§ 7.2 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th December 1994 be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].
926 The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order be approved. This is the second structural change order to be put before your Lordships following a review by the Local Government Commission for England. This order was considered on 11 th January by the other place, where it was approved. On 18th January 1994, having considered the commission's report and the representations which were made to him on it, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced his decision to accept the commission's proposals for Cleveland. It is the Government's belief that the establishment of four unitary authorities on the boundaries of the existing borough councils will best combine effective and convenient local government with a reflection of the interests and identities of local people.
The local government commission also recommended in its report that for ceremonial and related purposes the county area of Cleveland should be divided between County Durham and Yorkshire. While the Government have accepted that proposal in principle, we shall not be taking a final decision until we have reached conclusions on the future structure of local government in County Durham and North Yorkshire. The present order does not, therefore, address that issue, which will be dealt with in in a later statutory instrument.
It has been suggested that no orders should be made until the Government have made decisions on all the commission's representations. We do not agree with that argument. Such a delay would prolong uncertainty for all involved in local government in Cleveland, not least the staff, and delay the benefits of change in Cleveland and elsewhere.
The Government's original intention was to implement reorganisation on 1st April 1995. That timetable, however, had to be altered following Cleveland County Council's judicial review application, which was turned down by the High Court in June. To have proceeded on our original timetable would have put at risk both a smooth transition and proper provision of essential services.
There are no substantive proceedings currently before the courts. However, as some of your Lordships are aware, the county council has applied for leave to appeal by means of an oral hearing before the Court of Appeal and a date for that hearing has not yet been set. Before the order was laid before your Lordships, the Government gave very careful consideration to the question of whether that outstanding application should prevent laying and debating the order, but we concluded that it should not. If your Lordships approve the draft order, we shall of course take stock of the position on legal proceedings before the order is made.
The draft order which is now before your Lordships proposes change to the structure of local government in Cleveland. It provides for Cleveland County Council to be wound up on 1st April 1996 and its functions and powers to be transferred to the four borough councils of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees and Langbaurgh-on-Tees (the last-named to be renamed "Redcar and Cleveland"). 927 Having considered local views, the Government have decided that all four borough councils should hold elections for the whole council in May 1995. The councillors elected then will have a fresh mandate from the people of Cleveland to plan for the change and then to take over responsibility for running all local authority services from the following April. Because three of the councils were due to hold all-out elections in that year anyway, special provision is required only in the case of Hartlepool, which normally elects one-third of its members annually.
To ensure a smooth transition and safeguard essential services, the Cleveland authorities will be given extra duties and powers to prepare for reorganisation. The draft order distinguishes between what the authorities can do before and after the May 1995 elections. Preparatory work needs to begin from the time the order is made. However, the Government's firm view is that the decisions which will determine the outlook and culture of the successor authorities, together with appointments of chief officers, should be taken by the councillors who are elected in May with responsibility for managing the authorities' new range of functions.
There will be a duty on all five existing councils to co-operate in implementing change. The borough councils will also have access to information which they need and will be able to make the necessary preparations, including budget setting and appointments of staff, for the exercise of the functions which they will inherit from 1st April 1996. The newly elected councils will also be required to consider whether particular functions can best be carried out through voluntary joint arrangements.
The four Cleveland boroughs will be unitary authorities and, as such, they will have responsibility for both local and strategic land-use planning. The Government are determined that, wherever reorganisation takes place, adequate arrangements should be made for strategic planning. For Cleveland, the local government commission recommended that the four authorities should maintain separate local plans but should work together on a joint structure plan.
The Government have accepted that recommendation and the draft order gives effect to it by transferring the county council's strategic planning functions to the borough councils; they can then make the necessary voluntary arrangements for joint working on the structure plan. The Government expect the borough councils to establish satisfactory arrangements and are much encouraged by the proposals that they have published for joint working on strategic planning for the Tees Valley.
The order also provides for a number of other matters on which the Local Government Commission made recommendations or which are consequent upon reorganisation. It paves the way for a combined fire authority for Cleveland which will be created by a separate order under the Fire Services Act 1947 to be made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. It provides for representatives of the new unitary authorities to replace the county council's nominees on the Cleveland Police Authority from 1st 928 October 1995 for certain purposes so that they can be involved in decisions on the 1996–97 budget and policing plans. The county council's representatives will remain on the authority for all other purposes until the county council is wound up in the following April.
The order vests the county council's superannuation fund in Middlesbrough Borough Council, which is also designated for the purposes of certain financial regulations.
Finally, the order provides for Redcar and Cleveland's nominees to take the place of the county council's representatives on the North York Moors National Park Committee.
The Government gave very careful consideration as to whether it was necessary to make specific provision for other essential services in the order. However, we concluded that there should be no other statutory joint arrangements. Instead, the order requires authorities to consider whether any voluntary joint arrangements are necessary.
We are encouraged by the willingness of the districts to work together, as demonstrated by their plans for promoting economic development through the Tees Valley Development Company. I also understand that they already work together on a number of issues such as pollution control and transport.
We are also putting before your Lordships general regulations dealing with practical matters such as the transfer of property, rights and liabilities, technical financial matters (such as calculation of the council tax base) and staffing. In the case of staffing, after extensive consultation we have recently announced new measures for a mandatory compensation scheme for those who are made redundant as a result of reorganisation. We are also consulting on a possible scheme for detriment compensation for those who take a drop in salary as a result.
Local government reform in Cleveland has been the subject of vigorous debate locally, and there has inevitably been considerable uncertainty in the area for some time. What is important now, however, is that all concerned with local government in the area direct their efforts to making reorganisation work. The Government have every confidence in the capacity of the local authorities in Cleveland to do so. And, as I said earlier, the other place considered the order on 11 th January, and it was approved. I therefore commend it to your Lordships.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th December 1994 be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committed]—(Viscount Ullswater.)
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lord Bancroft
rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out from ("That") to end and insert ("this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the draft order laid before the House on 8th December 1994 and to re-lay it only when:
- (a) they have considered the desirability of including in the draft order proper provision for essential services such as child protection, special education needs, care in the community and emergency planning, and of
929 ensuring that employees of all existing authorities in Cleveland will have equal chances of securing posts in authorities in Cleveland following reorganisation;
- (b) they have published their decisions on the recommendations of the Local Government Commission in respect of all of the English counties, thereby enabling this House to consider the draft order in the light of those decisions; and
- (c) the case of Regina v. Local Government Commission for England and Secretary of State for the Environment ex parte Cleveland County Council has been finally determined by the courts.")
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amending Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper I should first like to thank the Secretary of State for the Environment for his courtesy in seeing some of us a couple of weeks ago. I must thank also the noble Viscount for the typically deft exposition which he has just given; alas, I remain unconvinced.
My amendment was drafted to avoid any conflict with the conventions of your Lordships' House respecting subordinate legislation. It has been approved for propriety, both in principle and in every detail, by the House authorities. It is well precedented with precedents going back for more than a decade and, most recently, on 31st January last.
The order itself is specific to Cleveland, the first shire county proposed for abolition. But if it clears this House, as it cleared another place, it will set precedents for many other counties. I therefore ask your Lordships' indulgence if, in introducing my amendment, I gently reinterpret some of the noble Viscount's points.
To begin with there are the objectives, explicit or implicit, of reorganisation in Cleveland and elsewhere. We were told that one of the Government's prime objectives is to bring local government nearer to the citizen by creating a larger number of smaller unitary authorities, thus ensuring a more efficient delivery of services. Indeed, the Minister for Local Government, Mr. Curry, goes further in showing the original cloven hoof. The Times of 18th January —just five days ago—reported him as being,personally committed to seeing unitary authorities throughout England".—throughout England!
Cleveland is a modest-sized county. It is to be split into four unitary authorities which will be among the smallest in the country. Schumacher's law does not run in a large conurbation if the units are too small. Moreover, the whimsically outspoken chairman of the commission confessed at the recent Association of County Councils' conference, that he knew,of no evidence that smaller unitary authorities will be better placed to deliver effective and convenient local services … Surely we are entitled to expect more than assertion before gambling literally billions of pounds of public money on a costly and risky reorganisation".We are all indebted to Sir John Banham for putting our case so eloquently. It applies to Cleveland, in spades.
A second objective is to do away with the unpopular artificial counties created in 1974, hence the collusion made public in 1993 between the Government and the 930 commission to achieve "early wins"—those are the words of Sir John Banham—in Cleveland, Avon and Humberside. That brought a rebuke from the High Court which said that this,does not altogether sit well with the notion that the Commission is an independent body responsive to public opinion rather than Government".In any event, the Teesside plus separate Hartlepool option favoured by many people, including me, is a return to the pre-Cleveland concept of a single authority managing, speaking and negotiating for a major conurbation: as it were, the former county borough of Teesside. Hartlepool, itself a former county borough, is a special case for historical reasons. I add only that it was in their camp of refuge on the Coatham Marshes where the Teesside people made the last stand in England against William the Conqueror—and very nearly killed him. The king was fighting there when—predictably to those who know the area, but less predictably to those who do not—a sea fret came down and he lost his bearings. He was only just rescued from drowning. There may be the beginning of a moral there.
There is a greater level of community identity in Cleveland than in many of the so-called traditional counties and exactly twice the level of that in Avon—25 per cent. in Avon, 50 per cent. in Cleveland.
A third objective is to satisfy local opinion. Here I have some genuine sympathy for the Government and for the commission. It is devilishly difficult to find the truth about local opinion. The MORI polls can be endlessly reinterpreted so the commission and the Government can quote —and indeed the noble Viscount has just done so—results in support of the four-authority solution. On the other hand, it can be passionately argued that the commission had the views of less than 3 per cent. of the potential electorate and did not even tell them that the four-authority solution was much the most costly. Indeed, the High Court referred to the commission's consultation leaflet, with a curl of the judicial lip, as,conduct which in the case of a second-hand car salesman would lead to an appearance at the Old Bailey".So, like a troop of mature Morris dancers, we could go on belabouring ourselves interminably with pigs' bladders of polls. I confine myself to the incontrovertible; that less than half of those questioned agree that any change is needed and only three out of 10 support the structure which would result from the order.
