and the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, in his maiden speech, referred to the difficulties of division in planning. There is no doubt about this. This is where the two-tier decision will be under the greatest 68 challenge. One might think it does not matter very much that big planning is done by a county while little planning is done by a district. But it does not go like that at all. May I give your Lordships just one example to show the kind of problems it can raise?
In London, the Greater London Council drew up a structure plan showing an optimum population for the area of Greater London of 7 million. The 32 London boroughs made local plans and they gave the desirable population for each of their boroughs, and when the 32 borough totals were added together the total came to 8 million. Both sets of authorities were acting fully within their rights. Which prevails? One wants to move by agreement in planning. But I am more worried about planning than anything else because there is much too much to-ing and fro-ing, and because planning is in danger of becoming a dirty word. We do not have enough decision. We have too much appeal, too much public inquiry, and not enough decision. But it cannot be said that this is anybody's fault under the existing system. It will be even more so with this division clearly laid in an Act of Parliament. It is so laid already for London. Now, presumably, it will be laid for the whole country. I would urge the Government to look carefully at the planning proposals before they are finally considered by your Lordships' House.
I say these few things only by way of illustration of the kind of problems I foresee. I have no question in my mind that this decision to put this Bill before Parliament was right. One can carry an argument so far, but this is not a subject on which total agreement would ever be reached. Therefore, the Government of the day must decide what they are going to do. I am very glad to see this Bill before us, knowing that local government is going to have a long and arduous task in which its progress will be slowed. Remember, my Lords, that the authorities coming together will be working at different paces on different subjects. One authority may have a first-class library service: another a first-class cemetery and crematorium service, or what-you-will. They are going to be put together now in one unit and all the services must be first-class. It will take time for them all to become unified and 69 all catch up to the most forward. Only when they have caught up to the most forward unit in every sphere is the new authority then free to go totally forward into new fields of exploration and experiment. This will happen but it will take sonic years. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, himself said five years. I would give it a bit longer than that. But we have recognised the time stop, and having done that and got the machinery right, if we can then get the powers right we may rest assured that we have done the best we can for local government, certainly for the next fifty years.
§ 5.47 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LINCOLN
My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on his maiden speech and hope we may hear many more speeches from him. I had intended to make a speech on the Bill and to pinpoint certain matters in it. It is quite true that I had intended also to refer to the matter of County Humberside, but since the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, has thrown down the gauntlet I intend to take up that one and nothing else. I am sure that all of us have enjoyed listening to Lord Redcliffe-Maud and of course we are all deeply indebted for the work done by him and his Commission. But this does not mean that there are not some matters on which, as I listened to him, I found myself in profound disagreement. It is perhaps—I do not know—unhappy that the two speeches from this Bench should both have been made in the defence of local people. But as a Bishop I am not altogether ashamed for standing in that connection. I do not know the particular matters to which my brother of Bath and Wells referred, but I know very well the matters relating to Lincolnshire and Humberside.
May I for a moment refer your Lordships to that county. It is the second largest county in England, but, though large, is extremely sparsely populated, except for the urban areas which are on the periphery of the county: Grimsby, Scunthorpe, a smaller centre at Lincoln, and, for the rest, market towns. But it is a great agricultural county with a great agricultural industry and quite competent to stand up and be treated on 70 a par with the other forms of industry. And here was a very happy ground for growing co-operation.
The Redcliffe-Maud Report recommended division of the county into three: the top part, the Northern part, to go into a Humberside; the Southern part to join into a Peterborough complex; leaving a purely agricultural area in the centre—quite indefensible. The immediate effect of the publication of the Maud Report was a unanimous opinion, which appeared almost overnight, on the part of all three county councils and many of the boroughs—a single Lincolnshire! In so far as when I first went to Lincolnshire some question had been mooted that Kesteven and Holland should be joined together, and there had been a vigorous campaign supported by such slogans as, "Keep Kesteven clean", your Lordships will realise that this was a pretty remarkable reaction.
The result was that very quickly there was close association between the local authorities, and when the White Paper was produced to our immense delight it had been recognised that a single Lincolnshire was a reasonable unit. On that basis further negotiations went ahead. Your Lordships can imagine our dismay in Lincolnshire when the Bill was published and we found that in fact the Northern fringe—I cannot call it more than that; the industrial fringe—along with certain rural areas had been taken off and created into this new county of Humberside. No consultation took place and the first of the only reasons which have been given is that we were to have a Humber Bridge. That had already been agreed before the White Paper was produced; it was not at all a new factor in the situation. The second reason was the development of the Humberside, which of course was a very important matter.
The talk of a Europort on the Humberside is not unrealistic, and certainly the development of the Humberside industries is important; but I think your Lordships should remember the character of those industries. They include chemical industries and an oil refinery, but none of them employs large numbers of people. They can all quite easily he provided for—and will be so provided for—by people living either in Grimsby or in the hinterland of North Lincolnshire.
71 I do not think any account has really been taken of what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, described as a "geographical fact". I do not know how many of your Lordships have ever seen the Humber. The Humber is not a little river; it is a great seaway coming right up into the country. It is true that there is a ferry which crosses from New Holland to Kingston. But the Humber is a curious river; I believe it has to be charted every month because the course of the river is constantly changing and it is not at all an uncommon thing for the ferry to be stranded for several hours on a sandbank. So that access has not been easy in the past. The first bridge across the river is beyond Scunthorpe, some 14 miles away from Grimsby, and to get to Hull you go another 20 miles to Goole and another 30 miles back. We are told that we are going to have a bridge. This is going to be the longest bridge in Europe. Of course it will be an expensive bridge to cross—not the best way to get the close association of which the White Paper speaks. Moreover, on days of high wind it will be closed.
The reason why I feel so strongly about this matter is because it seems to me that there is a confusion here about what we intend local government to do. I fully recognise that, for example, the port authorities of the Humber should be a single, unified body—as they are. I recognise that the economic development of the Humberside is a matter for regional planning. But is the matter of port facilities or economic planning of prime concern to local government? I am not convinced that it is. I believe that local government is concerned with something of immense importance—the provision of all the services, such as housing, social welfare, education, roads and the police—all of which make for the wellbeing of a community, and that that community will embrace and support the local industries and economic concerns.
As I read the Redcliffe-Maud Report and thought about some of the changes it seemed to me that there had never been a sufficient appreciation of what we mean by "county association". The word "county" may be a little loaded; your Lordships may not like it, but I will use it. Of course county councils are modern creations, but the Acts of 1888 and 1894 72 were concerned with ancient areas of community and association. Naturally it would be foolish to say that these should be unchanged. Of course they will change. I think they mean very little in the great conurbation areas, but I can assure your Lordships that they mean a great deal in large areas in many parts of England, and that in many ways they represent religious, cultural, political, social and sporting associations which we destroy at our peril. These are the places where people find that they belong.
It is imperative that we should pass this Bill as soon as possible because I know the agony of many local government officers; but the effect of creating this new Humberside County will of course have certain administrative difficulties. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, raised the matter of the police force. Can your Lordships imagine anything more foolish than to have a police force straddling the Humber, with a quite arbitrary line just inland where we change over to another police authority? If you know anything about the pursuit of crime you will know that it is not really likely to go across the Humber, because there is no way of getting across; but it is likely to come inland, and a single police authority would be the obvious answer. It would be disastrous, when we have just established this new Lincolnshire constabulary, to split it up by forming a new county. I hope that this new proposal will not affect the newly established force.
This question arises in regard to other things, including the voluntary associations. In Lincolnshire we have a great record of close association between the statutory and the voluntary associations, and on both sides we know perfectly well that we could not do our job unless we supported each other. But the voluntary associations are not suddenly going to change so that you have, say, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service making a new association across the Humber. There are no natural affinities; there are no easy ways of getting together. Of course they will remain based on Lincolnshire and we shall have the unedifying concept of the administrative unit being separate from the county associations. I think that is a sad thing. I believe Lindsey to be one of the best local authorities. I have admired its 73 administration, its pioneering in the social services and in the realm of education. It has a fine administrative team. Presumably the Bill will mean that half that administration will be split and will have to find some new and separate thing for which to work. We shall be destroying a living organism and I cannot see what great value we shall get.
It will be found that in fact what the Report set out to do, namely, to bring the urban and the rural situations together, will be defeated. Grimsby and Scunthorpe will be separated and the country behind them will be taken off. The Government have given way on this by accepting the Motion of the honourable Member for Gainsborough and they have pushed this line further up to the Humber, which makes it even more ridiculous. We shall simply have people living in one county and working in another. I believe that the original White Paper proposal—the single Lincolnshire—had in it all the constituents of which the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, spoke so eloquently, for the making of a modem administrative unit. I believe that the present proposals, at most and best, will result in a kind of county which is more like a Siamese twin—two separate entities held together by this very tenuous and, as yet, unbuilt Humber Bridge.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
I wish at the outset to apologise most sincerely to the opening speakers for missing their contributions. I can only plead in my defence that the rearrangement of Government business is more efficiently done in terms of local government business, and local government affairs kept me in the North of England this morning. I hope that noble Lords will accept my apology, and I assure your Lordships that I will read the OFFICIAL REPORT of what was said. I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friend the Earl of Selborne. Anyone bearing that illustrious name is bound to make a considerable impact on your Lordships' House and I am sure that everyone will agree that he is a very fine recruit to our number. My congratulations to him would have been even warmer had he not said a great deal of what T had intended to say.
This Bill promises something of great importance, namely, a quick end to the 74 uncertainty under which local government has lived for so long. I hope that the House will give it a quick passage and see it on the Statute Book in the shortest possible time. I do not intend to speak about the boundaries to which reference has been made in the debate or to those mentioned in the Bill, partly because in my part of the world the boundaries have been drawn with every possible good sense and compromise—they are generally and widely accepted—and partly because I think that that is a function which is more appropriate to another place than to your Lordships' House.
I am anxious early on in my remarks to speak briefly on the subject of aldermen. Being one myself and in the past having declared my interest in this subject, I hope that your Lordships realise the great number of aldermen who have given vital service to this country for many years. They have served in some instances for a great many years and some of them are now over 80. They have given much of their lives to this service. They have clone a great deal for local government. A very high percentage of them will not be coming forward for election next year, which means that we shall be losing a lot of valuable support. I am anxious that aldermen should be mentioned in this House because I feel that they might receive a more sympathetic hearing here than in another place, their function not being dissimilar from that of your Lordships. At any rate, I trust that the Government will thank them for the service they have given.
I had intended to talk about the general subject of the attitude of Governments throughout the years this matter has been under debate. I do not think we have ever got down to discussing the whole question of the true independence of local government. Indeed, even the present enlightened Ministers of the Crown do not realise the irritation that is caused by the many petty restrictions on the day-to-day work of local government. I do not believe that Clause 134 goes nearly far enough. There is a danger that if we are not careful we shall make local government only a mirror image of the politics of the Party that happens to be in power at the time, with local government elections being little more than a poll.
75 The main difference between our local government system and that of many other countries is that in this country we may do only what Parliament expressly says we may do. In many other countries local government is allowed to do virtually anything except what Parliament says it may not do; for example, it may not run its own air force or something of that description. There is, therefore, a very real and important difference of which we should not lose sight. We are left, I am afraid—and I fear that the situation is getting worse—with an atmosphere in which the Civil Service mistrusts local government. The Government govern in large part by irritating circulars, and I fear that the Civil Service is fighting to reimpose controls and is back-pedalling on the Secretary of State's fine promises to remove them.
Not sufficient thought has been given to what other functions might usefully have been devolved to local government from central Government. There are many responsibilities which locally elected democratic councils could assume from central Government, and I would like to have seen even Lord Redcliffe-Maud in his excellent Royal Commission Report being allowed to discuss these matters. There is no time to-day to go into these issues and I will only mention such factors as defence and agriculture. All that we have had is the removal from local government control, in so far as it was within the control of local government, of the remaining part of the National Health Service and water supply. These matters are not in the Bill, so it is not my purpose to discuss them this evening. I should just like the House to realise how the removal of these matters from their association with local government is extremely annoying to all concerned.
The result of all this is that with the passage of time fewer and fewer people of merit will be prepared to come forward and spend their time serving on local councils. Second-rate people will ultimately take over and make mistakes and the Government will trust them less and less. If we are not careful we shall have a body of dedicated unpaid people who will really wish to become nothing but experts in sewage disposal or whatever is left. This is a very great danger be- 76 cause they will not have enough to do and certainly not enough important things to do. I wish that I could see more in this Bill that might help us to overcome this problem.
I wish to comment briefly on the functions as they are to be divided under the Bill between the two types of council. I believe that it is one of the primary objectives of this reform to lay down which tier of local government does what. This must be done in an absolutely definite way and I hope it will be done in that manner because when the Bill becomes an Act and has left Parliament the various functions will be distributed in one way or the other for good or evil among the different types of council. All the advantages of reform could be dissipated if this is not done properly, and I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe-Maud, say this himself in such eloquent terms. It is vital that we do everything we possibly can to obviate friction between the two types of council. I assure your Lordships, from personal experience, that this is really vital. It is equally important, if not more important, that we should make it quite clear in the minds of the public which council does what. At present the public tend to refer to "the council" only in a broad sense.
Can one imagine the difficulty that would arise if one council were responsible for, say, libraries to within a certain point and then, just over the hill, it became the responsibility of the county council? Such a situation would be intolerable and would not be in line with what this reform is all about. I hope that before we are finished with this matter this state of affairs will be made much wiser and less of a nonsense. It is a great pity that the Government departed, I appreciate under considerable pressure, from the White Paper of 1971. I hope that the Government will get back to those principles and that an Amendment will in due course be moved which will help us to do that. There are great evils in dual responsibility and passing the baby from one hand to the other.
Reference has been made to-day to agency agreements and I will not delay your Lordships by discussing this subject in depth. Like others, I feel grave disquiet at the proposed Government 77 Amendment which will allow the Secretary of State to arbitrate between two councils. What I have said shows that this would go against the whole principle of reform, and the whole of reorganisation could be in jeopardy. We must get on arranging the future structure, staffs, offices, management, joint committee structures and so on. This must be done as a matter of urgency. The theory that the Minister can intervene and make important decisions right up to D Day, in April 1974, will make the whole of this necessary planning procedure absolutely impossible. I hope, therefore, that this Amendment will be defeated when it reaches your Lordships' House or, if it must be accepted, that the Government will consider a compromise by which a much more limited period of time can be given, say to August 1, 1973, for new councils to make appeals. If this is not done we will be in great danger of making an awful mess of the whole structure.
I must comment on the question of planning, and I do so in much the same vein as I have already spoken. Paragraph 21 of the White Paper, which I would have quoted in full if fewer of your Lordships had intended to speak in the debate, says clearly that the planning function of local government is to be divided between district and county councils in a certain way under a unified structure. This is admirable, acceptable and in every way right, but I am afraid that the Government have departed basically from this principle. I appreciate the pressure that came in another place, but I hope your Lordships will do everything possible to restore this clear-cut distinction between the two types of function, otherwise the public will regard local government as a mess. Imagine the confusion in the mind of a prospective developer when being shuffled from one district to another, or county to another, in an effort to get a planning decision. There are problems in the field of planning staff and it would be wrong not to touch upon these very briefly. If we are to have an enormous number of new planning authorities—that is to say, districts which will become planning authorities as well as counties—there will be a grave shortage of planners, as the Government have already admitted in their own published statements. There is talk of crash courses for planners and 78 doubling the output of the universities and the planning schools. That is all very well, but it will not work. We must realise that, unless we have a unified planning structure, as the White Paper says, planning will suffer.
