HL Deb 13 June 1990 vol 520 cc378-97

8.16 p.m.

Lord Kimball rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will take note of the local feelings, expressed on both sides of the Humber, that the original county boundaries should be reinstated.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper, I wish to draw attention to the continued unhappiness of my former constitutents. In 1974 half of them were just pitched into the County of Humberside. I also want to take the opportunity of reinforcing the concern which was recognised by the Secretary of State for the Environment in 1989 when he instructed the Boundary Commission to review the position on Humberside. He went on to state publicly that the degree of unhappiness which persists 15 years after Humberside's creation caused him great concern. Further, he continued to express that the long-standing and strongly-held feelings of alienation were clearly coming through, even to his department.

At that point in 1989 the Secretary of State for the Environment charged the commission to carry out a further review of the Humberside area. He made it perfectly clear that the presumption against change was in fact removed. He further charged the commission to consider the radical option of dissolving the existing County of Humberside. That was clear. What was not clear was a subsequent clouding of the issue by the irrelevant questions subsequently posed by the Boundary Commission.

On 12th April 1989 the review started. It was charged with considering the abolition of the county; the re-creation of an East Yorkshire county north of the Humberside, and the re-creation of an all-Lancashire county to the south. The unhappy and unfortunate point, which is the cause of my Question tonight, is that on 7th March 1990 in an interim decision—it is only interim—the Boundary Commission came up with the suggestion that there should be no radical change.

That argument—and I say this after careful thought but I believe it is the general feeling—was a very arrogant argument; it was the argument of a second-rate local government civil servant. The commission went on to say that effective and convenient local government would be better served by the retention of the county. Convenient for whom? Convenient for my old constituent to go north of the Humber and pay £3.60 to cross the Humber bridge to register a birth or a death? That is not convenient local government.

It went on to say when it muffed this decision and produced the interim decision, that loyalty was expected to grow. I have not been in the area for around five years. The amazing fact is that loyalty to Humberside has not grown. It is amazing that here is a new county and nobody has warmed to it. It is something that is unnatural and does not appeal. The position in 1990 is exactly the same as it was in 1974.

Therefore, what has the Boundary Commission ignored, and ignored in the guidelines from the Secretary of State? The Secretary of State said clearly that it must consider the wishes of the local inhabitants, the pattern of community life and effective local government. I think it is the last point that has been highlighted by the question over the community charge. What do we have in Lincolnshire? The average community charge in most district councils is under £300—about £260 a head. What do we have in a profligate socialist area like Humberside? That area has a community charge of close on £400 a head. That is what is meant by effective local government. I believe that that is the trigger which has ignited so much local opinion on this issue.

What has the Boundary Commission failed to recognise? It has failed to recognise that Humberside is an unnatural creation. I believe it has been described as an unloved bastard. Perhaps that is rather strong language, but that is the general feeling; it is an unloved bastard that no one has been prepared to adopt.

There has been the total failure of the Humber bridge. The bridge has not been a factor in uniting both sides of the Humber. It is far too expensive for anyone to travel over it and most people try to go round it. The two separate patterns of community life have not been recognised. The residents of my old constituency in South Humberside find themselves to be a minority in a population which is far removed from the seat of government.

I have already said that the Boundary Commission did a good job but it clouded the arguments by asking such questions as: what would you do with Hull? And: what should be done with this or that? That is not the point. The Boundary Commission was asked by the Secretary of State for the Environment to investigate why there was so much continued unhappiness. All the surveys show today that everyone recognises that the Humber is a natural barrier that, as such, should be recognised, and that the toll bridge does not unite either side of the Humber. Sixty-nine per cent. of the population agrees with both those points.

The noble Lord who is to wind up on the Opposition Benches is a great expert on statistics, and I think he will accept that all these statistics show quite clearly that seven out of 10 people who live on either side of the Humber want to see Humberside abolished. Half a million people cannot be wrong. I hope that when my noble friend replies to the Question he will make it perfectly clear that he is prepared to take note of the strong feelings that have been expressed and will give the Boundary Commission the necessary guts not to shy away from the last fence when it comes to its final report and therefore recommend clearly and firmly that the county boundaries should be restored to their original areas and that Lincolnshire should have everything south of the Humber. I shall leave it to my noble friends from north of the Humber to say what they want done on the north side. I know that everyone south of the Humber wants to return back to Lincolnshire.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Manton

My Lords, I rise in support of my noble friend Lord Kimball. Way back in 1972 I put my name to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Middleton that the old East Riding of Yorkshire should not be merged into a new county of Humberside. At that time your Lordships did not accept our amendment and the message from the government of the time was, "Let's give Humberside a try".

We have been trying ever since, but I have to say that it has not worked. I live in North Humberside and I am very conscious of the lack of affinity with those living on the south bank. My noble friend Lord Kimball put the case clearly and fairly. As he told us, in another place he represented a constituency on the south bank and he explained the depth of feeling on that side of the River Humber. I need not tell your Lordships that Yorkshiremen are even more proud of their roots than are "yellowbellies".