The text of the amendment is largely self-explanatory. It would defer consideration of the draft order until the Government had been able to consider more fully certain matters. It would be open to the Government to re-lay a draft Cleveland order before the House later this Session. With respect, it is misleading to claim that the amendment would kill the order or postpone it for a year or more, as indeed has been claimed outside the Chamber. The length of postponement is entirely in the Government's hands. If they were sensible, it could be for as little as a few weeks.
The amendment requires the Government to consider including in the draft order proper provision for essential services which are at present the responsibility of the county council. These include child protection, care in 931 the community, emergency planning, special education needs and trading standards. The Government's view, as the noble Viscount explained, is that after reorganisation each of the services can be adequately carried out in the county through voluntary arrangements between the borough councils. I regret to say that I am not reassured by his remarks because I believe that this situation is a serious misconception. The regional CBI, the Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Club have all opposed the commission's proposals. Similar opposition has been expressed by the Institute of Trading Standards Administration, by local health authorities, by local educational, welfare and health professionals and by many voluntary organisations, groups of disabled people and other users of local authority services. Other noble Lords will, I know, expand on this point. Many of the most sensitive services will have to be provided by voluntary co-operation, as the noble Viscount again pointed out.
By way of particular example, there is no provision in the order for emergency planning; and this in an area with one of the largest concentrations of industrial hazard sites in the whole country. Is it really sensible to leave this to insecure voluntary co-operation? The whole concept can best be likened to deliberately pushing Humpty Dumpty off the wall and then trying to put the broken bits together again in the shape of well-intentioned but insecure joint committees, doubtfully accountable bodies and artificial loose combinations.
The amendment will also enable the Government to remedy a defect in the drafting of the Local Government Act 1992 which has produced great unfairness in the treatment of the staff of local authorities. Because of this defect, which the Government have themselves acknowledged, the staff of the county council will, alas, find themselves at a disadvantage in securing jobs in the post-reorganisation authorities because the existing borough councils cannot be dissolved unless staff remain in place. I heard what the noble Viscount said on this point but I beg the Government not to believe their own propaganda.
Paragraph (b) of the amendment will ensure that the House is not asked to reach a decision on the future of local government in Cleveland in isolation. The final batch of recommendations of the Local Government Commission was published, as the noble Viscount said, on 11th January last. Under the Local Government Act 1992 the Secretary of State can reach a decision on those recommendations six weeks thereafter. My amending Motion will enable the House to have before it the overall shape of the Government's intentions for the future of local government in England before it considers the draft Cleveland order. It is surely unreasonable to expect the House to reach a decision on Cleveland in the absence of such information which will indicate whether what is being proposed for Cleveland is an expensive anomaly.
Finally, I am advised, despite the noble Viscount's preliminary remarks on the subject, that the commission's recommendations for Cleveland, and the Government's decision based on those 932 recommendations, can at present be regarded as the subject of court proceedings. It seems doubtfully proper for this House to be asked to approve draft subordinate legislation when the very basis of that legislation is still subject to challenge in the courts. Paragraph (c) of the amending Motion would preclude such an unsatisfactory state of affairs.
I conclude by reminding your Lordships of the debate on the Local Government Commission initiated by my noble friend Lord Cornwallis on 30th March 1994. More than 40 Peers spoke. Virtually all warned of the need to approach this further round of reorganisation cautiously. They did not oppose all change, provided it passed certain tests: for example, that it was demonstrably necessary; that it would provide better and cheaper services; that it was the clear wish of the local people; and that individual authorities were not wrenched out of kilter with common sense. Despite the reassurances of the noble Viscount, I do not believe that the Cleveland case at present remotely passes these tests, least of all that of a cautious approach. The Government are pushing Cleveland well ahead of all other shire counties, for which it will set a precedent for serial murder. These are the essential reasons for tabling my amendment. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out from ("That") to end and insert ("this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the draft order laid before the House on 8th December 1994 and to re-lay it only when:
- (a) they have considered the desirability of including in the draft order proper provision for essential services such as child protection, special education needs, care in the community and emergency planning, and of ensuring that employees of all existing authorities in Cleveland will have equal chances of securing posts in authorities in Cleveland following reorganisation;
- (b) they have published their decisions on the recommendations of the Local Government Commission in respect of all of the English counties, thereby enabling this House to consider the draft order in the light of those decisions; and
- (c) the case of Regina v. Local Government Commission for England and Secretary of State for the Environment ex parte Cleveland County Council has been finally determined by the courts.").—(Lord Bancroft.)
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I begin by placing on record my interest in this subject as chair of the Association of County Councils for England and Wales. In placing that interest on record I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the association has never disputed that there is a case for looking objectively and properly at the subject of the structure of local government in any part of the United Kingdom. The association believes—and many share this view—that the issue of local government reorganisation ought logically to have begun by setting terms of reference that looked at the functions and 933 finance of local government before looking at the appropriate structure to carry out those functions with those financial arrangements.
In speaking in support of the amendment I would also ask your Lordships whether they believe, as many may, the repeated assertions of government Ministers that Cleveland, Avon and Humberside are unpopular. I cast that to one side and view the order without prejudice. The order and the amendment raise the issue of the faults and flaws in the order. As the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said, the order could apply to any county in England. It is surely important when considering the order that noble Lords should have before them the fullest information on which to make a judgment and the fullest knowledge of the implications for services and the providers of services in the future. There remain many areas of continued provision of services which are left as questions by the order. I respectfully remind the House that when legislation dealing with local government reorganisation in Scotland and Wales was before the House it contained the details of the continuing provision of those services. I repeat. I do not speak from a position of opposing all change. I believe that change must be justified.
A second reason for supporting the amendment was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft. It is the inequitable, unjust and unacceptable fundamental flaw in the legislation which set up the commission and which governs this process. It is the principle of the continuing authority. Where an authority is created as a result of change, of Local Government Commission recommendations and ultimately orders approved by Parliament, and where that continuing authority has the same boundaries as an existing authority, the staff employed by that existing authority are deemed to be in continuing employment and those providing services which will be added to that authority's functions must apply for positions in order to carry out those functions.
That is not a matter of mere assertion. That principle has caused problems in the Isle of Wight where all concerned agreed that the particular proposal was the most logical for the Isle of Wight but where the staff of the district councils were deemed to have to apply for employment and the staff of the county council were deemed to have continuing employment.
That is a fundamental flaw in the legislation which has been acknowledged by the Secretary of State. I understand that, despite offers made from the Opposition Benches, the law has not been amended. The primary legislation which would go through Parliament very quickly to stop this lack of equity in the treatment of staff has not been accepted and therefore the order before the House will perpetuate the difficulties and deep divisions which were created in the case of the Isle of Wight.
Critically important though the unfair treatment of staff is, there is also the disruption to services and the matter of uncertainty to consider. It cannot be a good way to establish a new structure of local government to do so on the basis that some staff will be treated one way and others will be treated less favourably.
934 The second point I reiterate and draw to your Lordships' attention is the final picture of local government in England as a result of the proposals that emerge now that the commission has completed its task. Surely, for anyone to vote in a responsible way, the cost and pattern of the government of England as a whole ought to be part of the consideration that is taken into account when people are considering the future structure of local government in England.
The continuation of vital services of high quality is at risk in Cleveland. As many noble Lords will recall, Cleveland went through a difficult patch in terms of its social services provision. It has since won acclaim for the way it tackled those problems and for the work it has done. There is nothing in the order about the continuation of that work and care in the community. There is nothing in the order about how to continue valuable educational work such as the special educational needs work, which may well need to be considered in detail if it is to continue.
Cleveland is a county council. I repeat that government Ministers have on many occasions said that Cleveland is unpopular. Surely even Her Majesty's Government can find some approval and praise for a county which next September will offer nursery education to all children at the appropriate age whose parents wish for it. It is a county which has the full backing and support of industrialists and commercial interests within its boundaries because of the work it has done in economic development.
Joint co-operation between groups of local authorities is surely a form of county government but under another name and run in a different way. Direct accountability is surely preferable. The proposals in the order will lead to unfair and unjust treatment of the staff concerned.
We have not had an opportunity to study and consider, as your Lordships did in the case of Scotland and Wales, the details of the continuing arrangements for the provision of services. We do not know whether the issue of the proposed abolition of Cleveland is part of a pattern or whether it is part of a particular attempt to remove certain councils and not others.
I believe that your Lordships should support the amendment and the need for proper information on these issues. It is critically important that the constitutional concerns raised as a result of the amendment are considered in detail. I understand that in a matter of two or three weeks the conditions and terms of severance and pay for staff will be debated and put before the other place by the Government. Surely, it would be more appropriate to consider then whether the proposed reorganisation of Cleveland is logical and acceptable rather than in a vacuum if the order is taken now.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said, public opinion has not come down clearly in favour of the proposed changes. Cleveland was one of the early township authorities where the public was consulted. It was not consulted in the same manner as members of the public were in later commission proposals. The commission had to be reminded through the courts, and the Secretary of State had to be reminded by the action taken by my own county, Lancashire, and Derbyshire, that the whole raison d'être of setting up the Local 935 Government Commission was that there should be a study as to whether people in the local community wanted any change at all. That was not explicitly put to the people of Cleveland.
We have a failure to create genuine, legal new authorities within the procedure proposed under the order now before us. It is premature on all these grounds to allow the order. The amendment should be supported. It is better to take time and for the result to be sound rather than to accept an argument that because there would be delay it is therefore necessary to act in haste. I do not believe that acting in haste is in the interests of good government structure for local government and the future of the Cleveland area.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I rise to speak in support of the amendment so convincingly moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, and also in support of the very powerful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who approached this matter from a very different position and point of view.
I shall not hide from your Lordships that, were it the custom of the House to vote against statutory instruments, I would want to do so this evening. In that respect, I regard the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, as second best. I ask the noble Viscount for a reply early in his response to the debate. As I recall, in our last Session there was primary legislation as regards local government in Scotland and Wales. They were provided with an opportunity for a full debate in this House with the possibility of amending the Government's proposals. Why is it that what was right for Scotland and Wales is thought by the Government to be wrong for England? There must be some reason other than the amount of parliamentary time that such legislation would absorb. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain that.
I am sure that we all speak as a result of personal experience. My interest in the order stems from the fact that I was the Member of Parliament for Stockton-on-Tees and then for Stockton, North from 1962 to 1983. During that time I became convinced that Stockton was part of a single conurbation on both sides of the Tees based on either travel-to-work patterns or the spread of the built environment. I also came to take the view that even at a time of relative prosperity we would have a greater prospect of attracting inward investment if we stood together. If we were fragmented, as we were, into separate boroughs, I believed that we should not be able to convince those who might consider investing in Teesside that the proposition was attractive to them.