Finally, I want to say a very brief word about highways. Again, a serious situation could arise where there is divided responsibility. Obviously, there is some sense in the larger districts, or even all districts for that matter, being able to maintain certain minor roads and footpaths. One sees the logic of this. But if I read the Bill rightly—and I have not had time to read it very deeply as it arrived only this morning—it seems to me that the district councils can repair these footpaths and bridleways and send the bill to the county council. If I tried to think of a recipe for more wasteful use of public money than that, I should have to think longer than the time I have had available this afternoon. But I hope that, apart from the few rough passages which I should like to see it get, this Bill will have a very fair wind and become the law of this land as soon as possible.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the two maiden speakers, my noble friend Lord Watkins and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who have both acquitted themselves so well. It is not, of course, the first time that I have listened to my noble friend Lord Watkins, because he and I sat together in another place for 25 years. During the course of my speech, I shall quote some figures of populations and rateable values. I hope that they will be correct, but if they are slightly incorrect that will not be my fault but will be because we received this Bill some days after it had left another place. Some Amendments were made right up to the Report stage in another place, and it has been very difficult indeed to see the effects of those on individual authorities.
We all knew that, whichever Government introduced local government reform, there would be a certain amount of dissatisfaction and some objections in some areas, because local patriotism is very strong. The term "parish pump" is sometimes used in a derogatory sense, but 79 I think that interest in parish pump affairs ought to be applauded. Today, the "in" word is "participation", but the only level at which most people can participate is within their own immediate neighbourhood and this should be encouraged. I am not quite sure how the parishes will work under this Bill because, so far as I understand it, some urbandistricts—boroughs—will be parishes with no powers but with a mayor. I hope that we shall hear a little more about that aspect during the Committee stage, because I am not quite sure how that will work.
As has already been said during this debate this Bill will last for a long time, so it is important that it should be right. During the Second Reading in another place, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Peter Walker, said that he had endeavoured, to the maximum degree possible, commensurate with bringing about a reasonable measure of reform in local government, to pay respect to the natural loyalty of people towards their counties. That might be true of some of the non-metropolitan counties, but it is certainly not true of the metropolitan counties of Northern England. In the metropolitan counties in the North of England there is to be an upheaval that is not suffered by the rest of the country. Yorkshire and Lancashire become almost unrecognisable. The noble Lord, Lord Redeliffe-Maud, said today that all the present local authorities would go into a great bonfire and disappear. For some local authorities the bonfire will be very much greater than for others. Everybody here can speak from his own knowledge and experience of his own area and I make no apology today for speaking about my own county of Yorkshire. It is a big county, an important county, and by this Bill it has been completely mutilated. I could almost weep for what is happening there. Some villages even become part of Lancashire. Some even become part of Greater Manchester. And I do not know which is worse for Yorkshire men and women—to wake up one day and find that they are members of Lancashire or of Greater Manchester.
But, seriously, my Lords, for education purposes—about which I will say more later—what was the West Riding Education Authority is to be split among 14 80 different local authority areas. Sentiment apart, the only possible reason for this upheaval would be greater efficiency. But will the situation under this Bill be more efficient? I doubt it. I believe that in the metropolitan counties the Government have got it all wrong. The districts are too big for real local participation and interest, and some of them—not all of them—are too small to perform the functions to be administered by them, unlike the non-metropolitan counties. I live in a minor urban district council and under the Bill our district—not the county—will be one county borough, three non-county boroughs, seven urban district councils, one rural district council and parts of two other rural district councils. I do not know how there will be any local interest within what had been these individual local authorities. In the non-metropolitan counties, the districts are much smaller and people will feel that they belong to a particular district, much more so than they will in these bigger districts of the metropolitan counties.
But I want to speak principally about one of the most important functions of local government, and that is education. In the non-metropolitan counties of southern England, I have very little criticism of what this Bill does. Education is the responsibility of viable counties, Leicester and Leicestershire are joined. I know that this might not please Leicester or Leicestershire in some ways, but the children of that county will have a viable and good education authority. The same could be true of the amalgamation of Luton and Bedford, and of Northamptonshire and Northampton. But in the metropolitan counties of the industrial North, education will be the responsibility not of the counties but of the districts.
I can illustrate that point better if I look at the West Riding County Council area. I must admit that I have an interest here, in that I went to school in the West Riding, I taught in the West Riding, my father was a West Riding county councillor and I saw the West Riding Education Authority as a Minister. The West Riding Education Authority has been well known over the years, no matter which Party has been in power, to be a progressive education authority. I think everybody would agree with that. As I 81 said, that is to be split among 14 different authorities. Parts of what is now the West Riding Education Authority will be contained in the five districts of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County, some in the four districts of the South Yorkshire Metropolitan County, some in Humberside some in the new county of North Yorkshire, some to Lancashire, some to Greater Manchester and some to Cumbria. What a fate for this great education authority! Some of the districts, such as those centred on Leeds and on Sheffield, are of reasonable size. They have the population; they have the expertise and the resources to be viable local education authorities. But others are small areas. Not only are they small; they are poor—the poorer areas have all been put together—and with low rateable values.
The Department of Education and Science gave evidence to the Maud Commission that a viable local education authority should have a population of at least 500,000 but that in an exceptional case of a sparsely populated area the figure could be 300,000. The County Councils Association also gave it—as their opinion—and they recently reiterated this in a circular—that a viable education authority should have a population of at least 500,000. And the Association of Education Committees also gave evidence that in their opinion the minimum should be 400,000. The Redcliffc-Maud Report did not heed this, but the Labour Government in their White Paper gave the responsibility for education to the metropolitan counties.
During the period of the Labour Government I was dealing, as a Minister, with this matter, and the expert advice I received from senior officials at the Department of Education and Science was that it was imperative, if we were to have this two-tier system, that education should be administered by the higher authority, by metropolitan counties and not by the districts. I do not think that those experts and senior officials have changed their minds, and it would be interesting to know what advice Mrs. Thatcher, as Secretary of State for Education, has received on this matter, whether she has put this to the Government, and why they have not acceded to this. But the position is now that five of the Yorkshire districts will be among 82 the smallest in England; five will be below 300,000, three below 250,000 and one below 200,000. And many of these are poor areas, areas of low rateable value, areas of deprivation. We have Barnsley, which is an area of low rateable value, and added to Barnsley is the surrounding poor area, also with low rateable value; and they are to be the education authority for that district.
Some noble Lords will probably have seen the excellent booklet written by Mr. George Taylor, who was a former Director of Education in the City of Leeds. His book is entitled,The Threat to Northern Education, and shows how the division for educational purposes between children in the North and children in the South will be made greater by this Bill. The average rateable value per head for all authorities is £43.1. The three poorest are districts in Yorkshire: in one the average is £30.2; in another £29.1, and in the other £28.8. So within the metropolitan countries we have these poor districts which are to be the education authority.
Extra financial help will be needed—and I hope that we shall hear from the Government what that help will be—in order to ensure that the children of these areas do not suffer because of the way in which the county has been divided. But even with more money it might be uneconomic to spend it on some of the services which are better provided over a wider area. For instance, planning and architects' branches of the bigger education authorities are being completely split. There are the colleges of education, which are better planned by the bigger authorities; further education; schools for the deaf and blind. A small district will find it very difficult to have schools of this kind just for their own particular area.
Moreover, the marginal supporting services in a larger authority are far greater than would be possible in a small authority, and, indeed, if provided in a small authority would be wasteful. For example, the West Riding has two residential in-service training centres. I doubt whether some of the smaller districts would be able to have one. It has an advisory staff which can cover most of the subjects of the curriculum. Again, this will go. It would be grossly extravagant for district authorities to do the same. It has a resources centre which 83 supplies thousands of records, film strips and models to schools. It has a staff of peripatetic instrumental teachers who cover every instrument in an orchestra.
It has been said that districts can co-operate. But if the districts are going to co-operate for the provision for handicapped children, colleges, organisers for particular subjects, and for a consortium for building, why not have done with it and let the metropolitan county be the education authority for the area? The only reply we get is that there is the size. But if we look at the figures (I will not quote them now) we see that some of the metropolitan counties have a smaller population than some of the larger non-metropolitan counties. For instance, the new Hampshire, I think, has a bigger population than the South Yorkshire metropolitan county.
It may be thought that I have given the sort of speech which would probably better have been made during the Committee stage of the Bill. But I know that Ministers come to that Despatch Box with their briefs, and with their minds made up, and it is too late when we get to the Committee stage. I hope that, even at this late stage the Government will think again what they are doing to education in the industrial North of England, because I believe it is essential that they should.
I want to say just a few words about another service which has already been mentioned, and that is the police. I am of the opinion, and have been for some years, that the police ought not to be administered by local authorities but ought to be a national force, administered regionally in the same way as my noble friend Lord Champion mentioned this afternoon some services might be administered regionally. But in 1966–67 we had a reorganisation of the police, and I had a little to do with that when I was at the Home Office. We were hampered then because we had to keep within the Police Act 1964; whole local authority areas had to be combined, not parts. It was put to us at that time that we ought to wait for police reorganisation until we received the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government; but we felt we could not wait.
On looking back, I think it would have been wrong to wait, because we have 84 had the new police force most efficiently in being for the last five years. Now there is to be another upheaval in the police force. An Amendment was moved in another place, and so great was the feeling there that I understand a number of members of the Government voted with the Opposition in favour of the Amendment. I believe that the police force areas ought to remain as they are for the time being, to give the Government a chance to think what we want the police force of the future to be. We need to give a lot of consideration to this matter. To upset the police areas now, and fragment them now, just when the forces have got used to working together, would in my opinion he quite wrong.
In conclusion, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, listed the expert opinion that is to be found in this House on local government matters; and he was quite right. All I would say to them is that, because that is so, it is a pity this Bill comes to us so late in the Session and that we have so little time to consider it. There are a great many things in this Bill that are good; there are some that we ought to consider most carefully, but I fear that at this late stage it will probably be too late to get the Government to accept Amendments. However, I hope that, even at this late stage, they will listen to what we have to say, in order to make this Bill a better one.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ LORD MAYBRAY-KING
My Lords, I would first of all congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on their excellent maiden speeches. I welcome the opportunity of paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, for his sterling services to the reform of local government, and especially for his masterly speech this afternoon. I hone that the Government will take note of his attitude to the question of Hampshire, Southampton and Portsmouth, and Devon and Bristol, in view of the fact that he is an enthusiastic supporter of this Bill and yet finds himself dissatisfied with the proposals for those two counties. I was very interested when he quoted Kipling about the Imperial "mighty Hampshire'', and I was almost moved to tears when he quoted the most exquisite Elizabethan sonnet ever written, and pleaded at "Love's latest breath" for the Isle of 85 Wight. I hope that the Government will take note of his pleading and the arguments some of us are going to put forward during the Second Reading debate.
I cannot speak with the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, or the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. I was a little disappointed at her attitude as an ex-Minister when she described to us the attitude of Ministers to Amendments. I hope that we shall have some effect on the Government. I am not an expert, but I speak as one who was a member of the Hampshire County Council for many years, one whose late wife was a member of the Southampton Borough Council for over 30 years. When this Bill becomes law I shall be an archaelogical curiosity—I shall be one of the honorary aldermen who survive.
My friend, Mr. Graham Page, in charge of this monumental Bill, has shown infinite skill and patience in piloting it through the other place. The debates there have been long; they have been ably contested by those who share the Government's faith in the reform of local government but who have opposed many of the Minister's decisions because of their own interpretation of what the Government said in its White Paper of 1971:genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken—and be seen to be taken—as locally as possible.The battle is about how far the "as possible" has been carried out in this Bill. It is with that principle in mind that some of us would ask the Government, even at this late stage, to have second thoughts about certain features of this Bill.
The Association of Municipal Corporations, the Rural District Councils Association, and the Urban District Councils Association are united in the representations that they have made to the Minister and, I believe, to each of your Lordships. As one who knows all three associations, I would say it is rare to find the three associations speaking with one voice on anything. I only wish that the County Councils Association, of which I was once an undistinguished member—my friend the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, is a very distinguished President—could have joined them. I feel that in this the C.C.A. has not shown quite the breadth of view that has been customary in a body which I love very much, and I 86 feel that it might have joined its fellow associations now as the "Big Brother", with mighty powers, in the request they are making for some crumbs from the rich man's table.
In brief, these three associations want the new district councils to have more power, more functions, allocated to them, not many, but some. They claim that by taking from them many of the functions which they now carry out there will be difficulting in attracting to the truncated bodies officials and elected councillors of the right calibre. I remember that one of the features of the reform of local government in Greater London was that the new boroughs created were given more functions than the old ones had possessed. I think it clear beyond a peradventure that this giving of further powers has given new vigour and new meaning to municipal life throughout London. If that is true, so is the converse. Limiting functions means limiting local interest, means limiting accessibility, and limiting the personal touch which is such an important feature of truly local local government. It is true that the Bill makes provision for a county council to hand over to some of the district councils some of its functions, on an agency basis. This, they believe, is not enough. They would like certain functions written into the Bill for them. One actually was written into the Bill, and I am shocked to find that the Government, having been beaten on an Amendment, propose to take that one out again.
But the dissatisfaction of certain very large county boroughs goes much deeper. In arranging to delegate functions to district councils as agents the Bill expressly excludes education, police, social services and youth services. Some of us would agree about the police. I fully concur with what the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, said about the police. We were anxious in Hampshire when we first merged the police of the boroughs with the county on a county basis. All that heartache has gone, and I am sure that the noble Baroness is right when she says that we must move beyond this ultimately to a sort of national or regional control of the police.
But education is different. It has been right to move steadily away during this century from 3,000 local education authorities to just over 100. I believe that 87 in at least three cases this Bill carries the process too far. I speak with an intimate knowledge of Hampshire and of the county borough of Southampton, where I have lived for nearly 60 years. My noble friend Lord Jacques will be bringing to this debate even greater experience of the city of Portsmouth. I hope that the Government will give special attention to what he has to say. We shall have the able support of a Hampshireman who is a Southamptonian, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and Members of the two Parties, and of the Cross-Benches, making this plea.
The three local education authorities, Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton, are efficient, and indeed, excellent. It is not part of our case that the County Education Authority is inferior in any way to the two others. All three have made their special contributions to the expansion and development of the education service, and have indeed provided national figures in local government education. It is true—and the noble Baroness was right when she said it—that a larger unit can mobilise larger resources and, up to a point, this can mean greater efficiency. But when your Lordships consider that the new County of Hampshire is to be 1½ million—the largest non-metropolitan county in the country—and when we realise that the two cities themselves each have a population approaching a quarter of a million, in a part of Hampshire which will expand in the next decade to over one million, we feel that a single education authority, which eventually will number two million people, is carrying the process of integration too far.
The same is true of the social services. These are the most intimate of a local authority's duties; they are often linked with housing, and housing is a function which the new district councils are being allowed still to control. Each of the three councils that I have mentioned has its own special approach to the social services; each of them has made its own pioneering and signal contribution to the social services. In the same way our own organisation of the health service, on the basis which at present exists, is one that the professional men and voluntary workers are very satis- 88 fled with and they are anxious that there shall be no change.