We on this side of the House do not always accept opinion polls; but, for what they are worth, they show that over two-thirds of the people of Humberside would prefer to revert to East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Furthermore, I suspect that if the poll were phrased more fairly—I mean that; phrased more fairly—that percentage would be considerably increased.

I stress that there is no fragmentation of view from either party on either side of the river. From all the views that I have heard, the great majority of people, especially in North Humberside, favour Option 3; that is the reversion of South Humberside to Lincolnshire and the creation of a new East Yorkshire on the north bank. Even the Boundary Commission acknowledged as recently as 8th June that there is, strong support for Option 3". I quote from a letter from the Boundary Commission dated 8th June—only last week. It states: In paragraph 102, it stated the view that the most feasible alternative to the present Humberside County Council is Option 3. Following the issue of the interim decision, many representations have been received, and most of these support Option 3. That is the present position. I am sure you would agree that it would not be proper for us to anticipate the Commission's consideration of the response to the interim decision, beyond noting that the Commission is, of course, aware of the strong support for Option 3". That quotation is from a letter from the Local Government Boundary Commission for England to Mr. Doherty of Glanford Borough Council.

I urge my noble friend the Minister to take special heed of the previous Secretary of State's first guideline for the Boundary Commission, which was, whether" the boundary accords with the wishes of the local inhabitants". To my mind, it quite clearly does not. The Government have made clear that the wishes of the majority of those who live in the Falklands, Gibraltar and in Northern Ireland will be upheld. Surely that should also apply to those who live in Humberside. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will make that point abundantly clear to the Secretary of State.

8.26 p.m.

Lord Middleton

My Lords, the first time I spoke in your Lordships' House was during the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill in 1972. I was probably out of order in being strongly critical of the proposal to abolish the East Riding of Yorkshire and to create a new county of Humberside astride the Humber.

On reorganisation my own part of the East Riding was transferred into North Yorkshire, but I have sympathy with the many objectors to Humberside, to whom my noble friends have referred and whose complaints have prompted the Government to refer the matter to the Boundary Commission, as my noble friend Lord Kimball reminded us.

The commission began its review of Humberside in 1985. It adopted the guidelines to which my noble friend Lord Kimball has referred. If a case was to be made for altering the boundaries of the county, three criteria needed to be satisfied: first, that the boundary accorded with the wishes of the local inhabitants; secondly, that it reflected the pattern of community life; and, thirdly, that the boundary was conducive to the effective operation of local government and associated services.

The commission reported in 1988 that, there must come a point at which longstanding and strongly held feelings of alienation towards an Authority on the part of a large number of its residents must in themselves call for a re-examination of the justification of its existence". However, the commission felt that that point had not been reached and made no recommendation for any significant change.

Nevertheless, a great many people, as we have heard, remained unhappy and dissatisfied. Therefore, as my noble friend Lord Kimball said, the Secretary of State directed a further review last year and the Boundary Commission reported again last March. I have read the interim report. The same guidelines are adopted. It is clear, either explicitly from the text of the report or implicitly from the Boundary Commission's research survey, that the first two criteria are not satisfied: the one requiring local acceptability and the other requiring a common pattern of community life.

As regards the third criterion of whether the boundary was conducive to the effective operation of local government, the Boundary Commission took the view that Humberside does provide what it calls, a suitable framework for effective and convenient Local Government". Once again, therefore, no change was recommended despite a clear indication of local feelings. For that reason the situation seems unsatisfactory. I agree with my noble friend Lord Kimball that note should be taken of these feelings and that the boundaries should be looked at again. I ask this time for a less complicated approach.

I believe it was right to look at various alternative rearrangements of the boundaries. But it must have made the task of the Boundary Commission very complex. Furthermore, consideration of the six options must have made it difficult and confusing for those responding to the public opinion tests. Therefore, I believe that in any new re-examination all options should be cast aside except two. The first is the status quo; the second the proposal that emerges clearly as most acceptable to the majority of the inhabitants, namely, that the present North Humberside and Hull should become a new county of East Yorkshire, retaining the existing land boundaries, and that South Humberside should rejoin its home county of Lincolnshire. As my noble friend Lord Manton has reminded us, that is the solution which the Boundary Commission concluded in the interim report was the only realistic alternative to the present county. It is also the alternative which would be the least expensive to set up and the cheapest to adminster.

In any case, in any further consideration of the boundaries, what has to be considered most carefully is whether the present arrangement or the preferred alternative provides the most efficient local government administration. That seems to be the crucial test on which any decision to alter the boundaries must be made.

The opinion of Humberside County Council must be taken into account. It made a powerful case to the Boundary Commission for keeping Humberside, using good local government arguments. However, I have read a submission by the same county council to an inquiry under the Humber Bridge Act, arguing that while tolls continued to be levied on the Humber Bridge the administration of a county astride the Humber would be difficult.