I recognise—I am sure that we all recognise—the importance of strong local loyalties. I should add, however, that those loyalties are often not to a borough, which is an artificial creation, but to an estate or district. Notwithstanding that, again it is the case that from time to time Members of Parliament, of which I was one, and local councillors will argue strongly on behalf of those whom they have been elected to represent for the time 936 being. However, I have to put it to the House and the Minister that there are times when it is important to rise above those strong but sentimental associations and to consider what is best by the most objective criteria that one can find.
I said that after I was elected to represent Stockton-on-Tees I came to believe that there was a unity which covered both sides of the Tees. However, my own views as a Member of Parliament were not significant when it came to local government reform. In 1968 such was the leadership given by local government and such was the recognition of our interest in standing together in Teesside that a voluntary amalgamation of the existing boroughs took place to create the borough of Teesside. Middlesbrough was the largest borough to come into Teesside; Stockton was the oldest; Billingham had the highest rateable value, Thornaby, Eston and Redcar were smaller in one way or another, yet those six boroughs came together to comprise what was known as the county borough of Teesside. Hartlepool stood aside because it has been extremely independent ever since it was shelled by the Germans early in the First World War. I am not proposing—nor, I think, would the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft—that Hartlepool should be clamped together with the rest of Teesside in a single borough. For that reason, we accept that there must be change in the status quo.
However, having said that, what I believe that the Government should have brought before the House today is not a proposal to go back beyond 1968, but a proposal to revert to the borough of Teesside, which served the area so well until 1974. It was not Teesside to which the people of Teesside were opposed. They wanted to retain it, but were forced into a shotgun marriage in 1974 when, as I remember plainly, they were told by the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment that, unless they came together in a new county, adopting a name of which nobody had heard and obliging Hartlepool to join, Teesside would be divided along the Tees with part reverting to Yorkshire and part going to County Durham.
I stress again what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft: this is not a proposal simply to dismember an unpopular county council. It is a proposal to go back beyond that (with some minor amendments) to the state which prevailed before 1968. I think that that is the wrong solution and that in due course the people of Teesside will be the victims of it.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, referred to both Avon and Humberside. I can see—although I am an outsider and would not choose to vouchsafe a final view—the argument that the creations of both Avon and Humberside were the wrong solutions. Avon, Humberside and Cleveland are not all of a kind. I greatly regret the fact that the Government appear to believe that they are.
The Government have made a decision on, I believe, the basis of a botched job by the Local Government Commission. I cannot recall any local government reorganisation which has been approached in such an unprofessional way. The methodology in discovering 937 local opinion is unconvincing and the weight that was given to the survey of local opinion is disproportionate. This is government by MORI poll and it cannot be right.
The report, which is badly ordered—it is not easy to find one's way through it—refers to the survey that was conducted 18 months ago by MORI. Page 1 of the introduction to the second part of the published document states that the basis of the survey was,a stratified quota sample of 1,235 adults",interviewed across the four districts. The next page then states that, of those surveyed, only 10 per cent.,say that they know at least a fair amount about the subject".It would be ridiculous if it were not tragic that the views of only 10 per cent. of the survey sample of 1,235 people —those who said that they know at least a fair amount about the subject—comprise the basis upon which the commission made its recommendation and on which the Government decided to place the order before the House.
I do not complain about the professionalism of the MORI organisation nor about the good faith of its clients, but I do not believe that such a survey should be the principal reason for concluding that the opinion of people in Cleveland is in favour of the order. The Association of County Councils has come up with its own briefing on public opinion in Cleveland. I do not intend to go through its detailed arguments now, but what I find interesting is that, however one approaches the survey data, the conclusion is always the same—that it is a quite inadequate basis upon which to reach a conclusion about the future of the area.
I have said that, if it were the custom of the House and if this course of action were open to me, I would have hoped to vote against the order. I have also said—I am sure that the Minister will reply to this—that I wish that we were dealing with primary legislation. However, we are not allowed that, although it was allowed for Scotland and for Wales.
In order to place my views fairly before the House, I should add that I am deeply sceptical about almost all local government reorganisation. In my experience, it increases the costs; it fails to deliver the benefits claimed for it and it makes more enemies than friends. It may achieve an initial popularity, but that soon gives way to discontent. I believe that both the transitional costs and the annual costs that will result from the order will be higher than those that the Government envisaged when they considered the commission's report. I also believe that, for a number of reasons concerned with the size of the boroughs which it is intended to create, in the long run services will be worse rather than better. I greatly regret it, but I believe that the order is bad news for the people of Cleveland and a model of how local government change should not be brought about.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord Crathorne
My Lords, the amendment, moved so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, offers us an opportunity to ensure that everything is right with the local government proposals and their implementation in Cleveland. How much better that would be than for implementation to be imposed while 938 serious doubts linger. Doubts linger about whether the transfer of services has been secured properly; whether the absence of true shadow authorities can guarantee to the more than 20,000 staff who work for Cleveland County Council that they will be treated as on a level playing field with their 6,000 colleagues who work for the district councils; whether the proposals fit into the pattern proposed for English counties as a whole; and whether the courts finally agree that the commission's recommendations have been arrived at safely and correctly.
Perhaps I may turn to specific service issues. The amendment lists, as examples, community care, special education, children's services and emergency planning. Noble Lords have already referred to the dangers of leaving such services inadequately secured. It cannot be right that such vital services are left to voluntary joint arrangements to secure their delivery in Cleveland. Of course that applies also to other counties.
I have received a number of letters on this issue. They all support the Cleveland option. Not one supported the district options, except of course those from the district councils. I shall quote from a letter I received today from the NSPCC. It states:The NSPCC is extremely concerned that the Order gives broad powers which may be used to amend key pieces of primary legislation, without reference to what way they will be affected. It is imperative that the government issues detailed guidance to the new unitary authorities ensuring that they recognise and properly fulfil their responsibilities as set out under the Children Act 1989, and comply with the Working Together guidance.… transfer of county responsibility for children's services is assumed to be covered by the general "catch-all" clause: Clause 3(1). The Society believes that this transfer provision, by itself, is a wholly inadequate safeguard of child protection services and procedures".I read that as an example of numerous letters I have received.
A number of services are not mentioned in the amendment, such as trading standards, structure planning, strategic transport planning, libraries, archaeological services and archives. I am especially interested in archives. The general problems likely to face that service have been debated already, and great concern was shown in our debate last July. For structure planning, which is essential in a conurbation such as Cleveland, the order makes no reference to any future joint action by the four districts to review the current plan.
Transport planning, including the power to subsidise certain services which cross the whole county, is not mentioned. Both are consigned to the goodwill of the district councils to co-operate, subject only to the Secretary of State's reserve power if or when co-operation breaks down. Frankly, that means that he can intervene only when it is too late.
For trading standards, both business and consumer interests require consistency across such a small area, which is basically a single shopping area and a single economic unit. In the case of that statutory function, the districts have virtually no plans for a joint working arrangement.
Paragraph (b) of the amendment seeks to enable your Lordships to reach a view on the Cleveland order in the light of the Government's decisions for all counties.
939 Intriguingly, that now appears to be the approach preferred by the Government themselves, except, it seems, for Cleveland, because a Minister was quoted recently as saying at a local government conference that before the commission's proposals were put to Parliament he wanted to bring some coherence to the final outcome,so that the man from Mars can see a rationale".It is not the "man from Mars", but the Members of the House who have the responsibility for approving decisions on the commission's proposals, and it is we who need to see a rationale.
There is then the question of the judicial review. Counsel have advised the county council that it has grounds for appeal against the High Court's rejection of its application. In any case, your Lordships will be aware that severe criticisms were made by the High Court of the commission's procedures in the Cleveland review, and particularly of the public consultation. Every noble Lord who has spoken so far has mentioned that. As was made clear by the Government in an Answer to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, the method of public consultation took a fundamentally different and much fairer form in all counties reviewed later. The courts have yet to give their final view on that and other issues.
Since Teesside was created in 1968—that is the area in which I live—it has had a unified voice; has been pretty successful in attracting outside investment; and has built something of its own identity. I am fearful that, however well-managed and well-run they are, much of that will be lost with the breaking down into the four districts. The amendment offers us an opportunity to ensure that all aspects of the Cleveland order are safe and satisfactory. I intend to support it.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
I wish to support my noble friend Lord Bancroft, who has so competently introduced his amendment to the order. I share his view that Cleveland is not being treated consistently with the other counties reviewed later by the commission. I believe that I am the first speaker who has no association with Cleveland other than a long-standing personal friendship with the one-time Member for Stockton and a great admiration and respect for my old permanent secretary at the Department of the Environment (my noble friend Lord Bancroft), who guided me so well in my early days in my ministerial duties. However, I have over 50 years' association with shire counties.
It would be wrong to change local government without solid local public support. The commission did not issue the "household leaflet" setting out the options and projected costs, and the MORI poll that the commission did undertake failed to find majority support across the whole county. A more recent MORI poll, modelled on the commission's household leaflet, found less than 50 per cent. support for any form of change. There is no solid support in public opinion for the structure contained in the order.
940 I have the experience of two county council reorganisations in 1965 and 1974. I have also had some experience of the problems of local government areas which are too small. Almost 50 years ago, in 1946, I was first elected to the Soke of Peterborough County Council. It was an anachronism - only Rutland had a smaller population. We could not offer the range or quality of services available in today's counties, and we had the new experience of the joint board in education—the largest spending department, with no accountability to elected authorities. It was able to precept on the two authorities concerned, and there were no rights of criticism or questioning available to the elected members who were not members of the joint board. Despite that criticism, the board did a good job for Peterborough and the villages around, though it was undemocratic and unaccountable. Yet this order proposes four unitary authorities, with three of the four falling below the commission's indicative figure of 150,000, and indeed one has fewer than 100,000 residents. That could lead to some joint provisions.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, reminded us in her forceful speech, the staff placements will create problems, with the four continuing authorities making it difficult to see the potential transfer rights so far as concerns county staff. Even worse, we are being asked to approve the order before the county's legal challenge is completed.