My Lords, the three authorities are different. Southampton is different from Portsmouth. I remember when I used to speak in Portsmouth they used to apologise as though I had come from a foreign country. Southampton is a great merchant port; Portsmouth is the home of the Navy. Hampshire is rural and has its new town development programme to consider. Their problems are fundamentally different. So we say that it ought to be possible to make the two districts of Portsmouth and Southampton special districts and allow them to retain at least some of the powers it is proposed they should lose, functions they have carried out so splendidly. The same applies to Plymouth. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharpe, whose knowledge of local government can hardly be surpassed in this country, has recently pointed out the difference between the problems of Plymouth and those of the county of Devon. I quote from a letter toThe Times which the noble Lady wrote some time ago:I am convinced that if the proposals go through as they stand, Plymouth in the years ahead will become a poorer city—and nobody can want that".I received this morning a letter from the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, who writes:This Bill presents a threat to effective local government far greater than any which we have faced in our long history".My Lords, if this were a Party matter I would not be speaking. Those of us who are advocating changes in the Bill speak for three of the four national local authority associations. We also speak for the Lord Mayors of Plymouth and of Portsmouth and the Mayor of Southampton. All Parties in the three cities are almost unanimous in their request for being made special districts. Their Members of Parliament of both Parties hold the same view, and so at the Committee stage we shall seek to amend the Bill in such a way as to make a little more flexible the attitude of the county authorities in the allocation of functions to district councils. We would especially ask the Minister to look at the almost unique nature of the three cities I have mentioned. He wisely yielded on Cardiff. I hope he has not entirely closed his mind to further changes.
89 I have been asked to say one word about the curious case of the Hampshire town of Lymington, so curious that I hope it is accidental and not typical of changes in other parts of the Bill. This Hampshire town of Lymington was moved, almost at the end of the discussion of the Bill in another place, from Hampshire into Dorset. It had been up to that moment in Hampshire and a Government Amendment moved it into Dorset. This was resisted by the Member of Parliament for the area. The Minister himself, some weeks earlier, had said about extending Dorset, and I quote:Lymington is so much the furthest part of the southern part of Hampshire that this would he going too far in extending the boundary".He then offered to divide the borough of Lymington into two, one half for Lymington and one half for New Milton, put New Milton into Dorset and leave Lymington in Hampshire. The local citizens wanted to be together but he has now thrown them, lock, stock and barrel, into Dorset. In the words of the local Conservative Member of Parliament, Mr. McNair Wilson, and I quote:Everyone in Lymington is desperately anxious to stay in Hampshire".When he expressed this view in the other place in a short debate at six o'clock in the morning there were only sixteen people in the Chamber. He was supported in his view by Mr. Adlay, the Member for Bristol, North East. I would hope that this is an odd case and that the Minister will look at it and restore Lymington to Hampshire.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF. CRANBROOK
My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on two admirable maiden speeches. I hope I can say, without it appearing the usual platitudinous statement, that we sincerely hope we shall hear both of them again. Both noble Lords started this afternoon by declaring an interest, and I must confess that mine have been somewhat catholic because over the past 45 years I have served on a large number and variety of local authorities, from the London County Council down to a rural district council. I have even been honorary clerk of our parish council, because nobody else in the village would take on the job. That experience has 90 made me somewhat cynical when I come to discuss the various powers and duties of local authorities, because throughout that period I have consistently heard members and officers of various local authorities maintaining that their particular authority should be given more powers and other local authorities fewer. One honourable exception was the honorary clerk of our parish council, who did not want to be given any more work than was absolutely essential.
My Lords, I think with that experience I find myself tarred with the same brush as the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, having been a county councillor, and other noble Lords who have spoken for district councils. By and large, I find myself in agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, when he said he thought that the Bill departed in a quite considerable respect from the fundamental principles of the White Paper, which were that the duties should be attached to the resources because the areas with the greater resources would have the greater responsibilities. In particular I find myself in agreement with him over his fear at the suggestion of a Government Amendment that the Government should enter the lists in trying to adjudicate between two bodies which are discussing agency arrangements. Most of us in local government have had experience of arrangements of that sort, and there is always the risk, in even the most friendly authorities, that the somewhat stringent financial control which a principal is bound to insist upon will raise some frustrations in the agent. We usually manage to work together quite well, but I believe that if there is going to be a shot gun marriage the thing is probably doomed to failure from the beginning. On the other hands, I believe very strongly that working on a agency basis may well bring back that basic principle of the White Paper, of attaching duties to resources, which I find was slightly lost as the Bill went through another place.
The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, referred to concurrent powers, and expressed some fears about them but he did express the opinion that they could be useful, and, I too believe that if we could have agents with concurrent powers able to spend money from local rates to meet necessities which are peculiar to I that locality and not to other localities 91 within the area of the principal authority we might be able to eat our cake and have it. Inevitably, the principal authority is going to make more or less uniform provision throughout the whole area. Equally inevitably in some parts of that area the local people may feel that something further should be done. Always provided the agent did not use its powers to provide something which inflicted a recurrent charge on the principal, I believe that concurrent powers could do a great deal to bring the agents and the principals together and make workable arrangements.
My Lords, I think that this principle applies particularly strongly to museums. For historical reasons museums almost inevitably grow up in towns when communications were bad; and it would have been ridiculous to provide museums, and ridiculous, indeed, to try to provide libraries (because the two usually went together, by Act of Parliament) in rural areas. Only recently were rural counties given the power to be museum authorities; and when that happened, of course, it would have been ridiculous for them to have started to build and staff museums in the county towns, where inevitably they must be, in competition with the existing museums which were already to be found there. Thus the larger financial resources which were available to most counties, and which certainly under this Bill will be available to all counties as opposed to the districts, were lost to the museum service.
It is significant, I think, that the Museums Association has come out quite unequivocally in favour of making the museum service a county service; and, for myself, I think that it must go that way: for, just as increasing mobility of the population has made it possible for people from rural areas to visit museums and profit from them, so museums in towns have ceased to be what they were originally—exhibitions to which the public went to satisfy either their curiosity or their aesthetic longings—and increasingly the staff of museums are undertaking a research which takes them right outside their town and into their hinterland, in particular in such things as archaeology, palaentology and natural history. So we have the two changes which have taken place in this service. It is now wanted 92 over a far wider geographical area and it is now working over a far wider geographical area; and I believe the sort of concurrent powers to which I have just referred could very usefully come in here. You would have the service provided by the authority with the major resources, but the district council could supplement the purchase grant and the like with concurrent powers, and not just from the miserable ½p rate to which the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred just now.
My Lords, for my self, I believe that we need to look very closely at these agency arrangements. I believe that fundamentally they could be a good point about this Bill; but I hope that the Minister will leave it to those of us who are working on the ground to come to some agreement between ourselves. Like husband and wife, we may squabble, but we rub along in the end; and if somebody else comes in from outside we shall probably chuck the lamp at him.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Cranbrook will forgive me if I do not follow his line, but he speaks with very great authority on, particularly, education and museums, and I am very well aware of it. May I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, on his maiden speech? He and I sat opposite each other in another place for many years. He spoke with very great authority on local government; and I am delighted to see him here. The same applies to my noble friend Lord Selborne, who also made his maiden speech with authority and experience of local government.
I think we have all been impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud. It was a very well delivered speech—a masterly piece—and I thought his attitude to the Bill, bearing in mind his long work and experience on these matters, was more than generous in the way he was prepared to overlook things with which he possibly did not agree. I should like to see his speech printed in leaflet form and distributed to all individuals involved in local government. It really was a masterpiece, and I think the House is greatly indebted to him. I agree with what he said about the Isle of Wight. I have a great affection for the island, mostly for a recreational purpose, but it is a little place on 93 its own, separated entirely by the Solent, and I think there is a very strong case for giving the Isle of Wight the status it wants. Although its population is small in numbers—smaller than Hereford—I hope the Government will look again at this case.
I feel that the Government have shown courage and initiative in introducing this Bill. It is long overdue, and successive Governments have failed to grapple with the problem. Our congratulations should go to the Secretary of State, Mr. Peter Walker, and in particular, to Mr. Graham Page, who had a long toil in dealing with the problem; and also to our noble friend on the Front Bench here, Lord Sandford; and not only to them, but to the various associations and bodies which over a great many years have had to work all hours of the day and night to bring sense to the proposals. They have all contributed, throughout the nation, and I think the House is indebted to them.
My Lords, most of the proposals will bring about more efficiency and hoped-for savings, but very few of us like change, whatever form it takes. I well remember, in my old consetituency of Macclesfield in Cheshire, when the borough police and the fire service were handed over to the county authorities at Chester. All hell was let loose. There were deputations, and I had to go to see the Minister of the day. But, looking back, I am sure it was the right thing to do. Today the police force and the fire service are far more efficient than they were then; and I agree with those noble Lords who have suggested that the police should perhaps be made into larger forces, in regions. It is very important in this country that we have the best and most up-to-date police force we can get. Crime is on the increase, and we need an efficient force. Not only that, but we need a force of which men can be proud and which has the best equipment to enable it to carry out its duties. I hope that this point can be looked at, probably at a future date.
The reduction of 1,333 district councils in England and Wales to about 350 can be justified only if there is a sufficient workload to match the much larger district councils of the future. It is thought that the new district councils will be denied responsibility for such directly conferred functions as highways, traffic 94 arrangements, sewage disposal, libraries, consumer protection and food and drugs. Of course, many of these functions must be taken away, but taking away so many important functions could be self-defeating, because it is doubtful whether the authorities will attract the right type of individual to serve them. One must always look at the prospects of men joining local government service.
The position is the same with traffic and transportation. Of course we need better roads, they must be integrated, there must be cohesion throughout the country. But in addition to the direct responsibilities of the new district councils for urban roads, as has been suggested, the municipal associations strongly urge that the county councils, as the local highway authorities, should be under a duty to prepare a county highways and traffic scheme in consultation with the district councils. I hope that the Minister, when he winds up, will refer to this point in some detail. This would not involve any greater time and effort in terms of staff resources.
I know that we ought not to raise small details, but details have been raised today about important places such as the Humber. I was much in sympathy with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln said about North Lincolnshire. The separation there, with the very wide estuary will make it very difficult to integrate the two territories. I thought there was a very strong case there. There will have to be a bridge, which will probably be a toll bridge with quite a heavy toll. Otherwise, you will have to go right round the top of the Humber to get to the other side. I cannot see the sense of the proposal as it is now. As the proposal has been raised, I should like to mention a relatively small problem. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, that Ministers sometimes come to the House with their minds made up. I hope that she is not speaking from experience in another place. If she is right I should like to remind the Minister of a place called Poynton in North Cheshire. I hope that the Minister's mind remains open on that before we reach the Committee stage. I knew this as village 28 years ago. Now it is still a village but a large large one with a population of 9,000 to 10,000. This village is to go to the Greater Manchester area. It has 95 nothing to do with Manchester. Not one person in Poynton wants to go to Greater Manchester. It is another world. Poynton is an agricultural area at the foot of the Pennines and separated from Hazel Grove, Bramhall and the Greater Manchester conurbation by a substantial track of agricultural land which is Green Belt land. I hope that my noble friend will look at this matter. I went to see the Minister with the new Member of Parliament. We did not get much change. They were very pleasant at the Ministry—they always are. I should like this matter to be considered from the local point of view of the 10,000 residents. There are millions resident in the great cities, but here are 10,000 worthy citizens who are prepared to forgo what they have had but do not want to be put in the Greater Manchester area.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, I do not wish to say anything to temper the argument that the noble Lord is advancing with regard to Poynton, but he said that the people of Poynton have nothing to do with Manchester. Is it not a fact that a large number of the inhabitants work in the Greater Manchester area?
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, quite a number of them work in Manchester, but quite a number of them go South and West to work. Those who work in Manchester have to do so because the transport facilities are so very bad. They do not want to work in Manchester. With the present rail and bus fares and with the parking difficulties there, they would rather work locally. I am trying to get a new industrial site going at Macclesfield. That is where they ought to be to working. I will not pursue this matter further now, but will do so at the Committee stage.
In the main, this is an excellent Bill. It will bring in the younger people to play a part in local government. But something ought to be said about the remuneration of these new councillors before they stand for election next year. Many of them may not be able to afford to stand if they do not know what the remuneration is to be. I wish the Bill well. It is an excellent one all-round, and years overdue, and I am sure that it will do something great for our country in years ahead.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ LORD JACQUES
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Watkins, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on their maiden speeches. May we hear much from them in the future. There is an increasing awareness of the significance of local government in our economy. The value of its services now equals 15 per cent. of our gross national product. There is also an increasing awareness that its reorganisation is overdue and it is much more acceptable than it was several years ago. Nevertheless, opinion is still deep-rooted in the two schools of thought: that which thinks that the future lies along the lines of all-purpose authorities, and the other which thinks that the future lies along the two-tier system in which the greater measure of responsibility is given to the upper tier.
I venture to suggest that there is a large measure of agreement on two issues: first, that we are not an agricultural country, and are an industrial country with very heavy concentrations of urban population of 200,000 or more, and that in those concentrations there are great advantages in having co-ordination of local planning, of housing, of education, of libraries and social services. Secondly, there is now a general awareness that there is scope for a second tier, particularly in structure planning, transportation, police, fire and so on. But even though there are two principal schools of thought, they are probably nearer to agreement now than ever before.
In the White Paper the Government put forward some admirable proposals. They have said that in each local government area there should be cohesive communities linked together by common interests, through shopping employment and social activities. They also declared that while they must look for efficiency, they would come down in favour of responsibility at the local level where the arguments were evenly balanced. My complaint against this Bill is that in certain parts of the country it does not apply these principles. I believe the reason is that it tries, with inflexible proposals, to apply principles to counties which are infinitely different in their variety. Each of our counties is different. 97 Each has a different economic, physical and social geography. Consequently, if any principles are to be applied to such a variety of counties, then the proposals for their application must be highly flexible. The Government's proposals in this Bill are most inflexible. They are based on the assumption that that which is not white must be black; or, to use the language of the Bill, that which is not metropolitan must be non-metropolitan; that which is not urban must be rural. That is inconsistent with the geographical facts.
The Government have rightly settled on the criteria laid down by the Royal Commission, that the population required for education and social services should be somewhere between 250,000 and one million. Consequently, they have given the education and social services to the districts in the metropolitan counties, but have left the functions of the county councils in the non-metropolitan areas. There are counties that do not fit readily into either of these two patterns. There are counties which on their perimeter have huge urban concentrations of population where it would be advisable to coordinate housing, education and social service. There are counties where the population is so great that even if these functions were given to these urban populations there would be no impairment of efficiency in the rest of the county.
Let us look, my Lords, at Devon. Devon is our largest county in area; it has a population of 900,000. In the South-West corner is Plymouth with a population of 240,000. Plymouth is 43 miles from Exeter, the county centre. Furthermore, Plymouth is cut off from the rest of the county by Dartmoor. That is best illustrated by the railways. When I lived in Plymouth, it was served by two main lines, the Great Western and the Southern. One ran on the East side of Dartmoor and the other ran on the West of Dartmoor. Consequently. Plymouth was the only place in the country where you could get on alternative trains going in the opposite direction, hut both going to London. That, I think, illustrates how Plymouth is cut off from the rest of the county. It has a population which is already larger than some of the new education authorities proposed in the metropolitan districts. Any reorgani- 98 sation of local government should look ahead and should be planned with an eye to the future. With a population of 240,000 it must be clear that very soon Plymouth will have the minimum of 250,000. Even at the present time if the education function were given to Plymouth, the rest of the county would have a population of 660,000, so that the efficiency of education and social services in the rest of the county would not be impaired. It is well above the minimum laid down by the Government.
The position is even worse in Hampshire where there is a population of 1½million. If the structure plans which have been accepted by the Government are put into effect, by the end of the century Hampshire will have a population of 2 million. At the southern edge of Hampshire there are two large urban concentrations. There is Portsmouth with a population of 200,000, which is 27 miles from the county town of Winchester. There is no direct bus or railway service between Portsmouth and Winchester. Here is a case where housing, education and social services should be co-ordinated because there is a problem which differs from that of the rest of the county, which is largely rural. The position is somewhat similar in Southampton where there is a population of 214,000. Southampton is 12 miles from Winchester. If both these urban concentrations were responsible for education and social services, the remainder of the county would still have a population in excess of the maximum laid down by the Government. The Government have said that the maximum population required for education is one million. There would still be over a million in the rest of the county if the education and social services functions were carried out by these two urban concentrations in the South of Hampshire.