Counsel representing the county council at the inquiry said: The purpose of the Bridge is two-fold—integration of the new County and regeneration of an area which in the past has not been attractive to developers". Counsel continued: Any tolls defeat to some extent the twin objectives of integration and regeneration. Tolls place a heavy burden on the County Council in its administration". The past chairman of Humberside County Council is reported as saying last year that at a time when the council was fighting hard for its existence, it still had to contend with the biggest artificial barrier to its success as a unified county. He said: We must fight the Government for the complete abolition of tolls on the Humber Bridge, for until we win the fight the Humber Bridge might just as well be a brick wall for all it does to link the two halves of the County". I understand that the Government have announced that no such abolition of tolls is contemplated. The opinion of the Lincolnshire authorities too must be taken into account. There are strong arguments advanced, notably from the Lincolnshire County Council and the Glandford Borough Council, that local government administration would be more effective and cost-efficient south of the Humber under the preferred alternative arrangement.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Manton that a new review might well look again at what the Boundary Commission itself said about local government administration under Option 3; namely, the preferred alternative of an East Yorkshire county and an enlarged Lincolnshire divided by the Humber. In paragraph 102 of its interim report the commission stated: If there was any option likely to bring about more effective and convenient Local Government in Humberside, this would be Option 3". In paragraph 110 the commission said: The Commission considers that, to the extent that traditional loyalty to a county might help to make Local Government more effective and convenient, there could be a case for reverting to the nearest available equivalent to the re-creation of the old counties. This would be Option 3". Then, having reached the brink of a decision, in the words of my noble friend Lord Kimball, it refused the last fence and backed away by saying that it would all come right in the end.

The next point to be considered is the weight that the Boundary Commission gives to the concept of a local government area covering both sides of an estuary. In the days when I sat on a body called the Yorkshire and Humberside Economic Planning Council, it was accepted doctrine that you should have a planning authority that covered the whole of an estuary; for instance, Merseyside, Tyneside and Teesside.

I remember that the Redcliffe-Maud report recommended no such thing for Humberside and recognised the Humber as a barrier so far as local government administration was concerned. In any case, the more recent devolution of planning functions from counties to districts must make such a concept wholly out of date.

The question of cost is important. The Arup survey commissioned by the Boundary Commission produced a figure of £10.7 million as an estimated cost of setting up the preferred alternative. Although that is the least expensive of the various options, it is not cheap.

Against that, I do not know what stage the Humberside County Council's plans for improving the administrative infrastructure of the present county has reached, but I am informed that plans have been at any rate discussed which, if implemented, would exceed £10.7 million by a considerable amount.

As regards cost, my Yorkshire blood warmed to the editor of the Hull Daily Mail when he wrote in his newspaper: There is a price to be paid for ridding the Nation of Humberside. If local people care that future generations should be able to boast that they too are Yorkshire born and bred, it is worth paying". I believe that more evidence should be taken from industry and commerce. I am not altogether happy about the rather vague reference in the interim report to "commercial and port organisations".

Finally, the question must be considered: what evidence is there to back the Boundary Commission's optimism about the future effective operation of local government in an area which, in the commission's words, produces such long-standing and strongly-held feelings of alienation and which produces such lack of loyalty and identity? These seem to me to be some of the matters that should be looked at in any further examination of the case for altering the boundaries of Humberside to the preferred alternative of an East Yorkshire county and a re-united Lincolnshire.

8.39 p.m.

The Earl of Gainsborough

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, who is a long-standing friend. He represented the constituency of Gainsborough which my forebears had some connection with many years ago at the time of the civil wars. In addition, I have some experience of local government. I was president of one of the local authority associations, which gave me reason to travel around a great deal in both England and Wales.

It is true to say that the Local Government Act that brought in Humberside—I had better not mention Rutland, because I come from there—and which affected other parts of the country, was not a popular measure. There are still rumblings about that legislation all over the country, even down in Avon where it is also disliked. I know that it is not liked in Lincolnshire and in Yorkshire—one must not call it Humberside. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Yarborough would agree with me on that point.

I can certainly support what was said by noble Lords in that corner of the House where there seems to be a strong faction. People in the area do not wish to see this situation perpetuated. They wish to see a return to the former position. I hope very much, and I understand that there may be reason to think, that the noble Lord. Lord Hesketh, will be able to say something encouraging. That would be much appreciated by the people whose views have been represented by noble Lords opposite.

8.40 p.m.

The Earl of Halifax

My Lords, many of your Lordships are far better qualified than I to know whether the present Humberside county boundaries are conducive to effective and convenient local government. Unlike my noble friends Lord Middleton and Lord Gisborough, I know very little about local government but I reckon to know what local folk feel.