There is real anxiety in Cleveland about the provision of essential services, such as community care for the elderly, disabled people and those with mental health problems, not to mention the full range of child care services, child protection and juvenile justice. It seems to me that there has been no proper consideration of the future of these essential services when the county is split into smaller units. Nor has any proper provision been made in the order to ensure these services.
My noble friend's amendment seeks only to delay the introduction of the order until proper consideration can be given to the adequate provision of essential services and until the county proceedings in connection with the application for an oral hearing before the Court of Appeal is completed. We are asking that the House does not reach a decision in isolation on the future of local government in Cleveland.
The final batch of recommendations to the commission were presented this month. The Secretary of State is to reach a decision on these amendments six weeks later. So, if the amendment is carried tonight, the House will be able to have before it the overall shape of the Government's intentions as regards local government throughout England. That will be the time to consider the Cleveland order—when the other orders are before us. I support the amendment.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I have not worked in Cleveland but I have visited the county. Therefore, I wish to ask my noble friend some questions rather than making statements. Is he satisfied that the people of Cleveland want this reorganisation? Other noble Lords have mentioned the MORI poll and asked whether all the forms were completed. In Oxfordshire, where I live, 941 it was discovered that a number of people did not receive the forms, while others did not answer them. As a result, three residents of Oxford and I wrote to The Times and visited various people. Several people then telephoned to ask for forms, which they completed. As a result of knowing what was going on, what they could do and what they could say, there was an overall vote for the status quo. Therefore, is the Minister really convinced that the people of Cleveland knew what they were voting for and can he say how many did not vote?
I turn to consultation. Were the people of Cleveland consulted about the costs? Is it fully realised that if there are four local authorities instead of one county council there will be four chief executives, four directors of education, four directors of social services and so forth? They will not be paid as much as the county council now pays its officers, but it will be more expensive for the additional officers in four authorities to administer Acts of Parliament. Furthermore, I suggest with the greatest diffidence that the quality of the chief officers is likely to be poorer because those posts will command lower salaries, with fewer responsibilities. Will that attract the kind of people who ought to be running local government?
I look back—certainly a long way—to the great giants of education such as Mr. Brockington of Leicestershire and Mr. Clegg of North Yorkshire. Will we find similar people to run the education services in smaller authorities? We must bear in mind that one of the authorities will be the smallest in the country. Will it really attract an outstanding person? I should like to think so, but is it possible? Should that not be realised?
Has the health authority been consulted about the matter? I understand that the three divisions of the health authority have been amalgamated into one, which would have been coterminous with Cleveland. Some time ago I spoke to members of Coopers, Lybrand, Deloit. They told me that in their opinion, if we are to receive good mental health services and community care, the health authority should be coterminous with the local authority. Having been a director of social services, I know that to be true.
The health authorities have been amalgamated into one authority, but we are being asked to divide Cleveland into four authorities. That means that those in the health authority must consult with four different people. Admittedly the time and expense will be met by the health authority. However, it does not make for good administration when the health authority must work with four different authorities instead of one consistent authority. Therefore, I ask whether those in the health authorities have been consulted and, if so, what their views are.
Do my noble friend the Minister and the people of Cleveland appreciate that, as regards child care, four different authorities will administer the service and instead of one child protection team there will be four? Is it realised that no one small authority, in particular the smallest, will be able to run the services necessary for its area? That applies also to services for the elderly and handicapped. Perhaps I may give an example. I do not believe that any single authority will have in its area sufficient Alzheimer cases to set up an Alzheimer 942 hostel. Therefore, it will be necessary for the four health authorities to combine together to create an overall management team.
Is it appreciated that when the London boroughs were broken up there was no overall co-ordinating authority? I suggest that our road and traffic problems would have been different had there been such an authority. An overall co-ordinating team for the four authorities will be costly and time consuming. An overall management committee must be set up in order to obtain a common policy throughout Cleveland and ensure the overall use of facilities. No one small authority will be able to set up all the facilities that it will need in its area. I hope that there has been consultation on that issue.
I am bound to ask whether the staff of the authorities and the various chief officers have been consulted. Have they been asked to write a report about what will happen if Cleveland is broken up into four authorities? I submit that as regards chief officers it is theirs but to do or die—very often to die, and in particular in this case—but I wonder whether the chief officers and officers of the county council and district councils have been consulted.
I turn now to the voluntary organisations, which have already been mentioned. In relation to social services and Part III of the Education Act, local authorities are extremely dependent upon voluntary organisations—the NSPCC, Barnardos, the National Children's Homes, the Children's Society and many others. Those organisations have made representations to me and, indeed, I am involved with Barnardos and the NSPCC. They tell me that they will have to consult with four authorities rather than one. That will be extremely time-consuming. All voluntary organisations have difficulty in raising money in order to run their services. This proposal will necessitate more staff to co-ordinate and co-operate with four authorities rather than one.
I do not believe that the people of Cleveland realise that they would receive better services from one authority rather than four authorities, because one authority would mean consistent, co-ordinated policies throughout the county. With regard to local feeling, it has been said that we want the services to be near the citizens. They are near the citizens. In Cleveland there are 20 local social services offices. The people in those areas know exactly where to go and on whom they are dependent. Sadly, there are many divorces and separations but the people know that they can go to their local office. They know the staff there and the staff know the people who need help.
In Oxfordshire, we had local offices and there was never any complaint that the citizens did not know where to go for help. That is extremely important in relation to work with the elderly and the handicapped. The offices were local and the people knew exactly where to go. I contend that the citizens in Cleveland now know where to go for help.
For those reasons, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lady Kinloss
My Lords, I wish to support my noble friend Lord Bancroft in his amendment to the Cleveland 943 (Structural Change) Order 1994. It seems to me that it is not just Cleveland. It would appear that the Government are flying a kite to see what feeling there is in the country for the changes proposed for this and, so it seems in the near future, other local authorities.
I listened with great care to what the noble Viscount said with regard to the case which is to go before the Court of Appeal; but I am still puzzled. How can it be that an appeal waiting to be heard in the courts—and I understand that no date has yet been set—is pre-empted by Parliament? On the face of it, it would appear to be quite unconstitutional. Surely the Government should not be passing this structural change before the oral hearing has been agreed. It could seem improper to pre-empt that resolution. It may even cause embarrassment to the Government. I am sure that the noble Viscount does not wish to do that.
I would be very grateful to be told how the structural change order is supposed to have the support of public opinion. When I spoke in the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Cornwallis on 30th March 1994, I emphasised the need to carry the opinion of the parish councils. In the case of my own parish council, it felt that it had been brushed off. After all, parish councils are concerned with local matters and know how people feel. I read with pleasure that Sir John Banham has recently come round to a similar view. Perhaps I may hope that this evening the noble Viscount in his reply will reach similar conclusions. Will he ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to think again? The Association of County Councils reports that the present proposal is supported by only three persons in 10.
There are many other things which might be said. I am greatly concerned that minuscule unitary authorities will be incapable of carrying out their duties in the spheres of social services, health and education. I stress in particular the special needs of education and community care. I doubt whether the proposed unitary authorities will have the ability to implement the Children Act 1989 in full. That is also of concern to the NSPCC.
In view of all the anxieties expressed this evening on all sides of the House, I beg the noble Viscount to bring the debate to the attention of his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and to ask him to think again.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, the decision to create four unitary authorities in Cleveland naturally comes as a great relief to the district authorities. They provide no less than 20 per cent. of the spending of the county, measured for the council tax payer, and would like to spread their responsibility to cover the 80 per cent. balance now spent by the county.
Much has been said about the degree to which the order commands public support. But now MORI polls seem to indicate that there is no majority support for any change, and considerable doubt has been expressed about the validity of the consultation exercise. Forty thousand leaflets were printed for 220,000 households, 944 only 12,500 of which were returned to the commission, which represents 3 per cent. of the potential electorate. Against that 3 per cent. support, I should like to record the depth of opposition to the proposals and the hope that the Government will look kindly on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, especially in view of the support he has received this evening.
I have the honour to be Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant for Cleveland although I try to speak not as an advocate for one side or the other but from personal experience. The proposal has aroused much anxiety and has promoted deep divisions in the county. It was somewhat predictable that local authorities would campaign vigorously for their own causes. But it cannot have been expected that completely independent organisations—many traditional allies of the Government—would campaign so vigorously against the proposal. It is with their views that I should like to deal.
For example, the editor of the local evening paper has argued:Teesside does not need three separate councils, three separate teams of officials and directorates. It needs what it has always needed; one council, one strong voice to make Teesside a force to be noticed by our government, by the European Commission and by governments and regions worldwide. Teesside needs one identity to be projected, proudly and confidently by its residents, its business community, its council and its MPs".The Confederation of British Industry, the chamber of commerce and the small business club have collectively gone on record as saying:The Local Government Commission not only failed to give serious consideration to the views of our separate organisations but mis-quoted the views of unrepresentative organisations in support of their proposals. Extra costs incurred in running the local government service disadvantage the community. Prosperity … can be fostered by the single voice of a united Teesside—fragmentation is unhelpful".Many other organisations and providers of services have expressed concern in a wide variety of forms. They fear that those services will become either more difficult or more expensive to maintain, or will be reduced. It is one thing for the recipient of services to say that he would feel happier if those services were to be provided by his most local council but he will not blame himself should the change lead to either a fall-off in those services or a greater expense in providing them, which-creates a higher council tax.
Sir John Banham says—the remarks were made in his now famous address to the ACC conference on 9th November—that there is no proof that smaller authorities will be better placed to deliver services than a large authority and that the experiment, which can provide no evidence of improvement, will cost billions of pounds of public money.
The following bodies or providers of services have either opposed or expressed strong concern in relation to the proposal for the four-district solution: the Association of County Councils, Age Concern, the Association for All Speech Impaired Children, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the British Association of Social Workers (Cleveland branch), the Carers National Association (Cleveland branch), the CBI (Northern Region), the CBI (Teesside), the 945 Cleveland Co-operative Development Agency, the Cleveland County Voluntary Sector Partnership, the Cleveland Deaf Children's Society, the Cleveland Disability Forum, the Cleveland Local Medical Committee, the Cleveland Playgroup Network, the Cleveland Unit, Middlesbrough General Hospital, the Cleveland Spastics Society, the Council for National Parks, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the Durham Diocesan Board of Education, English Heritage and Information North. There are many of them; I have only mentioned 10 or 12.