I would point out to the Government that they would save themselves a great deal of difficulty, and avoid the creation of artificial counties, if they would accept that there is a third category of county, the semi-metropolitan county. Because of geography, because of the size of the urban concentration, some districts should have metropolitan functions when the rest of the county should not. The services in the rest of the county would not be impaired, because of the size 99 of the population. If that third category of county were accepted, the Government need not bother with Humberside, or Avon, or with the special county around Cardiff. All they need to do would be to give these urban concentrations the extra functions within a semi-metropolitan county. I believe that to be the cure for many things which are wrong with the Bill.
My Lords, I should like to comment on the criteria given to the Boundary Commission. In those criteria far too much importance has been attached to population, in particular to the desire to get districts of the uniform size of between 40.000 and 100,000 population. Much less importance has been given to the need to get cohesive communities within each local government area. One of the side effects of this has been that the most out of date of our city boundaries are less likely to be corrected. Because they are so out of date they have a great overspill which is now being constituted or confirmed as a separate district by the Boundary Commission. In the case of Portsmouth, there is an overspill of something like 60,000 people; 30,000 of them are housed in houses belonging to the City of Portsmouth. But they are being confirmed as a separate district outside the City. This does not make sense or fit in with the Government's principles. Where we have a community which is adjacent to a city and has an overspill from the city, and has an economic and social life based on the city, it should be part of the city. if need be by amalgamation.
In conclusion, my Lords, what we shall need more than anything else after the changes made by this Bill is a period of stability, a period of consultation, a period without change. I plead with the Government to deal with these anomalies before the Bill becomes law. If they fail to do so, they will leave a serious sense of injustice in the towns I have mentioned. They will leave a trail of dissatisfaction which must in the future lead to continued agitation for change. That is something that ought to 'be avoided, and only the Government can avoid it.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, may I add my congratulations 100 to the two maiden speakers this afternoon. I take part in the debate with a feeling that we have all been here before, especially those of us from Devon who. during the last Administration, had a trio of Orders: Torbay, Plympton and Plymstock, Pinhoe and what-have-you. And during the debates the same arguments were brought up. I am pleased to say that things have now altered, and one has a feeling that perhaps this long battle has borne fruit. The Government have produced a Bill which, in general, I welcome.
My noble friend Lord Amory referred to the presidential era that we are now in. I am not in that high and rarified atmosphere, but I think I must declare an interest because I am a vicepresident—without, I hope, any history of mental illness. I should declare that interest in that I am a Vice-President of the Rural District Councils Association. I should like to try to prove myself a loyal supporter of my President and put in a mild protest because the Government have put him so low down in the "batting order" to-day. My noble friend Lord Gainsborough should have been up with the front runners.
As I have said, the Government are to be congratulated on coming up with what I call this two-tier project. I was a little mixed up after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, because I was leaving out of the numerical system the parish councils which have always been there. The scheme is based generally on counties and districts, and the purport of what I am trying to say is that we must do our best to prevent any evil influences from trying to undo the basically right decisions which it seems to me the Government are making. Up to the last minute organisations like the R.D.C.A. and the C.C.A. will have to battle to halt any rural areas being dominated by the concept of the city state. In all but a few places we must aim at the county being the top tier, and at the various districts being large enough to have real local responsibilities, to be the basis of our local government. Apart from this, any attempts at U.D.I. by would-be city states must be smothered at the start.
Before getting down to my main point I want to generalise a little. I hope the Government will not try to reverse the 101 decision of another place to leave refuse disposal with the new district councils. The example of the Raleigh Rural District Council should be an adequate argument for anybody. I have an interest to declare in that I have a number of worked-out sandpits which at the moment are being very conveniently filled in by the local rural district council and handed back to me in a very satisfactory condition. If the refuse went further afield I might not have such an excellent service.
I welcome also the amendments concerning town and country planning. It is essential that these controllers of our future should be seen not to be too far away. Otherwise the man in the street could not be blamed for adopting the "we and they" formula. I cannot help feeling that the same argument applies to the arrangements for the discharge of functions by local authorities: in other words, I hope the Government will not be diverted from the maxim that any functions which can be performed efficiently and conveniently by the new district councils should be left to them. The details of these arrangements and the allocation of functions will doubtless come before us again many times in Committee.
I should now like to deal with a matter about which we in Devon as a whole feel very strongly. I refer to the presumption of some people in Plymouth that they, of all people, have the right to opt out of our county. I would not mind so much their having little extra functions, but in opting out they want to take large sections of the county with them. At one time they even proposed to grab a bit of Cornwall as well. Let it be quite clear that the hinterland of Plymouth on either side of the Tamar wants nothing to do with Plymouth. They were somewhat apathetic towards Plymouth before this recent arrogance; now they are downright hostile. This issue got nowhere in another place, and I had hoped that people in that region would accept the position, as decided in another place, with good grace. I believe this has been suggested to them by Dr. Owen, the Labour Member for Sutton, Plymouth. However, Press reports have it that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, have other ideas. It is therefore essential that someone puts your Lordships in the picture and warns you of their machinations.
102 Historically Plymouth is Cromwellian and Exeter is Royalist, and "never the twain shall meet". That is the reason underlying the excuse for Plymouth "rocking the boat". They cannot stand the idea of their headquarters being in a Royalist city. The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, said it was 43 miles away. Does he realise that with the completion of the Chudleigh bypass one will be able to get there by car in under an hour?
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, may I interrupt to suggest that one could get there even more quickly if the road were not cluttered up as the result of refuse collection.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, really knows his county geography a little better than he makes out in that remark. The refuse collection to which I was referring is well off the main road. In fact it is on a continuation of a certain lane where I remember the noble Viscount, 40 years ago, in short trousers, conducting the annual Boy Scouts camp for the county of Devon. It would not clutter up the road at all. But if you had to take it all into Exeter from various places you would clutter up the main road.
My Lords, let me go back to the machinations of Plymouth. They propose, first, this Tamar-side business. The Cornish, even if they work in Plymouth, would not have that at any cost. Of course we in Devon say that the Cornish have to cut their tails off before crossing the Tamar. But that is nothing to what they say about us; and since this recent exhibition what they say about Plymouth is frightful. But it is only a section of people who really believe in that case. What a pity it should be like this because Plymouth is Devon's largest city and the major part of it is Devon's port.
What do they think in the parts of Devon that Plymouth wants to take over? Away back in June 1970, when Plymouth first made aggressive noises, the threatened parishes held a referendum. This has been carried out in all the threatened areas, not only in Tamar-side 103 but in South Devon. All of the results showed a majority of not less than three-to-one against having anything to do with the suggestion. Note what the Redcliffe-Maud Report said when it came out against the concept of a city region. Paragraph 297 says:We do not believe that it fits the South-West.You can say that again! Let me give your Lordships an example of the strength of feeling over this matter. This year, at the annual parade of the Royal British Legion, of which I have the honour to be County President, two of the old and bold came up to me and said "Sir, you won't let Plymouth get us, will you?" I asked, "Where do you come from?", and they replied, "South Brent". That may sound pathetic, but it illustrates the feeling throughout the areas proposed for the takeover.
Then as Plymouth tried on their gimmick it really made the blood of all of us boil. They invoked Drake's Drum. That convinced us that Plymouth and their paid public relations firm were "bunkers" or just plain uneducated. Drake was born at Crown Dale Farm, one mile outside Tavistock. When he made his pile he bought Buckland Abbey. Referenda took place in both of these areas. Let it be noted also that Edgar Burns' fine statue of Drake is in Tavistock. The thing they have on the Hoe is a mere copy. This public relations aspect raised the reaction in the rest of the county: "Who the hell do they think they are?" "A load of nonsense and historical inaccuracy", wrote a Brigadier Horton from Mannamead, Plymouth, in theWestern Morning News. In the same issue, a group including a county councillor, a brother of our own Yeoman Ucher, wrote protesting that the proposed rape of South and West Devon and that the delaying tactics were only upsetting the devising of an ordinary local government scheme.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, I am sorry I could not hear the noble Lord's last few sentences. I wonder whether he would mind reading them again?
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
What I said was:A load of nonsense and historical inaccuracy",104 wrote a Brigadier Horton from Manna-mead, Plymouth, in theWestern Morning News. A group in the same issue, including a local county councillor, a brother of one of the Members of your Lordships' House, wrote protesting atthe proposed rape of South and West Devon",and thatdelaying tactics were only upsetting the devising of an ordinary local government scheme".And the Rector of Lydford and Rentor wrote in the same issue pointing out that Drake's Drum is safe in Buckland Abbey, in Tavistock Rural District Council, and may really sound a warning if the Government (or, I may add, any misguided Member of your Lordships' House) should be tempted to listen to Plymouth's aggressive tendencies.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, can the noble Lord tell me when they are going to build barricades and create a "no-go" area?
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I think that is enough on a Second Reading debate. Should there be any misguided enough in Committee to try and bring forward this idea of an urban takeover, I would only say that we have the facts, figures and statistics to rebut all the arguments that they have used so frequently in the past. I warn the Government at this stage that the whole of the South-West is solidly against such provisions.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I was most interested in the speech made by my noble friend Lord Sandford in introducing this Bill. With great respect, it seemed to me that he was trying to put a quart into a pint-sized bottle. But there were two important things he said of which I think one might make full use during the Committee stage of the Bill. He said, I think (if I am wrong, I apologise), that the Government have no wish to disturb the dignity and ancient privileges of local authorities. That is a most important statement, and I am sure it will be made full use of when we come to our boundary battles on the Committee stage. The other point which is interesting, because it refers to me. relates to the lowest tier of local government, the parish council. I have been chairman of a parish council (I am a very young 105 fellow) for about 30 years. The noble Lord said, I think, that planning permission in the area over which the parish council presides will be given to the parish council for them to have an opportunity of looking at it. For years one of our problems has been that we have been unable to get from the district council a list of planning proposals in the area.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, if I may correct the noble Earl, I am sure he meant to say "planning applications", not "permissions".
§ EARL HOWE
Yes, my Lords. I apologise to my noble friend. So long as he said that planning applications may be seen by the parish council, I am quite happy.
I have only a few comments to make. This is a late hour in the evening; we have had a long debate, which will continue to-morrow, and I do not wish to prolong it unduly this evening. I welcome the Bill on the whole, and particularly the principles which lie behind it of enlarging areas and creating authorities with the resources to support the operation of services to the standards which people nowadays have a right to expect. I imagine that it must be the object of the Secretary of State to make councils more viable units, but not to take from counties so much that the pendulum may swing the other way. This is always a danger. I am afraid that these guiding principles may in some cases have been lost sight of in the welter of Amendments which have been made, and no doubt will be made or proposed, to the Bill, and in detailed consideration of its provisions there is need to keep these principles always in mind.
I do not want to be parochial, but the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, referred to the problem that she is having over the boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire. I have the same difficulty over Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. Berkshire are attempting a policy of greed and grab, which is to annex, if they can, the Borough of Slough and most of the riverside parishes all along the river. The boundaries of Buckinghamshire in the past have been marked by the river. It appears to me that Berkshire, if they get their own way, will come across the 106 river and take over the parishes all along the border. In my view, that would be most unfortunate, and I hope that we may in some way delay the execution of such a plan.
What worries me particularly is that I wonder whether in every case the wishes of the people have been considered. In the case of one town that I know well the borough council may have decided by a majority to move the borough into another county, but there is no majority, either for or against, among the people of that town. I think it is most important that people should be given an opportunity of expressing their views.
In respect of every service we must ask ourselves whether the authority that will give the service is the one with the right area and the best resources in money and manpower to give the public the best result; and the public should clearly know to what authority they can look for the service they want. A service should not be given to an authority just to give its members or officers work to do, or because it has always been theirs in the past; it must be clear that the scheme will produce the best, most efficient and economic result for the public. If the new local government is to succeed there will need to be the greatest cooperation, even partnership, between counties and districts; they must not be at arm's length. But a compulsory partnership is no partnership; it is doomed to failure both in marriage and in business, and no less so in local government. Nor must a superfluity of intricate agency and partnership arrangements cloud the public's knowledge of where responsibility lies. These are all factors that we must bear carefully in mind when we come to debate the subject of agency, planning and buildings of special architectural or historic interest, highways, refuse disposal and libraries. And, not least, boundaries must be clear to all on the ground.
I feel that interest in local government, which has for years been lacking, as we all know, is now growing, and that with the advent of these new councils it will grow still faster. A demand from the general public to keep the rates down crosses the path of those who wish to see the local government standards of service kept to the same high level, 107 especially so far as education is concerned. All this competition and argument is healthy and could well stimulate greater interest in local government. With these comments, and with reservations on the Amendments to come, I welcome the Bill.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ LORD HEYCOCK
My Lords, first of all I want to extend my congratulations to the two noble Lords, who have made maiden speeches to-day, the noble Lord, Lord Watkins (a colleague of mine for many years), Lind the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I had a peculiar experience when I first joined your Lordships' House. I do not believe that in the real sense I delivered a maiden speech in this House. I was sitting here one night very late, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will remember, when we were discussing the question of the reconstitution of colleges of education. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, was one one side, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on the other, and there were about half a dozen noble Lords in the Chamber. From sheer curiosity and inquisitiveness I said about three sentences, and lo! and behold!, I found that I was being congratulated on having made a maiden speech. It was one of the shortest speeches I have ever made in my life. So your Lordships see that I had quite a unique experience. I remember the Leader of the House saying, "Burn the midnight oil so that you can make an impression on the Members of the House of Lords when you get there." But, despite that advice, I did not burn any midnight oil.
I listened with a great deal of attention to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, earlier this afternoon. He said that the broad philosophy that underlines this Local Government Bill is the fact that there is a two-tier system of government and we should marry the countryside with the urban area. All that I can understand very clearly. Then he went on to describe certain features of the Bill, and he said that this Bill is one of the most historic pieces of legislation that has affected local government in this country in the last 50 years. So I join with my two colleagues in saying perfectly clearly here this evening that I think Wales is being hard done by. For 108 Scotland there was the Wheatley Commission, and for England there was the Rcdcliffe-Maud Commission. In his wisdom, or otherwise, the Secretary of State in 1964, because of the fact that there had been a Commission examining the structure of local government in the Principality from 1958 to 1962, decided that he would have a Departmental Committee. From that Departmental Committee what evolved very clearly was a system of local government for the Principality. The net result was that in 1967 we had local government recommendations for that particular period.
Therefore I felt that both in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords, at least a day should have been set aside to deal with the peculiar social, cultural and linguistic problems of the Principality. I want to say this evening very clearly that the experience of the Lord Chancellor on Saturday last was evidence of the political tension that exists in Wales. There is this feeling of being completely ignored by our English counterparts. And the very fact that. as has been said this evening-, we have not had a single day set aside to discuss in this House the basic problems of the Principality, and one or two days in another House, increases still more the tension in the Principality.