As has already been indicated, Research Surveys of Great Britain conducted a survey on behalf of the local boundary commission towards Humberside in which 2,918 residents over 18 were questioned. Of those residents, 63 per cent. were not in favour of the county of Humberside continuing as it is at present They wanted some kind of change, including a name change. Moreover, the survey showed that only 25 per cent. think of themselves as belonging to Humberside. More in North Humberside think of themselves as Yorkshire people and more in the south as Lincolnshire people. Clearly the matter cannot be held over for yet another review in 16 years' time. There is strong evidence from the newspapers, telephone polls, Harris polls, surveys and so an that the public wishes to see something done now.

My purpose today is to say to noble Lords that if they want to keep in touch with what local people think about local matters, then surely they owe it to the people in Humberside and Lincolnshire to listen to their views. Indeed, the then Minister with responsibility for local government said in Bridlington on 19th March 1989: the people must be listened to—that is what local government is about". The performance of Humberside County Council is not the issue. If the function of government, national and local, is to mirror the wishes of the people, t hen the expedient solution is to rename the county—East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. It will be argued that a great deal of time, effort and money have been expended on creating an identity for Humberside. That will not go to waste. People who have expressed an interest in investing in Humberside will not turn away simply because of a name change. Without the name Humberside, the area is no less attractive to visitors or investors. In fact, there is a strong case to be made for the opposite point of view.

It would be sad if people saw nothing happening and had their existing scepticism about local government confirmed. We all need to belong somewhere—and where we in Yorkshire belong is Yorkshire.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, a strong tide of public opinion against the existing boundaries has already been underscored by a number of noble Lords, notably by the previous speaker. It is worth remembering that this is nothing new. Public opinion has always been against the idea of Humberside. That has certainly been the case south of the Humber where I live. I remember seeing opinion polls in Lincolnshire newspapers on more than one occasion many years ago.

Only in the far north-west corner of the county near Goole was public opinion divided approximately fifty-fifty. This was because the Humber narrows considerably at that point to become the Ouse. It is only here that there is a certain amount of va et vient between the two sides. But the farther east one travels from that small corner the more "anti" people become, which is hardly surprising as the Humber estuary is one of the widest in the world. One might as well put Basildon and Rochester, or Canterbury and Southend, into the same county. As a matter of fact, the distance between Southend and Canterbury is about the same as that between Beverley and Grimsby.

How did this state of affairs come about? One must attribute it to the follies of that extraordinary decade, the 1960s. In psychological and sociological terms the 1960s ran from about mid-1962 to the end of 1973. One remembers well the architects of the 1960s, albeit mainly transatlantic ones, seriously forecasting that before the end of the 20th century most of the people of the industrialised world would be living—and happily living, what is more—in tower blocks 200 storeys high, with shopping centres on the 40th, 80th, 120th and 160th floors, and with miniature parks on the roof. Presumably the wind force was never expected to rise above 1 on the Beaufort scale.

More germane to this discussion, economists and others in the 1960s were forecasting that a generation hence, which is about now, most of us would be working not in service industries, as is in fact the case, but in manufacturing industry, living in giant conurbations, working in giant factories operating for 24 hours a day—with the workers on permanent shift systems, with shops, banks, restaurants, cafés and public transport also operating for 24 hours a day to cater for these producers of a never-ending stream of semi-durable consumer goods. It was this misreading of the future that was responsible for the preposterous notion of a giant conurbation straddling a three-mile wide estuary.

Doubtless some of the forecasts made today of the position in the years 2010 to 2020 will also be wide of the mark, but rarely, I think, to the same degree. With that in mind, restoring the original county boundaries would not be an exercise in reactionary nostalgia but an acknowledgement of present-day realities. Up to now there has been one small snag—that the Cabinet contained a Minister who was closely associated with the formation of Humberside and similar artificial new counties. However, the individual in question has now left the Cabinet, so that is no longer a problem.

When this Government first came to power they were, unlike some of their predecessors, very much in tune with the feelings and instincts of the people. There have been disquieting indications recently that the Government may somewhat have lost touch with the public mood. However, action to restore the old county boundaries, by marrying common sense and economic realism to the wishes of the vast majority of the people of the region, would prove to the sceptics that the Government have regained the sensitive touch that they once had.

8.49 p.m.

The Earl of Yarborough

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Kimball introduced this Question. I declare an interest in that not only do I live in North Lincolnshire, but my family estates cross the boundary into Humberside. I am neither one thing nor the other.

The thrust of the Unstarred Question is that we want to do away with the Humber as a natural barrier, which quite clearly it is, and bring Lincolnshire up to it and Yorkshire down to it. Something that cannot be altered is the Humber. Humberside is bound to be a divided county so long as it spans the river. The bridge does not signify much. It is only a tenuous link.

I have some figures which may be of interest. Only about 1 per cent. to 2 per cent. of people in the area use the bridge regularly to go to school or college or something of that sort; 25 per cent. consider that they belong to Humberside; 75 per cent. feel strongly that they belong to Yorkshire; 60 per cent. feel strongly that they belong to Lincolnshire; 35 per cent. of the people involved do not use the bridge; and 64 per cent. find it of not much use or no use. It will take something more than a bridge to unite the county of Humberside.