On the next page of my notes I have a further list of 40 organisations. I shall mention about 10 rather than take up too much of your Lordships' time. For example, there is the Anti-Counterfeiting Group which I never knew existed but which apparently is quite important. Others include the chief inspector of social services, the Consumer Credit Trade Association, the Countryside Commission, the Emergency Planning Society—which is most important for us—the Library Association, the National Children's Bureau, the National Deaf Children's Society and the Cleveland Youth Association. I shall not mention the remaining 30. However, I should point out that the NSPCC is extremely concerned regarding child protection services. My list contains 91 different organisations; I have referred only to about 20 or so.
I have also received letters from private individuals asking why there has to be a change, but I have received no letters asking for a return to the original counties or asking for change. I ask the Government: what is the most important view to heed—that of the providers of services and the creators of wealth or that of the recipients who know not from where their services come but just that they arrive?
There is no evidence that the county is unpopular with the people living there. There is none of the antipathy evidenced in Avon and Humberside. After nearly a generation of the county, most people under 40 have known nothing else. Many of us are proud of our county and of the dramatic achievements of the past few years. Indeed, only yesterday I attended a conference of the St. John Ambulance. In view of the enthusiasm, pride and progress reported there, no one who was present could say that Cleveland is unpopular. A number of other letters support the retention of the county with the identity that has been fostered and of which we are now proud without commenting on the four-district proposal.
Success will now depend on co-operation and agreement among the four district authorities in activities such as emergency planning—we are a county of severe industrial hazard—police, fire, libraries, archives, trading standards and children's services, just to mention a few. There is great danger that the fragmentation of services among four small districts could lead to services being less stable, less accountable and less effective than would be the case with direct responsibility, and all at much greater cost. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, before I turn to the merits of the order, perhaps I may deal with two 946 procedural matters which have been dealt with by my noble friend Lord Bancroft and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. There is no questioning the fact that your Lordships would have been fully entitled to vote against an order laid under the local government Act. I believe that that was sufficiently established in a debate which took place in this House a short time ago in which your Lordships accepted a resolution that this Chamber had unfettered freedom to vote against subordinate legislation.
My noble friend has framed his amendment in order to obviate any direct challenge; but, in effect, it is a direct challenge. It is possible that it would have been preferable to have thrown out the order right away rather than consigning it, in the way suggested by the amendment, to the Greek calends. I shall postpone dealing with the other question which concerns the relationship towards the proceedings in the Supreme Court.
As to the merits, I approach the subject with considerable diffidence. It is over 30 years since I was Member of Parliament for the Teesside constituency of Middlesbrough. Perhaps I should point out that, at that time, Middlesbrough was a county borough as it is proposed to reconstitute it under the order. I, for one, greatly admired the way that it was run as a local authority. I should add that it was under the control of a party which was different from my own; in fact, it was the party opposite to mine.
In that connection, I also had some relationship to the North Riding County Council. Although I ceased over 30 years ago to have a parliamentary connection with the area, I should say that we lived in the neighbourhood and I tried to keep in close touch as much as possible. I was left in no doubt that the construction of the Cleveland county in 1974 was an unpopular measure, and not only because the first proposal that was made managed to put Middlesbrough into the County of Durham. At that time, Middlesbrough was in Yorkshire and the latter would not recruit to its cricket team anyone who was not born in the county; and Durham was a minor county. Therefore, every father in Middlesbrough was horrified to find that his son, whom he had looked forward to see playing at Bramall Lane, was immediately disfranchised. However, that was not the only reason and the proposal was rapidly dropped.
Noble Lords have heard many detailed reasons in favour of the amendment this evening. Indeed, I am the first to oppose the amendment and to say that I am wholeheartedly in favour of the order proposed. However, before I come to that aspect of the matter, perhaps I may add the following. Those who have spoken before me, especially those who have represented the area in various capacities—such as the noble Lords, Lord Gisborough and Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank—predisposed me in every way in favour of the amendment. In addition, a friend and former supporter of mine wrote to me to enlist my interest in favour of the amendment. It was only when I looked into the matter that I came beyond any question to the conviction that the order proposed by the Government is correct.
947 Your Lordships have heard detailed arguments covering the whole ground. Certainly, as the first to support the order, it would be quite inappropriate—and, indeed, would take far too long—for me to attempt to deal with all those arguments. But at least I can say that there is not one of the arguments advanced today before the House which was not advanced to the commission; there is not one of those arguments that was not subsequently advanced to the Government; and, finally, there is not one that was not advanced in the other place on 11th January. Yet, the commission has recommended the order, the Government are propounding it to your Lordships and the other place approved it by a large majority. The spokesman for the Social Democrats was in favour of the order.
Without trying to cover all the ground that has been put forward in detail, I hope I may put forward one or two grounds in favour of this order. In the first place, it constitutes unitary authorities. Although the initial proposal of Cleveland County Council was for a two-tier authority, today no noble Lord in your Lordships' House has contradicted the theme that there is much to be said for a unitary authority in that the citizen can then look—for almost all the services that are provided for him—to one set of officials and representatives.
The second thing is that what is proposed is much closer to the people than what was proposed by the amendment and by the propaganda that we have had from Cleveland County Council and from the County Councils Association. So far no one has mentioned the word "subsidiarity". It was mentioned with force by the spokesman for the Social Democrats in the other place. Subsidiarity aroused considerable enthusiasm when the Prime Minister succeeded in getting it written into the Maastricht Treaty. I know the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, only has to hear Maastricht mentioned and he reacts in the other direction.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Baroness is on my side or not. But certainly subsidiarity has been gaining in esteem since then, and subsidiarity, like charity, begins at home. Therefore as soon as we can move the decision making to the person affected by the decision without damaging the services that will be vouchsafed, the better it will be.
I now turn to the other two questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, asked a crucial question and it was taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. How far do the people of Cleveland want what is proposed? The statistics, like most statistics, have been juggled considerably this evening but they are analysed with great clarity on page 23 of the report of the judgment of the Divisional Court. It seems beyond question that the people of Cleveland have been consulted and are in favour of what is proposed.
There is another thing. Members of Parliament are very close to their constituents and regard it as their duty to voice, so far as they may, the views and interests of their constituents. The interesting thing is that of the six Teesside MPs who are covered by this order—I include 948 Hartlepool—four are in favour of the order. They are not all Government supporters: two of the four are Conservatives and two are distinguished Labour MPs. They spoke in the other place with great clarity and with great cogency and their speeches well deserve the closest attention.
The other question that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, raised—as did, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, and other noble Lords—is the question of costs. Again that was carefully gone into by the commission. It was very carefully considered by the Divisional Court and what seemed plain is that although there are inevitably additional costs in a transition, in three years' time those costs will be overtaken by the savings—I hope the noble Viscount will give the figures—and the further ongoing savings.
I come finally to the question of proceedings in the Supreme Court. So far they have only been in the High Court. The county council brought an application for judicial review. That was rejected. It then applied in writing for leave to appeal and the Court of Appeal refused that. It has now applied for an oral hearing of its application but no date has been fixed for it. Therefore, at the moment there are no proceedings at all before the High Court. If we wait on the High Court the proceedings can be spun out in ways that I am afraid lawyers are all too familiar with, until we do not get any effective and smooth reorganisation in Cleveland.
What my noble friend Lord Bancroft is really proposing—he is one of the most distinguished public servants of our time and carries great weight—is what used to be called the centipede syndrome. Until every 100 feet have been put forward, no one may be ventured in advance. If we have that, we shall certainly not have a profitable organisation of local government in Cleveland. Opinion there is unquestionably divided although, as I have suggested, it is preponderantly in favour of the order. It is far better that this propaganda and counter-propaganda be brought now to an end and the various local authorities allowed to get on with their reorganisation.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Flather
My Lords, I must confess, first of-all, that I am tremendously relieved to be standing in the shadow of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, because it was my great fear that I would be the only one to support the order and speak against the amendment. But the noble and learned Lord has done a wonderful job and has covered areas which I am not competent to cover, and that has given me tremendous heart.
It seems to me, listening to noble Lords and to everyone who has spoken in favour of the amendment, that there is a questioning of the whole basis of the reorganisation, and that is what, in my opinion, lies at the heart of the matter. Instead of saying, "Oh, yes, we are in favour of reorganisation but we are not in favour of this particular one", it is really a question of saying, "Look it is all right if it is some other county which goes but let it not be my county.". 949 I do not know the county. I have no interest to declare other than 15 years as a district councillor. As a district councillor I know that delay—that little five-letter word —is dreadful for district councillors. You cannot plan anything; you cannot do anything; you are in limbo; and you do not know what is coming next. To put this whole process back and create delay and uncertainty is extremely unfair.
I have heard a great deal about how unfair and inaccurate the polls were. Although all the polls point to one conclusion, apparently they were all incorrect. If they are so inaccurate would it not have been better to have conducted other polls to bring out a different result? We have always had this problem. We say that only 5 per cent. of the people vote or only 10 per cent. of the people vote. You cannot force people to vote, although there are countries in the European Union which have laws to make people vote. Only 55 per cent. of the people vote for Parliament, but we abide by the result. We say that it is your right not to vote as much as it is your privilege to be able to vote.
However many people voted, a far larger number voted in favour of the reorganisation than voted against it. That is a fact which is staring everybody in the face. Perhaps it would have been better if there had been parallel statistics and other polls which pointed in another direction, but we do not have those.
We have also heard a great deal about what is going to happen to the staff. The four districts have committed themselves to ensuring that all staff who want to do so can transfer to the new authorities. That is a fact. Also, your Lordships may be interested to note that most of the senior staff from the county council have already left, either to go to the new districts, to neighbouring county councils or to other councils. It is almost accepted as a fait accompli that the four districts will come into being.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, that the delay need not be a long one and may be a few weeks. That is an impossibility. If the change is delayed the process will have to start running again. It could never be a matter of a few weeks. The delay will be far longer than that.
Change is always painful, especially if it involves the loss of a particular level of authority. We have seen that time and time again. The order has come to us at a point where all the steps have been taken. I hope that your Lordships will not delay the order and will proceed with it.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me for speaking in the gap. I had not expected to be able to speak tonight, and that is why my name is not on the list of speakers. I shall be as brief as I possibly can.