I want to make it extremely clear that I am disappointed, with my two colleagues, with whom I served for many years in the Principality both at local level and at national level, that so little regard was paid to the needs of the Principality. I join again very clearly with the noble Lord. Lord Watkins. and the noble Lord, Lord Champion. There are aspects of the Local Government Bill as it affects Wales that are slightly different in context and application from the way in which it affects England. For example: why should the Secretary of State for Wales have the power to decide at a particular point that the libraries shall be the responsibility of the District Council? Everyone knows to-day that in the age of computerisation and specialisation it is necessary for a library system to have a wider field. Again, if I may put it very clearly, why should the Secretary of State for Wales have the power to decide that the Food and Drugs Act must be administered by the district council? Why should he have 109 the power to decide? In the evolution of this new concept of local government we were hoping to get an element of greater freedom. Why should he decide something which is different from England? We say that we want no more in the field of local government than is given to our English colleagues; but at least we want the same. There should be some yardstick.
Again, I listened with great attention to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, when he illustrated the point about planning. I have long experience of local authority, and I realise how difficult and how tenuous is the issue of planning as between the district council and the county council. I know that it creates a great deal of friction, perhaps more friction than in any other field of administration. I should have thought that the Government might have given much more foresight to the White Paper than they have done, in relation to planning and development control, and to planning responsibility and development control by the local authority, and its relationship to overall planning. Who can plan for the physical environment and cater for the needs of people on a very limited scale? Those things can be planned only on a very much wider scale.
Then we come to the question of the agencies. I remember that when Lord Brooke brought in the general grant, as against the percentage grant, the contention was very clearly made that, so far as the local authority was concerned, the more they paid for these services the more freedom would be given in the local authorities. But with the agencies they are going to submit an Amendment to this House that will give the Minister power to determine whether or not the statutory functions of one authority shall be transferred to another authority. At this moment in time, in my area in the new County of West Glamorgan we are setting up joint committees between the district councils and the county council to try to get at least a concept of what the shape of local government will be in the future. I should hate to think that at some stage a member of a district council might say, "We want some of the traditional functions of the county council. If we do not get them we shall go to the Secretary 110 of State and see if he will decide in our favour."
I have had long experience of delegated powers to the divisional executives, and I know how difficult things can become when there is a difference of opinion between them. Therefore I say at this stage that the Government should at least have second thoughts regarding what they said in the White Paper on the question of the application of the agency aspect in the Amendment they propose to place before this House. I may say that I welcome the concept that some form of remuneration is to be given to those who represent the people on the local authority. I will say to the Minister and to the Government, "If you want to encourage the best type of people to serve on a local authority"—and I know because I have served for many, many years in a county council—"remuneration is necessary". I myself have suffered all through my own years loss of earnings and other facilities because I wanted to render service to other people. I hope that when they do apply the new system of local government this system will be brought into being.
I did not intend to speak at great length, but I should like to refer to the three-way split in Glamorgan and draw the attention of this House to the anomalous and, if I may say so, disturbing situation that has been brought about in the County of Glamorgan by the three-way split. First of all, like all the other speakers such as the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, whom I have had the privilege on several occasions of proposing as President of the County Councils Association, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who declared that he was President of the Urban District Councils Association; and my friend Tudor Watkins who said that he was a Vice-President of the County Councils Association—I may say that I have been a member of Glamorgan County Council for 36 years.
§ LORD BRECON
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would refer to his noble friend as Lord Watkins.
§ LORD HEYCOCK
I am sorry, my Lords. We in Wales sometimes get carried away by our own eloquence. I 111 quite see the character and discipline of this House, and I should like to thank the noble Lord for having corrected me. But I wanted to make it perfectly clear to your Lordships and to the noble Lords of this House that I have an interest. I have served for 36 years as a member of Glamorgan County Council, and in 1962 I was privileged to be its Chairman. For the last 27 years, I have been chairman of its education committee; and for the last 11 years I have been Chairman of the Welsh Joint Education Committee.
I know what the County of Glamorgan has done and what a contribution it has made in many fields through the leadership of the Principality. I know its general support for the University of Wales. I know it has supported the school museum service and I know of its support for the university colleges. Looking at the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, I know of the support for Saint John's in Jerusalem. Recently one of the noble Baronesses opposite said to me, "There is a hostel in Swansea called Danycoed, and it is in financial difficulties. Will you do something about saving it because it functions for a particular type of person". We decided that we would rescue that by guaranteeing to cover 60 per cent. of the deficit of that institution. Those are illustrations that I can put of the part which the great County of Glamorgan has played in the leadership of a small country.
A small country like the Principality must have strong instruments of government so that they can reflect the cultural and educational aspirations. When we gave evidence for the Consultative Document we said clearly—and I make no apology for saying so—that so far as we were concerned we wanted thestatus quo. We believed in the words of the 1962 Commission, which commended Glamorgan County Council for its first-class administration and decided to make recommendations of no change in its constitution. We said that we felt we had a part to play in the general leadership of all things that were good in the Principality. We said that, so far as we were concerned, if there were to be any moves we were prepared to agree to a geographical county. That would embody Cardiff, Merthyr and Swansea in one 112 geographical county which would have the same population as the county of Hampshire—and we have heard about that today—and with the same kind of problems as the county of Hampshire. That is the kind of evidence that we placed before the Secretary of State for Wales in relation to the consultative document.
Lo and behold! when the Bill was published, much to the consternation of the County of Glamorgan, we were going to be divided into three—and whether it had been divided into two or three I would have been affected because I am in West Glamorgan. I have listened to noble Lords in this House say, "What about Plymouth?". My noble friend Lord Jacques said, "What about Portsmouth?". Somebody else said, "What about Tees-side?". But what was said in another place? They said that if concessions were made to Tees-side, Plymouth and Portsmouth it would make nonsense of local government. But when you come to Wales, to Glamorgan, what is nonsense in England is logical and good government in Wales. The Government cannot have it both ways. The Government cannot say, "If we create a county of Plymouth you will have 50 per cent. of the votes in another part". In the city of Cardiff, in the new county council, 80 per cent. of the membership of the council are members of the city of Cardiff. They are going to name it the Greater County of Cardiff.
In theLocal Government Journal it said that, logically, Cardiff still has county borough status under another name. What is the logic of this? The average rateable value per head of population at this moment in England and Wales, according to the latest analysis of the County Treasurers, is £46. Some go up to £60. In the South of Glamorgan it is about £46 per head of population. In mid-Glamorgan, the poorest area of the lot, it is £25—second only to the poorest county in England and Wales. In the new county of West Glamorgan the average rate is £45. It is said by the Government that they will have Government grants. In mid-Glamorgan they have more derelict land, slum houses and older houses than any part of the two counties.
Clearly, the content and philosophy of this Bill is that we shall have a marriage between the country and the town. But 113 there is no marriage between the country and the town. I met the Secretary of State for Wales to ask him the reason for the changes. He said it was because of some of the dissensions. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, this afternoon and he said he hopes that all dissensions that exist between all authorities incorporated in the new reorganisation will cease at the start of the new organisation. I reached the conclusion that there was no more dissension with the county of Glamorgan, and in the city of Cardiff, then existed in any other part of England and Wales. There has been no logical answer as to why the changes have been made.
I have never used theWestern Mail as an illustration. The noble Lord, Lord Brecon, knows my political philosophy. I will read to you the contents of an editorial which was written a week ago today. It is called, "Forlorn Fight". It says:In stubbornly sticking to its plan to split Glamorgan into three areas, the Government has once again demonstrated a perversity which can only be wondered at. The plan, as theWestern Mail has repeatedly argued, flies in the face of logic and, indeed, could jeopardise the future pattern of development in South Wales, to a serious degree. In this situation, few people will be convinced by the repetition of Mr. Peter Thomas's arguments that animosity, tension and conflict of interests would result from an East Glamorgan authority which linked Cardiff with the Valleys. Mr. Thomas appears to have succumbed.I am not saying this; they are saying it. They say very clearly that the basis of the three-way split was not geographical, sound local government, but was occasioned by political pressures. The editorial goes on:Mr. Thomas appears to have succumbed not only to political pressures from Cardiff but to have overlooked the very real handicaps which will he encountered by the proposed Mid-Glamorgan authority. Divorced from Cardiff which, of course, should be the area's natural focus, Mid-Glamorgan seems in great danger of further declining, becoming an even worse poverty belt in the shadow of the two comparatively 'rich ' areas of Cardiff and Swansea.That was not written by me; that was expressed by an editor.
Let us take another comment. What do the County Councils' Association say? The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, very properly put it in a few short sentences. He indicated the policy of the County Councils' Association in relation to the 114 three-way split in Cardiff. He said that at a later stage we shall hear more about it. The County Councils' Association have said that so far as they are concerned they will accept the basic philosophy of the local government reorganisation. They will accept all that is done in every area with one exception. On no sound local government grounds can any case be adduced by anyone for the separation of Glamorgan into three new counties. It was said in another House that 40 local authorities supported the Government in relation to the three-way split. We took the trouble to write to the authorities. What they were supporting was the retention of Cardiff as the capital city. It is still going to be a capital city, when it becomes a district council. It was never involved in any difficulty, no more than were the City of London or Edinburgh. In that particular sense I am certain in my own mind what the position should be.
It was said that five eminent gentlemen in the Principality were supporting a three-way split, so I took the trouble to go to see His Grace the Roman Catholic Archbishop, Dr. John Murphy. I spoke to Dr. Murphy and he made it abundantly clear to me that, so far as he was personally concerned, he was supporting Cardiff as the capital city and in no way was supporting a three-way split. I then went along to Somerset to see His Grace the Archbishop of Wales, Dr. Glyn Simon, who has now unfortunately passed on. I spoke to him and elicited from him very clearly whether or not he was supporting the three-way split. We received a letter from him indicating clearly that he was not supporting it. So all the arguments that had been adduced from public gentlemen, and from the urban and rural associations, show that not one single body in the Principality supports the three-way split.
Paragraph 43 of the Consultative Document, which illustrates the philosophy behind it, also states that there should not be a three-way split, which would break mid-Glamorgan, a mining valley, from the city. Is it not the culture and the economics of the valley which have poured into the city that have made it great? Are we now to say that there is now no affinity between the capital of Wales and the valleys? Are 115 we now to say that logically we should have this kind of reorganisation of local government? The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said this afternoon that we are now determining local government for the next fifty years. I am going to ask the Government and Members of this House to have second thoughts. I want to canvass as much support as I possibly can to ensure that this tragedy of local government will not he perpetrated on the people of South Wales.
§ 8.2 p.m.
LORD LUCAS or CHILWORTH
My Lords, as we are two-thirds of the way through the first day only of this long debate I will, if your Lordships will forgive me, dispense with the usual preliminary pleasantries. I have no interest to declare in that I have never been a parish councillor, a city councillor or a county councillor, and so I am going to speak, as it were, from quite the other side of the fence. I do have an interest, however, of another kind and I shall confine my remarks almost entirely to what I consider to be the problems of Southampton and Hampshire. In this connection, I hope your Lordships will accept that I readily agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, said upon this particular subject.
In all the speeches which have been made in the 28 months since local government reform became paramount in our world, one aspect has been outstanding: that is, that local government must come nearer to the people; that the decision-making process of local government must be seen to be near to the people to whom it is of concern. It is in connection with this aspect that I find my own disquiet in the proposals for Hampshire, Southampton and Portsmouth. It is a great disappointment to me that Her Majesty's Government have, so far at any rate, failed to appreciate the strides that both Southampton and Portsmouth have made in the post-war years: achievements which can be equalled by some other authorities in some directions, but in very few directions can be surpassed. It is disappointing that in these proposals the Government have also failed to appreciate that the inevitable natural growth of Southampton will take that city far from 116 its 215,000 population to-day, to well up to the quarter of a million mark within a measurable time. It is absolute nonsense to subscribe to the view that 16 elected councillors out of 110, which will be the representation Southampton will have at the county council level, are adequate to meet those people's needs. I myself have already suffered the difficulty of traversing the labyrinth of corridors of county hall and experiencing complete failure to find an official or an elected representative with whom I can talk and deal. Southampton, which has a status which a number of county boroughs envy, deals with about 3.000 to 3.500 inquiries a year. At the moment it is quite possible not only to reach the official head of a department but also to reach the local councillor without any great difficulty.
I will take two examples only to illustrate my support of what has already been said. There are two aspects of local government which are fundamentally near and dear to the individual. One lies under the heading of the social services, and the other is education. Suppose one takes, for example, a person living in a house who, perhaps due to advancing age or some other difficulty, is unable to cope. Currently, the general practitioner refers to the medical officer of health for the city and the whole process. the whole team employed in social work for this kind of case, goes into action. Under the reorganisation there will be, at best, four separate and distinct authorities which will have to deal with this one small but most vitally important and personal problem. There will be the area health authority: there could well be the regional water board—and so far, of course, we do not quite know where these two are going to fit in. There will be the district council, and on top of that the county council. So, to alleviate the sufferings of perhaps one person with very personal problems, a whole new team will have to be formed: new links will have to be forged. The old, existing team will be disbanded, and the person's worry will then be dealt with, so far as he or she is concerned, by foreigners from the county—hardly local in its concept!
The other example is one which frankly would worry me, and does indeed worry me enormously, as a fairly young man. Education of one's children is probably 117 the most important aspect of any married couple's problems. Generally speaking, more time is spent by people in worrying about this aspect than on any other. Of course, we recognise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, says, that if an authority has not a viable' education authority it must go. Southampton has a viable education authority. It has an absolutely splendid one which few people can fault, and it starts at the primary school level. I would remind your Lordships that it was Southampton City Council who introduced into their education system the recommendations of the Plowden Report. They were the first authority so to do, and we now go right through the whole spectrum of education to Southampton University and, indeed, on to the new medical school and the teaching hospital. Here is a viable education authority. Here parents can find the teachers, they can find the officials and can find their elected representatives.
In 10 years' time those same parents—two million people—will be trying to get at their elected representatives at the county council hall. The education committee will have a membership looking after—what? Will it be one member to 50,000, 60,000 or 70,000 people? And this is the most fundamental of all personal services. I cannot conceive how, with the growth plan that has been explained to your Lordships by other noble Lords and which I shall not repeat, it is conceivable that any Government can start off with a local government structure which does not meet the needs of the people of that locality to-day, and which will assuredly fail dismally to meet their needs within such a short—a measurable—time. If we are speaking about local government reform that is to last for 30, 40 or indeed 50 years, let us look that far ahead and make those plans and provisions that will meet the requirements of that time, because it is quite certain that if there is inadequate provision for that which we can reasonably foresee, there will be abrasion, distrust and difficulty all along the line.
Indeed, although Southampton and Portsmouth, with populations of either 200.000 or 215,000, have already recognised the allocation of their functions as they now see them in the Bill, good men and true are already leaving the city service for what they consider to be the 118 wider and better opportunities to be offered in the county council service. I do not subscribe to the view that necessarily there will be better opportunities, but people are thinking this, and in my own home town it is becoming difficult to replace these people. I do not subscribe to the view that a larger authority will necessarily bring a greater degree of efficiency or economy. Indeed, my business life would sometimes lead me to think exactly the opposite. Where there is a good authority, I think it should be allowed to embrace the new functions. I am not even attempting to argue that this is a case for the retention of thestatus quo—certainly not, because of course there are various functions, such as traffic, transportation and many others, for which a higher authority should have strategic responsibility. But I ask the Government to look again at those authorities where there is a good working basis in those areas which are most important to the people, to see whether they can be retained in some form or another so that the new proposals may have the full-hearted support of the people whom they are supposed to serve.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, although I cannot follow precisely the comments of my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth in regard to Southampton, I find myself in complete agreement with what he has said, because I speak as the president of a parish councils' association in Worcestershire. I was delighted to hear this afternoon the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, about parish councils who have come forward to give evidence to the Royal Commission. It may be within the knowledge of the House that no fewer than 593 parishes did so—and it is greatly to their credit—and it is to the credit of the Government that they have taken note of the voice of the village. Hitherto, the parish council has been the voice of the village, largely concerned with rural areas. Now the Parish Councils Association takes on a completely new element and it becomes a parish representative within rural and urban areas. Here we are particularly grateful for those three important paragraphs in the Government White Paper (Cmnd. 4584), which referred to parishes 38, 39 and 40, and which contrasted the rural parish and its 119 aspirations with the urban parish or ward and its different role, both within a metropolitan area and within its existing context.