The only sensible thing to do is to go back to more or less where we were. I shall be only brief because other noble Lords have covered the ground extremely well. I shall speak from the point of view of the south bank only. There are three criteria for guidance to the Boundary Commission and they have been quoted. The first is that the boundary should be approved by the local inhabitants. The commission's report agrees that the majority of people are not in favour of Humberside. The second criteria is that the boundary should reflect the pattern of community life. Interestingly enough, Lincolnshire County Council produced a list of no fewer than 75 organisations which ignore South Humberside and operate, as they did before, up to the south bank of the river. They were largely involved in leisure and community activities, including of course the Church. The Diocese of Lincoln extends, as it always has, up to the south bank of the river. The same applies to the other denominations—the Roman Catholic Church, the Baptists and the Methodists. That must be a clear indication that the value of Humberside is not considered to be high when it comes to community interests.

Noble Lords have already mentioned the third criterion: effective local government. The report refers mostly to effective and convenient local government. As my noble friend Lord Kimball asked: convenient for whom? Is it for the administrators or the administered? When I read the report, I could not help feeling that it perhaps gave undue weight to the views of local authorities. I can understand that. They have had a hard row to hoe, and most of them have worked hard to make the administration work, having, unfortunately been landed with it for reasons which have already been put before your Lordships.

One gained the impression that the Boundary Commission listened too much to local government officials. They understandably wanted their efforts to be seen in the best light. I can understand that. If the commission did not do that it is difficult to understand how they arrived at the conclusion that there should be no change because two out of the three criteria have been met. The third, the effectiveness and cost of local government, is a matter of some doubt, because there was insufficient information available to enable it to reach a firm conclusion.

I found it a surprising conclusion for the commission to have arrived at in view of what it had said previously. There are pressure groups. A campaign was run in Humberside on behalf of NALGO, which was afraid that its members would lose their jobs. Of course it is proper and legitimate for trade unions to consider their members. The interesting point is that the unions said that if Lincolnshire were to take over South Humberside, its members would all lose their jobs because an efficient set-up already existed and they would not be needed. The implication is that the existing organisation might be rather more efficient and cost-effective, but that is by the way.

Most of the ground has already been covered; but thanks to Mr. Ridley, when he was Secretary of State involved with these matters, the whole issue was referred back to the Boundary Commission for further consideration and report. I am grateful to him for doing that. There is now a window of hope open for all those people, both north and south of the river, who so badly want to return to more or less where they were. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give some further encouragement in that direction, because I believe that it is the only way to produce a contented county and one that is at ease with itself. As has been said, the area had been used to looking south to Lincolnshire. It feels split up and disintegrated at the moment. If we could return to having a county which went up only to the Humber as before, it would bring a great deal of happiness to the majority of those who live there.

8.56 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsey and Abingdon

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Kimball for asking this Question. My noble friend and I share a concern for the countryside as well as an interest in a well-known financial institution in the City of London. Until now I had not thought that I would be drawn to his side on the issue of county boundaries.

My interest in the debate is more historical than one of a contemporary geographical and political nature. My ancestor, Robert Bertie, Baron Willoughby de Eresby, held office as Lord High Admiral of England and hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England. He was created The Earl of Lindsey in 1626 and was mortally wounded at the battle of Edgehill in 1642 while in command of a division of the King's Army.

Before succeeding to the title, the fourth Earl was a Member of Parliament and subsequently Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire. He was later created Marquess of Lindsey and Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven, all in the county of Lincolnshire. I shall not try to explain to your Lordships this evening how those titles subsequently disappeared.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Carelessness, my Lords.

The Earl of Lindsey and Abingdon

My Lords, perhaps I may turn briefly to my other namesake: the town of Abingdon, where as High Steward and therefore ex officio on the borough council I experienced receiving petitions from some local inhabitants. Here was a borough in its own right, incorporated in 1556, which became, for administrative convenience and encouraged by central government, a mere parish. Before the arrival of the railways in the middle of the last century, Abingdon was the county town of the Royal County of Berkshire. It is now reduced to a non-representative parish in the county of Oxford.

I could give more such examples, such as Hereford and Worcester. That redrawing of county boundaries by a Conservative Government in the 1970s was a bad administrative mistake.

Like noble Lords who have spoken previously this evening, I ask my noble friend to give serious consideration to requesting his fellow Ministers to reincorporate North Humberside into the East Riding of Yorkshire and South Humberside into Lindsey in the Country of Lincolnshire.

9 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Chichester

My Lords, it may seem a little the strange for a bishop of a see so far away from the area in question as Chichester to intervene in the debate. However, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln is not a Member of your Lordships' House. I am a Lincolnshire man, born just outside Grimsby, educated at Brigg Grammar School, a member of the Lincoln Records Society, one of those societies which still goes right up to the Humber. I also happen to own a house in Yorkshire, so I know something about the area.