I find myself in the unusual position of supporting the Government tonight. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, I thought that I would be the only one. But I shall support the Government tonight and vote against the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, if he puts it to the vote. I am opposed to the amendment, first, because I believe in unitary authorities and, secondly, 950 because I believe that the delay which would be caused if the amendment were adopted would not be good for local government in Cleveland.
If the amendment were carried a number of things would happen. First, preparations in Cleveland which have been under way for some considerable time would have to be put on hold. There would be no further service development work due to the uncertainty of the situation. Staff morale would certainly be adversely affected. Staff retention and recruitment would be increasingly difficult for the county council and the new authorities. Furthermore, if the amendment were passed there would inevitably be similar amendments to other orders, delaying the whole process.
A great deal has been said this evening about the public opinion polls which have been taken. Much complaint has been made against them. My guess is that if instead of 75 per cent. of the people polled being in favour of unitary authorities they had been in favour of the continuation of Cleveland County Council, far from being criticised the polls would have been lauded in the debate tonight. We can only take note of the polls that we have.
I am a county borough man. I should like to refute some of the arguments which have been raised against the unitary authority principle. For example, we are told that the NSPCC is very anxious about the future operation of children's services. In my experience, the children's services are run extremely well by the county boroughs, and very often much better than by county councils. The same applies to a range of other services, including libraries, about which we have heard tonight.
Furthermore, the question of the costs of the new authorities—which was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale—has been dealt with. The transitional costs—which may well amount to between £13 and £18 million—will be saved with the new structures. It is estimated that £6 million to £11 million per annum will be saved in administrative costs. Therefore, there is a pay-back period of between two and three years, and there will be ongoing savings for the people of the area from then on.
I have almost exhausted my time. Perhaps I should say that I have an interest as a vice-president of the ADC. Nevertheless, my interest in this subject goes back a very long time. I merely want to repeat that I am in favour of the government order. If the matter is put to a vote I fear that I shall vote against the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, if ever it were apposite to say that I would not start from here, tonight must be the night. Perhaps I should begin by declaring an interest, if it is an interest. That is for noble Lords to judge by the time I come to the end of my speech. I am a member of a unitary authority.
In my view the greatest tragedy is that the whole process has gone so badly wrong. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, that it would have been so much better had we started with a consideration of the functions of local government and also considered the question of tax raising. However, we have been diverted 951 on to matters of structure, which have tended to divide rather than unite noble Lords, who clearly have a passion for good local government, even if our analyses of how that is to be delivered may differ.
It is also a tragedy that the review must have set back further consideration of the structure of local government by some 15 or 20 years. I say that in the context of the debate about regional government. I am a supporter of regional government. I accept that there is a need for much discussion as to precisely how it should be organised and what its functions should be, but I believe that there are many services which should be taken from central government and which would be better delivered at regional level. That would be a better context for the delivery of truly local services.
The language used during the debate—I do not refer to tonight's debate but to that outside the House—has often been unfortunate. One such occasion was the reference to an "early win", to which the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, drew attention.
Thinking increasingly about tonight's debate, I have found myself in a dilemma. We do not have an option to vote for the status quo. Indeed no one seems to want that. The advocates of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, seem to be supporters of the Teesside-Hartlepool option. That option is not before us. I would have some reservations on that, although I understand the anxiety for Teesside about the disparity and size of the two authorities, which might make one authority the poor relation. Those who seem to argue that we should support the amendment, however they interpret its effect, are advocates of that solution. But many of their arguments against four unitary authorities seem equally to be arguments against a solution which would lead to one small unitary authority and one bigger authority.
I have talked about the problems of the review process. I believe that the Government have wasted such opportunities. It may not be possible to please all the people all the time, but the procedure seems to be on the verge of displeasing all the people all the time. Perhaps I may say to my noble friend, Lord Rodgers—for this evening, he may be a friend but not an ally—that my colleagues in local government in Scotland and Wales have said, "At least you have had the review; you have had the commission. There has been opportunity for local people to put the local case, however badly organised that opportunity has been". The reorganisation for Scotland and Wales was kept entirely within this building. It was not a matter for local debate.
Reference has been made to cost. Of course there have been enormous costs simply to reach this point. They include the hidden cost of the hours spent working on the matter, which will never be recovered. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, referred to extra cost as a result of there being four authorities. I do not believe that there will be much duplication. At the point of delivery of service there should not be duplication. The noble Baroness's concern related to the threat to attracting good quality officers. The greater threat is the centralisation of service and decision making within central government.
952 The Opposition cannot set the agenda. We have to respond to this order. However, I do not regard it as a template or a precedent for future orders. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon in his analysis: that the amendment is opposition to the order in another form.
As regards strategic services, I am no lover of joint working, joint authorities or joint arrangements; those are all slightly different one from the other. They can be second best. My anxieties are for reasons of accountability and clarity. However, I believe that the issues raised in the amendment were addressed by the commission and the boroughs. In fact the Teesside-Hartlepool option would not avoid the need for joint arrangements. I much prefer the authorities involved to co-operate and work out their own methods of arrangements rather than having the Government impose the model from above by means of an order. I include economic development; it is an important issue raised by noble Lords.
Coterminosity is generally not on offer. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, referred to the health service. But it is rare for there to be coterminosity between health and social services. Of the services to which reference has been made, care in the community (to take but one example) involves a great range of services. Of course, I bow to the great experience of the noble Baroness. It probably outweighs that of the remainder of us put together. However, I believe that many different services are delivered through care in the community, with many different client groups. Different numbers make up the critical mass for the good delivery of those services.
With regard to emergency planning, there has to be co-operation and careful working across boundaries. One cannot know whether a disaster will occur in the middle of an administrative area or on its border. Finally, perhaps I may refer to special needs, one of the many strategic services. I understand that the delivery of special needs services is already predominantly based in the districts.
I do not minimise the levels of stress and the problems for local authority staff who are subjected to what is taking place at present. However, the Minister has given us certain reassurances. I am persuaded that, though the package could be improved and one would wish to see it improved, it is less than that recommended by the staff commission and I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government may be prepared to reconsider the scheme. Nevertheless, a good deal of progress has been made. If we are ever to proceed to unitary government, on balance the position is as satisfactory as one might reasonably expect. I agree with other noble Lords that one cannot organise everything perfectly before taking the final decision.
On judicial review, it is not as though the matter has not already been considered at length by the courts. There are almost always further avenues of appeal.
The subject of polls inevitably concerned noble Lords. I noted that the latest poll—it was organised by the county —gave what one might call an answer (it may not be the right term; it is a shorthand description) which resulted in 50 per cent. support for four unitary 953 authorities, and 29 per cent. support for two unitary authorities. Many other figures could be used. On balance one has to treat the polls as one factor in judging the dependability and credibility of the evidence from all sources.
The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, gave a sample from the list of organisations which support an option other than the proposals before us. I suspect that such a list is a tribute to the quality of service that those organisations have experienced and perhaps reflects everyone's inherent resistance to change. It is not necessarily a conclusive argument against change.
I do not regard the order as a template or a precedent. Each geographical area and each group of communities poses separate issues. It is inevitable that Cleveland does not have quite the same place in people's hearts as did the old counties. I knew that I would agree with much of the argument put forward tonight. However, I diverge at the point of decision. I diverge from those noble Lords who spoke at the start of the debate. I cannot support the amendment. I am concerned about the 100-feet syndrome referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, we have before us tonight the first order that comes from the Local Government Commission, together with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft. I should like to make three points.
First, we on these Benches do not necessarily quarrel with the outcome as such—to replace the county councils with four unitary authorities. Secondly, however, we do quarrel with the way that the matter has been handled by the commission and by the Government—so much so that, had the Bancroft amendment been an amendment not to an order but to a Bill, we might well have been minded to support it. Because it is an amendment to an order, which, with the consequential delays would make it essentially a wrecking amendment, we believe that we should continue to respect the long-established self-denying ordinance of this House on orders and statutory instruments not to defy the elected Chamber. Therefore we shall abstain on both the order and the amendment.
Perhaps I may say a little more about each of those points. First, we do not necessarily quarrel with the outcome. The Labour Party's position over some 15 to 20 years has been that the 1974 reorganisation of local government was mistaken, was unstable and should be reformed. We have over many years called for unitary authorities based largely on district councils where they enjoy the support of local people within a framework—which I know my noble friend Lady Farrington also supports—of elected regional authorities.
Like my noble friend Lord Stoddart, I was a councillor in a county borough both before and after the reorganisation of 1974 and am now a vice-president of the ADC as well as the AMA. The 1974 reorganisation splintered services that should be together—especially housing, which became a district function, and social services, which became a county function—at just the time when they needed to be integrated for the effective 954 delivery of care in the community. At the same time it made other services such as economic development and aspects of leisure concurrent, so that in some authorities both authorities carried out the functions, while in others neither did so.
The consequence is that local residents and taxpayers to this day, as all polls have shown, still do not know who does what, to what standard of service, at what cost and in whose name. This was brought home to me forcibly just a few months ago. Our city library in Norwich, as many noble Lords will know, was burnt to the ground. It was a calamity for us. The city council, the Lord Mayor and even myself as a former leader received countless letters about the matter —as though we, the city council, were the library authority. Yet it has been a county function for 20 years. Many people in the street and almost all of those who wrote to us did not even know that fact.
If they believed that the city was responsible for the libraries, how could they hold the county council responsible? And if they could not hold the county responsible, what is local government all about? As Redcliffe Maude said—and I am only sorry that Sir John Banham did not apparently read this part of Redcliffe Maude —county boroughs and unitary authorities were the most effective form of local government England has known.
Yet the Labour Party has always argued that those unitary authorities should be within a framework of elected regional authorities in order to bring power down from Whitehall—the principle of subsidiarity mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon—to democratise the quangos (there are under this Government now more members of quangos than there are of elected local authorities) and to have a regional perspective on economic development, on strategic planning and on Europe. We have regional government in this country. What we do not have is regional democracy.
