§ 3.0 p.m.
§ The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government when and on what grounds they decided that the ancient borough of Middleton should be transferred into the new metropolitan district centred upon Oldham and designated 12(f); and when this decision was first communicated to the representatives of that district.
§ LORD HALE had also given Notice of a further Question:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government when and on what grounds they decided that the ancient borough of Middleton should not be transferred to the new metropolitan district centred upon Oldham and designated 12(f); and when this decision was first communicated to the representatives of that district.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall answer this Question and the next Question on the Order Paper together. The Government at first proposed to include Middleton in the metropolitan district based on Oldham (now designated (g)) because they believed that that would be more likely to reflect local wishes. This proposal was made in the D.O.E. Circular 8/71 and again in the Local Government Bill when it was first published. They accepted, during the Report stage in the Commons, the Amendments which transferred Middleton from the Oldham-based district to one based on Rochdale (now district (d)) because the Middleton Borough Council had expressed, during the consultations held in the summer of last year, their willingness to be part of a Rochdale-based district if, and only if, that district were separate from Bury; and the Amend- 12 ments met that condition. As the local authorities concerned had been aware since last summer that this change had been proposed and had expressed their views on it, it was not necessary to ask them again for their reactions.
§ LORD HALE
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that by answering these two Questions together he has deprived me of the very special privilege of congratulating the Government—almost like patting a recalcitrant lemming—on a singular interval of lucidity in that they are uniting two towns which had previously been united for over a century of local government; two historic Saxon and Danish towns, neighbouring towns, with mutual services and mutual employment, and on lines laid down by the Minister, after 27 years of consideration of the future of local government, in a White Paper which laid down principles of viability, of minimum population and of minimum rateable value. Is the noble Lord now aware that having defended that stoutly in another place, on Second Reacting and throughout Committee, the Minister, during consideration of 18 Amendments together, accepted one? This has created a new metropolitan district, thus making three metropolitan districts, none of which reaches his own standards of viability, and also depriving the new Oldham Borough of £1,750,000 of rateable value. Could the Minister say how this decision was arrived at, since it apparently took place on the Sunday before the Amendment was accepted in Committee? Did the Minister suddenly see the light on the road to Damascus or to Chequers? Did he consult the Oracle at Delphi or at Smith Square, or did he recoil in horror at reading the message from the bleeding entrails of the Tory cow?
LORD MOWBRAY OF STOURTON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having come to the end of his questions, which I am sure he will be pursuing in the coming weeks at the Committee stage of the Bill, the Second Reading of which we are beginning today. I would just point out if I may, that the Government did respond to very strong wishes expressed by the two local Members of Parliament—for Bury and Rochdale, Mr. Fidler and the late Mr. McCann—who pressed this matter very 13 hard. I myself was present at the opening of a housing improvement campaign in Bury and I can say from my own experience that there were very strong feelings about this matter, the union of Bury and Rochdale, in that area. Middleton has expressed great happiness at going in with Rochdale: it did not want to go in with Bury.
On the other point of substance raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hale, that the area is not viable, this is a point of view which is not held by the Government. I know the third conurbation represents only some 175,000, and we quoted a figure of 200,000; but we have taken a flexible attitude and the Department of Education and Science have said that with the experience of the Bury County Borough Council behind them they will be able to compete in every way possible.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, could the noble Lord say what criteria are used when the Government accede to the requests of some local people to go into a particular area? Is he aware that some local people want to go into one area and this is very much resisted, whereas they fall over themselves to accept other requests? Could the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray of Stourton, give me one good reason, other than political ones, why Stourton should not be in Leeds?
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, the noble Baroness is very kind, but we must be allowed to be a little flexible on occasions. We were meeting with the wishes of local people in Middleton on this, and also those in Bury and in Rochdale. We shall never be able to please 100 per cent. of the people, but we seem to have pleased the majority in this case.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his suggestion, which is a very sensible one.