I wish to add my voice to those of other noble Lords on the matter. I do not believe that the Humber Bridge has made much difference to the situation. I cross it from time to time but it is not an effective link between Hull and Grimsby. One has to go quite a long way from those towns to reach the bridge. When I was a boy we used to go to the pantomime in Hull. We crossed the Humber by paddle boat and one of those we used in order to get to Hull is now moored in the Thames, the "Tattershall Castle". That was at least as quick as going across the Humber Bridge and all the way round the two coasts. I do not believe that the Humber Bridge has reinforced the links at all.

Whenever I go to see my family and others in what is now South Humberside, and when I am in Yorkshire, I am well aware of the strength of feeling against this division of the two counties. Very few other counties in England have so strong a county feeling as that which is found in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. This came out very much in the debate, and I hope that we shall be given some encourging news.

9.2 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have listened to a fascinating debate with a good deal of sympathy and close attention. The arguments put forward—which I note have been all in one direction—have two strong strikes in their favour so far as I am concerned. First, to have unanimity of feeling on the Government Back-Benches against the actions of a previous Conservative Government can only give me pleasure. In addition, there has been the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, whose attitude to the Government can best be compared with that of the John Birch Society to the Reagan Administration. He thinks that this Government are crypto-socialist and anti-libertarian. He is an opponent of the Government in many ways from the Right, although, of course, his opinions are his own and he is completely independent.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord speaks in jest. However, if he looks up some recent Division Lists, he may have cause to retract his words.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am delighted to know that the noble Lord votes against the Government from all directions. I believe that he would agree that that is probably the case. I have never accused him, and I was not then accusing him, of being a slavish adherent of the Government.

Much more important is the feeling that noble Lords have expressed and which I strongly share that local government should be recognised as being local. It should be as local as possible: in other words, it should be small and close to the people whenever possible. I am sentimental about some of the anomalies of past local government structure. I like the idea of the county of Rutland surviving. I am sorry to see that the address of the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, is Oakham, Leicestershire, instead of being—as it ought—Oakham, Rutland. I like the idea of the county of Lincoln being divided into Kesteven, Holland and Lindsey. I beg the noble Earl's pardon. To lose a dukedom and a marquisate and to be left with only two earldoms seems like carelessness, even though it took a number of centuries to do it!

I like all the other anomalies which should be preserved. I do not mind the anomalies of the Inns of Court. The right reverend Prelate may be surprised to hear that I do not even mind the anomaly of Ely Place; which is still, I understand, ecclesiastical territory, although sited in the London borough of Camden. The only example that I am totally against is the Corporation of the City of London, but that is for financial and political reasons rather than for reasons of sentimentality. In any case, the City of London only needs to be modified by making its electorate democratic, representing the whole of London. It needs no other changes so far as I am concerned.

In many ways I am sympathetic to the arguments put forward. However, I have another point of view which outweighs that sympathy. I speak as someone who has been involved in local government over a number of years. For heaven's sake, once we have a structure, almost any structure is better than continuous interference with it. I blame the Conservative Government in the 1960s and again in the 1970s. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, seems to have a curious idea of what the 1960s were. He defines them as being mid-1962 to the end of 1973.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord yet again but I was speaking of the "'sixties" in inverted commas, not without inverted commas.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I realised that it was a social rather than a chronological comment. However, it is also an interesting social comment because the noble Lord is lumping together—if I may put it politically—the Prime Ministerships of the noble Lords, Lord Home of the Hirsel and Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, and Mr. Edward Heath as if there were something in common between the three of them and different from administrations before and afterwards. I find that quite curious and interesting.

Nevertheless, it is true that the two major upheavals in local government that have taken place since the war and indeed in this century took place under Conservative Governments in the 1960s and 1970s. Noble Lords opposite may have resisted certain aspects of them at the time but they sustained the governments which brought them forward. Having been a member of one of the new London boroughs created in 1964 and 1965, I know very well the cost of the upheaval involved and that the borough for which I was a councillor—the borough of Haringey—had a totally created name. The boroughs of Hornsey, Wood Green and Tottenham were perfectly well recognised. I speak as a former chairman and present president of the Association for Neighbourhood Councils when I say that the boroughs that were created were too big as regards many aspects of local government administration. It is Conservative governments who, throughout the past 20 or 30 years, have been responsible for the changes. They have carried out the changes on the fallacious argument that local government, like big business, has to be large in order to survive and be efficient. I believe we are paying the price of that now.

Having said that, I do not think the case has been adequately made against Humberside County Council. Noble Lords have referred to opinion polls that show opposition to the existing Humberside County Council. I believe I am talking about the same opinion polls that have been mentioned. According to those polls it is certainly true that those in favour of Humberside County Council with or without a name change accounted for only 36 per cent. of the population of the area. That means that some 60 per cent. were against it. The trouble is that no greater number of people were in favour of any specific alternative although a number of alternatives were offered.

Noble Lords have referred to the alternative of an enlarged Lincolnshire and a new East Yorkshire county which would have roughly the North Humberside boundaries. The trouble with that proposal is that it was only approved by 35 per cent. of the population of the area. That is a marginally smaller percentage than those who approved of the existing situation. If we are talking about change, we must be clear that the alternative which is being proposed is not more popular than the existing Humberside County Council.