I feel that we owe a special debt to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, not only for the way in which he has this evening stressed the fact that we have three tiers of local government—stressing, naturally, the Parish Councils Association—but also for the enormous and prodigious work which was done by the Commission. Although the Government's proposals depart radically from the recommendations, I feel that we owe the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, a great debt of gratitude for reviewing the entire context throughout England and Wales, and especially for seeing far enough ahead. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilwonth, stressed this aspect. We want to cast our view forward a long way, and therefore I would make a plea on behalf of the Parish Councils Association in regard to the particular importance of parish boundaries. These three paragraphs in the White Paper make it clear that the Government will pay special attention to the Boundaries Commission when it is set up. But I hope your Lordships will agree with me that special care should be taken in Government circulars, so that those who carry out and interpret their wishes will bear these three important paragraphs in mind.
I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Amory, with the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, and indeed with the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, who made such a delightful maiden speech this afternoon, about the importance of planning. My noble friend Lord Amory used the delicate phrase, "the risk of confusion over local plans". This risk is very real, and I feel that the Government may be interested to hear with what fervour and importance we Back-Benchers regard Clauses 176, 177 and 178 in the Bill. My noble friend Lord Ridley mentioned this point and I add my small voice to a chorus of anxiety about the planning aspects.
The Bill as drafted does not give county councils power to regulate development in conservation areas. The last page of the White Paper refers to 120 county councils' having planning development control and making strategic and other decisions. It also speaks of the acquisition and disposal of land for planning purposes, development or redevelopment. This does not appear to have been incorporated in the Bill, though it is of special importance for the ccntrol of development in conservation areas. I have in mind the County of Worcestershire, where no fewer than 42 areas have been designated and where the county council is very much concerned about the future situation. The hour is late and I do not wish to detain your Lordships further. I close by stressing again my support for the Government in their broad intentions in the Bill.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, for many years we have been discussing the changing aspects of local government. We have been travelling a long road, and to-night this House is near the end of that road. This Bill will change the pattern of local government from its inception in 1873, and when we speak about our decision lasting for 50 years, we may in fact be taking a step that will remain unchanged for a century or more.
I should like at the outset to add my congratulations to those expressed by many noble Lords to a very old colleague of mine, Lord Watkins. I congratulate him on an excellent maiden speech. We were colleagues together in another place for 21 years. He remained there a little longer than I did, and I am delighted to see him on these Benches, especially as this debate has given him an opportunity to speak on a subject which has captured his imagination for most of his adult life. I am aware of his great interest in local government affairs, and he must have been gratified to be able to make his maiden speech on this subject. I also congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who, being a young man, displayed a progressive line of thought. His views were not quite in accord with those of the Government, but I assure him that I supported many of his ideas.
I must register a small complaint. We are dealing with a Bill of great importance, yet it was placed before us only last Thursday night, four days ago. It is a complicated Bill of 259 clauses and 30 Schedules. I do not know how many noble Lords have been able to assimilate 121 the meaning of all its 408 pages, but I readily admit that I have not been able to do so. In many respects it is different from the original Bill that was introduced in the Commons and it varies considerably from the Government White Paper on this subject.
Let us be clear about one thing. The Bill will not make as many radical changes as some noble Lords think. Three-tier government will remain with us, but the main change will be the reduction in the number of local government bodies from over 1,500 to about 300. There will also be some change in functions between districts and counties. The other major change will affect metropolitan areas. Bearing this in mind, one wonders how it will be possible for more young people to take an active part in local government, as many noble Lords opposite have claimed will happen under this legislation. Considering the larger distances that will have to be travelled because of the greater areas of responsibility that are being created, I cannot see how more young people will be able to take a bigger part in local government responsibility. Travelling difficulties and the inability to get away from work to take part in local government affairs will hinder their becoming more closely involved in the structure of local government. I trust that this and other problems will be considered, because it must be admitted that the whole structure of local government is outmoded. Certainly the reduction in the number of units is a step in the right direction.
The squires of the shires have been active in putting forward their views in this debate. As one who has lived for many years in a rural area I have much sympathy with what they have said. Nevertheless, we have not heard very much about the metropolitan set-up, apart from what my noble friend Lady Bacon said on this topic. I might be described as a mixed breed; although a countryman, for 21 years I was the Parliamentary representative of a big industrial area, part of it on Tyneside, being a metropolitan area, and I lived adjacent to the Leeds metropolitan area. I regret to say that my little village, on the periphery of this complex, is excluded from that overall metropolitan area, but I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will be hearing a great deal 122 more about that when we discuss the Bill in Committee.
When we define "metropolitan" and "county" for this purpose we tend to overlook something that has caused a great deal of trouble in local government. I refer to the overspill from many industrialised and densely populated areas. This has been a constant warring factor, so to speak, between the city and county, and I am not at all certain that the Bill will help to solve this problem. The noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe-Maud, took a common-sense approach to this matter in referring to all-purpose authorities and he showed considerable vision in speaking of the set-up that is required to solve this acute problem. I regret to say that the way in which "metropolitan" has been defined will result in a distortion of the objective that lies behind the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Bacon pointed out, to divide up areas, in the Leeds or metropolitan area itself, in the way proposed, into a number of districts will mean cutting right across what has been established in that area over many years. I refer to education, libraries and the rest. To talk about dividing these up into districts, as distinct from counties or metropolitan areas, is not satisfactory.
I support noble Lords who have expressed regret at the prospect of police forces being subjected to another internal upheaval. Not long ago we passed legislation establishing new police authorities. They are now getting into their stride. It will be impossible for them to complete the change if they are to be faced with another upheaval. I trust that we can discuss this matter in Committee and that the Government will do everything possible to ensure that the new police authorities are given every opportunity to develop in the way we meant them to develop when we passed that legislation.
Of course, my Lords, within this Bill we get a most peculiar mixture in many ways. As I have said earlier, lip service has been paid to men and women of good will—equality of the sexes—taking their part in local government. One of the chief features was amplified by the Repot, of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, when he dwelt upon the importance of parish councils, and in that Report he does a little more than this Bill does. This Bill states that, "The Parish Council will continue to act in accordance with the Parish 123 Councils Act 1957". That is very circumscribed indeed. The Maud Commission Report spelt out certain additional functions which he thought should be given to parish councils. It also spelt out in a little more detail that these parish councils would have authority to impose a rate to deal with the needs of their particular area without having to seek higher authority for it. That is a most important part and I hope that the Government will have another look at this point, because I do not think that the provisions within the Parish Councils Act 1957 are sufficiently wide in scope to encourage young people to take an interest in local government. It will start there if we want to attract their interest.
Take the various county districts. Take my own, for instance, which will be in North-West Yorkshire: we are linked up with a district that extends to the whole of the North Riding, to the greater part of the East Riding, down to Doncaster and up to York. There is no affinity of interest there. And the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, expressed the view that it may be difficult to go to the district county hall, or wherever it may be, in order to meet the correct official. So ways and means should be found to evolve, as it were, certain facets of local interest and let them be decided in order to attract the good will of these particular people.
There is another small point with which I am rather concerned because in my own area there are certain parishes which are going into the metropolitan area. I am assured by Lord Sandford in his opening speech that these parish councils will continue to have the same facilities as parish councils out in the county areas, even though they are within the metropolitan area. What will he the position of the urban district councils? Will they be denigrated to parish council status? Some of these boroughs have had a charter for a great many years. Do they now have to go down to parish council status? If so, surely they should be given rather greater powers than those contained in the Parish Councils Act 1957. Because under the Bill itself, so far as we can gather, that is what their duties are going to be. One of the difficulties with this Bill is that, instead of the duties of each local authority being 124 spelt out so that we can assimilate them with ease and comfort, we have to search all over the Bill in order to get at them and one is quite frequently befogged. In the four days I have had the Bill you can see the number of pages I have turned down here in order to try and get something is absolutely fantastic.
My Lords, the hour is late, but if I may speak as an old local government man of many years standing, before I became a Member of Parliament, and still maintaining a deep and keen interest in connection with it, I would just say this. I feel that in this Bill the Government are really missing the correct line of thought, the correct vision that ought to be used if we are attempting to build a structure to carry us over the same number of years as our present local government structure has done. Sooner or later this county and metropolitan, this country and town, atmosphere must be abolished completely. We must approach it from the standpoint of citizens of our country and because we are a small island, with an expanding population, we need always to get the maximum use from the land available in order to provide the facilities necessary to satisfy the tremendous growth of population. Although I welcome the change in some ways, in other ways I feel that the opportunity to make the reconstruction which I believe is absolutely necessary has been lost.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, I should like to apologise at the outset for not being able to be in my place in the House at the start of this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, made some reference to the number of speeches, which I thought he felt had come from the squires of the shires. Looking around the House this evening, I am not sure how many are left and I regret that I do not share that distinction of being a squire of the shires. I should like to associate myself with my noble friend Lord Sandys, who spoke for the Parish Councils Association, as others have done earlier. I should particularly like to support the remarks of my noble friend about the planning aspect, and to congratulate the Government for inserting in Schedule 16, at a fairly late stage in another place, the 125 principle that parish councils will be consulted on planning applications. I believe that that is very welcome.
At this stage of the debate, when so many experts have made so many points already, I should briefly like to welcome the Bill in principle, and to say, for those who work in local government, that I hope the Bill will soon be implemented so that some of the uncertainties that exist among them will be resolved. I suspect that as we enter the Committee stage of this Bill many noble Lords will be interested in certain territorial matters, and I am sure that a great many briefs have already been sent to many Members. I should like to give notice to my noble friend that, among certain areas which I hope to support in the Committee stage, is the case of the Isle of Wight. First of all, I should declare an interest in that I am a resident of the Isle of Wight. I believe that there is a good deal of sympathy in the House for the Isle of Wight. I was not able to hear them, but I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, were kind enough to mention it.
One knows that the Isle of Wight, which is separated from the mainland by five miles of the famous Solent Water, has 94,000 acres and 109,000 people, rising to 300,000 people during the summer. One also knows that the population growth on the Isle of Wight over the last four years has been no less than 8 per cent. It has administrative county status with two borough councils, three urban district councils and one rural district council. It has its own joint river and water authority and it has an excellent record in the field of education. Perhaps few people realise that it was one of the first counties to implement education for all. The development of the social services is another aspect of which I believe the county council can be justly proud. Again, it was one of the first, with the aid of the Birmingham computer, to make a complete study of the needs and requirements of the chronically sick and handicapped. It can also be said that tilt; island is economically viable. It has a very high rateable value per head and, correspondingly, a very low rate of support grant.
Above all these arguments, there is the special case that it this is an island with no 126 road connections to the mainland, cut off for many days of the year by bad weather, and certainly cut off in the evenings in the winter by a fairly early last boat. One of the results, if the Bill is implemented and the Isle of Wight has to join Hampshire, would be that it will take the elected representatives of the island six to twelve hours to travel to Winchester to attend a meeting. I believe that this is no exaggeration. Indeed, the county have taken it upon themselves to produce an impressive document, of which I am sure my noble friend has a copy, to demonstrate this fact. Again, in the case of those who wish to attend council meettings for their own personal interest, the same hardship would occur.
It is interesting to note—I am sure my noble friend will have taken note of this—that in 1888 the Isle of Wight faced a similar threat to its independence; it was joined at that stage with Hampshire. But within one year it regained its status again, as the Government of the day realised that the arrangement simply did not work. In those days the island's representatives virtually refused to travel. I am not suggesting that in 1974 the same would happen, but still—I think this is the vital point—there would really be no community of interest between Winchester and the island. I am sure that my noble friend is aware of the many strong representations already made, notably by the Member of Parliament for the island, and by the county councils. I believe that the Government are sympathetic to the island's case; they recognise that it is a special case. I hope that at the end of this two-day debate my noble friend will not only express sympathetic words, as happened in another place, but will be able to say that the Government have recognised the island's special case and intend to meet that case before the Bill passes into law.
With that short plea for the Isle of Wight, and with so many speakers having already spoken, I should like to leave my other tire for the Committee stage. But before sitting down, I should like to wish the Bill well in general terms, and I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept the further improvements that may come along during the process of the Bill. In the long term, I hope that the Bill will prove a successful framework to meet modern needs for the good work of 127 local government, which is, after all, the essence and pillar of our democracy.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, in rising for a few moments to support this Bill in general principle, I should like to say a few words on the future finance of local government. I ventured to address your Lordships on the White Paper which dealt with this problem. In the Royal Commission's Report in a short paragraph on the future finance of local government, it was stated that it is very important to find some new methods of finance for local government. That produced the Government committee, and the Green Paper which was published last year. I, and I think quite of a lot other noble Lords, were pretty disappointed with the Green Paper, because although Her Majesty's Government took tremendous trouble over it, they put up suggestions one by one and then knocked them down as impracticable. At the end of the day, we found in the Green Paper practically no other sources for local government finance. I was delighted today to hear the speech of my noble friend Lord Sandford, who told the House that the Government propose to introduce a Bill next Session on local government finance.
Of course, unless some means can be found whereby local government can raise more finance themselves, other than by the rates, its independence will not be assured, and I doubt whether good young people will go on to local authorities if they are to be only agents of central government. I served for nine years on a local authority, Suffolk County Council, which I enjoyed very much, but I sometimes found things pretty irksome. As your Lordships know, about 60 per cent. of the cost of local government is borne by central government. If local government are finding only about 40 per cent. of expenditure, central government are bound to interfere in the future, and with complete justification, if they are paving 60 per cent. of the bill. It is vital that local authorities should try to find some other source of local finance.
I had hoped that they would be allowed to keep the car tax in their areas, but that was not possible, because, although at the moment collection of the car tax is done by local government as 128 agent for central government, in future it will be done by a central computer at Swansea. The other question was whether they could get the petrol tax. That was considered impractical, because it is deducted at source and it would be difficult to rake it from the petrol pumps, which are licensed by local authorities. Then there was the question of local income tax. If we are to make a success—and I hope we will—of future local government, we have to think seriously about finance.
All of these reorganisations cost more money, as I have seen—water, police, and so on. This great reorganisation will cost a lot more; there will have to be a lot more building and so on. I hope that the Government will give very serious consideration to finding quite a large amount of extra local finance, other than rates, which local authorities can collect. Otherwise, we shall be in the same position as now—simply agents of central government. The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, rightly said today in his brilliant speech, that we want to get younger men of ability into local government. Unless you give them some authority to run their own show, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, rightly said, I do not think it will be the success we hope it is going to be.
I want to make only one other point about my own county of Suffolk. I am very glad that Her Majesty's Government have, at the eleventh hour, revised what was in the Bill about Suffolk. I have always thought that if you are going to have Suffolk you ought to have a united Suffolk. In the White Paper, the northeastern area, the Lowestoft area, was put into Norfolk, and the Haverhill, New-market and Clare area was put into Cambridgeshire. When the Bill came out there was great protest from East Suffolk. We thought that taking away the Lowestoft area was a mistake, because Norfolk is a very big county anyway, and will have the City of Norwich. They put Lowestoft back, but we pleaded in the debate on the White Paper that they should put back the Haverhill, New-market, Clare area. I am glad to say that that position has now been rectified by an Amendment which the Government made at the Report stage in the House of Commons. I hope the Government will now stick firm on that, although there 129 has been a good deal of protest by Cambridgeshire County Council, who wanted to have that area in their new area of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdon and Peterborough.