Therefore the Labour Party gave a cautious welcome to the original Heseltine review when, in January 1992, the Secretary of State said:We know that most local authorities want unitary status and we believe that such status will provide a better structure for the future in most areas".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/92; col. 37.]But we also voiced our concerns: namely, that we feared that the review process would be whimsical, arbitrary even and possibly shambolic. As my right honourable friend Mr. Dobson said in the other place on this order the other night:After two years of wrangling, vast expense and court cases, we do not have a sensible set of propositions from the review … The process should have been clear, consistent and straightforward".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/1/95; col. 206.]Instead, to quote my right honourable friend, it has become "a shambles". He was entirely right. Of the 296 districts that entered the review, there will probably be some 230 at the end of it.
Why has the whole thing been such a mess? We in this House must take some measure of blame. Three-and-a-half years ago my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey and I argued, and we had considerable support, that the Bill should make it clear 955 that the review was to establish, where appropriate, a coherent pattern of unitary authorities. That amendment was also urged by my right honourable friend Mr. Blunkett in another place. The Minister resisted it on the grounds that the Government did not want to,tie the hands of the commission".With hindsight, that was a critical mistake.
Belatedly, the Secretary of State came to realise that the amendment was absolutely right and he circulated guidance to that effect—which was then struck down by the courts because it was not embodied in the Act itself. Had the Government listened, and had they accepted that amendment, none of this shambles need have happened. But the Government did not, and subsequent Ministers have had to pick up the pieces—for by refusing that amendment what subsequently happened was that the green light was given to Sir John Banham. He became not just independent of the Secretary of State but effectively independent of the will of Parliament, because the words were not in the Act. He has exercised that freedom in a way that has been deplored by one of his fellow commissioners, Mrs. Hodge. She told the other place that the chairman,showed no consistency of approach, was too often influenced by personal preferences and personal experiences, rather than objective assessment, and operated somewhat undemocratically and autocratically".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/1/95; cols. 223–4.]She went on (I am quoting a commissioner):We should have dispensed with his services".In consequence, each county proposal is therefore ad hoc; whereas if the guidance had been part of the legislation, as it should have been, we could have been considering today a coherent set of recommendations for England as a whole, just as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, asks.
Such a position in the Act might also have checked some of the dog fights that have taken place between districts and counties. Unlike Sir John Banham, they could not have insisted that it was a free-for-all. Perhaps some of the energies and efforts that have been put into the review over the past two years could instead have been put into ensuring better services.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, also calls on the Government to ensure that there is a proper provision of essential services. The commission says that it is satisfied that such services will be provided effectively. Not surprisingly, so do four of the five authorities concerned. But given that so many noble Lords have raised the issue tonight, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that, of the proposed unitary authorities, three of the four are larger than Kingston-upon-Thames, which is one of the London boroughs; for Hartlepool, the fourth unitary authority proposed, even the county council itself agrees that it should have unitary status.
It is also worth reminding ourselves, since on occasion it has been said, that because those authorities co-operate to provide a specialist joint service, it does not make them a quango. They remain elected, open and accountable. Would that quangos were! Given the way that many county councils have established district 956 offices for education and social services, in very many counties to my personal knowledge we already have district administration. We just do not have district accountability.
However, where we very much agree with the noble Lord's amendment is on the need to protect the position of staff. Local government services are as good as and no better than the staff who deliver them. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said, there has been some movement on that issue. I understand that all employees of Cleveland will be transferred, if they wish, to the new authorities. There is a national agreement which will come into effect at the end of this month to guarantee that.
Moreover, I understand that under pressure the Government have also conceded a national detriment compensation scheme for those local government staff who would lose pay as a result of restructuring, and that is also welcomed. I also understand that Cleveland local authority leaders have given additional assurances. We have had letters to say publicly that all the district authorities support a no compulsory redundancy policy and see no reason to change in respect of the review.
So there has been some movement on staff, but not enough. It is still the case that the compensation for staff who take voluntary redundancy is simply not good enough. In the 1986 review they were entitled to up to 86 weeks' compensation. This time around the Government are offering only 66 weeks. That is not fair to those staff of Cleveland County Council who have given competent, dedicated service over many years. As my right honourable friend Mr. Dobson said in the other place, the Government must think again on this matter and meet the Staff Commission's proposal of 82 weeks.
I shall not comment on the courts, since the Minister told the other place that he would take stock of the legal position before any order was made. I shall instead turn to my final point.
Because of the shambolic state of the review in general and inadequate compensation for staff in particular, we on these Benches support much of the substance of the noble Lord's amendment. Why then do we propose to abstain from a vote? I repeat, had this matter concerned an amendment to a Bill rather than to an order we might have been minded to vote for it. Why then is there a difference? If we had amended a Bill and the other place had rejected our amendment, we should have had to acquiesce in their rejection of our amendment and the will of the democratically elected Chamber would have prevailed. But if we amend an order or a statutory instrument, that kills the order. The other place cannot override us, so that we, an unelected Chamber, will have overturned a decision of the elected Chamber. That order would then have to be re-laid before both Houses of Parliament.
The noble Lord's amendment is not technically fatal; but, in our view, it is so hostile that it has the same effect, as my noble friend Lord Stoddart made very clear. The elections to the shadow authority could not take place in April and therefore there would be delays of a year. I am sure that that would be repeated for each and every order in the pipeline which, having been passed by the other place, had come to this House. For 957 every time that a local government order was introduced for half the counties of England, this House would have established a precedent for sending it away again.
This Cleveland order, precisely as the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said, should be taken with other orders. It cannot therefore be taken by us as a one-off. It could kill the review. The House of Lords, an unelected Chamber, would have been responsible for that. We would have thwarted the will of the other place. That convention, the self-denying ordinance, that the unelected Chamber does not thwart the will ultimately of the elected Chamber is so strong that, during the period of the last Labour Government, your Lordships sought to amend an order only twice: one on town planning and one on national parks. Neither order had the degree of political sensitivity for the other place that this order carries.
For the rest, and for the past 15 years, that self-denying ordinance on politically sensitive issues has been respected and we on this side shall expect it to be respected in the years to come. We amend as an unelected Chamber; we debate as an unelected Chamber; we revise; but ultimately as an unelected Chamber we do not thwart. For that reason and that reason alone we shall be abstaining tonight.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down perhaps she will be kind enough to answer my question. I am totally at a loss to understand her speech. Everything she said was irrelevant to the order. She said that the Government were shambolic but that, nevertheless, she would not vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft. I cannot understand why not. Paragraph (b) of the amendment says that the order should come back to us after the Government,have published their decisions on the recommendations of the Local Government Commission in respect of all the English counties, thereby enabling this House to consider the draft order in the light of those decisions".In other words, it is not suggesting that we should reject everything; it suggests that the matter should come back to us. In those circumstances, if everything the Government are doing is shambolic, why not support us?
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I am sorry that I was unable to persuade my noble friend, whose views on so many subjects I heartily respect, of the case that, if we supported it, a delay because of this amendment—for that is what it would mean—would hold up every other order in the pipeline. As a consequence, the long-established self-denying ordinance of this House should continue to be respected.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I shall not have the temerity to cross swords with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on this occasion. The views that she put forward to the House are probably exactly the right ones.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, before the noble Viscount continues, perhaps I can say that my noble friend said that she hoped that the self-denying ordinance would continue in future years whatever the 958 Government was. In accepting that the view my noble friend put forward was right, is the noble Viscount committing future Oppositions to that view?
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the House respects its own conventions and I welcome the opportunity that the noble Baroness gave us of keeping to those conventions. That was the purpose of my remarks.
I am grateful to your Lordships for the frank and thoughtful contribution to this evening's debate. Your Lordships raise a number of points and I shall attempt to reply to as many as possible in the time available. I must start with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who asked me to identify early why a local government reform was introduced by statutory instrument and not by primary legislation. Of course, the approach adopted in England followed extensive consultation which received a wide measure of support. When the Local Government Act 1992 was taken through Parliament, those principles received widespread support.
However, I must address the issues to which the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, drew attention in his amendment and on which he elaborated in his speech. The noble Lord mentioned the desirability of including provision for essential services. As I said earlier, the Government considered that carefully. Unitary authorities should be able to deliver the bulk of services themselves. However, the Government have always recognised that some functions may need to be considered on a wider basis than a single unitary authority. The draft order requires each of the new councils to look carefully at each function to see whether there should be voluntary arrangements—and I want to return to that later.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, suggested that in the reorganisation of Scotland the legislation made clear the reorganisation of the specialist services. Of course the situation in Scotland where new councils are to be established everywhere, is entirely different. The Government's view is that voluntary arrangements are to be preferred to statutory joint arrangements, wherever possible. The benefits of unitary authorities include greater local accountability and a capacity to look at service provision in the round. Those benefits would be diluted by statutory joint arrangements. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State has powers to intervene where satisfactory voluntary arrangements are not made or where they break down, and the Government may be concerned to see that proper arrangements are made.
The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, asked about emergency planning and specialist educational needs. I understand that, for civil defence and emergency planning, the Cleveland districts established clear and uncomplicated joint arrangement procedures. The districts are confident that the functions of those services will not be affected by reorganisation and special educational facilities and support services are already district-based, as has been mentioned.
As regards staff, ultimately, of course, it will be for the successor authorities themselves to decide on the organisation and selection of their staff. However, we expect that the great majority of staff—as my noble friend Lady Flather indicated, some 90 per cent., 959 including front line service providers—will transfer automatically by statutory transfer orders. We have always made clear that, although we hope that most staff will transfer to the reorganised authorities or accept voluntary retirement, a small proportion may be made redundant. The compensation provisions proposed for these cases have been set out in the Local Government (Compensation for Redundancy) Regulations 1994, which came into force on 28th December.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Farrington and Lady Hollis, indicated that the arrangements are not satisfactory. Local authorities are given discretion to pay up to 66 weeks' pay based on age, service and banding to eligible staff below the age of 50. I must remind the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that these arrangements at the maximum are more than two and a half times more generous than otherwise statutorily provided under employment legislation. I know that a good many private sector employees would enjoy that form of redundancy. Other posts will be filled by recruitment. The Local Government Staff Commission is consulting on rules for ensuring that staff of outgoing authorities have as fair a chance as possible of securing a post in successor authorities. The Government have also made it clear that they expect chief officer and head of paid service posts to be filled by open competition where a continuing authority with new functions, like the Cleveland authorities, decides to create new posts with duties and responsibilities of a very different kind from existing posts. We in the Government care very much about the staff in Cleveland who have given such good service both to the county council and to the borough councils.