I recognise that it is difficult for the Humberside County Council to be loved as being a place where Lincolnshire people and Yorkshire people live. I fully appreciate that. I suggest that there is a case to be made out for the existence of the Humberside County Council. The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, referred to the case before the Boundary Commission being a powerful one. He referred to his membership of the Yorkshire and Humberside economic planning region. The noble Lord rightly said that in all other parts of the country both sides of an estuary are considered to have an economic unity. I would add that however seldom a bridge may be used by some local people it nevertheless forms an economic link, particularly for freight transport. It also performs a useful function in bringing the two sides together.

Lord Middleton

My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I should point out that I said that that concept was totally out of date.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I accept that the noble Lord said that. However, I think he is wrong. If one looks at the work of the Humberside County Council in attracting business to the neighbourhood, in preparing for 1992, and its existence as part of a travel to work area—there is a travel to work facility across the Humber bridge although only a minority of the population use it—one would accept that it is pressure by Humberside County Council that has led to any improvements that have occurred as regards linking Humberside to the rest of the country in economic terms, in terms of jobs and in terms of communications. It would be a great pity if that were to be thrown away.

The arguments on many other matters may be more finely balanced. I certainly do not wish to repudiate those in my party both in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire who feel strongly that Humberside County Council is an unnecessary tier of authority. However, I would strongly argue against unilateral action by the Government to change a single set of boundaries at this time without a more far-reaching and much more sympathetic review of the meaning of foul government boundaries in the 1990s and beyond.

If we have to consider local authority boundaries at all, we should be looking for single-tier authorities. The proposals which noble Lords are urging on the Government would retain two-tier authorities and changes would be made in one area of the country alone. Much as I love small authorities and our historic past I believe that to start a process of piecemeal changes in local authority boundaries can only lead to a disturbance of the continuity and good management of local government. I should regret it if the Minister were too sympathetic to the arguments put forward.

9.13 p m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, the short answer to the Question of my noble friend Lord Kimball is "of course". However, to understand what is meant when we say that Her Majesty's Government will take note of local views about Humberside it is necessary to consider three distinct matters. I shall attempt to deal with each in turn. The first is the general question of the relationship of Her Majesty's Government to the Local Government Boundary Commission. The second is the way in which the present situation has developed, and the third is the scope for action by Her Majesty's Government. I begin therefore by trying to explain the present arrangements for the review of local government boundaries and the respective roles of the Local Government Boundary Commission and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

In 1972, an era described by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, as the contemporary Dark Ages, Parliament provided for major reorganisation of local government. At the same time, to prevent local government boundaries being inappropriate as a result of changes in population and development and to review the detail of the boundaries on which Parliament then decided, a new system of reviewing local government boundaries was set up.

Changes can only be made after a review in which the public are given wide opportunities to express their views. Changes can only be made if they are recommended by the independent, expert Local Government Boundary Commission. The changes can only come into force as a result of an order made by the Secretary of State for the Environment.

There are two points to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention tonight. First, unless the commission makes a recommendation the Secretary of State has no power to act. There is no possibility of unilateral action by the Secretary of State as suggested by the noble Lord. Lord McIntosh. Parliament clearly did not intend the Secretary of State to be able to redraw boundaries as he thinks fit. There must be a positive recommendation from the independent commission before he can act.

Secondly, when he decides to implement a report of the commission his powers are limited to implementing what the commission recommends, with or without modification. Clearly any modification must be simply a modification of what is recommended and not something completely different.

The Local Government Act 1972 does not therefore make it possible for Her Majesty's Government to change a local authority boundary simply because they think that it should be changed. The Act, however, enables the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the commission on the approach to be followed within the statutory requirements. The general guidance on the review of county boundaries has been that abolition of a county council should only be considered where the current arrangements are clearly failing to provide adequate local government services.

I now turn to my second point, which is what has happened in respect of Humberside itself. In the case of the review of the county of Humberside, the commission reported to my right honourable friend's predecessor in July 1988. The report proposed minor changes only to the county boundary. The commission acknowledged the representations it had received urging the abolition of the county, but found that no case had been made to it that the present arrangements failed to provide effective and convenient local government. Whether or not present arrangements provide effective and convenient local government is the touchstone which the 1972 Act, which is the law, requires the commission to use when considering whether or not to recommend change.

Following receipt of the report my right honourable friend's predecessor received something of the order of 7,000 representations from members of the public and from local organisations telling him that the county of Humberside should be abolished. In view of this strength of feeling, he decided to take no action on the commission's report but directed it to carry out a further review—an option which the Act gives to the Secretary of State. At the same time he set aside the guidelines previously issued, in the case of this review only. He did so, in view of the representations he had received, in order that the commission should be free in examining any proposals and could conduct the review in as wide-ranging a manner as it felt appropriate.