With those few words, I support the Bill's general principles. There are some points that I am worried about. I am worried about putting back the important Amendment about dustbins that was passed in the House of Commons, because I am sure that these great new district of between 6,000 and 100,000 are capable not only of collecting but of destroying the refuse in their plants, and a lot of them have big plants operating to-day. I do not like divided responsibility. I think it is much better to allow these big districts not only to collect but also to destroy the stuff. But the Government have told us to-day that they think this work should be done by the counties, who have never done it. Anyway, that is a Committee point.
The only other point I would make—and I agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said—is that Parliament ought to lay down exactly what each tier of local government is to do. The system does not work when you have agency agreements. When I was on the county council, there were quite a lot of disputes about who should do what, and the first tier authority, who have most of the powers, are very loath to give up those powers on an agency basis to the second tier. Sometimes they do, but very often they ought to do and do not. I think it very much better if, in the first instance, Parliament lays down what each authority is to do and sticks to that, rather than have this arrangement whereby the Minister has to intervene and settle a dispute.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I have always strongly condemned those who add themselves to a list already comprising thirty speakers. I am afraid I was guilty of doing so this morning, but I felt that there were one or two things I must say. I shall be as short as possible. I am no expert on local government, but I think I understand possibly a little more about the feelings of the people than those who are. My noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud regretted the fact that this Bill had been called the "Local Government Boundaries Bill". 130 Of course that is incorrect, but I am not surprised at the mistake because it is boundaries that people feel most strongly about. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for instance, said that the essential thing about any legislation is that it comes as near the people as possible. He also pointed out that to make larger administrative areas was not necessarily to make them better.
Not so many years ago we had an almost equally voluminous Bill, the Greater London Council Bill. Your Lordships will remember what a time we spent over that Bill. Have any of your Lordships come across a member of the ordinary public—I do not mean a borough councillor, or anybody who is concerned with local government—who has said, "What a blessing the Greater London Council Act has been! We get a so much more efficient service." I have not come across one such person. All I have come across is the feeling of resentment of people who live in a certain borough at no longer having their own autonomy. I think that exactly the same thing will happen with this Bill. One thing you cannot do so far as local government is concerned is to mix urban and rural districts. The people who live in towns are totally different from the people who live in the country. Their work is different; their outlook is different; their interests are different; and their background is different. They do not mix a great deal with one another.
Before I come on to one or two aspects of that matter, may I first of all deal with what I think is quite the worst feature of the whole Bill, which I must confess I do not like; that is the proposal to include the Isle of Wight in Hampshire. It is just as absurd to consider the Isle of Wight as part of Hampshire as it is to consider the British Isles as part of Europe—and to my mind that is the depth of absurdity. They are separated physically by several miles of sea. It is impossible, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, pointed out, for anybody living on the island to get to Winchester in a short time for his work. The whole life on the island is totally different from that on the mainland. It is ridiculous to think of them forming a part of a single whole. I should be grateful if the noble Lord, when he winds up tomorrow, would give an assurance that 131 the Government will seriously reconsider -this aspect, because it is a very urgent problem.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SECURITY (LORD ABERDARE)
My Lords. I would be delighted to reconsider it if the noble Lord will reconsider his own ideas about the British Isles not being part of Europe.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, naturally I must leave the noble Lord to have his own ideas about that. There are other bad features concerning Hampshire. There is the idea of including Southampton and Portsmouth, a matter which was touched on by the noble Lord. Lord Maybray-King. There again, you have two very distinguished cities, which are not going to mix with, or be part of, a rural county. What is wrong with the status of cities as a local government unit or, for that matter, a county borough? What are they but small counties? They may be small in area, but they are just as large so far as population is concerned. It seems to me that having done their work as efficiently as they have they should be allowed, if they wish, to remain autonomous. The Government seem to have a perfect bee in their bonnet about this question of change for the sake of change. This is a failing not only of the Government. I think the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, if he were here, would remember my having tackled him on the same subject when his Party were in Office. Change is not necessarily progress. Progress involves moving forward; it does not cover moving sideways or backwards, or a combination of the two.
Another feature I should like to protest about is the joining of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. I must declare a slight interest here, but only a sentimental one, in that my family originally came from Worcestershire and has lived for a great many years in Herefordshire. The two counties are utterly unalike in character. Herefordshire is almost entirely rural, and Worcestershire is extremely industrialised. Furthermore, the Herefordshire men regard themselves as Westerners, whereas the Worcestershire men regard themselves as Midlanders. Therefore you cannot expect the 132 people of the two counties to welcome such a change. Efficiency it may bring, although I doubt that because greater distances will have to be covered. The wishes of the people who are going to be concerned need to be considered.
My Lords, if we continue at this pace, and especially in view of our coming entry into Europe, I shall not be surprised if the Government take a small semi-circular part of Kent, round Dover possibly, and call it part of France. That will be their next step, I feel quite certain. My final point, my Lords, is that this is going to give the Post Office an awful lot of work. Postal codes will be thrown completely to the winds. I can only hope that they are starting work well in advance so that we shall not miss our post.
§ 9.1 p.m.
My Lords, I find myself in an embarrassing position because I welcome the Bill on account of many things that it does, notably on the simplification of local government, but there are certain aspects of it that have been brought out, especially latterly, in the speeches in your Lordships' House, about which obviously there are a great many points of disagreement which will have to be settled, and which may be settled by a Parliamentary majority without regard to the wishes of the local people.
Before I go on to that. may I say that I live in a corner of Herefordshire a matter of 400 yards from the Radnorshire border and therefore it behoves me to say how much I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Watkins, has said. Although he has never represented me in Parliament, otherwise than here, he is well known to me for the magnificent work he has done in the counties of Brecon and Radnor. I find myself in even more difficulty and embarrassment because, while I welcome the Bill, I do not welcome much that is in it, and I have a profound suspicion that the points on which I have no sympathy with the Government—and I will come to them in a minute—are likely to be carried owing to the short time that is available to deal with a Bill of 400 pages and 200-odd clauses.
At this point it is necessary to say, having in the course of a mis-spent life 133 served in or under seven different Ministries, that I know what work is involved in drafting Bills of this sort. I think the greatest possible credit is due to the civil servants who have worked on this Bill, to produce it in time, in its amended form, for this debate, and no praise can be higher than I am sure your Lordships would agree is their due.
However, to go back to the Bill itself, I do not want to go into the question of boundaries. The noble Lord. Lord Somers, has made the case, which I would have done (he has given the reasons) against the merger of Worcestershire and Herefordshire. Secondly, as I see the matter in the Bill, it is not a question of amalgamating Herefordshire with Worcestershire, but of the dismemberment of Herefordshire by the transfer of two districts in Herefordshire to join up with the ill-begotten idea of making a new county called Morelandshire, the area in which the noble Lord, Lord Somers, lives, at the Eastern corner of Herefordshire. It is an unnecessary change, and no Bill is improved by having unnecessary changes made. The whole thing should be left alone. Here is one of the few almost perfect geographical entities in this country. It is a plain with the capital in the middle of it, and all roads lead through that capital—namely, Hereford City. The communication between that part of Herefordshire in which I live, the left-hand top corner, to Hereford is a matter of 20 miles by road, which is possible; Worcester is 40 miles away.
It is stated that Herefordshire is too small. I have nothing against smallness if it is efficient. All such figures as I have seen, financial and otherwise, about Herefordshire show that it is entirely and eminently a viable county and well administered. I have lived there, on and off, for 20-odd years; my family have been there about 400 years. We have fought to keep Herefordshire in England and have no wish to join up with Wales, nor to have any part of the Welsh border; but if there was a logical piece of boundary rectification it would be to include parts of Radnorshire in Herefordshire—although I accept that that is politically impossible on account of prejudice! It is well known to your Lordships that the old shire hall and assize town of Radnorshire is a township called 134 Presteigne, bordered in 400 yards on the one side with Herefordshire and 200 yards on the other side with Shropshire. Because the people of Radnorshire behaved so badly on a day of assize when, because of an unpopular verdict, they chased the judge with picks and forks, the shire hall there was built there. Now that is a salient in Hereford which it would be much more logical to remove from Radnorshire. Therefore, I have little sympathy with changes for the sake of making changes.
When the changes for which the Bill provides are made, Herefordshire will, practically speaking, disappear, because two districts will be moved over into the Parliamentary constituency of South Worcestershire, which will no doubt be a source of great joy to the Member who sits for South Worcestershire in another place. But it is not logical, it is not good geography, and I want to know who the geographer was who made that recommendation. He ought to go back to school and learn a bit of geography.
Herefordshire is a plain through which the Wye runs; it is bordered by hills all round. On the side which it is proposed to remove it is bordered by the Malvern Hills and by a ridge which is practically impassable in winter without a snow plough, of which there is an insufficient number. The centre towards which Herefordshire faces, and a large part of Radnorshire, too, is Hereford City, and not any other place. If it is, as I said, 40 miles for me to go to Worcester, instead of 20 miles to Hereford, how many more miles is it for those living in Ross-on-Wye, at the bottom end of the county, if it is included in Worcestershire? It is a matter of 70 miles. In the amalgamation of the counties of Breconshire and Radnorshire it is stated that it could not be made any bigger because the distances would be too great. If that argument is true in that case, it should also be true in the case of Herefordshire; and there is more to be said for the adjustment of the southern boundary of Herefordshire than there is for the amalgamation of Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
The question of population and areas is, I know, the joy of good civil servants. They like to have everything tied up in nice parcels. It will be within your Lordships' recollection that during the 135 war, when clothes rationing was in existence, they found it very hard to deal with people who were either much larger or much taller than those for whom they had been catering. It looks to me as if the same ideas of unification and of the size of a unit have led to a great many anomalies being produced in this Bill; and that is brought out by the contentions and opposition, about which we have heard a great deal this evening and which I do not intend to enlarge upon, concerning Exeter and Plymouth, Southampton and Portsmouth, and the creation of a county called Avon which would leave Somerset the smallest county in England. Why? It is in order to have a nice tidy parcel which bears little relation to what people want. I therefore leave the thought with your Lordships—and I shall enlarge on it at the Committee stage—that in my view the Bill would be improved by making the changes I have suggested. At the Committee stage I propose to speak only on the Herefordshire-Worcestershire amalgamation, because that is what I know best myself; but I must say that I would be inclined also to take up the cudgels on behalf of other counties where the same sort of thing is happening.
So, in the problem of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, we are not alone in our objection, in Hereford, to being amalgamated with Worcester, and, least of all, to have two districts hived off towards Malvern, and, for Parliamentary purposes and the electorate, to a Member who will no doubt be very glad to have the support of an agricultural population. I cannot express how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Somers, as to the difference in attitude of mind between people who live in towns and people who live in villages, large or small. There is no doubt that Malvern itself partakes much more of a town than it does of the country.
The same is true of a growing movement south out of Worcester on account of the depopulation of Worcester through its becoming increasingly industrialised. We in Herefordshire are not industrialised but we have some industry which has recently arrived. We have a lower unemployment rate in Herefordshire than in Worcestershire. It is one of the lowest in England. We have a lower precept 136 by the county on local rates in Herefordshire than they have in Worcestershire. Therefore, without bothering the House with further statistics at this hour—I do not know whether to call it a late or an early hour—I wish to put myself on notice, without transgressing further on your Lordships' time, to speak on the boundaries when they come up at the Committee stage.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ LORD CONGLETON
My Lords, we have had a positive feast of good speeches in this debate to-day. I hope it may be possible to say the same when I have sat down. To-morrow I shall read theHansard report of these proceedings with more than usual eagerness and I am certain that I shall be delving into it for many years to come, not least because of the excellence of the two maiden speeches. Those of us who live in the country recognise that this is the harvest season of the year. It is late in arrival due to inclement conditions earlier, and although the crops have a promising look they are not quite yet ready for gathering in. One of my favourite pieces of farming wisdom advises the farmer, upon reckoning his crop to be ready for harvest, to go away for at least a fortnight before returning to gather it, to make certain of its fitness. I understand that those responsible for the management of business in this House have something like that in mind for consideration of this Bill at the Committee stage.
Here in this Bill we have an abundance of words, clauses and schedules sufficient to keep the legislative husbandman occupied for days. It requires no great vision to forecast long hours of debate during the Committee stage. In commenting upon a Bill with such wide-ranging implications for every man, woman and child in the country in one way or another—and that on every day of the year—it is necessary at this late hour to exercise restraint in limiting one's remarks. I welcome the Government decision to opt for a two-tier or three-tier system of local government, as against the unitary structure advocated by the Royal Commission and recommended in principle by the previous Government.
I think that a two-tier or three-tier system is right at this time, but that is not to say that it must remain like that for 137 ever. One can be sure that change will be required at some time in the future. I can imagine it being asked in the next 30, 40 or 50 years' time: "Why did not Parliament recommend a unitary system in 1972?" I think a reasonable answer could be offered thus: that in 1972 a majority were too suspicious of the theory that bigness (that is, the proposed increase in centralised control of local government and the involvement of a dramatically reduced number of elected representatives) would necessarily lead to a more competent and more democratic administration of local affairs. That is how I see it.
I have just mentioned the decrease in the number of elected representatives. I should like to make a small point arising out of a letter that the Home Office directed to local authorities. It concerns the guidelines that the Home Office has laid down for the numbers of councillors to be elected to the new district councils. These limitations and the numbers are to be regarded, I hope, as guidelines and not to be regarded as something more inflexible. I am at present chairman of a district joint committee and that committee has found that the Home Office limitations do not quite meet the particular local situation with which we are faced. The proposed area in question is fairly large, about 250,000 acres, and the electorate is of the order of 70,500 people. In order to achieve an equitable distribution of seats and a size of electoral ward which meets local requirements the Committee seem to have strayed beyond the limits laid down on a strictly numerical basis by the Home Office letter. I think I should in fairness to the Home Office point out that the letter indicated that these limits are offered as a starting point only. However, such things can be misunderstood.
I now turn in a general way to this matter of the balance of responsibility as laid down in the Bill between the county councils and the district councils. The Association of Municipal Corporations, the Urban District Councils Association and the Rural District Councils Association, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and others, are united on the need for increased functions beyond those at present laid down in the Bill to be allocated to district councils. Almost 138 exactly a year ago I wrote a letter to the Government about this point. I should like to quote from that letter, because there were three points in it which illustrates what I have in mind. The points have been touched on by previous speakers. The first is this:Whereas in the past many district councils and the smaller boroughs may have lacked the necessary resources to cope with more than what they already administered, the new districts look like having an average population of around 80,000 to 85,000 and not a few of around of 100,000. A council called upon to administer an area with a population of this order, and especially where former boroughs and urban districts are grouped with the rural districts, is surely firmly enough based to support increased responsibility.That was the first point, my Lords. The second point was:Much has been said and written about the need to attract officers and councillors of the requisite calibre to serve on the new councils. One cannot quarrel with this excellent intention, but the carrot to draw out these people must to some degree at any rate consist of responsibility for a worthwhile job. If the new councils are not to be accorded wider powers than as set out in the White Paper—and remember, my Lords, that this was written a year ago—there must be doubt as to the response on the part of those who might otherwise be prepared to serve.The third point was this:The new district councils will cover wider areas than hitherto and they will be comprised of urban and rural ingredients. Within the limitation set by proper consideration of efficiency of administration, the closer the elected who sanctions expenditure is to the elector who pays, in part at any rate, the bills, the better for both. Already county councillors are required to travel distances which present obstacles to others of the necessary calibre to service at that level. If the intention really is to strengthen the quality of district councils, this must surely be given expression through increased powers and this, I believe, will help to bring out those for whom the travel factor offers an insuperable bar to service on the county councils.I received a very charming, very prompt and totally non-committal reply from the Government. I notice in the Bill that an increased variety of functions are not to be accorded to the district councils. When we come to the Committee stage of the Bill, I am sure we shall have much discussion about that.