The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, also proposes that this draft order should be considered only when the Government's decision on all review areas is known. That point was taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Such a delay would prolong uncertainty and delay the benefits of change in Cleveland and elsewhere. The Government want local government structures which meet local needs. If that means not having a pattern which is administratively tidy, so be it. Those involved in local government in Cleveland, not least council employees, have had the prospect of reorganisation hanging over them since 1992. It is time to bring that uncertainty to an end. Moreover, the residents of Cleveland deserve to begin reaping the benefits of more accountable local government with more cost-effective and better co-ordinated service delivery as early as possible.
I come to Cleveland County Council's application for judicial review. The Government thought very carefully before laying the draft order before your Lordships. The county council's legal challenge was turned down on every count in the High Court and it has twice been refused leave to appeal. At each stage the courts took the view that the county council's case was a dispute as to the merits of the commission's recommendation thinly disguised as a legal challenge. Nevertheless, because of the delay caused by the case, the Government were obliged to put back the reorganisation date for Cleveland by a year. The county council is now seeking 960 an oral hearing before the Court of Appeal—its final recourse. The department has applied for the expedition of the hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. However, I understand that the county council has written opposing expedition. I am sure that noble Lords will come to their own conclusions about the council's motives.
We believe that delaying approval of the order until the case is heard, possibly leading to a further year's delay in the reorganisation date—here I have to agree with my noble friend Lady Flather and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon—would be a great disservice to the people of Cleveland. Subject to your Lordships' approval, we will want immediately to take stock of the legal position. If we decide to proceed, we will first write to the councils involved giving notice of the Secretary of State's intention to make the order on a given date.
Perhaps I may respond to one or two other questions. The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull questioned the tests of public opinion. In all tests of public opinion the four unitary option has been more popular than the existing system or the two unitary option. It was right that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, should remind us that the majority, namely, four out of six of the Cleveland MPs, support the four-district option. The noble Lords, Lord Bancroft and Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and my noble friend Lord Gisborough, asked: why not re-create the county borough of Teesside? That may have been appropriate in 1968; I do not believe that it is appropriate for 1996. All four existing borough councils, including the three which were formerly in Teesside, have rejected the option. A four-authority structure has consistently been shown to be much more popular with local people than the Teesside-Hartlepool option.
Not one but three surveys were carried out for the county and districts jointly, the Local Government Commission and the county on its own. They all failed to back the re-creation of Teesside. Unlike 1968, the boroughs are keen to go their own way. But if in future they want to go the same way as they did in 1968, the door is open for them to apply to do so. Perhaps I may give a quotation:It is very disappointing that the County council is still attempting to mislead the people of Cleveland at this stage. It really is time they accepted the decision of local people, the Commission and the Government and used their energies to help plan the way forward for the future".I tend to agree with that view from a press release issued on behalf of the councils of Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees and Langbaurgh on Tees.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull asked about the costs of reorganisation. In reaching our decision we anticipated that costs might be rather higher than the commission estimates. But we took the view that the savings and other benefits would, as the commission advised, justify the costs. The authorities who will be implementing reorganisation in Cleveland estimate that they can achieve net savings of £15 million per annum which is a little more than the estimate of the Local Government 961 Commission of between £6 million and £11 million. I believe that those are the figures which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, quoted. That is not a bad return. It will benefit the people of Cleveland year after year.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, asked about estimates of costs. Perhaps I may indicate that these are the district estimates and, after all, they are the closest to it. They believe that the net total cost over the transitional period from 1st April 1996 to 31st March 1999 will be £25.834 million. However, if one takes away the interest which arises because of the way the Government have chosen to fund the reorganisation, that comes down to just over £18 million. As I said, they also believe that there will be total ongoing savings arising from 1999 onwards of £15 million per annum.
My noble friends Lord Crathorne and Lord Gisborough and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, were interested and concerned about future strategic planning in Cleveland. The commission has proposed that the four unitary authorities should maintain separate local plans but work together on a joint structure plan. We endorse that recommendation. The draft order gives effect to that by transferring the county's strategic planning responsibilities to the four borough councils thus enabling them to make voluntary arrangements for joint working on the structure plan. We are satisfied that voluntary arrangements for joint working in Cleveland will achieve the desired results.
The Cleveland boroughs have published their suggestions for a joint committee that will take the political lead and for an overview of structure planning, strategic highway issues and the strategic elements of waste disposal and minerals. They have also developed proposals for the officer groupings which would service those functions.
My noble friend Lord Gisborough gave a list of the organisations that he said were not supporting the four unitary authorities. Perhaps it is not surprising that my noble friend received all those letters. After all, he is the Lord Lieutenant, although I believe that he failed to indicate that fact in his speech this evening.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend. Obviously, I did not hear him say so and I take back my remark.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, my noble friend Lady Faithfull and the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, asked about the future of care in the community and particularly about the view of the local health authorities. The chief executive of Tees Health has stated that the establishment of four unitary district authorities is not a barrier to effective collaboration and looks forward to developing, with the districts, creative and imaginative opportunities for better health and social care.
Before the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, decides whether to seek to divide the House on his amendment, I hope that he will have regard to the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Indeed, both noble Baronesses who spoke from the Opposition Front Benches have 962 declared that they will not support the amendment. I therefore urge the noble Lord to consider this point carefully: the people of Cleveland want change. That has been amply demonstrated both through the Local Government Commission's consultation process and in the county council's own opinion poll. Of the options for change which the commission considered realistic, a structure of four unitary authorities was by far the most popular locally. It was significantly more popular than the two-authority structure which was proposed by the county council and supported by several noble Lords this evening.
The purpose of the local government review, which has been frequently stated by the Government, is to secure for each area a structure of local government which is accountable, which reflects the identity and confidence of local people and which provides services efficiently and cost-effectively to the community. The Government are confident that the structure which the commission proposed for Cleveland will achieve that. Therefore, I commend the order to the House.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Lord Bancroft
My Lords, I echo the noble Viscount in saying that this has been an interesting debate. I am grateful to all Peers who have taken part and especially those who supported my amendment. If I may say so, tonight their lips have been brushed by the shade of John Milton.
It is unsurprising that the main points that have been made have been along predictable but important lines. I do not propose to weary the House at this hour by rehearsing them in detail. The noble Viscount has done that admirably, although with a rather different gloss from that which I would have put on them. Nor do I propose to pick out individual speakers since he has done so.
I must, however, point out that for the Government to claim that this new patchwork of authorities is where they always intended to end up is the most outrageous and hilarious claim since Arthur Askey claimed to be Charley's Aunt. The truth is that, in accordance with the old song, every time Sir John Banham turned, DoE Ministers turned too. For three years Marsham Street has resounded to the twanging of bed springs as Ministers change positions yet again.
I remain extremely anxious about the robust delivery of essential services, about the absence of a single authority for a major conurbation, the Government's unnerving ignorance about the roots of Teesside, the difficulty of establishing the truth about local opinion, the need to judge a particular case against the future shape of English local government as a whole, and the propriety of proceeding when the basis of the order is still subject to challenge in the courts.
What has been said on that last point would tempt me into the territory of Ignatius Loyola and his Jesuits, and I do not intend to tread that path. I am unchastened by charges that my amendment would prolong uncertainty; it was the Government who pressed the button of uncertainty three years ago. What about the uncertainty 963 in all the other counties, miles behind Cleveland in the Government's disorderly queue? My anxieties about Cleveland extend to all of them.
But, in assessing my decision now, which, as the Minister pointed out, I must consider carefully, I have to consider matters other than the support and the opposition for my amendment so eloquently expressed tonight. They include the voting intentions, or lack of them, of the Official Opposition. I hesitate to comment upon what the police call "a domestic" and upon the fact that over 200 Members of the Opposition voted against the order in another place. We are told that the Opposition's attitude, apart from natural divisions upon the merits, is the continuation of a form of self-denying ordinance. If so, they are clearly acting on the basis that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, for as recently as 31st January last they voted in favour of an amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull.
That amendment, like mine, would have deferred approval of a draft order. The Opposition were led into the Lobby by their Leader, the Chief Whip, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Moonbeams from the larger lunar system are shining brightly tonight. I predict that sooner rather than later the people of Teesside will have a single authority. It is the optimum practicable solution.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I am sure that the noble Lord did not wish to mislead the House, so perhaps I may draw his attention to the fact that the order to which he referred on 31st January 1994, and the amendment to it which was in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said that the House should call upon Her Majesty's Government not only to withdraw the draft order but to relay it in a month, having considered whether it should extend to social services.
In other words, unlike tonight, that order, which has been quoted twice by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, was a one-off, with no consequences for other services or bodies, and it was time-defined. In that sense, it may have been hostile; it was not fatal. Therefore there is a world of difference between that and what we are discussing tonight.
§ Lord Bancroft
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness. As I said in my opening remarks, to which she was perhaps not listening, in my view, had the Government behaved sensibly over my amendment, then it would have been a matter of a delay of a few weeks and not a year. It is not a wrecking amendment.
I repeat: sooner rather than later, the people of Teesside will have a single authority. It is the optimum practicable solution. If the order is approved, there will be a period of sad and costly turmoil, until that inevitable optimum solution is achieved.
964 I hope that our debate will be a salutary foretaste for the Government of what lies ahead of them on the other orders. Given the strength of views in favour of the amendment expressed tonight, I believe it right to test the opinion of the House.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 20; Not-Contents, 73.
|Division No. 4|
|Bancroft, L. [Teller.]||Kimball, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Bridges, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Carnavon, E.||Moyne, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L. [Teller.]|
|Faithfull, B.||Selborne, E.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Stedman, B.|
|Gisborough, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Addington, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Addison, V.||Leigh, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Lindsay, E.|
|Aldington, L.||Long, V.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Astor, V.||Lucas, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Blaker, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Braine of Wheatley, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Cadman, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Northesk, E.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Clark of Kempston, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Perry of Southwark, B.|
|Courtown, E.||Rawlings, B.|
|Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Reay, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Redesdale, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Rees, L.|
|Denton of Wakefield, B.||Renton, L.|
|Finsberg, L.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Flather, B.||Rodney, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Stewartby, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Harlech, L.||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Henley, L.||Tope, L.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Torrington, V.|
|Hood, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Hooper, B.||Ullswater, V.|
|Howe, E.||Vivian, L.|
|Inglewood, L. [Teller.]||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twelve minutes before ten o'clock.