Furthermore, he gave to the commission the guidance that it should study the radical option of dissolving the county of Humberside in the light of possible alternative arrangements, taking particular account of the costs and benefits of the alternatives as compared with maintaining the present position and the sense of identity and loyalty which they might engender.

While it is not open to the Secretary of State to prescribe alternatives to be studied by the commission, my right honourable friend's predecessor suggested that in addition to the option of maintaining the present position the two alternative options which, prima facie, were most deserving of examination were, first, to add the areas north of the Humber to the county of North Yorkshire and the areas south of the Humber to Lincolnshire; or, alternatively, to make the areas north of the Humber into a separate county of East Yorkshire (with or without some adjacent parts of North Yorkshire) and to add the areas south of the Humber to Lincolnshire.

The commission employed consultants to examine the costs and benefits of the alternative options for the future of Humberside. On 7th March the commission published its interim conclusions. These are that while the only realistic option would be a new county of East Yorkshire and an enlarged Lincolnshire, that alternative would be no better able to provide effective and convenient local government than the present Humberside County Council.

Change would, the commission says, cause disruption for no clear benefit to the local government. In its letter setting out those conclusions, the commission said that it recognised that traditional loyalties are deeply felt towards Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. It also said that the results of the very extensive surveys carried out for it, as well as the individual representations which it had received, show deep uncertainty about what should replace Humberside. There was no consensus, it said.

Those are the commission's interim conclusions. The commission is now considering the responses that it has received to those interim conclusions before it makes its final report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

By statute, the commission has to publish its draft conclusions and to make sure that the public have an opportunity to comment. Clearly, the statute means that the commission will have to take account of the public's views. In addition, the guidance given to the commission by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State lays heavy emphasis on the importance of the views of those affected.

Finally, the statute requires that the commission addresses itself to making proposals that are in the interests of effective and convenient local government.

I have no doubt that comment has been flooding into the commission on this question. The stream which has come to the Department of Environment, and which we have passed on to the commission, has itself been substantial.

I am quite sure that the commission will be as well aware as your Lordships that no arrangements for the discharge of local government functions can be termed effective and convenient if those arrangements do not have the general support of the local inhabitants. "Convenient and effective to whom?" must be the question uppermost in the minds of the commission members when they consider those matters.

Some of the comments come to me as well. In case anyone should think that this is a matter of interest only to the older generation, I have to tell your Lordships that only a few days ago I was sent a petition organised and signed by school children in Beverley. They told me that it is not true, as has been said, that young people have got used to Humberside. They told me that I had not researched the matter properly. That may well be true, but the intimation and the signatures bore witness. This, too, I am happy to draw to the commission's attention. I have no doubt that the commission will discharge fully its statutory duty and consider that mass of public comment.

We come to the third theme—the scope for action by the Government. At present, there is literally no action that the Government can take. The limits for action will be set by the report of the commission: if it recommends no changes, then the legislation does not permit any change to be made.

Since Parliament has made the commission an independent body and required the Secretary of State primarily to consider what it recommends, your Lordships will understand that I am unable today to comment on the issues involved or to comment on the interim conclusions that the commission has reached. To do so might appear to prejudge the questions which Parliament has required the Government to consider only in the light of the commission's final report.

I am, though, very well aware of the loyalty that people feel to their place of birth and the area in which they live. There is a strong emotional attachment, a sense of springing from and belonging to an identifiable place and a consciousness that they are, as their forebears were before them, bound up with the history of that place and with its place in the history of our country. It is part of their soul.

I am well aware that a person's soul cannot be changed by the re-drawing of lines on the map. Names of places, loyalties and the souls of Yorkshire men and Lincolnshire yellowbellies are not changed to suit the requirements of local government, nor should they be.

Whatever the outcome of the review, the historic areas of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire will not be changed. Parliament has provided, in the form of the Local Government Boundary Commission, a mechanism whereby local authority areas can be reviewed from time to time. I stress "local authority areas". That is what the commission, a statutory body independent of this Government and of all governments, must concern themselves with—not the less tangible, and possibly more important, historic areas that make up the nation and its history.

The commission will, I am sure, give full weight to the views expressed to it, and in particular to the views expressed tonight. In its general report People and Places it says: The commission invariably pays careful regard to whether or not a boundary accords with the wishes of local people". I am sure that the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, for giving those of your Lordships who have spoken the opportunity to give their views. I was interested, as always, to hear the views of my noble friend and Yorkshireman Lord Middleton, whose point of view and position with regard to Humberside have remained consistent for some 18 summers in your Lordships' House, as well as the views of the noble Earl, Lord Yarborough, who clearly feels that people living in Humberside have been dealt a poor hand. We are also grateful to the right reverend Prelate, who added a further dimension to the debate in the House tonight. I shall personally ensure that this expression of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire views—I mention them alphabetically in order not to be accused of any bias—is drawn to the attention of the commission.

House adjourned at twenty seven minutes past nine o'clock.