It is getting late and many of the points which I noted have already been touched upon. I intended to say something fairly detailed about refuse disposal, but that 139 has already been referred to. I should like to see that function retained by the district council; it is not a function which should be split from collection. I am sure we shall hear more about that matter on Committee stage. I have one final point which may seem rather a small one. It arises out of consideration of Schedule 12 of the Bill, which deals with the meetings and proceedings of principal councils. My information comes from theMunicipal Year Book 1972. There it is stated that the general practice for the great borough councils, the non-county boroughs and the district councils is to meet in full council on a monthly or six-weekly basis throughout the year. At present, the county councils seem to meet in full session only quarterly. My impression is that the nature of those quarterly meetings is distinctly formal and that they do little other than confirm decisions taken in committee.
I should like to see—I do not know how it can be done—some instruction conveyed to the new county councils to the effect that meetings should be held on at least a six-weekly cycle. The power and authority of these new county councils will be considerable. But I believe it is right and proper that they should be required to meet more often than the existing council seem able to manage. I do not offer this suggestion simply because I believe it will be in the public interest to have business debated and discussed more publicly. The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, touched on this with regard to the parish councils. I believe that at rural district council level at present there is a community spirit and—for want of a better word—a togetherness about the way the business is conducted and the whole attitude towards the job to be done by the council. This may be lost at county council level.
I am not a county councillor, but I understand that most of the work is done in committee. The councils have large numbers of members and I should think that in many cases a goodly number of county councillors are not well aware of their fellows on the same council because of the committee structure and the fact that under existing conditions the county council, as such, meets only quarterly. I would ask that this matter could be 140 looked into at the Committee stage. Something of the community spirit which presently exists elsewhere may be lost.
This Bill marks a great step forward. I welcome the basic philosophy, but I wish it had been found possible now to allow that philosophy to be expressed in a more practical and realistic manner. I look forward to the Government's favourable consideration, during the Committee stage, of a move towards greater responsibility for the district councils.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I should like, at the outset, to add my tributes to those of other noble Lords in congratulating thee noble Lord, Lord Watkins, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on their maiden speeches, which I thought were of a very high standard. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his particular theme. I do not wish to detain your Lordships long. Indeed I want to speak on one specific item only, the question of the Isle of Wight. As your Lordships may be aware, my family has been established in the Isle of Wight for about 150 years, and I hope that in time I shall be able to live there permantently. It is relevant to this argument that I cannot do so at the moment because there are other things to be done and the travelling problem is a great deal more difficult than it looks when one gazes at a map in Whitehall.
I will not repeat all the things that other people have said. Many noble Lords have raised this point. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, who after all is possibly our greatest expert, while excluding the Government, on this general subject. I am also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, who has the interests of Southampton mainly at heart, and to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, whose remarks I thoroughly endorse. I also endorse, so far as he was talking about the Isle of Wight, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Somers. In that respect, before I sit down I shall be asking for an assurance from the Government. I hope I did not detect in the interjection of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that he was prepared to give assurances about the Isle of Wight only 141 if the noble Lord, Lord Somers, could guarantee to vote for the European Communities Bill. I hope that when he gives his assurance this is not the reason for doing so.
There was talk of travelling. This is important. I will not labour the matter. The only point that was not brought out was that if you make it too difficult to get from one place to another it becomes much more difficult for high-quality people to put themselves forward as candidates. People who could not spare the time would take six to eight hours to get to meetings, so one would get only those who could spare the time. These could be excellent people, but they would not represent a proper cross-section of the community from which they came.
It so happens that not long ago I had occasion to visit Orkney and Shetland where they have a very similar problem. I realise that this is not covered by the Bill but the subject is relevant. I understand that, initially, the Government were going to put Orkney and Shetland together, possibly not appreciating that the two communities are 200 miles apart and that they have quite remarkably different historical backgrounds. This makes them not as akin as the map, looked at in Whitehall, might indicate. The result is that Orkney has been allowed to be separate as a county, and the population of each of the two communities is 17,500. The population of the Isle of Wight is over 100,000. In so far as numbers are concerned, the point is not really vitally important.
Orkney and Shetland, although they are 200 miles apart, surprisingly enough in time are little more removed the one from the other than the Isle of Wight is from the mainland, because they have a first-class air service and it takes half an hour to an hour to get from one centre of population to another. That is something very similar, to the time it takes to get from Newport in the Isle of Wight to Winchester. So if it is agreed that to join Orkney and Shetland together is a nonsense, I hope that the Government will see that the same argument applies to the Isle of Wight and Hampshire. I appreciate that the Government gave an assurance in the other place to my honourable friend the Member for the Isle of Wight that they would give sympathetic consideration to making the necessary amend 142 ment to enable the Isle of Wight to be a separate county, and it is perhaps surprising that this Bill comes to our House without that particular assurance having yet been honoured. I would hope that the Government do not leave it too late in the process of this Bill through Parliament before honouring the undertaking that, as I understand it, they gave in another place. I hope that we shall not have to press this point too far.
Apart from the points that I have raised, I think the Bill in general is a good one. My personal association with local government has been as a user rather than as a doer, and I should have thought that, in general terms, the main structure of the Bill is one which will produce the right sort of balance. Therefore, in the hope that the Government will give those who are interested in the Isle of Wight the assurance that we seek. I wish the Bill well and hope that it has a happy passage through its remaining stages in this House.
§ 9.34 p.m.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
My Lords, at this late stage in the Second Reading debate on the Bill—I appear to be the "tail-end Charlie" in the presidential stakes, and I apologise for this—I shall be brief. The only other comment I would make on my position in the list is that there appears to be unfair discrimination against people with names like "Gainsborough" or "Gisborough". It has been an interesting debate, and I hope that the Government Front Bench will feel that the comment has been useful. We have heard a good deal about territorial problems, which I am afraid is something which we all expected, whatever the cost. Coming from Rutland, I am glad to say that I shall not be making a strong plea that that county should be retained as a separate county council. As the present chairman of that county council, I shall in due course throw a large party and spend the rest of my chairman's allowance on giving all my members champagne: and we shall all do our best to work with our neighbours in Leicestershire and the new authority. I think that is the spirit in which we ought to approach this problem, and not to look back and talk about what happened 300 and 400 years ago, much though I believe in tradition and all that goes with it.
143 I ought to declare my interest, in that I have been chairman of the Rural District Councils Association for a number of years. I also serve on the executive council of the County Councils Association, and of course I very much enjoyed the speech of the President of the C.C.A., the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, who put forward the views of the Association in his characteristically charming and persuasive manner. I am in some difficulty, in that I have been sent a great many papers from the C.C.A., asking me to support their view that no function should be taken away from the county councils and given to the district councils. I also have an equally large amount of paper sent by the R.D.C.A., the U.D.C.A., and the A.M.C., urging that many more functions should be given to them rather than to the county councils.
I have always taken the view that the only object of reorganising—some people call it reforming—local government is to improve the efficiency of the public services. There can be no other object; otherwise, a Bill of this size would surely be unnecessary. Obviously, there is great scope for making use of modern techniques of management and administrative systems which are now available, which were not available 75 or 80 years ago. I had the privilege of serving with my noble friend Lord Redcliffe-Maud on the management committee which looked into the methods and ways in which management in local government could be improved. I understand that we are shortly to have the benefit of another document along these lines, but I am sure it will only contain the ideas that we thought of some five or six years ago. As I said, the main object of reforming or reorganising local government is to increase efficiency; and that must be the prime criterion.
The other object, and it is a very important one, is to enable people in all walks of life to serve on local authorities. I hope, as has been said by previous speakers, that the allowances will be made public soon, so that people will be able to assess whether or not they can make the necessary sacrifices—in some cases, very real sacrifices—in order to stand for election to local authorities. There is no doubt that we are becoming more political. In my part of the coun 144 try, politics have virtually been a thing of the past. I have always stood as an Independent and once, when I was opposed by another person who also stood as an Independent, the local chairman of the Labour Party came along and said to me, "I will get you three or four nomination papers and support you". Of course I was very pleased to have his support, but I said, "For goodness sake, do not make it public or I will never get in". In fact, I won that election, although I had lost the previous one; so perhaps that fact is significant.
I should like to say during this Second Reading debate, that the R.D.C.A. and, I am sure, the other local authority associations very much appreciate the consideration given by the Government to the views they have put forward concerning the many problems associated with this legislation. I should like to thank the Ministers, including those in your Lordships' House, together with Mr. Graham Page, the Minister for Local Government and Development, who have all given such a lot of thought to the many problems put forward by the local authority associations.
It has been said, quite rightly, that most of the Bill is non-controversial and is generally accepted. This of course does not apply to the boundary changes which I have already mentioned. I do not think at this hour I need go into the matter again, but I should like to say that I have been going to the Isle of Wight for eighteen years as an "urbaner", as they call those of us who go there for the summer. I came up this morning after a nice walk on the beach and arrived here in plenty of time. I could almost catch the ferry to go back again to-night. So whether or not it is possible to get to Winchester in a day, I should not like to say.
District councils are worried about their functions. There are certain functions which they feel should be retained by them which, under the Bill, will be handed over to county councils. The criterion must be: how can these services he more efficiently carried out? Matters like refuse disposal are technical points: there is the Question of where you site the incineration plant and how you dispose of the refuse. It may be that these things can be dealt with by a consortia 145 of districts, or by county councils. It is a pity that there cannot be more flexibility in the matter of functions. I can understand that towns like Portsmouth, South-sea and Bournemouth—where we had our conference this year—are worried that they are to lose the functions which they have enjoyed for so many years.
Nobody has mentioned the proposed regional water authorities. This is a matter which will cause much more concern than almost anything else. If the provisions covering regional water authorities are carried out, local government will be much more worried than they will be about whether or not district councils carry out the function of refuse disposal. There is the problem of the agencies—that is, Clause 100—which will need more consideration. This is a very serious problem. If local authorities carry out functions on behalf of other local authorities on an agency basis, who will be responsible? All these matters must he taken into account. I do not think that agency arrangements are very satisfactory. They only cause arguments and the fact that the Minister offered to arbitrate or to say what had to be done when there was disagreement would cause many more councils to have disagreements with the county council. So the Minister will spend a lot of time deciding which authority should carry out which function. In view of the hour, I have curtailed quite considerably what I was going to say. I feel sure that at a later stage in the Bill it will be much more profitable to go into these matters in greater detail.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
My Lords, I found the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, fairly apt: that the borough should be at the end on the occasion of the end of the boroughs. I speak with somewhat more qualified enthusiasm than some other noble Lords have done. One of the objects in the Bill is to give people a greater association with their local government, and to discourage some of the apathy at local elections. I fear that this Bill may achieve the opposite. Some of the large districts will cover up to 140,000 people, which will make one vote seem very small; there will be far fewer representatives from each town and far more electors to each councillor. This will not be local 146 government, but remote government. The elector will have far less chance of seeing and knowing his councillor, and far less chance still of knowing his town officials.
The amalgamation of small district councils, with their part-time clerks, however conscientious they may have been, is long overdue, and the large conurbations, to the centres of which people from miles around can easily travel, will no doubt improve in the new structure. The authority which will suffer, to my mind, will be the town with between 10,000 and 20,000 people—a viable authority, which has been efficient and has had able young officers, but with very low rateable values. As these authorities become amended with their like to form districts, none will become a proper centre. They will suffer from inadequate transport to those towns chosen as the headquarters of councils. The results will be higher rate charges, less efficiency and more remote administration. One of the towns will almost certainly feel that it is not getting its fair share from the rates. The area that I have in mind is East Cleveland, and I should like to come back to that in a moment. I am delighted to see that the county elections will now be able to take place later in the year. Those of your Lordships who have campaigned for their county councils with snow and rain beating at the pulp that was once the electoral register will have some idea of the perseverance required to fight a March election in the North of England. I am sorry to see the end of the alder-manic system. I believe that the aldermen provide stability and continuity. They produce much wisdom in the councils and, above all, they were in their councils long enough to get to know the country really well. In many cases they knew every bend of the road, every corner of each school, and so on. I think the loss of their breadth of view will be a great loss to the councils. Undoubtedly the aldermanic system was abused, mainly politically; but Amendments were proposed in another place which involved fewer of them in relation to the number of councillors, four-yearly tenure of office, early retirement, and restriction to elected councillors. I wonder whether it is too late to give the aldermanic system a rethink. I do not go along with the idea that they should be drawn from elected councillors, because often one can find 147 much more able chaps not elected compared to the elected people.
I have a few points that I wish to put as briefly as possible. On planning, the White Paper made a clear definition between county and district, the one with plan making and the other with development control. The proposed arrangements in the Bill are now confusing the two and are, I think, contrary to the interests of the public. I believe that this part of the Bill needs amending in Committee. With the 420, instead of the 120, existing planning authorities, which are already stretched and extremely short of staff—the staff simply are not available in the country—the proposal will lead to great difficulties, arguments and delays. I hope, however—and perhaps the Minister will confirm this—that the district level planning officers will continue to have the reserve power to take up to county level for their final say any local decisions of which they strongly disapprove.
I was horrified to read about the proposals to open all committees to the Press. Councils must give full information about their activities to the Press, and help the Press as much as possible. But committee members must be able to get full and the best information from officials, whether it is confidential or otherwise, and therefore it would not be possible for the press to be present on all occasions. Similarly, the Government need confidential advice from their own civil servants. Open committees would also encourage, to my mind, highly obnoxious caucus meetings where decisions are taken without the presence and advice of the officers of the authority. It may suit Party political gamesters but would not be of benefit to the electorate. The proposal to enable agency disputes to be referred to the Secretary of State over the transitional period is unfortunate and will cause uncertainty and friction and open up the way for endless disputes and delays.
I now come to the sorry tale of Cleveland—we have heard about every other part of the country. If it were not so late I should have a lot more to say about it, but I will again try to be brief. Cleveland started as a balanced authority 148 but quickly lost all those urban and district councils who shouted the loudest to remain in Yorkshire. It is now about half the size shown on the maps. This is in spite of the Secretary of State's firm declaration that he would not countenance any alteration of boundaries. Following that declaration, Easington, Stokesley, Great Ayton and Whitby all got out. That was democracy, because it was the will of the people by petition. Eventually that principle was reversed, when Guisborough, with a population of 10,000 voted by 80 per cent., in the middle of a snowstorm, to stay in Yorkshire, having just as many reasons as the other towns had to get out. This was refused, as was the application of the other towns. It was a real example of chaos, and planning by petition—that is putting it kindly—and it left, in the Under-Secretary of State's own words, a small county being dominated by one large town. It was just like the umpire who blows his whistle when anyone yells loudly enough, "Foul!".
At the moment what is left of the county is to be divided up into four districts, with an average of 142,000 people in each, higher than any other county except for the Avon, the average for the country being 96,000. We feel in East Cleveland that if we have to lose our small, efficient, cheap, cosy district councils and amalgamate with our neighbours, to pay more for more remote and less efficient administration (which is what we shall get), then the county should be divided instead into at least five—and preferably six—districts to bring the size of each district down to something much closer to the average for the country. This would be some compensation for all the messing about with our county boundaries. However, this point may perhaps be pursued at a later stage.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned until to-morrow.—(Viscount Eccles.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until to-morrow.